Friday, October 28, 2011

Note to self: addiction hurts

Five weeks ago yesterday, I admitted to myself that I was addicted to sugar. Don't laugh; it's not funny at all.

I put two tablespoons of sugar and peppermint syrup into my coffee every morning. I ate red australian licorice - a lot of it. If I went out to dinner, I had a sweet alcoholic drink and dessert every time. Every time. At home, I made sweet drinks, baked cookies, made key lime pie, and had stashes of sweets in many places in my home. I reminded myself of Meg Ryan's character in "When a Man Loves a Woman." She had bottles of alcohol hidden in every room of her house. She couldn't go even a few hours without a drink. She neglected her marriage and her children because of her addiction to alcohol. Okay, so maybe my husband and children didn't suffer from my addiction, but I did have candy hidden in many places in this house. I had candy in the car. I had candy in my purse at all times, in the drawers of my desk, in the drawers of the nightstand next to my bed. Nearly every supermarket trip, every stop at CVS, even trips to health food stores were occasions for me to feed the sugar monster that lived inside me. There is no other way to describe the way I was living: I was addicted.

Back in June when Steve and I went to the Westglow Spa in the North Carolina mountains, the time I met Gloria Steinem, I was told about a massage therapist there who could tell when someone ate a lot of sugar simply by the way their body, their skin, and their joints felt in his hands. Needless to say, I didn't book my massage with that guy. But I ran into him while waiting for one of my treatments. At the time, I was sipping a rather potent cup of sweet tea, herbal tea of course - we were at a spa. When I told him what I'd heard about his famed sugar-seeking hands, he laughed. Then he began to count off the many dangers of sugar, the way in which it poisons our bodies and our planet. I was shocked to learn how much damage I was doing not only to my body, but also to this planet I claim to love - simply by maintaining this addiction to sugar.

Between that informative though disturbing conversation and Thursday, September 29th, I continued to hear and read information about sugar's effects on the body. I wasn't exactly looking for that information, but it began to come to me through articles in magazines, in news stories on television, and in conversations with unrelated people. The message was coming through to my drug-addled brain: "Sugar is your drug of choice, Gail. It's time to stop slowly killing yourself and numbing your emotions with sugar. Addiction hurts."

After shocking myself with the discovery of a ten-pound weight gain on the morning of September 29th, I made the decision: the sugar has to go. Cold turkey. No more coffee in the morning because I cannot drink it without sugar. No more licorice. No more chocolate. No more peanut butter chocolate chip cookies from Great Harvest Bread Company. No more key lime pie from 131 Main. Cut out the lemon drop martinis and mojitos and mai tais. No more cinnamon chip muffins from Manhattan Bagel. No more sweet tea. Done.

I thought I would be in agony. I thought I would suffer from migraine headaches and sluggishness. I was convinced that I would be in a bad mood for the next six months. I am glad to say that I was wrong about every one of those expectations.

Within three days, my skin was clearer and less dry. The ezcema patches on my legs began to clear up and haven't returned. My nasal congestion cleared within a week. I no longer woke up with a stuffy nose. The late morning and mid-afternoon energy slumps disappeared. My digestion system began to function more efficiently. I was more than mildly surprised at how much better I felt overall.

That's when I began to do research about what sugar does to the body. I began to read the blogs of other people who have dealt with their own sugar addictions. Some spoke of remarkable weight loss in the first month of cutting out sugar - one woman lost 8 pounds in the first month; another lost 22 pounds. I have lost 7.5 of the 10 pounds I gained. I am thrilled - and I've decided to try to lose an additional five pounds - what the heck? Others spoke of being able to sleep better. Check. Reduction in acne. Check. Loss of swelling and pain in joints. Check. The lists of positive benefits are long.

This coming Sunday, my daughter will turn 18. (Happy Birthday, Kristiana!!!) In true Belsito family style, we began to celebrate last night with cupcakes and candy. Yes, my husband brought five cupcakes and red licorice into this house last night. The cupcake he picked out especially for me was something called "Peanut Butter Explosion." (Note to self: beware of enablers...) I had to eat some, right? It's my daughter's birthday weekend, her 18th birthday, no less.

So I ate half of the cupcake and six or seven of those licorice circles. Delicious.

And then... I walked away. I felt no need to go back and finish the cupcake. I felt no pull to sneak back downstairs later and eat four handfuls of the licorice. I didn't begin to plan my next trip to Fresh Market or Target or any of the other places I used to frequent to get the best candy for my hidden stockpiles. Thanks be to God, I'm free.

