Addiction Recovery Story #35, Black King Pansy: Keep on the Sunny Side
I have a good, true sponsor in my 12-step program; a loving family; and supportive friends in my life and my group, but that Black King Pansy keeps unfurling and popping up at night. I try to uproot it — weed out the yen for sugar, banish the surrender to sweets — and instead trust my Higher Power. But all addictions can dig in. Ours is a world of trials and temptations, with a vending machine at every turn. This is the latest installment in the flower-titled story series I started 1/31/21.
Several people in my extended family are in recovery. I am proud of them — in awe of them, really. To put down a substance you have come to depend on in an unhealthy way and then carry on with a good life; that is true freedom and success.
I marvel at their abstinence, never more than at big holiday dinners, when some in our large group are lifting wineglasses at the table.
How do the ones in recovery do it? How do they resist what lured them for so long? How are they not tempted?
How do they stick to coffee, seltzer, apple cider or water when people are pouring wine?
I think often of Paula from the past, the blonde, long-time girlfriend of my good brother-in-law. (I have five good brothers-in-law up in Maine.) I liked Paula— and I also love that same brother-in-law’s wife, Martha of the present, who also happens to be blonde.
Paula did not drink alcohol or eat sugar.
I didn’t understand the sugar part. I, who brought blueberry crumbles and locally made Maine ice cream to family gatherings, who pored over cookbooks to find the best pies and Grape-nut pudding (it’s a Maine thing)— I couldn’t comprehend the sugar part.
The most Paula would indulge in, sometimes as a treat shared with my brother-in-law’s two sweet young daughters, was Breyers sugar-free ice cream. They were happy to find new flavors at the supermarket.
Once, when just the two of us were in the kitchen, I approached Paula. She was near the dish rack. I was by the old farmhouse table.
“Paula, can I ask you a question?”
“How come you don’t eat desserts?”
“Well, they say sugar can have some of the same effects as alcohol,” she said.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. “Thanks. I didn’t mean to pry — I was just wondering. I admire you. That seems so healthy.”
That was maybe 20 years ago.
It has taken me a lifetime to arrive at a place where I see sugar and now, white flour, as substances to avoid, foods that trigger my overeating, keep me shaky and erratic, not grounded. Less productive. That I need more and more and more of them. Long gone are the days when a candy bar — even a dark chocolate dipped Kind Bar — was manageable, or enough.
But change is possible. Tonight, I cooked chickpea pasta, not regular white Ronzoni. Last night, I made my friend/healthy chef Rach’s turkey Bolognese sauce to spoon over spaghetti squash. I believe in myself. I will take care of myself so I can better show up for life, and for others, without the fog of sugar brain.
Pansies thrive in full or partial sun. Yet I would not choose blooms colored like the deep night sky. No, I would select a mix of true purple, lavender, butter yellow, bright yellow, orange, blue and cloud white.
I want the garden flowers to be bright and cheerful, not funereal. I want them to lift my spirits. But I understand that others are drawn to the Black King, and I respect that. One house in town is gothic, with gargoyles and all. Black pansies would fit perfectly in the urns.
How dramatic it would be to adorn a plate of waffles with black pansies (see photo above) and pure Vermont maple syrup**— my Sis and I just visited Nebraska Knoll Sugar Farm in Stowe in May, with Meg and Greg. Or, picture this for a Halloween party: Golden baked Brie or a log of snow-white goat cheese strewn with a few Black Kings.
My addiction slips are like black pansies because they happen in the night, when the rest of my family, and the kitten and the dog, are asleep. I am alone in the kitchen.
They happen when I am fearful, anxious, angry, hurt or disappointed. When my husband didn’t get our blue bed sheets I asked for from the dryer when he went down to the basement for something (didn’t he hear me — I’m so tired — it’s so late — I’m unappreciated), when the 17-year-old dog peed on the floor again and our house looks dark and messy, when our adult daughter has negative feedback for us about the legal guardianing of the younger one, who is traveling a rocky road.
The black pansies pop up when I don’t take care of myself (washing my face so it’s soft and clean, brushing and flossing my teeth).
They are not bright bursts of cheer.
Some people — and I aim to be one of them — can withstand fear, anxiety, anger, hurt or disppointment without reaching for a substance.
For them, nighttime can be beautiful. The Black King can be striking.
For me, for now, I have to keep on the sunny side, hour by hour, day by day, night by night.
Tonight’s lesson: Black pansies are memorable— they might not be what we expect to find in a garden, but they can teach us about rare opportunity and striking drama. My black pansies, my nighttime slips at the kitchen table — they teach me, too. I can choose to see them as a rare opportunity to change and turn my face to the sun.
*Follow @bakercreekseeds on Instagram. They have a recipe for Black King Pansy Syrup (and a vegan cookbook, too).
**To be clear, even pure maple syrup is off my list for now because it could trigger my sugar switch. But other members of my family enjoy it. I brought two gold-foil-wrapped bottles back from the Sugar Farm.
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 “#36, Queen Anne’s Lace.” 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 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.