Addiction Recovery Story #32, Purple Thistle: Prickly Weed or Cherished Wildflower?

This is a dark story, laced with fear. At 10:50 p.m. on a Friday night, I feel scared and powerless mothering a teen. I can’t fix or smooth this — can I? Am I strong enough, graceful enough, able enough, to see this through? Fright can be deadly for an unsteady person (like me) with a history of using sugar as armor. Rather than see only darkness in.this.moment, I will seek a bit of beauty and calm through writing. This is #32 in the series I started 1/31/21.

On February 17, I wrote Addiction Recovery Story #13, Milk Thistle: Out with the Oreos. But TBH, I chose that wildflower name because “Milk” went so well with the Oreos topic. I did not have an illustration. But now I have beautiful botanical artwork from Annie.

I’m so upset right now, so scared. I cannot go into details. That would be divulging private information that belongs to someone else.

I think I hate the teen years. As a parent, a mother, a guardian, maybe I’m only suited for baby years, toddler years and little-girl years — to soft, footie pajamas, birthday cakes, party crowns, splashing in the sea, gathering scallop shells. Then, fast-forward to age 25, when more of a young adult’s brain is fully formed. (Please see “Is It in You? A Letter to My Daughters about Cape Cod.”)

Maybe I’m too gullible, too suspicious, too old-fashioned to serenely navigate these turbulent times.

We can uproot all the Purple Thistles for a flawless lawn — or we can leave them and notice their flowers, protected in thorny crowns. We have a big clump of them growing right now by the curb.

The teen is growing, too.

My angel in the sugar/overeating addiction recovery program reminds me that “we addicts can’t afford fear.”

Allow me to make some Purple Thistle + teen comparisons, to calm myself down.

According to the Florida Wildflower Foundation, “Purple Thistle is the larval host plant for the Little Metalmark and Painted Lady butterflies. The seeds are an important food source for birds.” Yes, this teen offers beauty to the world and is important.

“Thistles have a bad reputation for their spiny personality, but these formidable wildflowers shine as favorite nectar and host plants for many bees and butterflies, including swallowtails,” the wildflower lovers say. Here at home, we grapple with bad behavior, spiny personality, but this teen is formidable and loved by the entire animal kingdom — every single dog and cat on our block, and in her greater sphere, is drawn to her, and vice versa.

The botanical description describes “menacingly spiked leaves” that are “toothed, and each tooth is armed with a sharp spine.” Menacing. Sharp. That sums up a lot of recent teen behavior for me. Yet I think seeing it as “menacing” says more about me lacking courage and acceptance as an adult than about the teen. Teenagers push boundaries, some more than others, some more safely than others. But I don’t know if I can take it. I don’t know if I can overlook the spiked leaves with jagged teeth and notice the color, the bee- and world-nurturing flower anymore.

“The unopened flower buds resemble tiny artichokes, while the mature blooms appear as compact purple brushheads contained within a fortress of wickedly spiny leaves. No wonder this species’ name is horridulum!” according to the experts from the Sunshine State. Tiny. Wicked. Did I say that? That’s mean.

Per Wikipedia, “these features are an adaptation that protects the plant from being eaten by herbivores” — and thistle flowers also provide down for lining birds’ nests. Scary features for self-preservation? Maybe. Different way to look at the behavior. Or is it — keep off, keep away, I’m becoming my own flower, mind your own business?

One more thing. Thistle is a ghost town in southeastern Utah County, Utah — it was once a hub for servicing steam locomotives. In 1983, a massive landslide destroyed the town.

I don’t want our Thistle to get lost in a landslide.

We will keep trying, and see where the road safely takes us. Thank you for being there to read this. I’m glad I wrote how I felt — faced the fears, and my limits — instead of overeating. Sometimes it’s really hard to be on a parenting team.

Tonight’s lesson: At baby showers, instead of just giving new parents fleece onesies and soft booties, maybe we should present a Truth Book about possible happenings in the teen years. Midnight feedings seem like nursery food compared to the rock candy of teen years. But it’s better to maintain sanity and grace than get lost in the contents of the cupboard and fridge. I would feel much worse tomorrow.

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 “#33, Climbing Rose.” 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, and is a Contributing Writer for aspire design and home. Alice is in a recovery program.

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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