After 535 days without sugar, I caved

Sigh. Sharing this with you brings up much sadness and disappointment. Last September I wrote an article about “My Journey to Giving up Sugar” (read it here in honor of my first year without added sugar. I was so proud of myself because sugar had always been a coping mechanism for stress and boredom and in celebration (sounds odd, right?), and any random cause (It’s Friday! Let’s get ice cream!). I was a legit addict and no amount of sugar would have squelched whatever it was I was trying to diminish. Here’s where the sadness comes in: After 535 days without sugar, I caved.

Today’s article will detail my relapse, the incremental steps leading up to it, all the feels, and my current status. But this isn’t just about me and my journey with sugar. This is about anytime you’ve wanted something so badly but still disappointed yourself. I’m sure, as you are reading this, an example in your life immediately came to mind. This is about how to navigate the disappointment and how to bounce back. Are you ready to vicariously feel all the feels and hear why, after 535 days without sugar, I caved?

My relapse began with tiny amounts of desserts that I could rationalize as “not counting” as giving up my streak. In a Dr. Seuss book, the Cat in the Hat says, “I like to eat cake in the tub.” I know you are probably thinking, What does Dr. Seuss have to do with this? Hang tight. I have a point. 

My kids, Sebastian and Julia, love the fun limerick, and we thusly commemorate the cat’s bday every year by the eating cake in our clawfoot bathtub. I take a picture of them each year so that we can see over time how much bigger they are growing. The first year’s pic highlighted only Sebastian because Jules wasn’t with our family yet. In Julia’s debut, she was so tiny, all she could do was look back at her big brother as he ate the cake. You get the idea.

Anyway, this year I bought a container of four red velvet, cream-cheese frosted cupcakes instead of an entire cake. You can probably see where this is headed. The kids devoured their cupcakes in the tub, per usual, but later that night, I ate half of one. I rationalized that because it was only half, it wouldn’t count as truly having sugar. The things we can convince ourselves of, right? If my husband hadn’t been home, I would have eaten the other remaining cupcake, too. If I ate it, he would know, and then I would have to admit it.

A few days later, I had a piece of banana bread from Starbucks.

A few days after that, Jules and I stopped at Walgreens to pick up the annual Dr. Seuss pics. Endcaps of Cadbury eggs punctuated the store’s layout. Maybe I should back up. Um, I LOVE Cadbury eggs. I used to treat this time of year with reverence, not because it was Easter, not because of Spring break, and not because of the Easter bunny, but because it was Cadbury egg season. Before I gave up sugar, it was not uncommon for me to buy a box of five and split them with my husband. In the height of my addiction, I would eat an entire box on my own and throw away the evidence. Yes, I know how this sounds, but I’m sharing this for those who get it. Even if the “sugar” element doesn’t resonate, I hope you can relate to how we use negative coping mechanisms. 

Needless to say, then, laying eyes on the Cadbury eggs served as a trigger. In hindsight, had I not already succumbed to the banana bread and cupcake, the chocolate would have been less likely to affect me. Instead, I grabbed two eggs, to which Julia immediately said, “I have some, Mommy?” So, add a heaping helping of mommy guilt onto the disappointment sandwich I created for myself. I felt like the Mom of the Year as Julia ate half a Cadbury egg in the car when we drove home. Yes, I know I was being hard on myself. Yes, I know one piece of chocolate wouldn’t put Julia on a path of sugar addiction, but I was in despair. These were my thoughts at the time.

By that time, the snowball was already going downhill. The avalanche was inevitable. The following Wednesday night, I had to host an annual college fair at work. I knew throughout the event that afterward, I would hit the Culver’s drive thru like I used to do. And then I did it, except this time, I had a turtle sundae AND a large concrete mixer with extra Snicker’s. In the past, I would have rationalized that, by buying two desserts, the Culver’s employee wouldn’t know that both treats were both from me, but honestly, at that point I didn’t care anyway. I was numb.

I repeated the same order the next day.

By Friday, I was hitting my boss’s candy jar just like the old days. I literally ate at least 50 miniature Kit Kats and Hershey Bars. My stomach revolted, but I would wait just long enough for it to calm to go back for another round. And I did it in private like I had done in the past, too. I hid the candy in my drawer and snacked on it, or rather, shoveled it down, when my co-workers weren’t in the office. 

That’s when I knew I was in trouble again.

