Friday, May 28, 2010

Addicted to Sugar

Close to 20 years ago, at a La Leche League Meeting (a support group for women who are breastfeeding their babies), I'd heard the concept of sugar addiction.  I tossed it off as ridiculous - sugar is just a food!  How can you be addicted to a food?  But the statement stuck in my brain, and over the years, I noticed that I ate a LOT of sugar!  I was a single coparent (my ex was an active parent as well, but when I had the kids, I had them) for a very long time, and after the kids went to bed, I would dive into whatever yummy things were in the house as my treat at the end of the day.  It was quite enjoyable.  The negative effect was that I would get jazzed up on sugar and not go to sleep until 2 AM.  That time of  night was also my time to myself to be alone and raed or watch a movie to call friends on the phone or anything else I wanted to do as an adult.  But it made it difficult to get up in the morning to get the kids off to school!  I managed, but then I'd nap during the day any time I had 10-20 minutes to do so.  I also began to notice that my moods would swing somewhat.  I'd snap at the kids with too little provocation.  And I'd get horrible headaches that would put me out of commission for the rest of the day.  It took a while to put two and two together, but I began to realize that the amount of sugar I was eating was having a deleterious affect on my life. 

For several years I attempted to stop eating it.  I'd manage for a week or two, but after that time, the cravings would get pretty intense, and I wouldn't really be able to keep myself from eating it.  Or if I got past that time, something would come up - the anniversary of my grandmother's death reminded me of the banana bread she used to make for me, so I made a loaf, ate it, and got hooked on sugar again for another year.  Another time I was at my mother's.  She had a former neighbor of ours visiting her and had served her some brownies.  She offered me some.  I said no thank you.  She said, "It's ridiculous that you aren't eating sugar - how is one brownie going to hurt you?"  It was in front of someone I cared about.  Quite awkward.  Difficult to turn down.  Made me feel ridiculous and rigid.  I believe I started eating it again that evening.

I was finding it to be difficult to stop responding to stress, even if it was just the stress of everyday life, by eating sugar.  When I was tutoring, I'd have a 10 minute break during which I'd walk to 7-11 and get a couple of candy bars to eat.
I talked to a friend who had stopped drinking alcohol in a unique way - he arranged with three friends that he would call each of them once a week.  During that time, the contact would ask my friend specific questions they'd arranged beforehand, then he/she would listen attentively and non-judgmentally as he answered them.  He made the situation safe for himself and chose good listening partners.  Through this, he was able to stop drinking alcohol.

I decided to try that with sugar.  One of my listening partners was that friend.  Another I chose almost at random from Quaker Meeting.  And the third was a woman who'd been a good friend for a long time and with whom I was very close.

I had them ask me the following questions:

* Has anything come up this week that has made it difficult to not eat sugar?
* How are you feeling?
* What sort of feelings did you have that you wanted to stuff down with sugar?
* What did you do this week that made you feel good?

I didn't know how the questions would work, or if they would.  What I found was that the third question was the best: "What sort of feelings did you have that you wanted to stuff down with sugar?"  I hadn't made the connection before, but I began to realize that I would want sugar when I wasn't wanting to feel my feelings.  It took me out of them quite effectively (temporarily).  When I gave myself the opportunity to feel the feelings instead, I no longer felt the desire/need to eat.  It was very gentle and loving. 

Each time I'd tried to stop eating sugar before, I'd felt like I was depriving myself of my favorite thing.  This time, in contrast, I perceived it as giving myself a gift.  A precious gift.  A gentle and loving gift:  attention and compassion, just the things I'd been needing most.

It was mostly wonderful checking in with my friends.  One of them, though, I found, didn't have an understanding of the possibility of sugar as an addictive substance, so she would chide me or gently deride me for being so hard on myself that I was giving up sugar.  (I already didn't drink much alcohol or smoke or drink caffeine, so she thought I was just being overly perfectionistic.)  She wasn't an effective listening partner, so I gradually stopped calling her.  The other two, though, were very helpful, especially my Friend from Quaker Meeting. I hadn't known that she had her own issues with food addictions when I asked her to support me, but her history ended up being perfect for me - she understood my situation and the feelings I was having and knew a lot about skills I could use to be gentle enough to stop eating sugar.  We talked weekly for many years, eventually becoming intensely intimate friends.  I will be forever grateful to her for her warm and loving insights and support and compassion.

After a couple of years of not eating sugar, it became easier to go to parties and not feel weird.  I learned how to say no at dinner parties and restaurants.  I learned to not feel deprived.  I reminded myself that this was a gift.  The 25 pounds I lost were a bonus, but not the reason I stopped eating it.

I noticed that my moods evened out.  I didn't snap at the kids in the same way.  And I started creating more.  My creativity blossomed.  Since I wasn't stuffing feelings down, I was able to access them and everything else that lay beneath them, and I started making things all the time!  I was writing poetry, making polymer clay, teaching well, then drawing and painting.  I believe that giving up sugar was my doorway to my creative life.  Now THAT's a real gift!

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