Friday, April 27, 2007

One of Us Asks about Addiction...

I recently received this email and thought it too big a question to not take a swing at in a more formal setting:
Do you think addictions and their associated behaviors are ever cured? Or when we do things like quit drugs, alcohol, sex, junk food (what ever our particular vehicle is) we are not really "quitting" them, but merely keeping them in check? Do you ever truly rid yourself of an addictive behavior? Do you ever get over being an addict? Or are we destined to forever walk around on eggshells (no pun intended) regarding certain foods knowing, but denying, that we are one Twinkie away from the next food OD? I guess my question is...Does it ever end?

I'd realy like to know what you think...

OK, I'm willing to give this a shot, with the caveat that I can only speak from my experience and some research.

There are two kinds of addictions, first of all. The kind where you "put the plug in the jug," as they say in AA. Most of them fall into this category -- gambling, drugs, booze, sex, smoking, shoplifting, thrill-seeking. (I'm referring to a website directory of different 12-step groups that I recommend readers refer to when they want to know which I attend:

The other kinds are those in which one has to handle the very substance of the addiction every day. I immediately think of Debtors Annonymous (you HAVE to spend money) and the many food addiction groups. That website would provide a couple more -- depression, emotions, manic-depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, all of which are arguably biological in origin and not easily cured -- as well as workaholics ( you HAVE to make money) and possibly codependency (you have to have relationships and even brand new ones post-recovery can display symptoms you didn't suspect lurked within a new friend or lover).

None of these addictions is easy to overcome but I've heard in the Rooms from people with dual addictions that food is the hardest because you have to eat. Moreover, the food groups define abstinence in different ways that boil down to not eating "compulsively".

I've chomped many a weighed and measured, abstinent salad with the frenzy I can eat cookies.

Further, I responded to an AFG post today that these days when I binge, I do it consciously, seeking the barbituate effect, the loophole out of my reality that's better than any drug I've got on hand. It takes a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugar to do that but my choices are as deliberate as brain surgery.

Is that "compulsive"? (Microsoft Bookshelf defines compulsion as "an irresistible impulse to act, regardless of the rationality of the motivation".) It's hard to resist my desire to shut down but it's equally hard to resist my desire to eat the squeaky clean salad when I'm hungry. And lately it feels as though I force myself to go get that shit. I don't necessarily crave it.

But once started, I don't stop until my food is gone, or it's very hard to and I'm very resentful about it. I have done scary things for food, not criminal but tinged with the feeling that I am one. My heart races and I look nervously around the store to see if I know anyone from the Rooms there. My cheeks burn with embarrassment as I put the packages on the counter. I walk home hoping I don't run into anyone.

Most of the addictions (I don't think manic depression is an addiction, BTW, although I'm on the fence regarding depression and certain emotions) I've mentioned above are involved with mood alterations, whether it's through chemicals, adrenaline, hormomal alterations or seratonin boosters. Food is a complex and large set of chemicals, and both sugar and fat alter the brain by shooting it up with seratonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter we all take Zoloft to enhance.

Further, natural seratonin is manufactured from tryptophan, an amino acid extracted from protein. Sugar drives insulin up, carrying competing amino acids to muscles and leaving tryptphan able to cross the brain/blood barrier to do its work in brewing up a big pot of seratonin. Sugar also releases endorphins and other pain-killers and pleasure-enhancers into the system.

For the person suffering from mild depression, sugar can be that little something that brightens mood. Research bears this out: obese people are 25% more likely to suffer from a mood or anxiety disorder. When rats are offered the choice of water or a sweet, morphine based drink in isolated cages, they choose the latter. Rats in a rat theme park prefer water. I should mention that endorphins are chemically similar to morphine.

Boredom, isolation = mood relief = addiction.

Rats who have been forcefed sugar for long periods, then fed a drug that blocks the effects of heroin and other similar brain chemicals, showed similar withdrawl symptoms -- chattering teeth, tremors, lowered dopamine -- as heroin addicts.

Further, we know that people with a self-proclaimed sweet tooth report that their moods change when they eat sugar.

OK, so I've made a case for the chemical effect of sugar on the brain. But is this addiction?

