On releasing that which doesn’t serve us


The other morning as I walked along this white sand beach I was thinking about the things that bind us up. I began to think about substance abuse. (Because doesn’t everyone think about substance abuse while walking on a pristine white beach with a breeze blowing a balmy 35 degrees? That might be the first clue to my need for some help.) This has been on my mind a lot lately because I have an addiction that I just can’t seem to kick and I feel my health demands that I do so. I come from a family with a history of alcoholism. I never began drinking because I feared I’d become an alcoholic too. The danger was high and I wasn’t willing to risk it. That didn’t keep me from marrying one, but that is not the subject of this blog post.

I am completely addicted to sugar. I have quit it before, and as long as I stay away completely I can stay off.  I feel way better when I’m off sugar. When I mention that I have to completely avoid it, some well-meaning person will say “That’s not realistic. You need to be able to have a treat sometimes. Just learn to control yourself and only have one _________ (fill in the blank with anything sugary). I quickly agree with them, and help myself to whatever the treat is. And maybe I’m content with that the first time. But there always comes a second and and third and pretty soon I’m taking extras in my pocket for later on, or I’m casually helping myself to a second portion, as though the first one wasn’t a thing, or as if I won’t go off the deep end. I take some home for later, and maybe just pop into the supermarket for a carton of ice cream. Organic ice cream is okay, right? No. It’s not okay because I know that I will have to eat at least half of the carton at one sitting. Maybe even the whole thing. For a sugar addict like myself there is no such thing as just a tiny little bowl of ice cream. I always marveled at my mom who could have a little ice cream in a custard cup and two tiny Trader Joe’s cookies and be satisfied. I would have my ice cream in a big bowl and eat all the cookies. No question about it.

As I write this I hear the voice of a friend of an alcoholic offering just one beer, not realizing that there is no way that will only be one beer. Or one hit of meth or whatever nasty thing a person is addicted to. There is no way a person who is not an addict can understand the needs of one who is. Someone who can have only one just doesn’t get someone who can’t.  That is not a failing of that person, but we who are addicted to something have to know better than to listen to them.

I hear you. You who are suggesting that my equating an addiction to sugar to that of alcohol or methamphetamines is bunk. You think I’m being overly dramatic, making a mountain out of a molehill, and I get it. You can buy sugar at every single place that sells anything. You can buy it at any age. How can it be like a controlled substance? Well, it is and it isn’t.

It’s like it because I can’t say no to it. Or maybe I can for a little while, but once the idea of it is in my head it will buzz in there until I go get the thing. For example, someone mentions Junior Mints, and how they always used to eat them in movies. That will begin the buzzing. Hm…Junior Mints aren’t that bad. The chocolate is dark and they are really small. Well if you only ate one or two maybe it wouldn’t be such a big thing, but I know I will want a movie size box of them. And I won’t quit eating them until all are gone. And then I’ll look around for what other sweet treat I can eat. Maybe some organic ice cream…

Sugar isn’t like alcohol or other drugs because it isn’t a controlled substance. Bingo! It isn’t controlled so it’s socially acceptable to be addicted to it, unlike drugs or alcohol which are controlled by the law.  You can’t buy drugs within the law at all. And alcohol is at least controlled for age. I don’t think a recovering alcoholic would think that is enough control, but I don’t know enough about being one of those to even talk about it. None of the alcoholics I’ve been related to ever recovered from it.

The thing about sugar is that it is responsible for so many bodily ailments. It is highly inflammatory, and that leads to all sorts of illnesses. If you Google “Effect of sugar on…” you have a choice between brain, body, blood pressure, liver, skin, mood, health and plant growth. Okay, leave out plant growth. I didn’t read the whole thing, but apparently it’s not so good for plants either. Listen to all this:

