Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: sugar addiction

Red Bull And Radical Self-Acceptance.

Sincere thanks to everyone who has written in asking where in the sam hill G has been. WTF, G?? A month without a blog post? Where the hell are you? You are my sunshine, etc.

You are mine as well. I think about you readers every day. I love the mail I get from you. I mentally formulate blog posts for you as I go about life maniacally trying to patch all the holes in the bricks, and the blog posts back up inside my head and break through the logjam and rush downstream like the water in the Niagara Riverbed in a high-water spring, whitecaps peaking over the eternal bedrock, powering the entire region.

Where G has been: G has been enrolled in Elite Acceptance Dojang.

In April, as she was winding down a spectacularly successful semester of teaching writing, G decided that on May 1 she would quit caffeine, gluten, and (cough) sugar, in all its forms: fructose, sucrose, HFCS, white flour, the whole bit. And G also decided that, on May 2, she would Feel Awesome. G has been learning that this is her SOP: she makes the plan, she secretly writes the story, and then she has to deal with the seismic shocks that arrive when Real Life doesn’t mesh with the narrative. (Back in the day this used to be an awesome excuse to use. Reality not matching narrative = migraine = instant need for drugs.)

In fact G has been having many migraines. In fact, G did not, after quitting sugar and caffeine and gluten on May 1, feel awesome on May 2. She didn’t (yet) feel like fkn shite, either. But early in the morning of May 3, at about half past midnight, as G slept peacefully without the dregs of sugar and caffeine oozing through her blood, G’s leggy, towering 15-year-old son woke, washboard ribs convulsing, screaming that an explosion was taking place inside his skull. He pointed to his right ear.

“Come on,” said G, thinking, Stroke? No, ear infection, sliding into jeans and running shoes. “We’re going to the hospital.” The only place where, in the middle of the night, you can get Auralgan.

“I don’t wanna go to the hospital, Mom,” whined the boy, regressing to age 3, pulling a shirt on.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 3.

The boy, age 15. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The boy, age 15. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“We’re going,” G said, grabbing her keys and poking the boy in the back—the best she can do these days to enact physical force on a young man of five-foot-nine-and-a-half.

It was an ear infection. Diagnosed not by the (young, male) resident, who missed the signs, but by the (middle-aged, motherly, female) attending pediatrician, after we had sat in the ER for two hours.

“You’ve got an ear infection, pal,” she said. “Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot more ear infections than the resident has.” She wrote scripts for antibiotics and Auralgan.

The next day, G decided she needed to renege on her austerity commitment. She drank a cup of strong Yorkshire tea to “get started.”


Did you know caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world? Fact.

Did you know that when we drink coffee or tea, we’re enacting an ancient method of extracting drugs from plants? We’re steeping, with boiling water, legal psychoactive herbs that release their drugs when the steam hits. In old-timey medicinal terms this is called an “infusion.” If you boil the herbs for a long time, it’s called a “decoction.” (I quite like that word: de-cock-shun. There’s the sound of a gun in there, somewhere.) If you let the herbs stand for a long, long time (say, a week, or even a month) in ethanol—which also brings the drugs out of the plants, but more slowly and more thoroughly, like a kindergarten teacher carefully leading her kids out on a field trip—it’s called an “extraction.”

But just because, with coffee or tea, we’re not using booze to do the trick—that doesn’t mean we’re not taking a drug.

Caffeine ain’t gonna kill you, but it can cause significant problems: insomnia, bruxism (tooth-grinding), headaches, chronic anxiety, and adrenal system disruption and depletion. The walnut-sized adrenal glands, one capping each kidney, are key to controlling our metabolisms, hormonal systems, moods and sleep cycles. Sugar stresses out the adrenals in the same way.

Adrenals—meaning, "above the renals," or the kidneys. They help run the metabolism. They crap out on us when we endure too much stress.

Adrenals—meaning, “above the renals,” or the kidneys. They help run the metabolism. They crap out on us when we endure too much stress.

I used to love my morning ritual: a Vicodin, crushed and swallowed; a cup of strong tea; and toast with butter and jam. Opioids, caffeine, and sugar. Dopamine score; adrenal drain. I’d be content for about five hours, then feel like crashing—so I’d take more: Vicodin with afternoon tea and cookies. The drugs would power me through. A lot of women take painkillers this way—to muscle, to steamroll through a big daily agenda. The same way most folks use caffeine and cookies.