What makes me the saddest about this isn’t that I ruined my 535 streak; what makes me the saddest was how I felt when I was binging. When I scarfed down candy bar after candy bar, I felt like an out-of-control animal. The thinking part of my brain shut off, and I just acted. I went numb, and after 535 days, I was right back in that mental and emotional place that allowed me to eat in a manner that felt like I couldn’t get enough. I shoved the candy down so quickly that the taste didn’t even resonate. There I was again – in the muck of the addiction.

So…where do you go from there? As an 11-year counselor, I encourage people to let themselves feel all the feels. You can try to stuff them down and act like they don’t exist, but they will find ways to surface anyway, and those ways are likely to be unhealthy. In that spirit, here’s what I was and have been feeling: disappointment, raw, vulnerable, and unsure how to proceed. It’s been a roller coaster. 

Notice, though, that I didn’t say I felt shame. Brene Brown has conducted extensive research on the difference between guilt and shame. She says that when we feel shame, we internalize that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. That’s not how I felt. And if you are going through a major self-disappointment, I hope you don’t feel shame, either. Because even though I ate sugar again after 535 days, that doesn’t mean something is WRONG with me. It doesn’t mean I’m inherently lacking something.

Maybe you started drinking again after being sober for a while, maybe you started overspending to cope with an especially stressful phase, or maybe you are eating your feelings. Likewise, those actions don’t mean there is something fundamentally wrong with you. That doesn’t mean you are inherently lacking something. And they don’t define you. But how do we pick ourselves back up?

Here’s what I’ve learned and am learning:

  1. How we talk to ourselves in the darkest moments is crucial. Will your recent actions be a relapse or part of your life indefinitely now? That’s a choice. Just as we chose the poor decisions, we can also choose better decisions. Decide right now: Will this be ONLY a relapse or are you going to allow this to continue? What is your decision? Again, those moments don’t define you, unless you let them.
  1. Reevaluate – Is your previous goal still applicable to your life? Do you want to keep that as a goal? For me, I need to decide if I want to completely eliminate added sugar or limit it to special occasions. Not everyone needs to give up sugar, but for me, it’s an addiction. I know as I’m writing this that I have an unhealthy relationship with it, I don’t really enjoy it when I’m eating it, and it brings me sadness. So, there’s my answer. What about you? Do you need to tweak whatever it is, eliminate it, or keep it as-is?
  1. Reach out – This serves two purposes. I’m a strong believer in that when you feel the worst, in your darkest, most isolated times, you must reach out to someone for support and kindness. Which is what I did. In glorious fashion. I texted a co-worker that I had hit rock bottom, told her my weight, and shared, in detail, how much I had gone off the rails – including the multiple Culver’s visits and mad dashes to my boss’s candy jar.

And guess what? I accidentally sent the text to a group chat that included my boss, his administrative assistant, and my intern.

I will pause now so that you can vicariously revel in the mortification. 

As tears streamed down my face, I ready my boss’s gracious response – all he asked was if I was ok. No judgment. No lecture. Just, was I ok? Why am I sharing this? Because this process is rough, and I want you to know I understand. 

The second reason why reaching out is important is because it adds accountability support for your goals. Which is why I just texted my good friend and “sponsor” about my relapse. By communicating with this special person, you are owning up to the poor decisions, turning the page, and starting to look forward instead of languishing in the past. This relationship will help you feel the feels and reassess the future. 

  1. Reflect – That special relationship will also help you reflect on what caused the relapse. What led up to it? What triggered you. What immediately preceded your action? Was there a stressor? 
  1. Seek positivity – As you move forward, it’s imperative that you surround yourself with positivity because you will likely still feel raw and vulnerable. That means only follow positive people on social, perhaps temporarily ban social media, engage in activities that bring you joy like reading, playing outdoors with your children, journaling, whatever it is. You might still be teetering, so you must serve yourself best by frontloading with as much positivity as possible.
  1. Move your body – Girl, get to movin’! When you dance it out, do a spin class, Zumba, jog, walk or whatever you enjoy, your mood with immediately improve. You might dread doing it or only have 10 minutes, but I promise you WILL feel the benefits. Wanna change your mindset? Get movin.
  1. Show yourself grace – I’m saying this to myself as much as I am to you, friend. Again, this doesn’t mean there is something fundamentally wrong with you. This was only a fragment of time in your life. The great thing is that we can choose to do better.

You with me? This was difficult to share, but as I am typing this, I can feel my mood lift. I started this article with much sadness, and my shoulders were hunched over the computer. Now, as I’m nearing the end, I’m taking in cleansing breaths and feeling lighter. I have hope. I have resolve. I have me.

Please, please share with me if you are going through something similar. By sharing, we help decrease the sadness and guilt. Feel free to comment below or email me! I always love to hear from you!

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