Addiction Recovery Story #25, Pussy Willow: Go Ahead, Take the Cake

Layer, Bundt, crumb, Costco sheet, upside-down, funnel, angel, pricey restaurant slice— I’ll pass. I’ve had my fill. I was a different woman on vacation this week. Here is #25 in the flower-titled sugar/overeating addiction series I started 1/31/21.

Behold The Blue Pig Tavern, one of my favorite restaurants, as much for the crackling fire as for the Caesar salad and ingredients sourced from Beach Plum Farm. This week, the salad featured dried strawberries; the gift shop sells tall jars of farm jam.

m changing on this recovery journey, begun in earnest last summer.

Dan and I got away this week for four days/three nights. We stayed at a small hotel from Monday to Thursday in Cape May, the historic seaside town at the Southern tip of our state. (We are both double vaccinated; the hotel has careful Covid cleaning practices; and masks were required in all common areas, from front desk to hallways. Excellent bonus: Limited special, buy two nights, get third night free.)

We had hoped to drive somewhere for our 30th wedding anniversary — February 17 — but in the melting swirl of things, that didn’t happen. (Also: Airbnb rates at the Jersey Shore were high for Valentine’s Day Weekend, at least at the booking I had my eye on.)

ou, who are on the road,
Must have a code
That you can live by.
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye.

— “Teach Your Children,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970

“The past is just a goodbye” — that applies to my past, the (very long) part of my life that revolved around bakery stops and commuter/car/vacation/coffee bar/candy shop treats.

Away on vacation, a state of mind in which I have thrown caution to the wind and indulged in foods not available at home, my behavior was different on this trip.

I didn’t start in with the small sample of fudge or the iced mocha sipped with a straw, and I didn’t get shipwrecked in a sea of sugar, either.

I looked in the hotel mirror and saw someone whose belly is not giant, someone present, calm and focused. Someone who could listen. Someone less self-centered, more flexible. A woman who made time to shower and moisturize, every.single.day. A writer who started crafting a short story.

No, this woman didn’t get lost in all the pretty saltwater taffy in waxed-paper wrappers, the oceanside ice cream sandwiches or even a single small blue-foil-wrapped milk chocolate pig (see Blue Pig Tavern, above). As you know, because I wrote it here, in Story #23, a little chocolate pig is not a big deal — not for you, if you are a normal eater, what my therapist calls an earthling. But it is a big deal for me, because it will lead to more and more of a substance I can’t stop eating.

At The Blue Pig, we asked for a dessert off the menu: berries and cream. Lovely Natasha brought a generous bowlful and a saucer of whipped cream.

First, I saw the red — sliced strawberries. But as we dipped in our spoons, more was revealed.

“Blueberries, too,” I said, smiling.

“And blackberries,” Dan said, impressed, when he found the first plump, bumpy globe.

“Wow, raspberries!” I added, as we dug deeper.

Please understand. This woman — this woman who enjoys the taste of fresh berries without sugar, of fruit not baked in buttery pie dough — this woman is a new friend to me.

If you told me a year ago that I would not want to order dessert on the Blue Pig menu, I might have believed you, because I have been not wanting to order restaurant desserts for a while.

What’s new is that I now do not want to order a dessert and I do not yearn for a bite from the plates around me. I don’t feel deprived. Those desserts are not meant for me. The berries were treat enough. And if berries were not available, we would have been okay.

Had I been dining, for example, with Skipper (who ordered a chocolate dessert one spring at The Blue Pig, when Sis treated for dinner), I would have wanted a spoonful, then another and another. Alternately, I would have felt deprived and later had some dark chocolate, plus more. I would not have left home without a dark bar in my bag — it was as essential as my toothbrush.

I had not been able to skirt sugar. But now, thanks to OA.org and my angel in the 12-step recovery program, I have been doing that, day by day.

as that really me? The person who placed a Mad Batter dinner takeout order and didn’t want dessert? The woman who noticed the Triple Chocolate Cake, $7.50, but did not sway?

It’s one meal at a time.

