I’m lightening my footprint here on Earth, not just by skirting sugar but also by letting go of past mistakes that weigh down my heart and soul. This is #24 in my flower-titled story series about sugar/overeating addiction started January 31, 2121.
To be honest, I have consciously avoided the Gladiola for our garden. Tall and topped with multiple ruffled blooms, it reminds me of death.
I’m not sure why, other than that it is unusual to my eye, and I have mainly seen it in arrangements at funeral homes. It’s that unforgettable line of fluttering white handkerchiefs on a living stalk, a flurry of mournful lavender letters. A scary farewell from us all to those traveling Beyond.
But Dan slipped some Gladiola bulbs into the back garden last year, and in spite of myself, I liked the blooms. They were bright and true. The songbirds seemed to gather round, too.
Now Dan came back from Home Depot with a whole package of them, and I look forward to viewing a previous death knell as a sign of beauty and growth.
Part of my recovery on this formerly sugar-paved road involves letting go of shame, with guidance from my angel in the recovery program.
Shame is that dark, sea-witch feeling that can wound or even kill you, snaking around your neck, driving you to pour another glass, light another smoke, take drugs or eat a full box of donuts. Anything rather than feel and face that ugly feeling.
I still have a lot of work to do in my recovery, but as I proceed and emerge from a sugar haze, I have come to terms with some shameful behavior.
Here are examples. In writing them, I see three out of four pertain to time debt:
- Train shame. When I was 27, my train commute (New Jersey Transit North Jersey Coast Line) from Asbury Park to New York was 1 hour and 40 minutes; then I walked 20 minutes North and across town to a magazine office on Third Avenue. But that was my dream — living by the sea (in Ocean Grove) and working at a top magazine. I wasn’t married or a mother to a child or pet yet, so I spent the time. One day, my boss said to be in by 8:30 (not 9) for a key project; I got in closer to 8:45. She was unhappy at the Xerox machine. “When I say eight-thirty, I mean eight-thirty,” she snapped. I apologized but never forgot that. Looking back, I suspect that rather than accept her anger as a real part of life, and own my part, I opted at lunch for a warm, comforting slice of pepperoni pizza and a swirly Carvel custard cone with rainbow sprinkles. (Pretty, sweet foods make you feel better, right? Wrong.) Irony: This was at a fashion magazine that celebrated model-slim, fresh-faced young women.
- Flower selfishness. I had an office mate who expressed her feelings loudly. I once bought a freesia bouquet at Penn Station, for my desk. She said the smell bothered her —she was getting a headache. I thought she was just complaining, opened our one window (by my desk) and refused to get rid of them at first. That was not considerate. And karma comes back to bite you, or teach you. I, too, now find the smell of freesia way too heady and strong.
- Time slog. As I progressed in my career, I arrived late to work more and more— after stopping at fancy places for fancy coffees to tote in. They were glamour in a cup, sweetness to soften the hard, grown-up work world. “It’s not fair to everyone else who gets here on time,” a boss at another business said. Although I always stayed later to compensate, she was right. My coworkers started earlier and I should have honored that office culture.
- Kate Spade sample sale. I freelanced a few weeks one summer at a well-known magazine, writing for the Christmas issue. I earned a very good day rate. But when I heard about the sample sale downtown, I couldn’t resist, or figure out any other way to swing a trip there than to go in the morning, take the uptown subway and get to work late. The shopping lines were long. I bought a discounted handbag — but I should have gotten to work on time instead. It didn’t feel good. Later that morning, the managing editor called my desk phone. “You’re still working on that story?” she said. I withered inside. I had put my fashion passion first — bordering on addiction — and my reputation as a writer at stake.
I am older and wiser now. I try to be good and kind — and punctual. I like to think I’ve learned from my mistakes.
As I’ve written before in this story series, my view is clearer now that it’s not clouded by sugar and dusty white flour, or crumbling under the weight of foods baked from them — roadblocks in real time.
Golden slumbers fill your eyes
Smiles awake you when you rise
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby
Once there was a way, to get back homeward
Once there was a way, to get back home
Sleep pretty darling do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby
(Boy you’re gonna carry that weight) oh…
(Carry that weight for a long time) oh…
(Boy you’re gonna carry that weight) boy you’re gonna carry that weight
(Carry that weight for a long time) carry that weight for a long time
— “Carry That Weight,” Jennifer Hudson, 2016 (originally by The Beatles)
Today was a hard day. I feel old and my eyes look small and dry. I didn’t wash my face or apply concealer, moisturizer, mascara. I’m sad, and I’ve been crying.
Onward. Some sunny days ahead.
Tonight’s lesson: Addicts are often awash in shame and guilt, and turn to substances to avoid facing it. We can look at shame two ways — as a burden or a teacher — and I can view the Gladiola as heavy harbinger of sadness or lighter symbol of joy. Let’s choose the latter. It will make it easier to own the past, leave it behind and be a better person.
I published my first story about sugar addiction/recovery, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#25, Pussy Willow.” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.
Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey. She worked at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced as a fact checker at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010. Alice is in a recovery program.