Wikipedia defines addiction as "a chronic or recurrent condition proposed to be precipitated by one or more of the following: genetic, biological/pharmacological and social factors. Addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of substances or engagement of behaviors despite clear evidence to the user of consequent morbidity and/or other harmful effects."

We are much more aware that the tendency to be overweight is genetic. I've made a good, if brief, case for sugar as a pharmacological agent. Just as opium dens, shooting galleries, bars and casinos exist for the sake of convenience and social reinforcement of the activity, so, too, food has a strong social context. Holiday foods. Family traditions. Advertising and its associations of good times and satiation. Comfort food...

More recently, however, the American Psychiatric Association Bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has substituted "dependency" for "addiction".

Back to Microsoft Bookshelf we go! Dependence: 1. Contingent [i.e., "centered on" or subject to, also according to MB] on another. 2. Subordinate. 3. Relying on or requiring the aid of another for support.

So I guess the question is, does your world revolve around a particular substance or activity? Does your life center around it? Do you depend primarily upon it for company, reassurance, mood elevation, stress and pain relief? If you kick it out of your life, cold turkey, are you able to cope on your own?

Remember that just as there are different kinds of alcoholics -- gutter drunks, social imbibers, chronic drinkers and binge drinkers -- there are different kinds of addicts in the other categories. I can go for long stretches without sugar but when my life becomes too painful or too boring or too unrewarding or too isolated, I begin to crave.

But these are questions you have to put to yourself. There are lots of criteria around for whether We are food addicts or not. Here's one: This set of questions will tell you that saying yes to any of them "may" mean you're a food addict. There aren't very many women in the Western World who don't calculate calories taken in and expended, so I don't know how definitive or scientific this quiz is.
So to answer the question...
I have not had any success in eating like a normal person when the food includes sugar or even "abstinent" food that's too much like other food. I don't know how much of this is a combination of deprivation & my feeling that I'm going to end up abstinent again & I'd better cram it all in while I can, & how much of it is genetics & an addict's neurology.
I can say that I have hangovers from sugar. It's interesting that insulin sends all those amino acids to the muscles because my muscles hurt the Day After. I'm terribly thirsty & I'm exceedingly generous with salt on my abstinent food & it doesn't make me that thirsty. Sugar makes me very tired, as opposed to the high I hear so much about. It puts me right to sleep, which is what tryptophan is supposed to do from the Thanksgiving turkey. I'll be tired & sometimes pretty spacy the next day.
I also run on dysthymic depression, a low level, chronic condition that occasionally peaks into a major depression. This is common for an addict who uses a substance for self-medication.
And then there are my other addictions. I've abused alcohol but am not dependent on it (it makes me want to eat). I smoke. I buy too much stuff -- books, clothes, music, movies, salt-&-pepper shakers, hat boxes, dolls -- when I have no retirement plan, health insurance, & taxes to pay off. I get obsessive about things like taking pictures, "labels" on posts, how much garbage I generate for each trash day (Oh! The vanilla box! A bonus piece of garbage!), waiting until the small jar of nickels is full before rolling change & putting it in my savings account.
I see my addictive patterns in many things, some more harmful than others. I see myself as being an uncured addict. This post makes me understand how 12-step programs work for addicts.

It's all food for thought.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mid-spring dreams & dramas

Three moments have scared me in the last 48 hours, coming fullgrown out of my unconscious. I'm writing the most difficult portion of the book (I'll say this about every portion but remind that chapter two was a bitch) & I think, given how instinctive these two dreams and a response are, I'd better finish the bitch & get on outta Dodge to happier stuff.
Tuesday night's dream:
M. (who I've never met) & I went dinner at a fancy French restaurant where we were "seated" with another couple in conjoining bathtubs. Flash to after dinner: M told me he wasn't interested in me because (direct quote) "You aren't good enough for me."

Man, did I rage. "You don't even have a master's degree," he said, to which I replied I certainly do, from Cornell University ("Cornell University"). "So do I!" he said but went on to disparage me for not being able to afford the restaurant, to which I pointed out I'd paid for my own meal. I think he then pooh-poohed me for walking dogs & having no intellectual life or something of the sort & I yelled that I'm almost famous, that he'd verified my voice with that of the CBS clip of me online.