Without caffeine and sugar, the pile of cells called G’s Body is not the same as it is when it’s loaded up on caffeine and sugar. My body has become tolerant to the chemical effects.

This bothers me. It means I’m not accepting my body as it is. I push it, with my will, to do things it can’t do, with destructive effects: when I drink caffeine, I crave sugar, so I get several drugs at one time. Processed sugar is a drug. I crash with migraine, fatigue, PMS, and other physical problems.


G's new touring bike.

G’s new touring bike.

I’ve spent more than half the days since May 1 without “getting started” on a cup of caffeine, and it feels good. On those days, I’m not constantly monitoring myself, wondering if I “need something” to keep going.

I accept myself more.

But it’s so habitual not to accept myself. It’s so habitual to do things—carry out actual acts, however seemingly inconsequential (they accrue; their value and power accrues)—that show I REFUSE to accept myself. Drink more tea. Eat more sugar. Beat the shit out of myself mentally, emotionally, tacitly, for wanting to do things (and, actually, doing the things) that I believe I can’t.

So I’m carrying out some contrary actions. My program of recovery asks me to act in ways that grate against the grain of my habits, ways that carve new paths into the neuronal structures. I’m making space for myself where I can do what I’m made to do. I’m investing in that space. I’m cleaning out old spaces and letting things go. (I have to do more of that. It’s like inventory: I don’t feel like mucking out the Augean stables; I’m afraid of what I’ll find; it’s tiring.) I’m working, and I’m trying to get reasonable rest and exercise, despite being extremely anemic.

British-made leather saddle to conserve my body.

Split leather saddle to conserve my body.

Because I’m anemic, and because I’m (habitually) afraid, I sometimes feel numb. It occurred to me the other night while walking the dog that I’ve done everything to get rid of this numbness, this fear, except two things: to use, on the one hand; and, on the other, to accept it. The teacher at the Buddhist center where I meditate advised us, in a workshop on Fearlessness in Everyday Life, to sit with fear, to feel it, to care for it, to sink into it and then finally through it to another place where we are all held by a divine something—who knows what it is or how to talk about it, but it holds us.


I’ve also been reading fellow blogger and sober woman Heather Kopp’s memoir Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. I love this book. What I appreciate most about it is the candid way Heather talks about finding God—how she talks about the source of her sobriety. She is not a typical Christian. I’ll be reviewing her book here soon and giving away copies to readers who comment, so stay tuned.

I’m also reading Dave Sheff’s Clean and Dirk Hanson’s Addiction Inbox. I have lots of other adventures planned for the summer. Stay with me.

Jack LaLanne On Alcoholism, Sugar, and Mind-Body Connection

He’s saying: “Get rid of these foods!” 1950s.

Fitness master Jack LaLanne died two days ago at age 96.

Funny, I was just thinking about him, because I’ve been exercising so much. I remember being a kid in the 1960s watching my mother watch Jack LaLanne on TV. Or hearing her talk about Jack LaLanne. I don’t remember her actually doing his exercises. What I remember is my mother shouting epithets at the TV, or about him. I remember one instance in particular. Apparently LaLanne had said something about how, if “housewives” did all the housework they were “supposed” to do (i.e., washing walls, washing floors, washing windows—scrub scrub scrub), then they wouldn’t need to watch his show because all that cleaning would make them physically fit.

My mother had a number of choice names for LaLanne (I was maybe 5?). Then she grunted, crossed her legs and took another drag on her cigarette. Probably tempted to crush it out on his forehead.

My mum died of lung cancer at 58 in 1999, and LaLanne died just the other day of old age. Proof in the pudding, imo.

LaLanne INVENTED modern fitness. He pioneered weightlifting, and he invented some of the weight machines that are still used in gyms today. He’d been a depressed kid eating tons of sugar before he turned his life around by lifting weights and cleaning up his diet. He used the nascent technology of television to bring the idea of fitness and nutrition into American homes. He wanted Americans to recover from their “soft” post-war lives.

And he was already into pretty radical ideas: wealth making people take the easy way out; the increasing urge toward wanting to “buy health”; the “mind-body connection”; and calling overindulgence in sugar and processed foods an addiction equal with alcoholism. Basically calling sugar a drug.

Here are a couple of amazing blasts from the past I came across. (Remember when TV graphics meant chalk boards?) …

I can’t recover just spiritually. Recovery also includes a physical aspect.

