A reader wrote to me and asked a great question about replacing one addiction with another, specifically replacing booze with sugar. Below, is her question, followed by my response.
I saw a link to something you wrote about how your relationship to food seemed now more of a struggle than the one with alcohol. I feel the same and we have a similar sobriety date (2015). It’s something I don’t see written about much but I suspect there are many women with this shift in substance choice. There is another blog I sometimes read by a woman who’s mentioned weight several times yet continues to encourage readers to eat treats as rewards. So it’s a bit frustrating because these same blogs helped me decide to get and stay sober and yet I can’t find anything that addresses eating in the same way. It seems that the “wolf” has simply moved from alcohol to sugar and if that’s the case, have I really conquered anything? Would love to hear more of your thoughts on this experience. Thank you.
~Reader Who Wishes To Remain Anonymous
Thank you so much for your email! I had written back to you and then never pressed send – my apologies, it has been a crazy week around here.
This is such a great question and I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head right now. I would very much like to answer more thoroughly AND include this on the blog. I will definitely keep you anonymous, but would like to write the post specifically in response to your question if that’s alright with you.
In the meantime, here are some quick thoughts. While I wrote that I had “replaced” alcohol with sugar and other not so healthy food items, I really have not. I definitely turn to sweet treats when I used to turn to alcohol, but I am not physically dependent on them the way I was on booze. I don’t crave them 24/7, wondering how to get through without them. It’s just that I’d really like to eliminate these things from my diet and am having a hard time doing that. I reach for sweets when I could be making a better food choice.
If you have truly replaced one with the other, there is still much more work to do. Have you accomplished anything? Yes and no. You’ve made a healthier choice by moving away from a mind altering, potentially lethal drug. That’s a good thing. But, it sounds like you’re still feeding something deep inside. And, ultimately, the question needs to be, “WHY?” Why did you drink?
I’m thinking … this is something I need to discover for myself as well. Thanks so much for writing – please stay in touch! I’ll be working on the blog post this weekend (I hope!).
My very best,
Alright, first of all, dear, dear reader … thank you for waiting so long for me to write this post! You wrote to me almost five months ago. And, while I deeply apologize for the delay, I realize I was in no way ready to write this until now. You see, I was not being honest – not with myself, and not with you – when I replied to your email. I was in the throes of becoming absolutely positively dependent upon sugar, habitually consuming it the way I used to abuse alcohol. At the same time, I was in a pretty good state of denial. I hadn’t come to grips with the power sugar was wielding. I hadn’t recognized the true role it was playing in my life. I see it now. And I can talk about it.
Part of the reason I haven’t yet written about this – aside from the fact I was up to my eyebrows dealing with it – is that I usually munch binge on sugar when I write. I’ve tried green beans, nuts, gum. Nothing’s the same. The last time I ate any sugar was May 31, 2017 (ironically, the three year anniversary of my first sobriety date – let’s hope I don’t relapse at seven months). And, it’s taking everything I’ve got to keep my ass on the sofa right now and not go grab the Hershey bars in the fridge left over from the kids’ last day of school s’mores a few weeks ago.
I am addicted to sugar. Up until a month ago, my relationship with sugar very closely mirrored my relationship with alcohol before I got sober. I was grabbing it earlier and earlier in the day, hiding my stash so no one knew, and eating very little else. If I wasn’t eating sugar, I wasn’t eating (for the most part). My beverages of choice were coffee and Diet Pepsi (as much as I love sugar, I can’t stand sugar soda – go figure).
So, back to your question: “It seems that the ‘wolf’ has simply moved from alcohol to sugar and if that’s the case, have I really conquered anything?”
My answer is, “yes.” Yes! Conquer you have! You have accomplished so much. So very much. Giving up alcohol isn’t easy. You already know this. But there’s a little bit of a “no” or “it’s complicated” in my answer as well. As I have been saying a lot lately: sobriety isn’t enough. Sobriety is incredible, but it doesn’t fix everything. It can’t. We still have lots of work to do. If we’ve replaced alcohol with sugar, we haven’t yet gotten to the root of the problem. We haven’t finished the job of removing the layers of our onion and getting to the core of why we self-sabotage and how we can replace those harmful actions with healthy habits and self care. While sugar doesn’t do the same thing for and to us that alcohol did, we’re still making a decision to put something into our bodies that not only doesn’t serve us but actually harms us. Why? Why do we do that? The answer is going to be different for everyone. I’m honestly still not even sure what my answer is beyond always feeling like I have to stuff down my emotions when I feel inadequate, anxious, nervous, uncertain, afraid, etc. so I can pretend everything is just fine.
About six weeks ago, I hit my rock bottom with sugar, I think. I hope! Despite my sobriety and my outward appearance of happiness and joy, I spent the past year mostly miserable – it started last June when I practically lost my business with in a period of a few weeks and continued well after the new year as I still struggled to rebuild and hemorrhaged gobs of cash I didn’t even have into a car repairs. I felt dumped on and my response was to join in the fun and dump on myself, too. I kept saying I was in a rut and greatness would return. I wanted and I waited. And, I kept wondering why it was taking so long.
It wasn’t until I relearned a lesson from very early sobriety that I was able to shift the needle. If we don’t value ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to value us? And, I learned that when we forget, it’s so that we can remember more powerfully. I was meant to forget that lesson, so it could show up again in a way and at a time when it would again help me uplevel my life. It was then that I realized that, just like alcohol, I will be better off no longer trying to moderate sugar but getting off the roller coaster once and for all and eliminating sugar from my life. A lot of people think this is very unrealistic. Perhaps it is. Time will tell, I guess. But I know myself. And, I understand my tendencies and my addictions. I am tired of giving up sugar for a diet or a cleanse and gradually working it back into my life. It starts with one small dessert and always ends the same way – with me getting to the point of eating far too much sugar on a regular basis. With me hating what I’ve become thanks to a substance I don’t need.
I know there are dozens upon dozens of articles out there about the science and psychology behind all this. Sarah Roberts has written about it. So has a great blogger named Mindy. So have many, many others. As fabulous as they all are, it wasn’t an article that resonated with me. Thanks to the incredible Ellen Palmer, with whom I have been working since before I got sober, it was my vision of my ideal life. What does yours look like?
Thank you, reader. Your question was a gift. I will treasure it always. XOXO
I have also written a goodbye letter to sugar … Dear Sugar: It’s Not You; It’s Me (And, I Don’t Want to Stay Friends)