He decided we should try once more, by having drinks at a hilltop fortress, a club sort of place, because the original restaurant had been a failure. I climbed & climbed in the fortress & finally found the bar, which had young clubby men & women in it but there was a terrace that led onto a huge green lawn, where I took a table and sat, waiting...
(The name of this blog, BTW, comes from just such a scene in Joni Mitchell's song of the same name -- He said he'd be over three hours ago/I've been waiting for his car on the hill.)

Phone call at 7.30 a.m. on Wednesday:
"G. went into labor last night & she's going in for a C-section now. Can you take Hero for the night?"
"Of course I can."
"I have another favor to ask. We're expecting a bureau to be delivered between 9 and 12 this morning. Could you be there to let them in."

[Hesitation as I think about morning dogs.]

"You can say no. We can ask somebody else..."

"I have four Labs this morning," I say. I can cancel Mellie but not the others.

"That's fine. You can take `em to our place."

"Four Labs, S. Think about it."

"They'll have a great time. Frances, I gotta go -- "

"Of course. Yeah, I'll be there. I'll lock `em all in the bedroom or something when the delivery comes."

"Hey, Frances -- you know we love you, right?"

"Yeah. I don't know why, but yeah."
Wednesday night's dream:

I have begged Alix to take me back and said she can pay me whatever she wants, less than the summer intern if she'll just take me back. She agrees and I'm given the least wanted, most trafficked desk in the office. But I have so much stuff to take home: suitcases of clothes & books, open jars of water to pack. How am I going to do it? I ask co-workers from my previous job. They're off to the Frankfurt Book Fare & have no suggestions, only more stuff for me to get home, Fare stuff like catalogues & galleys & rulers that say Heinemann or Loganesi on them. How will I ever get it all home in one trip on this one night & why am I working here again for yeoman's wages?
I'm looking at the dreams as being part & parcel of that hideous response to S: I don't know why he and G. would love me. I keep Hero all day and adore the fur off her head; I carry up packages & newspapers when I come in; I leave a running series of photos I've taken of her; I bring over my Big Sky Journals for the fly fishing porn; I gave Hero a George Dubyah squeaky toy for Christmas...

What's not to love?

Why would I beg to go back to work at a place I hated and felt hated? Why were there once-loved friends/co-workers in that office to witness my mendicancy? Why would -- or is "should" the correct verb? -- I argue my worth and my equality with a man I've never met who said this terrible thing (which he would, adamently, never do. If anything, he loves my brain)?

I found this overwhelming at about 1 p.m. this afternoon when I was stepping into the shower after two rounds of the dog run, saddening enough that when I snuck out on the three dogs, I couldn't get it together to do anything. It's not having three dogs here or the tiredness of antidepressants or even, really, depression.
It's the chicken and the egg of self-loathing. I can do everything in my power not to admit it to myself or show it to the world, but it falls out of me at night and in response to random compliments. It's keeping me from working on my book today and it's keeping me from thinking carefully about dinner, which is always a dangerous time.

And I don't like it.

And even if S. had said, "Hey, Frances -- you know we loathe you, don't you?" that's still not a reason to loathe myself. I grant myself that permission and what has my self ever done to me?

I'm looking at definitions of self:

1. The total, essential, or particular being of a person; the individual...
2. The essential qualities distinguishing one person from another; individuality...
3. One's consciousness of one's own being or identity; the ego...
4. One's own interests, welfare, or advantage...
5. Immunology. That which the immune system identifies as belonging to the body: tissues no longer recognized as self.

Of the five I like the last best, at least for the purposes of this blog. Take all that other stuff -- essential qualities, individuality, consciousness, identity, interests, essential tissues -- & I cannot recognize it as me.

Do I substitute food for "me" or "I"? ("Me" being the indirect object, the self that is acted upon, versus the subject pronoun "I," which does the acting upon "me"). Do I let depression become "I"? Have I substituted men (not a powerful current in my life right now) for "I"? Clothes, tchochkes, books, music, jewelry, mahjongg, obsessions like Christmas, eBay and housework for "me"? Even the dogs for "me"?

Have I substituted obesity and thinness for "I"?

