Addiction Recovery Story #28, Sunflower: The Pink Earrings Helped, But They Can’t Cure It
A week ago Friday — the last day of Skippy’s spring break— we drove down to Sandy Hook with her and two pals. But life’s seas were churning, as they will, and I fell the next night on my recovery path. I picked myself up; the sun came back out. Here is the latest in the story series I started 1/31/21.
I haven’t written a story in this sugar/overeating addiction recovery series since April 7 — that’s 11 days.
I wanted to, I meant to, it pressed on me, because I ran into a roadblock or two during that time. But I was busy writing a short story to enter in a contest and also involved with Skippy, 14. Showing up as a parent, a legal guardian. A member of a team. (AND: Then we were all bouncing with happiness for our older daughter, Annie — accepted into a graduate program to study cyanobacteria in Florida, with a two-year fellowship! Her dream.)
But I did jot down some notes, to remember.
On Friday morning, April 9, before we left for the Shore, I rushed into town for Capri Sun juice pouches and small bags of Cape Cod Potato Chips and Smart Puffs to bring — plus disposable rubber gloves, since I challenged the kids to a beach cleanup contest with $10 cash for the most trash found and hauled out.
Then, after an ATM stop, I dashed into Howell, a small, carefully edited home and accessory shop here in Montclair.
If there is a parking spot in front of the store, that means it was meant to be, I thought. If the earrings are gone, so be it. But if they are still there, then it is meant to be that I become their owner.
Yes, there was a space with a meter and yes, the long, beaded pink earrings I had eyed for a couple of months were still there, dangling deliciously in the window.
The earrings were not in my budget at first, so I had waited a while, paced myself. They are so on trend — I had seen a swimsuit story in a magazine, and the pretty model wore a pair like that, with combed-back wet hair and her sleek maillot. I could picture myself wearing this jewelry with a swimsuit. I emailed Nico, at the store, to find out the price. Still paced myself. Delayed gratification.
Long earrings lengthen the face and distract the eye, lift the focus up from the belly. (Swingy earrings at the beach! That’s new for me. When I swim in oceans, ponds, bays and pools, I rarely leave earrings on. These chin-grazing ones would have to make a waterside statement, then remain behind on my towel.)
I wanted to wear the earrings right away on that day with the kids— for a hopeful boost, a mood lifter — but figured, nah, not while collecting beach trash. Regrettably, in the past, I have made poor fashion decisions. I wore my gold charm bracelet for a family hike on Monhegan Island (the links caught a branch, the bracelet broke, but luckily, I found it) and just this weekend, I got the fine gold necklace chain I wear almost daily twisted on a Connecticut Audubon walk with Sis.
But that Friday, when things got choppy, and parenting fears rose up, with good reason — one crashing wave coming after another, in conversation — I thought, The pink earrings help. Even waiting back at home in the box, they were a shield of beauty, a color note, a promise of parties, poolside, pink.
I wore them the next five out of seven days.
Material things do soothe me. I am a consumer. I like fashion and accessories. I know, it’s superficial.
Was I treating the earrings like a talisman, imbuing them with the power of rosary beads? Acting as if they were magic?
But knowing they were waiting, and that I would wear them the next day — it did ease the winds of fear, calm the unknown, uncharted waters. I knew those earrings were mine. Other things were uncertain, out of my hands. The earring ownership was not.
The pink earrings help, I thought more than once on that rocky day.
They did help, but they are cosmetic, skin-deep. Working my 12-step recovery program would have helped me more. Because while I stayed present, held it together in an adult way in the face of upset and quaking fright— “We addicts can’t afford fear,” my angel in the program says — I did not work the steps as vigorously as I might have and a day later, a dollar short, I turned to the food. I could have reached out to program friends via text or call, wrote, read. Paused more in the moment for prayer.
I think it all began on the car ride, in the passenger seat, when I tore open “just one” small bag of chips.
THE PINK EARRINGS HELPED, BUT THEY DON’T SOLVE PROBLEMS. THEY DON’T CHANGE PEOPLE, OR PROTECT THEM. THEY ARE PRETTY ACCESSORIES, NOT LIFE-ALTERING LESSONS.
It was nighttime when I fell into the food. As I wrote in Addiction Recovery Story #22, Tiger Lily: Taming Jungle Hunger at Night, nighttime is dangerous territory for my overeating addiction — I reach for food in a frenzy, as fuel to stay awake. I had kept clear, healthy and, I hope, helpful boundaries with Skippy. I tried to put safe guideposts in place. I did not twist in the wind with her.
But I did not honor clear, healthy fences around my own needs — the fences that help my garden grow and stay tended without going wild.
Dan was making dinner, one night after the beach day. We agreed on salad and ravioli but we were tired and stressed, and he skipped doing the salad. I did not fix one, either. I decided not to follow the balanced plan, just go with the ravioli. Steamy, doughy, cheesy, soft pillows on a plate. I raced through them with my fork.
But I was pulling late nights to meet the Sunday midnight story contest deadline. I was fearful I wouldn’t make it, and anxious. I wrote down that I felt ashamed, too. I had known about the April 11 deadline since March 8. Being tardy can bring up shame for me. Like my addictive behavior, it’s something I’m working to change.
I would like to stop feeding this pattern in my life — this habit of meeting deadlines under the wire, at the last minute. It is stressful, erratic, undependable. The rush of adrenalin may help, but what would happen if an emergency came up or I got sick? The clock, the calendar, does not wait.
I had also replayed a mistake I wrote about in this story series: I bought those two boxes of snack-size chip and Smart Puffs bags for the three kids (and Dan) on the beach day. But they barely ate them. Portion-controlled or not, those treats called out to me when I was riding off the rails in fear and anxiety. In small bags or not, salty potato chips and cheese puffs are a trigger for me.
Shampoo, rinse, repeat. But no more repeating this pattern. I guess I bought the treats to please and feed the young girl in me.
No courage, forgiveness or relief can be found in a chip bag.
The Mammoth Sunflower is, yes, mammoth. Dan grows them as big as Jack’s bean stalk…they are, indeed, sunny. They make you smile, lift your heart a little.
He is going to sow the seeds soon, so the huge flowers can come. And I — I will continue to sow the seeds on my road to overeating/sugar addiction recovery.
Tonight’s lesson: Change is not an impossible dream. Adjust the time clock so you can be responsible and professional about writing (and other) deadlines. Being late causes stress and leads to feelings of failure and shame. You lose sleep catching up, and don’t take care of yourself. You also know by now —meeting a deadline at the 11th hour is an eating trigger. Moreover, working at night, when you want to be resting, stacks the odds against you and stirs up feelings of resentment. Work when others work, sleep when others sleep. Be present for yourself and your family.
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 “#29, Hydrangea.” 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.