Reminds me to keep it simple.

Am I Really Clean and Sober?

A reader wrote in a comment yesterday,

My 31-year-old heroin-addict daughter has now been clean and sober for 6 months—today! It’s a bloody miracle. She smokes, and it kills me to see her slowly killing herself every day. Yet—she’s not shooting up or smoking crack. In fact, she has started exercising again and is almost fanatic about getting her daily workout in at the gym. And, she’s constantly eating—especially candy. … I know all these things are filling up the addiction hole—so, is she really in recovery? Just wondering.

Congratulations to your daughter on six months free of heroin and crack. Yesssss.

SmokingFirst, about smoking: I’m rabid about it because I watched my mother lose her life in a nasty death to lung cancer. You’d have thought it would have gotten her by attacking her lungs, but no: in the end it attacked her brain, and she lost her mind. She was a prodigiously intelligent woman, and it took away the strength she valued most. Classic. … People smoke without really believing it’ll kill them. Or they think it might kill them but they do it anyway. My sister and I used to talk about how, in the year or so after our mother’s death, we wanted to approach every smoker we saw on the street and beg them to stop. So ya mon, I use this blog to preach against the perils of nicotine. It IS a drug.

Second, to the question of whether your daughter is “really” in recovery: a question each of us answers for ourselves…

I’ve had friends who got free of heroin, alcohol, crack, kratom, bupe, oxy/roxy/fentanyl/you-name-it, and saved their lives, and who then discovered, in the process of discernment and gaining greater spiritual clarity, that they needed to stop other chemicals or compulsive behaviors. Friends have stopped smoking, stopped eating or throwing up compulsively, stopped compulsive shopping or gambling or having anonymous sex. Some have struggled to stop and haven’t always been able to. Some have stopped one behavior only to have another one pop up, like whack-a-mole.

I’m trying to stop compulsively eating sugar. I’ve managed to cut out the ice cream <sigh>, cookies, candy, etc. Now I’m looking at prepared foods that contain sugar. I don’t eat a lot of prepared foods, but then again, I don’t eat a lot—another habit I have to look at. I need to eat more nutritiously. I need to feed my body, not just my brain and spirit. It’s one of my shortcomings, habitually ignoring my body—not living inside this skin, but instead living somewhere about a foot above and to the right of my head: where the crazy teachers at our Croatian Sunday school taught me that my “guardian angel” lived. (I guess somewhere along the line I decided to move out of my body and hang with my angel. Not that it did much good—my body took over and decided, by times, to eat whatever the hell it wanted in my mind’s absence.)

As I’ve made some progress in the steps, and being happy and clear and taking care of myself, I’ve come to notice some roadblocks to clarity and happiness, and my lifelong habitual consumption of sugar is one of them.

Sugar does all kinds of things drugs do. It increases dopamine the way cocaine does. It stimulates the mu opioid receptors in the same ways heroin or any other opioid does, albeit more mildly. (When I read this 2008 study out of Princeton proving this, my deep affinity for sterling rock-my-world pharma-grade opioids made sense.) Sugar makes me energized for a while, then puts me to sleep, just like my favorite drugs did. It might even kill pain for a while. Certain kinds of pain.

Plus it tastes good. It gives me the sweetness that I missed as a child.

Can I be sweet to myself in other ways? Can I be sweet to others? Can I accept the sweetness that others show me without habitually feeling unworthy?

Monty Python's God

Every time I try to talk to someone it’s “sorry this” and “forgive me that” and “I am not worthy.”—Monty Python’s “God”

I have the kind of body-type that allows me to eat however much sugar I like and not gain weight.  “High metrabolism,” as one of the bimbos in Legally Blonde said. I’ve always used this as an excuse to eat lots of chocolate. But I need to take care of this metabolism, and feeding it sugar is like feeding it a supper out of a landfill. It’s like feeding it garbage. Well: it IS feeding it garbage.

I sometimes wonder what I’d be capable of, physically and intellectually, if I ate a truly nutritious diet.

How fit and strong I might become.

Which is another question in my recovery: How strong am I willing to become?

I am afraid of being strong and fit.