Yeah. I don't know why, but yeah.

But not, quite, tonight. Tonight Daisy can whine a little as I finish this post. Tonight I'm talking back to all that stuff. And I'm saying "I" write.

I even took the photos.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Insurance policies

Each morning as I leave the house, usually a little late and feeling harrassed and scared about the advnetures and confrontations and possible disapprovals I'll be garnering to come, to pick up the first dog of the day. I pat myself down as I walk toward the front door.
Keys -- musn't forget keys!
Some days there are other items. My camera. Invoices for my services. My big clip to tie dogs up outside the next stop on our way to the dog run. Lists for errands. I consider what is in my backpack, which I'll pick up as we swing back. Enough balls for everyone to play? The flinger stick? The tug-of-war rings? The spray bottle to keep -- ha ha ha -- Henry from eating sticks?
Those things established, I have an 8-block walk to pick up Hero, time to think about my other insurance policies. Or maybe the better word for them is "investments". I ask myself, what have I done so far in insure/invest in an abstinent day.
The first items are almost always the same. A weighed & measured breakfast. Doing the dishes. Taking my medications. Brushing my teeth.
I tend to forget that the quiet time Daisy allows me while she wallows in the pillows & I have coffee & cigarettes in the kitchen is partly spent in prayer. I tend to forget that before I went into the Rooms, I rarely hung up my nightgown or did a cursory wash on a day I wasn't going to be "public" (i.e., office, seeing people, etc.)
Today I used my 10-minutes or so to ask myself what else I needed to shore up today's abstinence. A weighed & measured lunch & dinner, certainly. Putting in some time writing just as certainly -- that pride at the end of the day is valuable. Being present for the dogs came next, again a matter of pride at the end of the day.
Then there are little things. Doing lunch & dinner dishes. Picking up groceries to get a head start on boarding a dog for the next four nights. Trying not to fall into the black hole of mahjongg. Posting my daily inventory of food & actions & responding to others' inventories in a hopefully supportive way.
Service is important. Small service is always available. I picked up a chicken bone from the sidewalk, angry at the sloth & danger someone exhibited in dropping it. I picked up some fresh poop in the dog run because I knew I had enough bags. Maybe my blog will help someone; maybe my responses to other blogs will. Picking up the phone when I'm home & returning calls -- no one calls me unless they need me, or need to be needed by me.
Today I'm trying an experiment. I usually have my second carbohydrate at dinner. The trouble is, I'm often too tired to cook dinner. So I roasted my Brussels sprouts & potatoes while I was in the shower & am eating as I write. Maybe I'll be more content with less labor-intensive (gee: 10 minutes) meal tonight.
Oh -- washing my hair! That was necessary to today's investment, as are clean clothes.
It's interesting to see that the shower I put off too long took 15 minutes. The labor-intensive meal was 10 minutes. What's up with that? One answer is that I really am tired by 6.
I even `fessed up the true amount owed from a dog-sitting gig. I hate asking for things, even things that are mine. I crossed a character fault, on of my San Andreas veins, & did the right thing for a me who has a lot of taxes owing. I stood up for myself.
So overall, now that it's 2.30 p.m., I've already put a good deal of investment in keeping my abstinence intact. If I were really motivated, I'd hie me to that Greysheet meeting tonight or call someone from program.
Dunno if that will happen. I still have to wash these dishes, put on clean clothes, keep my energy intact enough to write later & have one more round of Good Dog to give.
But I've begun.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Amazon Flails Again

