Monday, June 21, 2004

Sugar High

I am about to begin the all-time most major sugar high. Already, my hands are shaking and I feel a little short of breath somehow.

Over ten years ago, shortly after my first wedding, while my now ex-husband and I were living with my mom, unemployed, I was sitting on my hands in front of a mid-afternoon Oprah Winfrey show whispering to myself, "I will not eat, I will not eat, I will not eat," when the next thing I knew, I was sitting in front of an empty pot of what had been Kraft mac n' cheese. At that time, cheese was still a major binge food. It took me another five years of the 12-Step Overeaters Anonymous program to begin to recognize that sugar was the real addiction. Cheese was almost always only the way to even out all the sugar I'd eaten with salt (and more fat).

When I say "sugar" I don't actually mean the white grains, though I'm not sure why it never really got quite so far that I started eating sugar straight from the bag. (Now that I'm thinking about it, actually, I think I probably did at one point or another at least eat sugar cubes.) Typically, however, I use the word "sugar" to define the common ingredient in my true drug of choice: desserts in general, and chocolate --- in any form --- specifically.

Perhaps one day I'll bother to catalog exactly how crazy all of that got. But the long and short of it is that while science may only just now be beginning to acknowledge that excessive sugar consumption can generate physical addiction, I knew it years ago. And, like any addict, my relationship to my "drug of choice" has been a rocky one. Sometimes easy, sometimes manic, sometimes obsessive, sometimes apathetic, and sometimes estranged, which is, arguably, the best for me.

Recently its been hard for me. I work in an office that believes that a "fun" working environment entails access to lots of chocolate and other candy. Now, there have been times in my life when that was not so difficult for me. But until late last week, I've been deeply in the grip of an obsessive phase, probably eating more candy during a workday than most people eat a year. I think I started the blog, in fact, in part to try to give myself something else to distract myself. Because that's the issue -- the key to when I am in the grip of my addiction and when I feel free of it has everything to do with how much I am trying to distract myself from something. It's like a morphine drip, except that rather than a narcotic, it dispenses denial. The capacity to ignore my own deep seated discomfort with some fact of life -- some nagging doubt or worry or cause for anger.

In that prior marriage I managed to pack nearly 250 pounds on my 5'5" frame by "clicking the drip" constantly. Just let me not be here. Let me not feel this. Let this not be true. It's easy to say that I was trying to check out of my marriage because of my ex-husband, but I don't think that was it, really. I think it was that I was trying to check out of myself and the deeply buried awareness that my ex-husband was never going to help me become me. It would have been at cross-purposes for him. He needed me to be his support, not to be mine. And if I am honest, I knew that long before we got married. So, I'm the one who made that mistake, not him. And I'm the one who tried very hard to hide from that truth about myself.

About the time that he and I separated, I got my longest and easiest reprieve from the addiction. It was amazing. I could even have dessert after a meal, and yet I'd forget about it within minutes. It had no grip on me. No compelling power.

It lasted for four years.

My stomach hurts right now, and my mouth feels tight and dry. There's a burning about mid-way up my chest, and I have headache. Minutes before I started writing this, I downed a bottle of extremely concentrated glucose. I'm being tested for diabetes. I'm sitting in the lab as I write this. I feel truly awful. As though I might yet throw-up. This is not my typical response to a massive influx of sugar. But I don't know that I generally try to pay that much attention to how I feel after a massive influx of sugar. The whole point is to get out of my body. Out of me.

Right now, I'm in me. This is a yucky feeling.

Some small child is having blood drawn right now and is screaming bloody murder between sobbing. My heart leans toward him. And to his father who is sitting in the waiting room with me looking pained and nervous about his boy's cries. And suddenly, they are over. He is fine. Soon they will go and I will stay, the only one left.

The glucose tolerance test I'm taking --- to determine if my addiction to sugar has advanced my genetic disposition toward diabetes --- takes two hours. You fast for 12 hours and then they draw blood. After they draw blood, they have you drink way too much of a thick flavored glucose syrup. I went for orange, which the nurse assured me was far less awful than the cola flavor. It still tasted like soda syrup.

