Thursday, 19 September 2013

Listen. What do you want?

Lately I'm not finding that not drinking is a big problem. Yes, once in a while I want to, and no I don't, and it plays out more or less the same way. But I'm noticing some new patterns that parallel my troubled drinking pattern, and they need attention.

The other afternoon, reading in my study space after a good day of classes, I found myself a little bit hungry, so I ate some chocolate. Actually, I ate the whole bar. First three blocks, then three more, then the rest of the first half, and I put it away. Then, I took the bar back out of the drawer and ate the rest, voraciously. I want to say mindlessly, but it wasn't quite that. It was a weird combination of mindful and "who cares" that I recognize from pouring myself more wine when I knew I had had enough. It was really good, dark chocolate. I can't say I enjoyed it, nor can I say I didn't. It was more like the chocolate happened to me.

Some background on me and food: like many women, I have had a troubled relationship with food. I went through a lot of the usual: chubby 12-year-old became a dieting 14-year-old, then a skinny, occasionally fainting teenager who thought I was fat. I have dieted and exercised, been fit and fat, and left off the whole thing many times. Almost three years ago, I changed to eating a kind of paleo diet, which I still do in a modified sort of way. It didn't solve everything in the world, but I felt a lot better. I wasn't tired all the time. I could go a few hours without food and not have a shaking, weepy meltdown. No more massive mood swings, a lot less anxiety. I lost some weight, and kept it off without paying much attention. I was physically and emotionally a lot more stable. (It's hard to imagine doing all this and letting the alcohol problem creep back up and out of control, but I did.)

When I quit drinking (almost 3 months ago, hooray!) I didn't have the big booze cravings a lot of people talked about, and I didn't seem to have the same huge sugar cravings either. As much as there's cultural pressure to drink, there's also a lot of pressure to be kind to yourself and have cake, reward yourself with sweets, not worry about the sugar when you're tackling the booze. And yes, I did that a few times. The cake (and pie) was good, but I didn't fall into a cake-frenzy. I could see that pressure for what it is, and mostly it didn't get to me.

Yesterday afternoon, I was once again sitting in my study space reading after some long school hours. And I got a bit antsy. It was the kind of shifty feeling I would have answered with wine, and I'm getting better at recognizing those spells. No wine then. But that turned into, well, maybe some chocolate. I had a little talk with myself about having had the whole bar the day before, and what was all this about, but I remained antsy, so I decided to pack my things and go do something else. First I was heading for a coffee, but the coffee at my campus really is terrible. Then I thought I might just go home and have a coffee at a cafe near my house, and have something sweet along with it. There were lots of tasty possibilities. I put my bike on the bus for the first leg of the trip--it takes just over an hour, part busing and part biking. So I had some time to think.

What is it? I said to myself. Do you want cake? Another whole chocolate bar? And since I was trapped on the bus, I gave myself permission to have whatever it was I wanted once I got home, as long as it was really what I wanted. I thought about cake, and pie, and all the sweet things I might have, and I knew I'd feel kind of awful if I ate any of those. I thought about having some of my favourite thickened yoghurt with a spoonful of maple syrup, and that seemed more like it. But I wasn't hungry, and I knew it. Then I saw a truly horrific bakery sign. I think it's called Sugar Planet or something, with chipped blue paint and greasy windows. It's like the dive bar equivalent of a bakery. I thought, that looks gross. No sugar planet for me. Maybe I could buy some pears and have a pear and yoghurt for dessert after dinner. That OK? And yes, it was OK. But still I wondered, what is it? Why so antsy?

I didn't get a straight answer, or not right away. I enjoyed the bike ride part of the commute when I got to it, and once I arrived home, I read some blogs and then talked with my partner about my day. In the telling I realized my day had mostly been fine. I had some funny stories to tell, some good interactions with people that I wanted to share with him. My classes had gone well, and I got done most of what I had planned.

I kept paying attention to what was going on, though. At the butcher shop, the guy who was taking my pork chop order asked me too many questions, and I really did start to cry. He counselled me to get home and have a nice big glass of wine to straighten me out. But I said, "No I'm just tired. I need to go to bed." Was that it, I asked myself? Why could I tell it to the butcher when I didn't even know myself? I wasn't tempted by his wine suggestion, and by then, two hours after the antsy spell had started, I wasn't craving sweets either. I was just tired from my new early morning schedule and hard work at school, and the long bike rides, and all the social interaction that goes with taking classes and figuring out what's up next year and everything else.

So I could see that earlier, when I wanted that sweet something, I had been starting to do the what I have been doing for years, probably reverting to what I used to do before the drinking. When there's a whacking big something I don't want to feel, I give it food and drink and make it go away.

I'm not all that great at listening to what's really going on with me. I think that's common among serious drinkers, and it's also common in people who have used food to quench the emotions. So this seems small, but it was a big victory for me. Just listen. What is it? Yes, you can have cake if cake is what you want, but is it? Or is it a rest, or a change of pace, or a bike ride in the late afternoon sun, or just a change of scene while you keep working on school stuff? I'm new to this. But I figure, for a start, that whenever I'm suddenly overcome with a pressing need to eat a whole chocolate bar, it's not so different than when I want a drink. It's all is the same me, wanting something. I just need to learn to listen to find out what it is.

When I was small, whenever I'd get cranky or fussy, my grandmother would say, "Whisht child, whisht," and then she's give me a nice big glass of Tang to drink. (She added sugar to the Tang so it would be the way she liked it, nice and sweet!) I know this stuff runs deep. As an adult, sometimes when I've felt a bit wibbly, I would think of her saying that, and it would make me smile. Now I need something different. Instead of whisht, child, (loosely translated, it's a cross between "there, there"and "be quiet") I am asking myself, "What is it? What do you want?" And I'm trying to listen, to find out what it is I'm really thirsty and hungry for.

Whew! That's a whole lot of words from someone who is talking about listening. This is me, so far, 76 days sober and trying to figure this out. If you really did read all this, wow, thanks for reading! Happy late September to all.


  1. I haven't thought about Tang in years... My grandmother would fix me Tang too; I loved it.

    Being present and listening, observing... such a gift. One we never fully could hold while we were drinking.

    Do you ever read any Mary Oliver poetry? She writes a lot about enjoying the world, as it is, in its full glory, and appreciating the roles we each play in this one small world.

    From her poem Sometimes:

    "Instructions for living a life:
    Pay attention.
    Be astonished.
    Tell about it."

    I've shared many pieces of hers on my site, and it's so hard to pick a favorite, but The Journey is the one that speaks loudest to me right now.

    One day you finally knew
    what you had to do, and began,
    though the voices around you
    kept shouting
    their bad advice --
    though the whole house
    began to tremble
    and you felt the old tug
    at your ankles.
    "Mend my life!"
    each voice cried.
    But you didn't stop.
    You knew what you had to do,
    though the wind pried
    with its stiff fingers
    at the very foundations,
    though their melancholy
    was terrible.
    It was already late
    enough, and a wild night,
    and the road full of fallen
    branches and stones.
    But little by little,
    as you left their voices behind,
    the stars began to burn
    through the sheets of clouds,
    and there was a new voice
    which you slowly
    recognized as your own,
    that kept you company
    as you strode deeper and deeper
    into the world,
    determined to do
    the only thing you could do --
    determined to save
    the only life you could save.”

    I hope you have a beautiful evening,

  2. Thanks, Christy. God, I love Mary Oliver, but I haven't read "The Journey" in a long while. Thanks for sharing it here. I love that fragment from "Sometimes",too. That's it, isn't it? "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it."

    Hope you have a great evening, too!