I haven't looked at my Amazon blog in about a hundred years, for which I'm sorry. Looking at it might have prompted me to post. I've been in Writer Head & dealing with the most personally vicious part of Just This Once. Progress has been steady for two whole days, which is a lot like trying to stick to a food plan -- TWO. WHOLE. DAYS.
Woo-hoo! you think as you go to sleep on Night Two. I can DO this.
Then life interrupts, rudely. We've had ghastly rain, although mild in comparison to the snow Upstate, the mix of atrocities in Cleveland & Pittsburg, & the surfs in Massachusetts. Yesterday this was a good thing. I was boarding a 10-month-old Labby baby named Henry & Daisy didn't so much as consent to stick her neck outside the door, while he didn't do much better. The rain has a soporific effect on them & they were pretty quiet.
Today is Monday, however, with Boomer, Hero, Mellie, and Roger to entertain, as well as Henry's morning with us. It meant bringing the dogs into the Bat Cave, sorted out by who gets along with whom. Back-&-forth & forth-&-back. It's going on 7 & I haven't written a word but I have played some mighty mahjongg today as the fur flew & the stuffing of several plush toys wafted under furniture.
Then there's the little matter of taxes. I overstated what I owe to a friend--it's only $8900, not $10,000. After my feeble enclosures, it's $8500.
How hungry was I when I hung up the phone with my accountant? Ravished. Bring it on!
I haven't brought it on but I am weary. Weary of dogs & stairs, weary of worry, weary of reliving the past & trying to untangle the web of my relapse. I wish I had a wife tonight. She would have cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed up the dog detritus & made something yummy & nourishing for dinner.
Also, we could have filed a joint deduction.
There's some logic in that, which is a little frightening. Men don't need husbands nearly as much as women need wives. Either women should be allowed an extra deduction for unpaid labor or we should become ersatz-Mormons. Put out a faint call -- Bad day -- too tired to do anything -- & suddenly a casserole (without noodles) & salad would appear on one's doorstep.
Look for more posts here in the future but please don't expect profundidty: I'm saving it for the fucking book.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is rhubarb mousse food porn?

Food porn? I think not, or not quite.

There are three ways to make the rhubarb mousse in my previous post.

1. By the book:

4 egg whites = 60 calories
1 3/4 c. sugar = 1,347 calories
1 c. heavy cream = 820 calories
1 package unflavored gelatin = 25 calories
4 c. rhubarb = 66 calories

Total calories: 2318/289.75 calories per portion

2. My modified version:

4 egg whites = 60 calories
1 c. heavy cream = 820 calories
1 package unflavored gelatin = 25 calories
4 c. rhubarb = 66 calories
1 3/4 Splenda = 0

Total calories: 971/121.375 calories per portion

3. Completely modified:

4 egg whites = 60 calories
3 c. sugar/fat-free Cool Whip = 60 calories
1 package unflavored gelatin = 25 calories
4 c. rhubarb = 66 calories
1/4 Splenda = 0

Total: 211 calories/26.375 calories per portion

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter -- Rhubarb Souffle for Dessert

Anne asked how I make rhubarb souffle so here's how.

4 c. chopped rhubarb

6 T cold water

2 1/4 c. sugar *

1 envelope gelatin

1 c. heavy cream **

4 egg whites ***

1 t vanilla

optional: 12 fresh strawberries; additional whipping cream

* Sugar is why God invented Splenda

** I used heavy cream for this because I'm taking it to dinner hosted by civillians. You could, however, used sugar-free Cool Whip or even sweetened Greek yogurt.

*** Daisy got the most delicious & appropriate Easter breakfast of an egg yolk omlet with kibble.

Cook the rhubarb with 1/4 c. water & 1 3/4 c. sugar/Splenda in a heavy-bottomed saucepan for about 10 minutes until soft. Strain & cook down the juice to 1/2 cup. Puree the rhubarb in a food mill or blender, or put through a vegetable mill. Soften the gelatin in 2 T cold water, then add the hot rhubarb juice & stir until completely dissolved. Add the puree. Beat the cream until stiff. (Alternately, open the Cool Whip.) Beat the egg whites until they begin to stiffen, then add the remaining 1/2 c. sugar/Splenda & the vanilla, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. First, fold the egg-white mixture into the rhubarb, then the whipped cream.

Now you have some other choices to make.

You can do the traditional collar of wax paper & fit it around a 1 1/2-quart souffle mold. Chill for at least 6 hours. Remove the collar & decorate the top with fresh strawberries & rosettes of whipped cream piped from a pastry tube.


You can be as lazy as I am & take the mixing bowl of souffle over to your hostess whom you know has pretty bowls & dance with Boomer as she pours it into a crystal bowl that was precious to her mother, watch her wash the mixing bowl & take Boomer home with you to sleep on the couch.

Happy Easter everyone -- no matter what your denomination, god or tradition is.