Posted by: innerpilgrimage | October 31, 2011

Trick (Addiction) or Treat (Recovery)!

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 63 Days

      Well, here we are, on day one of Holiday Eating Season. This is the third year I’ve put it up, mostly as a reminder of the tricky nature of this season of treats.

      From October 31 to January 2, I consider this time to be a danger zone for addicts. To be honest, this is the time of year the attendance in the rooms seems to grow. Stress abounds, and the memories that we construct of Rockwellian holidays mask the reality of what is actually happening in our lives. From the children’s holiday, with a shower of candy for tots (and us sneak-bingers, where we get to use our skulking skills to pick through bags of candy and steal and lie and self-shame as one snack-sized treat turns into three, then five, then a dozen) to the complex Christmas pageant families play around dinner tables, this season is filled with opportunity to fill the gap between our fantasies and our realities with food.
      Before OA, I binged nonstop on sweets, rationalizing that everyone was doing it and that I could drop the weight when the rest of America was doing it. I didn’t, of course, but it never stopped me from giving myself a free pass to eat until I was sick to my stomach and mentally befuddled.
      Halloween was a kid’s holiday, when the dream of every kid I knew was to collect grocery sacks (the big paper kind) filled with candy in one night. Boasts of filling two, three, and even four paper bags of candy were commonplace on the schoolyard growing up. It was the Holy Grail of holidays for kids, when adults approved of us being children. We were encouraged to play on that night, to dress up and let our imaginations free. We were in charge on that topsy-turvy night, and even the adults seemed to reach backwards with fond nostalgia of their own childhoods.
      Creamy drinks and rich desserts followed in November, as an homage to the coming winter. Comfort foods arrived in full force as the days of fresh summer turned into the nights of spiced autumn. We were shifting gears, preparing for Christmas and its practice holiday, Thanksgiving.
      Feast cannot even describe what my family did on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The appetizer portion of the day, which stretched from noon until two or three in the afternoon, when dinner was served for three to four hours was enough to fill a normal person. The appetizer-laden afternoon, however, did not take into account the mornings of tasting and testing and sneaking snacks and nibbles of everything which would spill out onto the pressed tablecloth in a few hours. At the end of this eating marathon was the prize, the blue-ribbon prize for starting the race to eat until bursting: My grandfather’s pies. His crusts were perfect. I still have no idea how he made the Crisco recipe crust so perfect. I saw him make the crust when I was young, but I didn’t understand until he was long into dementia and unable to communicate well (much less cook) that it was the hands I should have been watching–not the food. Of course, I’m also looking backward through the haze of addict-memory. It probably was not as spectacular as all that, but I do know that every crust since his has disappointed me, most often with the chemical bitterness and metallic tang of the preservatives and other whatnots put into commercial crusts. It’s a saving grace of abstinence, now: I don’t put into my mouth what I know will either (a) not sate me or (b) will cause me to range for the fantasy taste elsewhere. Yes, I will sample foods which I hope will sate me and will not cause me to struggle with the lack-of-satisfaction binge trigger. On a rare occasion, I will find “close enough”. In sampling food in abstinence, however, I have shunned many foods I fantasized were the ideal until I put them into my mouth. Disappointment would be steps up from what I experience when I eat processed sweets. For example, I still have nostalgia for my grandfather’s pecan pies. That idealized, flaky crust held a caramelized filling made with pecans from his own backyard trees. The filling was sweet but not cloying; it was complex and flavorful. In theory, he made the Crisco-Karo Syrup Pecan Pie. In reality? He did something extra, though I don’t know what.
      Every pecan pie since that one has disappointed me. Oh, I didn’t care much until I reached my first abstinent Thanksgiving and set aside the calories for some pre-fab pecan pie–only to cringe at the crust’s dumpiness and chemical aftertaste and the filling that was the sweetness-in-taste equivalent to being front-row deafened by the stacks of massive speakers at a rock concert. The pecans had no flavor, and there was nothing to balance the sweet. After the mind-jarring sweet went away, what remained was a bitter, metallic aftertaste.