Well, not exactly. I woke up this morning with my right nostril nearly completely blocked. Gotta get some water into this body of mine to wash the sweet nectar of death out of my body again.

As I have been doing an inventory of my closets, dresser drawers, and other hiding places, I have been asking myself what else I am addicted to and what else I've been hiding in the secret places of my life. What other habits do I need to break? To whom have I allowed yourself to get dangerously attached? I've already identified a few names and habits that need to be eliminated from my life diet. Some have already been dropped. A relatively new dependence has snuck up and taken over too much of my time and energy, and I already see the negative effects it is having on my heart and mind and life. I've gotta get over this one - quick. It's not that it's a terrible thing in itself. What concerns me is that I'm feeling that old thrill of the hunt and the conquest again - and I like that feeling. The "hit" followed by the "high" - I only want more, more, more.

It hasn't been easy, but the time has come to admit to the truth of my addictive personality and let The Truth set me free. I know I'll face these addiction-inducing situations, those attachments again and again in my life, but if I can overcome a 40-year sugar habit, I know I can overcome these short-lived challenges. I know that not "if," but "when" I  indulge and get hooked on something new, I can start again. Go back to Day One and begin the journey one more time. I know that the battles are not over, but I am more than a conqueror through the One Who Loves Me Most.

Note to self: addiction hurts.

"My name is Gail, and I'm an addict."


Shandeen Lundgren said...

Great piece on sugar. As I eat habdfuls of Bridge mix candies. I know mt nasal problems and joint issues are due to all the sugar I eat. I love it even when I don't want it I eat sugary food. Thanks for this post. My day will come-I am addicted to sugar.

Jean said...

Interesting that you gave up sugar right before Halloween...the festival of sugar! Did you give up carbs or just refined sugar?

GailNHB said...

I gave up refined sugar for a few weeks, but lately have begun to drink tea again, so I put a little sugar into that, less than half of what I used to use seems to be enough now. I haven't given up all carbs, just the heavily sugar laden things that I was especially addicted to: coffee and tea with tons of sugar, candy, cookies, pie, ice cream, that sort of thing. I know that there is sugar in bread, crackers, and pasta - and I've tried to eat less of all of them as well. The best part is that I don't miss any of them as much as I thought I would.

The positive changes continue to be evident. Clearer skin on my face. No more problems with exzema on my legs, clearer breathing, weight loss, better mood...

I hasten to add that I have also gotten much better at drinking more water, taking vitamins every day, and exercising more vigorously. All of that, combined with the emotional and spiritual exercises I have engaged in lately, has worked to improve my health all around, I think. All of these things are working together quite nicely at the moment.

I am enormously grateful.

GailNHB said...

As for the part about giving sugar up before Halloween, that was part of the reason why I chose to do it now. I know me - once I start eating candy at Halloween, the binge won't end until after the new year. I wanted to see what it would be like to not be drunk on sugar for the final two months of the year.

I will report back in January on how I did.

PS. In the weeks since this change in eating began, I confess that I have stepped off the wagon briefly. I ate a cupcake and a piece of cake on my daughter's birthday weekend. I had four or five small pieces of licorice (Nibs) that my son had last week. I continue to marvel that I haven't felt the urge to go back and binge later on. Freedom is within my reach - at least, in the arena of sugar addiction...

Semi-A said...

I guess this means you won't be having any of the spoon bread that I'll be making this Thursday. Mwahahaha!!

Not making fun. I promise.

GailNHB said...

I most certainly will have dessert on Thursday. I haven't given up sugar forever; I've simply gotten my addiction under control. Life is too short to never eat sweets, but it's too long to give them up entirely. So bring on your spoonbread - it better be good!

Daisy Yellow said...

What a fascinating account of your sugar addiction and how good you feel now that you are choosing it instead of it choosing you. I think I enjoy sugary things more if I eat them rarely, and I choose to eat those that are decadent rather than any ol' sugary thing now.

Lisa Kotin said...

Thank you for this wonderful piece.

I am a recovering sugar addict. My memoir MY CONFECTION: ODYSSEY OF A SUGAR ADDICT was published in January 2016 (Beacon Press). Here is the link:

I am now 10 weeks clean.

Every day without bingeing on sugar is a victory and a blessing for me.

It's a complex addiction, that's for sure!

Thank you again and keep it up.

Lisa Kotin