  1. Your Brain: Eating sugar gives your brain a surge of dopamine, which feels really good. But in order to continue to get the same level of good feelings you need more and more sugar. This helps create that addictive craving for sweet treats.
  2. Your mood: When you first eat sugar you get that dopamine ‘high’ and you feel great. But as it is absorbed, you ‘crash,’ which leads you to feel anxious. Eventually this can lead to depression.
  3. Your teeth: Your mom undoubtedly told you all about sugar and cavities so I won’t. But it’s true. Eating sugar causes cavities.
  4. Joint pain: Sugar causes inflammation which can cause your joints to ache. Studies show that sugar consumption can actually lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Your Skin: As sugar attaches to proteins in your bloodstream they create something called AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which make your skin look old. In short, it causes wrinkles!
  6. Your Heart: Oh my, this is huge. The excess insulin in your bloodstream can cause your artery walls to grow too fast, causing damage to your circulatory system. It can lead to heart attacks, heart disease and strokes.
  7. Your pancreas: When you eat too much sugar your pancreas tires out from putting out all the insulin that is needed to process it. Eventually it shuts down, setting you up for pre-Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  8. Your kidneys: If you have diabetes, too much sugar can lead to kidney damage.
  9. Your liver: Fructose can trigger your liver to build up fat around itself, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This was rarely seen before 1980 when sugar consumption began to be so huge in the U.S.
  10. Your Body Weight: Ugh! Do I ever know this story. The more sugar you eat, the more you weigh. Especially watch for sugar sweetened beverages. They really pack on the weight.
  11. Sexual health: Too much sugar can make men impotent. This goes back to the part about circulation problems. The blood can’t get to where it needs to go. Enough said.
  12. Cholesterol: There is a connection between excess sugar consumption and the elevation of bad cholesterol. I think this has been surprising because people have always connected bad cholesterol with fat consumption, but studies are showing a connection that involves sugar.
  13. “Type 3 Diabetes:” A Brown University study found a connection between a high-fat diet, insulin resistance and Alzheimers. They likened it to “diabetes of the brain.” In this case the brain’s ability to use glucose and produce energy is damaged.
  14. Sugar makes you hungry: When you regularly eat too much sugar, your body loses the ability to tell when you’ve had enough to eat. You still feel hungry even when you are overeating. Back to the overweight thing.

Have you read enough yet? It’s overwhelming isn’t it? I’ve included links to the articles I read so you can read the plethora of details for yourself.

Sources: Web MD , Prevention Magazine , Health.com, Dr. MercolaWellness Mama

Once again, I’m convinced. I can easily forget all these things when I’m on a roll with sugar, but I never don’t know it. I just look the other way. So what am I going to do about it? It is clear to me that I need to quit eating it. I was pretty much sugar free for the past week while on vacation, not because of virtue, but because of availability, so I guess this is a good time to keep it going. The thing to remember is I have an addiction to the stuff, and I can’t just decide my way out of an addiction. Cold turkey only lasts until I pass the ice cream freezers at the supermarket, so here are a few things I will do, in case you might want some suggestions too.

  1. Drink more water. When you crave sugar there is a good chance that you are thirsty. As we get older our body disguises thirst as sugar craving. So I will try drinking a big glass of water whenever I crave sugar.
  2. If I am craving emotional comfort and look for some sugar to assuage that desire, I will try EFT tapping. I have done a little of this and it is very calming . It isn’t just for sugar cravings or weight loss, but that is one thing that it is useful for. There is an excellent book about this by Jessica Ortner called The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss & Body Confidence. I got it on Audible, and I obviously can’t practice tapping while I drive, which is when I listen to books, but I will be setting aside time to listen and practice at home.
  3. Sometimes people recommend using a sugar substitute like Stevia or honey or maple syrup. While I love those ideas just like I love sugar, they are just a substitute. For me, that will just lead back to the real thing. So I won’t be substituting some other substance for sugar. It’s the habit and practice I need to change, not the taste.
  4. I think it’s a no-brainer to say that I’ll remove all of the sugar from my house. The ice cream in the freezer, those Kind bars I got at Costco, all of it. It will lurk until I eat it, so out it must go.
  5. I always begin the day with a breakfast that has fat, protein and vegetables. That will continue. It makes me feel balanced and solid as I start the day.
  6. Meditation. Purposeful calming and centering will be a helpful way to divert my energy from emotional eating, which always involves sugar for me.
  7. Walking. When I walk regularly, even for half an hour, I feel centered and solid and less likely to have the emotional fluctuations that will lead to gobbling sugar.

This could go on forever. Thanks for hanging in with me until the end. This is such a big topic, and it affects so many of us that I think I have to just stop, rather than think I can actually finish. I will return to this topic as my quest continues, and would love to hear anyone else’s experience and suggestions about it.

Gifts From the Sea


Tiny perfect things.

I’ve come to the beach for a few days.  I’m in the company of two dear friends, both of whom live far from me. Our times together are infrequent, yet the friendship runs deep and true and is instantly alive whenever we meet.

The trip to get here was grueling. Like passing through a portal that is far too small for comfort. Three plane rides, sitting in middle seats between people who were not my people. They were unobtrusive enough, although the weirdness seemed to intensify with each plane ride. On the longest one I sat between a young man who had a big lipful of chew, the spittle constantly being added to a water bottle that he kept in his seat pocket and a habitually vacationing margarita drinker from Coeur d’Alene Idaho who was just tryin’ to get through the winter. Between the smell of alcohol on her breath and the sight of his brown liquid…well, it was a long flight. Maybe I was just being a little precious about it all, but nevertheless I was grossed out.

