Sugarcoating The Truth


C6H12O6 +Zymase → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2

There it is in black and white – alcohol fermentation.

For someone like me who fell asleep during chemistry classes, a simpler way of looking at it would be:  Sugar + Yeast = Ethanol + Carbon Dioxide (the bubbly stuff that makes those beer moustaches.)

For someone like me who drank for the effects of alcohol, and is an alcoholic,  2 C2H5OH (Ethanol)  is decidedly not good for me.

For someone like me who thought sugar was fine after getting sober, well I was in for a surprise.

I remember once in treatment listening carefully as one of the counselors encouraged us to not worry about all the caffeine and sugar that our bodies would be craving.  She backed that claim by stating that the alternative, alcohol, was much, much worse.  I made the mistake of taking her words as my new manifesto for the next year and half of my sobriety.  Oh the coffee – that little phase of 10-12 coffees a day (me, moderate?) soon ended when I would be vibrating like a blender, have poor sleep and then wondering why I was feeling run down.  Little did I know that it was my coffee’s sidekick, that sweet sideswiper sugar, that was the real culprit.  Oh, insidious sucralose, off thee to a sugary!

For me, the problem with sugar went beyond the cravings of a midday donut or a piece of pie after dinner.  I remember the first couple of weeks after getting out of treatment, and finishing entire boxes of cookies.  In one sitting.  I was sober, and my mandate clearly stated that sugar was fine.  But even then, during those delicate weeks of early sobriety, I had a feeling deep down that this Cookie Monster act wasn’t normal.  It was that same rumbling I felt when I would drink unservable oxidized wine or homemade beer that went horribly wrong.  Who does that?  It was the same feeling when I would get behind the wheel after drinking.  It was the same churning in my psyche and gut when I would lie about my drinking.  It wasn’t normal.

Most people would say that having a few treats isn’t the end of the world.  “At least you’re not drinking!”  But poison is poison.  Sugar is poison.  But you see, like alcohol, I knew all about sugar.  I read up on it’s affect on us humans.  I read the countless stories of those who developed diabetes and the terrible afflictions and symptoms that came from it.  I looked at images of the damage sugar does to our bodies, and read the reports on obesity.  I was well educated in the sweet science of sugar (I promise to stop using “sweet” as an adjective and a form of alliteration from now on).  It was the same with alcohol – cirrhosis, pancreatitis, Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome (aka wet brain), etc.  I knew all this.  And yet, powerless over my poison. I was again standing at yet another fork in the road.

You see, I was doing with sugar what I was doing with alcohol – self-medicating.  I was using it as a coping mechanism.  Feeling a bit off?  Chocolate bars help.  Nervous about a meeting?  Two palm full of Smarties will do the trick.  Having some time on my hands?  Nothing cake with one inch frosting can’t handle.  I didn’t see this behaviour at first.  Then I started to hide these candies and chocolates.  I would hoard and discreetly discard wrappers.  I stated to feel a fog of shame surrounding me as I ducked into the corner shop to load up on my treats.  The kitchen drawer  became my new liquor cabinet.  The convenience store became my new booze outlet. I was being deceptive, I was feeling ill after binges, I was starting to obsess over my new habits and routines that involved sugar.  I was getting sick again.

I had to come to terms with this, and promptly decided that I needed to drop sugar from my life.  Cold turkey.  This decision came about seven weeks ago.  And to be honest, since then, things have been great most times, with occasional monster-sized cravings.  I almost caved last week when I saw an empty chocolate chip muffin wrapper in the garbage bin at work.  But I’ve lost 18 lbs.  I have great energy – no crashing every half hour.  No feeling bad about myself anymore.

In “Recovering Spirituality”, author and psychotherapist Ingrid Mathieu recounts what one of her clients had told her once “Most people don’t obtain real emotional sobriety until they have recovery in at least two other programs.”  When I first read this, I was a little offended (ok, lots offended) – I was just a simple drunk, a member of AA, so was I to be afforded only basement level emotional sobriety?  But when I cut out sugar, which clearly had become another coping mechanism for me, I understood what that was being said. I was now in fact peeling off another layer of my old self, of my old ideas and patterns.  I had to sit in those times of cravings, to sit in that uncomfortableness, to sit with myself, and find my truth.  What was I escaping?  What rabbit hole was I longing to jump into.  I was finding that next level of emotional sobriety.  I had to write, journal my thoughts, make my gratitude lists, get some inventory done on myself to strip away more of what brought me to my initial drug-of-no-choice, alcohol.  Sugar had become a new path into those old ways.  And while it was helpful in removing that path, it was more beneficial for me to root out those causes and condition even deeper than I had before.  I still do that to this day.

I would never say that sugar was just as bad as alcohol for me, but for this alcoholic it was something that was an aspect to my “-ism”, a sizable fragment of escape.

It was part of the equation, you might say…my equation.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Love this. Hated this. I bey you get what I mean. What a great post! Love your message and your writing. Glad we met.

    1. Thank you, Heather. I don’t often I thank many people for hating, but then again, considering the source, I am honoured. Glad me met too – look forward to more of your work, as usual.

  2. Lilly says:

    Have you read Potatos Not Prozac? It talks a lot about sugar sensitivity and the link between that and alcoholism. This is a very, very common problem. There’s a lot of great info out there on it – as it sounds like you’re discovering.

    1. runningonsober says:

      I agree, great book!

      1. Haven’t read it, but tonight on amazon it goes on the list…thanks!

  3. sherryd32148 says:

    Oh Lord does this hit home…damnit.

    Great post though.


  4. runningonsober says:

    Check. Check. Check.

    (This is me checking off all the boxes how this post relates to me too. Dammit. Case in point, my recent Christmas Candy “f-it” episode.)

    Great post Paul, very interesting about needing to “kick” multiples to be truly recovered. I still think sugar is the lesser of the evils between it and alcohol though. If I hadn’t had the jelly beans to get me through the initial booze cravings, I may not be here today. I don’t think I could’ve kicked both at the same time. ~ Christy

  5. Number 9 says:

    ugh—–not sure i could give up sugar just yet but i did give up smoking 12/31/12~ so that’s something. sugar is in everything it seems and i struggle to keep my children away from it but it is so difficult. glad you made it seven weeks. that is HUGE.

    1. Congrats on cutting out the smoking! I never smoked ( but I know enough people that have and giving up smoking isn’t easy from what I’m told. The sugar thing…it took me a very long time to get my act together on that one, so I get that it’s not easy…but I do crave at times (like now, now that we’re talking about it!)

  6. Sheila says:

    I gave up sugar on 02/28/12 and I have never felt better in my entire life. (I also gave up flour) I feel amazing, I told my husband recently that I now feel like I am living the life God has always intended I live. I feel as if I can live my life between meals, my blood sugar is even keeled, my rage is gone and I can focus on people now, not food. 🙂 I do utilize OA90 day which is a more disciplined branch of Overeaters Anonymous.

    1. I love, love the thought of living your life between meals. Brilliant! I sometimes wondered about OA, but I did investigate it, listened to some speakers, etc. but couldn’t identify…except for the sugar part. But just doing the act of cutting down/out has been enough for me. And during major cravings I apply a little 12-step love to them…ha ha. congrats on your sugar-free life. So great to hear. Will you sponsor me? lol

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