Addiction Recovery Story #33, Climbing Rose: Starting at the Bottom, Searching for the Sun

“How many times can a person hit bottom?” I once asked my longtime/current therapist. “That’s the question, right?” he said. I slipped and fell Monday night and hit bottom again, emotional scrapes, bruises and all. I was drowning in fear, which, allowed to fester, turned to anger. But now, things are better. Like a Climbing Rose, I continue to grow, and to seek the light. This is the latest installment in a series started on 1/31/21.

Climbing Rose, alcohol ink, 2021, Linda Silver. My talented cousin Lin has been producing beautiful art since girlhood in the Bronx. I’m proud to say that our good Dads were brothers — and our Italian grandma’s name was Rose.

have two painful memories of hitting bottom — that hard, harsh reality that finally points you on a path to addiction recovery. Things can’t get worse than this, you think. Swimming in your addiction (mine is sugar/overeating), you somehow glimpse a slice of the truth. In your erratic, unsteady, seeking-the-next-fix state, you miraculously see that you are wrecking your life and the lives of those you love. You are a silver ball in a pinball machine, bouncing in a playing field of flashing lights and noises. You have no control. Things can only get better.

One recollection is so haunting and dark that I have only shared it with a handful of people closest to me.

It was right before our planned Christmas drive to Maine in 2016. I had a pecan pie in the oven, made with a recipe from famous pastry chef Emily Luchetti (formerly of Stars restaurant, San Francisco). The scent of toasted pecans, melting butter and sugar wafted through the house. The whole affair was cradled in rich pie dough, the best crust recipe I had up my size XL sleeve. My pie basket was ready and waiting to carry the pie up north.

Stress was running high — we had spent over our (unrealistic) gift budget, bills were due, a nine-hour drive loomed ahead and a painful rift was tearing our family holiday apart.

But the pie, the pie smelled good. All might be right in the world with a pie in the oven, a promise of sweetness. I set the timer and ran out to the grocery store to get one last round for our trip, plus a couple of festive, last-minute presents from the soap and candle corner.

Soon after, everything crashed to hell.

I can’t go into details here. Too ugly and sad. Too private. But trust me, I hit my absolute worst bottom that Christmastime — no where to go except up, like the Climbing Rose.

We never did get to Maine that December. I gave the pie to my Sis and her family. Hands down, it was the saddest, loneliest Christmas of my life.

he other memory, after that, is of sitting on a cement wall on a summer Sunday morning outside CVS in Montclair, talking on my cell to my then OA sponsor, a kind, older man with keen insights and a true heart.

“I’m glad you called me,” he said. I was crying. I knew that overeating desserts was causing me to be an erratic wife and mother, a flailing writer, with mean, spiky, self-pitying moods. I was ashamed. I wanted to change, to get better. To stop hurting my family. To move on as a writer. To be clear and true.

he recent almost-hitting-bottom involved LÄRABARs, treats masquerading as “pure.” Sneaky, snippy Miss Sugar creeped into my psyche, and my cart, at CVS. I had gone for a prescription, but had a $5 coupon off grocery items. I tossed a few cans of Amy’s organic vegetable soup, a Thai noodle bowl, a bag of nuts — and the last two lonely boxes of LÄRAs — into my cart. To Miss Sugar’s delight, the bars contained mini chocolate chips.

So lucky, I thought, sweeping them off the shelf. The last two boxes! Skippy doesn’t always eat regular meals. She will like them for snacks or breakfast. I’m glad I got the last two.

But before the day ended, I had eaten most of the bars, unwrapped them methodically one by one by one, and moved onto many other foods, overeating in a frenetic fashion.

Addictive behavior, loud and clear.

angel/guide/Clarence/seasoned traveler in the recovery program has advised me to swear off foods that trigger my addiction. For me, that includes chocolate, desserts/sweets, fried foods and white/French/Italian bread, with or without butter.

Pizza on my plan has a whole-wheat or cauliflower (not white-flour) crust. Even Ah’ Pizz, a trendy pizza place in hip Montclair, offers a “build your own” option with cauliflower crust ($8 extra). When Dan last made pizza for dinner, he got me a small frozen pie with cauli crust at ShopRite.

The idea is that sugar and white flour leads to more — and more and more and more — sugar and white flour for people like me.

After several months, my guide steered me toward a new higher path: I don’t buy sweets for others. It seems obvious now, but had not occurred to me. If Skippy, Dan or Annie want sweets, they can buy them. If I’m out and about with a daughter, and she wants a single-serving dessert, I will treat. But I am not the one bringing sweets home anymore. The LÄRAs got in on a technicality. Deep down, I’m buying the treats for the girl in me, not for my family.

This takes some thinking, though, if it includes a blanket moratorium on sending fine La Maison du Chocolat deliveries to Meg and Greg in Vermont (delicate, elite, Parisian portions, to brighten the pandemic for two ski buffs) or Easter treats to Sis in Connecticut.

I had Dan get the Easter loot for Skip and Annie this year.

“What? This is literally half the amount of candy I got last year,” said Skippy, examining her basket. “No, seriously. It is.” I had put mini succulent plants (our young women love plants) and pretty shampoos in to fill out the grass beds.

I tend to go overboard. But Skip often took a month to eat a chocolate bunny, anyway.

Still, what can I drop off to thank lovely, generous friends who run a local florist? I think Skip and I stopped by with homemade Southern cheese wafers once…if we can’t bring donuts, pastries, cookies, candy, what can we bring?

I just realized...fresh fruit is perfect. I can layer berries with orange cantaloupe and pale green honeydew chunks (such pretty colors) and scatter the fiesta with freshly snipped mint leaves — and/or we can carry in a tall pitcher of iced java with coffee ice cubes, a ripple of cream and a shake of cinnamon.

It’s the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dyin’
That never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose

— from “The Rose,” written by Amanda McBroom. Recorded by Bette Midler, 1979.

I’ve written about roses (even the Climbing Rose) before in this series, but truly, she is the queen of the garden. I recall rows and rows of fragrant, vibrant and velvety showstoppers in New Rochelle, New York, lovingly tended by Romeo, husband to my mother’s lifelong best friend. My other rose stories: #17, Pearly Gates Climbing Rose: Goodbye, Girl Scout Thin Mints; #20, Beach Rose/Salt-Spray Rose: Slip-sliding, Clinging to the Dunes; and #31, Wild Rose: Tough Flowers Bring the Beauty.

Tonight’s lesson: Hitting bottom serves its very important purpose. Nowhere to go except up. We can reach for sunshine, like the Climbing Rose. We deserve to bloom in the light.

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 “#34, Blue Vervain.” 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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