I know friends, family, even Dan sometimes, people who like expensive liquor brands and classic cocktails. Drinkers drawn, sometimes too much, to the amber glow, the full-bodied grape, the vintage cask. The Bloody Mary with the celery stalk. The tiny, fizzy Italian bubbles (I like those, too, in a Champagne flute), the craft-beer foam, the clink of ice. The bottle shape, the cork, the seal, the label, the curve and slope of the glass. The ritual, the ceremony, the meal pairing — the release that a pour of Pinot Grigio at wine o’clock provides.

But most of all, I guess, they like the way drinking makes them feel, or not feel.

Observing it sometimes scares me.

Because I also know that alcohol taken too far, too often, too much has torn families apart. It can lead to poor decisions, impulsivity, mood swings, lost jobs, arrests, feelings of failure, sharp anger, shame, guilt, paralyzing fear, broken promises to employers, broken hearts for children, spouses/partners, parents, other family and friends — even pets. No grocery money. No rent money. Electricity, phone and health insurance cut-off notices.

too, have let my family down, wasting time, showering devotion, love and money on deluxe sweets and treats in New York City, for instance, and in my own oven, rather than focusing on breaded fish or chicken parmigiana — nice family dinners. I needed the fix constantly but after a high, it left me exhausted, cranky, mean, biting, self-loathing, ashamed and too tired to show up at the stove, cook healthy meals, see the whole picture. Be present.

At those times, I could barely take care of myself, let alone others.

I arrived home late for a bike ride and a picnic dinner in the park with Dan and Baby Annie (on the back of the bike) because I was busy buying and eating pretzels, feeding a cycle of shame, on the walk to the bus. I have been absent at home longer than necessary on NYC workdays because I had to check just one more chocolate shop in that chic metropolis.

Where were my priorities?

We addicts know who we are, and we have a common story.

When I was a new mother, walking from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the Hearst Magazines building every morning, I couldn’t pass the coffee cart on the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue without stopping for a marble cruller. I had already eaten a healthy breakfast at home (strawberry banana smoothie whirred in the blender), but that didn’t matter.

I couldn’t swing it.

What hole was I trying to fill? Guilt — that I had left my darling, blue-eyed baby girl at home with a nanny (and Dan working in his office upstairs), and chosen to keep my career? That I would miss a play date? That I was not hearing sentences she put together in her little raspy voice? Or that I wasn’t there to protect her on her path in the world?

The woman at the coffee cart, her head covered with a hijab, her dark eyes kind and warm—we recognized each other, and exchanged smiles.

It felt like a drug deal, that cheap, fast sugar fix. I handed her a dirty dollar bill and she passed me the dense, twisted cruller, deep-fried, with a white glaze and subtle hint of lemon.

I was alone with my substance, oddly alone on a street crowded with strangers. Was it a secret?

I sunk my teeth in right away, as I walked, carrying my totebag, which held my chic black pumps and a book for the bus. I made fast work of my second breakfast, oversized as it was.

It was a buffer between home life and the office.

I thought, I’m like that man over there with the bottle in the brown paper bag.

And that is the story of an addict.

he Pussy Willow is so lovely with its “catkins” — the furry flowers along the woody branch. But it’s not just for show — not just cute, something to stroke and pet.

Some birds, especially hummingbirds, use that fuzzy softness to line their nests, according to the Penn State Extension Service.

We don’t need food to soften our landings in life — to line our nests. Food is sustenance, food is life, food is pleasurable. Meals can be delicious.

But the idea that a specific donut from a street cart would cushion my landing at work when I had left my baby girl at home — that is as twisted as the marble cruller itself.

That doughy treat would pad my hips and belly, for sure. But the work of life, the truth of life, involves facing our feelings instead of burying them in substances that can kill us in the end.

Tonight’s lesson: Feeling our feelings can be heavy and hard. But inch by inch, step by step, we can do it — rather than lose ourselves and our clarity in unhealthy substances.

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 “#26, Tête-à-Tête Mini Daffodil.” 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.

At Two Mile Beach*, where Dan and I went bird-watching and walked the Marsh and Dune Trails this week.

*Per Wikipedia: Two Mile Beach is a barrier island on the Jersey Shore in Cape May County.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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