I was premature. The boy is screaming again and father's been called in to console him, which is not working. He is growing more and more panicked, hiccuping between screaming sobs. The poor parents. The poor child. He is crying out for his parents, while they must stand there, having to watch him be subjected to this terror because of their confidence that it is necessary for his ultimate happiness. Father can't take it, he's back in the waiting room, a stony stoicism on his face. And now, at last, the nurses and mother are cooing over the boy, he is done. "All done!" I just heard the nurse say. I hear the boy sniffling, winding down from the panic. And as he leaves, he says, sweetly, "Bye, bye" to the nurse, who is contrite. As am I, as he, still hiccuping and sniffling, half-smiles to say goodbye to me. I wish I hadn't had to be here, little one.

In ten minutes, I will go back to have more blood drawn. It will have been an hour. And then they will draw blood again a half an hour later and another half an hour after that. I do not like this. But I probably will not begin screaming and sobbing.

I'm back from my second of the four blood tests.

A mother with two small children just came in and one immediately collapsed on the couch and started crying. "Mama, can we go home now?" he cried. He hasn't even had his test yet. I hear him in with the nurse now, "But why, Mama? Why? No! No needle! MOM!"

I couldn't do this job.

He is back on the couch, crying, while his younger brother, the little brat, is perfectly stoic as he has his tests. The nurse and mother laugh together while this one lies on the couch and nurses his sense of betrayal and loneliness. "Now can we go home, Mom?" he asks again.

They are gone, and I am left again with no one but myself to observe.

So, why has the addiction been so hard again lately? What's got me "clicking the drip" now? I think I'm beginning to recognize some of the things involved. One of them is a dramatic loss of intimacy with one of my best friends for reasons that I do not fully understand. My new husband and her husband have been friends for 15 years, but never as close as she and I have been, though our friendship is only five years old. Though she and her husband had been dating longer, D. and I got married first, and then left to travel for a year --- the same year that she and her then husband-to-be moved in together. We have been less open with each other since D. and I got back, but truth be told we had both developed a new guardedness before we left, too. And I'm not sure of the reasons, or why it would be that in the last six months the pain of that has finally caught up to me. But it hasn't. Because I've been on a sugar high.

Likewise, part of the impetus for taking the trip was to give D. and I a chance to think about what we want to do with our lives. But our conclusions were shaky and insubstantial enough that upon our return, instead we fell into exactly what we'd been doing before. I'm even back at the exact same job. There was a reason I wanted to think about what to do with my life. This doesn't feel like the right thing. But then, it hasn't felt like anything. Because I've been on a sugar high.

Let's add to these to much larger issues. For example, finding my country unrecognizable. I'm a patriot, I always have been. My idea of America is one that has been inspiring to me --- a country that is about equality and freedom and the protection of individual human dignity and integrity, with publicly-shared goals for the ways we relate as a society to preserve social stability and ensure justice for all. As D. and I travelled the world and heard the world's perspective on the U.S., I gained new appreciation for the importance of holding those values for the world, not just ourselves. But not by force of war in a region that already hates us -- AS IF that was really the reason we're in Iraq to begin with. To return to a county where the Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney trinity reign (with Ashkroft as handmaiden) is depressing beyond belief. I'm angry and despairing -- KERRY is the best the democratic party could put up? I'm beside myself. Or, I would have been, except that I've been on a sugar high.

Back from my third of four blood tests.

I wonder what it means that by now, an hour and half after throwing back that vile orange syrup, I am feeling pretty much okay. Okay, but hungry. I haven't really eaten for fifteen hours now. Nothing but sugar. I should be on a high, but I'm actually feeling a little clearer and steadier than I have in a long time.

D. and I developed the denial button theory this weekend about addiction -- that there are a lot of ways to try to "check out" of what is going on right now. That eating sugar is my signal to my brain that I want to "check out" now. Slip into denial. Be not present. It's human to avoid discomfort and unpleasantness and pain. There are a lot of ways to "click the drip." Will discovering I'm pre-diabetic, or diabetic, help me begin the process of learning new ways to "click the drip," or even better, to learn new ways to tolerate life's discomforts and difficulties? If I'm not, will wanting my life be enough?

Time for my last poke. I brought a mango with me for lunch later. I don't think I'll be eating it... it sounds too sweet.