Then there was my choice of traveling equipment. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to buy a new backpack, as I haven’t had one for years. I found one at TJ Maxx a couple of days before I left that just looked perfect. And it is pretty perfect, easy enough to carry and all, with a cunning little compartment for my laptop and lots of well placed pockets everywhere. I loaded it up with my computer and other special stuff and used it as my carryon. It fit alright under the seat and all, but it’s heavy, and it has no hidden wheels. So as I slogged through the airport weighted down with my perfect backpack, my knee beginning to ache, I kind of wished for some of those little wheels on the flashy new underseat bags I’ve been seeing hawked on Facebook so much lately. However, one of those wouldn’t have fit under Delta’s new supremely skinny seats. Why they fit three seats in such a small space I can’t imagine. They were definitely not considering the comfort of their guests. It’s clearly about dollars.

Anyway, after a long day of travel I arrived at this perfect beach house in Panama City Beach, Florida. It is right on the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins cavort out in front of us as we sit in our Restoration Hardware living room or on our lovely white wooden balcony. The sand is white with trails of bird footsteps and the shells plentiful, small and perfect.

I walked on the beach today and it occurred to me that sometimes the best life experiences include an ordeal in order to arrive and be fully present.  As I walked along the water’s edge picking up tiny shells I kept thinking “Gifts from the Sea.” And then my mind went to Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book of nearly the same title. Was she talking about seashells or a different sort of gifts? I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon.

When the water lapped at my feet I thought of the gifts of peace and rhythm that the sea offers, the opportunity to think of nothing as I watch for the next wave to arrive, knowing without a doubt that it will.  It seems to loosen the knots within me without any effort on my part and there comes an understanding that all things soften with time. Will that knowledge lead to a nurturing of my patience? For a few days anyway? One can hope.

Writing and Painting: A Story Unearthed

Purple Mountain Majesty

Purple Mountain Majesty

For the past couple of years I’ve been writing a memoir. I have a story to tell and it’s kind of burning to get out. Okay, it’s a glowing ember, not exactly a flame, but I have kept at it, little by little for a while now. I started somewhere in the middle I think, and have been writing around that middle, adding a little here and there, always looking for the big idea of it all. This writing stuff isn’t for sissies, I definitely recognize that. How do you take a story from a mildly interesting chronological listing of events that happened,  to a story with a heart and a purpose? That has been my struggle.

At the end of my painting class we had to do a final exam painting. I started without an idea for that project. As I sat looking at my canvas, my friend said “Paint the story.” She was referring to a story I’d told her, one that is at the heart of the memoir. It is a story of the heartbreak and fortitude of a young woman who had no other choice but to be strong through such a difficult time.  I shook my head, my eyes tearing up, and said, “Why does everything have to hurt? I don’t want to paint that story.” The teacher walked up and overhearing me, asked me to tell her the story.  I did and she told me to paint it. “Begin with the wall. Paint the wall first.” I began by drawing a tipi and some parallel lines with charcoal and then smudging them up. I didn’t really want those images in the painting but I did want them in the memory of the painting, so once they were drawn I began to paint over them. I used titanium White, Unbleached Titanium White, Burnt Umber and Parchment. Both Titanium whites are completely opaque, but the others aren’t so at first the charcoal images kind of ghosted on the canvas.

As I continued to add layers of paint and new images, I felt the story unwinding within me. I suddenly realized that the story is about how we struggle through heartbreak without even realizing how badly we are hurt.  Sometimes life is too demanding to take time to stop and really feel it and thinking about it threatens to take us under.  In that moment we really don’t have the strength for it, so we just forge ahead, doing the daily tasks that must be done until the edges of the hurt have been blunted. That leaves it buried deeply, where it can quietly gnaw at us for the rest of our life. I have been surprised on several occasions to feel that old hurt rise up with all its rawness, triggered by something unexpectedly powerful like a movie or or a book, or even a conversation. The recognition of the continuing pulse of my story, even after so many years, enabled me to understand and finish the painting.  I think that maybe the realization of what was happening in my heart way back then has replaced some of the hurt with admiration for the young woman I was then.

I am finding such a compelling companionship between writing and painting. When the words are stuck, sometimes painting about it helps. As the words begin to flow, the important elements of the painting become more obvious. Translating these words into images is a challenge for me, and that’s okay.  This is new, and I’m still quite clunky as a painter.  But I have learned that if I stop and center myself for a few minutes and turn on some music before I begin, the ideas and images are easier to see in my mind and I am less judgmental about the work I produce. The heart of the story surfaces as the images become clear.  There comes a gentleness within me that I’m able to carry into my painting session. This feels like a breakthrough, actually, so I suppose the benefits are indeed reciprocal.

Continuing to foster the intertwining between my art and my writing seems to offer promise. Maybe I will actually figure out how to tell the story that wants so to be told.