I’ve heard a lot of women say this. In the same meeting about “fear” the other night, another woman talked about how she wasn’t afraid of failing—she expected to fail, and she even welcomes the rejections and failures when they come because they validate her idea of herself as not such a great person. What she’s afraid of is being accepted, getting the job, making progress, being strong. Because it means she has to step up and become active. And this means that somebody is inevitably going to be disappointed in the way she handles situations.

I understood: failing is a good way of avoiding this conflict.

So have I “really” been in recovery? Am I “really” sober?

None of these questions would even pertain if I were still taking drugs. I had moments of clarity during my drug-taking, moments that allowed me to be a functional mother, perform in my job, write books, experience “success.” But through that time, I was afraid, angry and selfish.

I couldn’t act on my own behalf. I was taking drugs because I was afraid of what you might think of me, afraid I wasn’t as good/pretty/rich/smart/successful as you, afraid even to talk to you. Selfish. Hiding.

Or else I was all up in your face, acting out, convincing myself I was being very articulate and smart. But mostly, I was afraid, and hiding.

I’m a real beginner at all this. What I can say is, right now, “real” healing is taking productive and responsible action on my own behalf, so I can fit myself for service the best I can.

I mean, sure when I was using drugs, I had some good ideas (o yeah, i had sooo many good ideas), a few “intuitive thoughts,” some plans that seemed really “inspired.”

But how many did I act on?

And when I did manage to act, how fit for service was I?

Heroin, junk food, and sugar addiction

Check out this Australian commercial in which a mom prepares to inject her son with heroin… which then turns into his supper of a fast-food hamburger.

The YouTube comments are real interesting. Seems to be a fight between those who think there’s a viable point being made here, and the folks who think this scenario is misled:

The people who don’t like this ad are either fatasses, oversensitive, or ignorant to the dietetic issues facing Westernized populations today (or quite possibly all three).?

Food is not addictive. It contains no single element which causes addiction, as heroin creates? a physical addiction. So-called “food addiction” is strictly behavioral.

Heroin use is also behavioral… as anyone who has used a needle can tell you.

More evidence to counter the above comments: the researchers earlier this year who published the study in Nature Neuroscience that showed overeating foods high in fat, salt and sugar created neurochemical changes in lab animals that were the same as those produced by overindulgence in drugs such as heroin or cocaine. One chemical that eating affects, for example, is dopamine, the pleasure chemical. Mice addicted to cocaine reportedly take two days to regain normalized levels of dopamine after stopping cocaine use. In the obesity study, the rats eating junk food took two weeks to regain normal levels of dopamine receptors.

Nobody knows how those rats felt during that time, of course, but anybody who has gone through drug withdrawal can tell you about the lack of pleasure, the black cloud of anhedonia, how just plain hard it is to get out of bed during that time.

Cap'n Crunch

My first sugar-shot of the day when I was 5

I think my first chemical of abuse was sugar. My mother knew diddly about nutrition anyhow, and never bothered to learn, so the cupboard was always stocked with Ho-Hos and laminated Little-Debbie trash, and the ever-popular Twinkies that got stuck into our lunch boxes from five years old. I ate Cap’n Crunch or Lucky Charms for breakfast, or Trix, or Count Chocula, which made the milk brown… without fruit. We only ever had apples and bananas in the house, and I hated bananas; apples didn’t go with milk. At lunch I had a peanut butter sandwich made with Jif (60 percent sugar?) and white bread, plus an apple and a Twinkie; after school I had a snack from the cupboard. So my diet was at minimum 80 percent processed food, and almost all of that essentially sugar.

Once, when I was about 9, my mother made a bunch of cupcakes for a school function and left them on the glass cake-plate by the toaster. I was so out of control of myself that, finger-lick by finger-lick, I licked all the icing off the cupcakes before supper. By high-school, my girlfriends and I were passing tubs of icing back and forth during study hall.

At 10 I looked forward to my after-school snack the way my Dad looked forward to his first beer when he got home. He would set his briefcase down in the corner by the piano, loosen his tie, and go right over to the fridge. Beer, after all, metabolizes as sugar.

And at 10 I was looking outside myself for something to make me feel better… something to put inside myself. Something to fill me up, and make me numb.

I know some people in the rooms who have tried to give up sugar. My friend Violet tried and succeeded for a while, then went back. “There’s not much out there left to me,” I once heard her say.

It definitely has an action on the brain. If it weren’t for the sugar lobby, we might have a shot at regulating it.

I feel my best when I eat as little sugar as possible, and exercise regularly.

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