      I stopped after trying a frozen type and a national pie-focused restaurant chain’s pecan pie. I knew it was going to be an issue when they heated it up and I realized the slice was unevenly heated and the crust was soggy from being refrigerated then tossed into a French oven to reheat. Though I have found one pie out in the world which does not offend me like the “Mary Twelve-Month-Publication” pie I faced off with, it’s uninspiring. So, I’m not eating pecan pie unless I’m making it, and I’m using an alternate sweetener to corn syrup. Since abstinence, I’ve noticed the corn flavor in the corn syrup. It’s not just “sweet” to me any more; it has a corn flavor which often simply doesn’t go with what’s been put into it. When the super-processed high-fructose corn syrup gets dropped into the mix, I get that wretched chemical aftertaste. It bothers me that I would have that aftertaste in what should be corn sugar, and it bothers me doubly so that I do not ever remember tasting it in the corn syrup I used in the 1980s. I accept it could have been my addiction masking it. It doesn’t really matter, and I apologize if someone triggered off of reading this. The point is that I’m not settling for convenience-based sweets. I did that for decades and ended up in the rooms. I have to, and I want to, put in mindful effort to make something which will sate me in a serving. That, of course, keeps me from overeating on a day-to-day basis because the desire to binge on a comfort food has been skirted–I won’t eat what’s readily available, and it will take me a half-day to make it. Honestly, this is how it is for all baked sweets for me, now. And yes, I consider it an enormous gift from my Higher Power that I can say, “All right, if I really want to expend the calories on this, then I am going to do it right.”
      Back to the point, which I hope to make quick before I move forward with my day.
      The holidays were a time of fantasy jarring with reality. I have these idealized emotional memories of smiling people around a dining table. We did smile, yes, but I am masking the reality of the arguments, the bickering, the brutishness towards us children to behave, and any number of “act right or you’re gonna regret it” things that I and my sisters survived in the name of my dysfunctional family’s desperate need to have an idyllic holiday. It was tense despite being joyful. Family coming together was always black-and-white–a combination of the worst of us all and the best of us all. That dichotomy, of having real love mixed with toxic love, of being accepted blended with approval-seeking, made it unreal. So, I did what I could to cope: I accepted the love and built the memory on that, and I ate my bad feelings away until my body’s physical agony could be my focus.
      It’s still difficult to not jump to all-or-nothing judgment on the holidays. I can’t say, “Oh, it was a Rockwellian dream!” or “It was a freaking nightmare!” The holidays landed somewhere in the middle and ranged around that middle the whole time. Some was bad; some, good. I guess that’s the reality of it. No one gets a perfect life coming out of Thanksgiving and Christmas. No one gets a Nobel Prize for hosting the extended family for Christmas and having it go off perfectly from when the kids get up to open presents at dawn to when the family sits after dinner and files this holiday away as one of the golden-glowing pinnacles of their lives–worthy of nostalgia for years to come.
      One final thing: Have you ever noticed that as soon as the fretting starts about the holiday gift-giving, so does the eating? I know the more I fretted about finding the present which would gain the permanent loving approval of family members, out came the sweets. Well, this year, it’s Heifer International and Doctors Without Borders donations. F – – k my and my family’s first-world problems of dealing with the disappointed whining or (in the case of a friend of mine) the actual nasty remarks one gets when one takes time to hand-make gifts instead of buy one’s family crap made in China by essentially slave labor. Feeding starving children and making sure they have medicine so they’ll hopefully see next Christmas is the gift of humanity in my family’s name. Hell, I’ll even give the hats and scarves I made for the homeless this year to the local aid center in their names.
      As for me? I ask for the gift of time. Money comes and money goes; objects come and objects go; that a person spent time from their life focused on something which they enjoy doing (my mother makes lovely lavender sachets from a lavender bush in her front garden; my friend makes fun knitted and crochet stuff for me from patterns she finds online and is inspired to make but has no one to make it for in her family) is what I want.
      I admit I sound bitchy and passionate about this. Yes, this is all part of my Step Four Inventory as it burbles up from the recesses of my self-delusion. I am in the process of becoming aware that these things are a problem. I’m not upset, however. It means I’m making progress. If I’m offended or hurt or resentful about something in my past, it means I can work it today and in my future. It’s a positive, because it means I’m growing.
      Well, okay, I am upset. It’s disappointing to face off with long-buried issues, with self-delusions. Again, I have to say that it is progress, an opportunity to return to the memory and experience it as it was–instead of the edited version my addiction wanted me to remember. Yes, shame does rise up with it. After all, I wanted to have figured this all out in the first few weeks of program. That’s not realistic. It took years to create these self-delusions as I lived them then distanced myself from them through time. I know they don’t really exist anywhere but my own head (and sometimes in the collective memories of the group in attendance, though our perspectives on the events are localized to our five-sense input). The gift of program, to return to those sources of repetitive habits and break free from the bonds of unmanageable and often inexplicable actions and emotions when the holiday season rolls around once again, is the greatest gift I think any addict can receive. It fits perfectly, and it’s precisely what is needed.
     
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and anorexic and toxic love addict and emotional anorexic. Welcome to the s – – t, folks. It’s guerilla warfare against addiction, and we are fighting for our freedom from addiction and our very lives.

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