I gave up sugar a week ago. I am not bragging. It’s only been a week, and a week doesn’t especially give you bragging rights. And it certainly doesn’t earn you the privilege of finger-wagging.
So just to be clear: I am not wagging my finger at anyone. But I do want to tell you why I stopped.
I noticed that when a was stressed I would run to sugar for comfort. When I was in the car running errands (for example), and my brain was crazily multitasking, zigzagging from one mad-dashing thought to another — just when I felt the last bit of happiness being squeezed aside by my restless brain — I would get an image of a cold Coca-Cola in my mind. Ahhhhhh. That’s the ticket, my brain would tell me, as if the whole thing was settled. And my brain would not let me rest until I had one in my hand. So I would pull over at the closest convenience store and grab a Coke out of the cooler. And I would instantly feel better.
And then I got it. Like anvil-on-the-head “got it”: What do you call it when you crave a substance when you are feeling stress or sadness, and you feel instantly better once you have it in your hand.
That’s right. Addiction. I had a sugar addiction.
Yikes! Not good. My mind was made up. That’s it: No more sugar for you, Missy.
I’m not a stranger to giving up substances. About five years ago, I went on a Buddhist retreat where I took a vow not to ingest intoxicants. No drugs. No nicotine. No alcohol. Drugs and nicotine I did not use anyway. No biggie. But no alcohol? Really? I enjoyed a glass of wine every so often. But okay, I suppose the point in doing so was to realize that I did not need to use alcohol to relax. Relaxation (as I knew from experience on that retreat) was as close as my breath. In fact relaxation was within my breath. Why reach outside of myself for comfort, when comfort was inside of me, just waiting to be revealed? It was not that hard for me to give up alcohol. I am one of those people who would have half a beer at a party and let the other half go warm in my hand while they are gabbing away. A few sips of wine and I would be downright sleepy.
It’s been interesting, by the way, over the last few years refusing alcohol. When offered a glass of wine or a beer by a friend, I generally refuse by saying, “No thanks, I don’t drink alcohol,” — and I see something pass over their eyes. A not-so-well-concealed (and yet appropriately politely restrained) judgement. They are thinking, “I didn’t know Lauren was an alcoholic.” Because, honestly, what adult who is not an alcoholic voluntarily chooses not to drink? The answer: me (And my husband, by the way, who took the same vow. A friend actually asked me once, “Were you and Jamie sober when you met?” I am so clueless, I thought, “What a weird question to ask. Is our love so unlikely that you are not sure if we were drunk or sober when we fell in love?” And then I got the meaning of his question. Ohhhh . . . )
The weird thing was, at least for the first year, that I noticed a subtle, yet undermining thoughts about alcohol. I would see someone with a cold glass of white wine at a party and think, “Oh man, does that ever look relaxing.” And then I would catch myself. Right. Relaxation is not in a glass of wine. It’s in me. Got it. Easy.
But sugar? A different thing altogether. That rush of sweetness is such a relief for me. I feel it moving through my body, calming it cell by cell. Sugar gives me something to focus on. Something, at least temporarily, more intense then the rising tide of stress or overwhelm. It’s a relief and a distraction.
This is all actually just a rather lengthy preamble to an experience I had this morning: an insight I had while going on a walking meditation today with a group of friends I meditate with up in the mountains outside Asheville.
It could not have been a more beautiful morning. Sunny, but not too hot. So many flowering bushes in full bloom. Birds singing. Lovely.
As we walked together (slowly, slowly, mindfully breathing in, mindfully breathing out) along the path in my friends’ beautiful garden, I listened to the symphony of birds and insects blended with the soft padding of our collective footsteps, saw the color of the flowers shining so vividly that it almost felt as if they were communicating a message of joy to me. I felt the grass resiliently springing beneath my feet and the cool solidness of the earth below. I felt vividly alive. And I couldn’t have withheld my smile from the world if I tried. That smile felt like it was a part of the landscape I walked in. As natural as sunlight and breeze and flower petals.
And I thought: This is the real sweetness. This is the slow and very real sweetness I long for when I am moving too swiftly through life. It is right here. In this moment. Always has been.
And sugar? Sugar is a cheap substitute for the real experience of the sweetness of life we all long for.
I will try to remember that the next time my mind sends me an image of a cold Coca Cola. I will replace it with the image of those flowers. And that green grass. And that solid earth. And the faithful presence of my friends.