This crazy little thing called food

I’ve been talking a bit about how I’m slipping into eating habits that mirror my old drinking habits.  It’s not that I worry about the calories particularly, although obviously I am female and inhabit a patriarchal world, so I’d quite like to lose ten pounds yes, thank you.  I worry about the fact that I wake up in the morning and wonder what treat I’ll have that evening.  I worry about the way I drive home with both kids in the car and feel a stab of anxiety if I don’t have anything indulgent in the house for after bedtime; I can’t go out once they’re asleep, so I’ll have to make a stop on the way home, what excuse am I going to make, I can’t just drag two children into a supermarket to pick up some salt and vinegar crisps…oh, that’s OK, we’re low on milk, now I have to go to the store and hey, while I’m here, might as well grab those pistachios…


It’d be funny if it wasn’t sad, or sad if it wasn’t funny.  It is exactly how I used to drink.  The same thinking about it in the morning, the same anxiety when it approached bedtime and I was stuck for the night.  In Australia, alcohol can only be sold in dedicated ‘bottle shops’, so I could never manufacture an excuse to just pop out for bread and pick up a bottle.  It had to be an alcohol-related excuse.  If we were low on wine, and it wasn’t a weekend with the weekend’s built-in excuse to indulge, I would decide to cook a casserole that took red wine, or steam mussels in beer, or if we’d already eaten it seemed logical to do some cooking ahead.

Food is easier.  There isn’t the stigma, if I do drag both children into the store for ice cream.  And I’m not a binger or a purger, and I’m not particularly overweight, and I eat decently, after all.  I just like to snack in the evening, every evening, and that sort of eating is directly tied to my emotional well being in ways that aren’t working for me.

So I decided to blow the whole thing up.


I’m undertaking a Whole30 which is basically Paleo for people who think Paleo is too easy.  No grains, including pseudo grains like quinoa.  No dairy.  No sugar.  No alcohol, which includes alcohol for cooking.  No legumes; chickpeas are out, as is the most amazing lentil soup ever invented in the world (have I talked about this soup before?  I have been remiss if not, because this soup, you guys.  THIS SOUP.  If you live anywhere that is colder than 100F right now, drop what you’re doing and plan to have this soup for dinner), as is everything that contains soy, which is basically everything that tastes good in the world.  You eat animal proteins and plant matter.  I’m pretty sure that you cannot do this diet if you are a vegetarian because you would actually literally starve.


Why, you are asking, am I doing this insane thing?  Well, I am glad you asked, my sober and extremely attractive friend.  It is because I suck at moderation.  “Why not just cut out snacking”, queried a well meaning confidante, and I flashed back to all those years of ‘if I don’t drink on a Monday or a Wednesday…’.  Because that doesn’t work for me, is why.

The ’30’ in Whole30 is the number of days.  It’s a temporary thing.  For me, it’s a rehab.  Not a crash diet, not a so-called detox, not  anything that I expect to continue.  A rehab.  Like an alcohol rehab, where one gets some distance from the problematic substance, starts to see clearly what it was doing, how much denial one was in, and how much better one feels afterwards.  A rehab doesn’t mean that you’re cured, and neither will this.  But it’ll be interesting.

Also, I totally took myself out to McDonalds for dinner on the night before I started and I’m not even sorry.


Johann Hari and the cause of addiction

Here is an article that I want to talk about, but before you click over and read it, please be warned: I found this deeply, deeply triggering.   The author is effectively arguing that if you are happy and find community and happiness in your world, then you will no longer be an addict; that the root cause of addiction is loneliness, and once loneliness is removed, the addiction goes away.  If that’s not a perspective you feel like you can deal with today, don’t read it.  Otherwise, though, please do; it’s a fascinating article in its own right.  One of the things that really interests me is alternative approaches to drug and alcohol abuse, which legalises their use and concentrates on eradicating the pre-existing reasons why people abuse them.

The author, Johann Hari, has recently published a book about the American War on Drugs (‘Chasing the Scream’), from which this article comes, and a lot of his arguments are solid.  He’s a great investigative journalist.  In fact, his findings mirror a whole body of research done by, amongst others, Dr David Best, who has published widely on the findings that recovery is best achieved where the recovering addict has access to peer groups and a sense of community even when those are not specifically recovery focused.  That is, even joining a rowing club is more likely to bolster your recovery efforts than not doing so.

Hari talks about the fact that in the Vietnam War, up to 20% of American soldiers were using heroin.  Taken out of that environment and reunited with friends and family, most of them simply quit – as, of course, do the vast majority of people given medical heroin, or morphine, in hospital settings.    Also, rats.

Rat Park, a wonderland for heroin-addicted rats

Rat Park, a wonderland for heroin-addicted rats

So why then, at a time in my life when I am arguably the happiest I have ever been, did I read this article and feel a surge of hope that maybe I could drink normally?  If my addiction was caused by loneliness – and that rings partially true, in that it accelerated when I was an isolated new mother – surely I could moderate now?

But Hari isn’t talking about moderating.  He’s not relating experiments that allowed addicts to use their drug in a social fashion; he’s just saying that given enough support, community and other reasons to be happy, one stops being reliant on a drug.  Alcohol is the only drug about which we preserve this ridiculous illusion that the opposite of addiction is moderation.  Of course it isn’t.  I can get over an addiction, but I can’t drink.

Still, though.  My initial surge of hope tells me that my addiction is still there, waiting for me.  Because, really, there’s no reason for me to drink.  What is it that I’m hoping for, when I hope to be able to drink?

The same thing that drives the addiction to begin with.  Community.


Hari’s book may talk about this, I don’t know; his article doesn’t.  But he does say this;

If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find – the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding’. A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

Sure.  Probably.  But there’s something else.  The use of softer drugs, like alcohol and nicotine, have been sold to us explicitly as increasing our sense of community.  We haven’t turned to them because there’s nothing else; we have turned to them because they sell us the illusion that they will give us the friends that we want.  Happy shiny people clinking glasses in the sunlight; images of party crowds; romantic dates that create lifetime bonds.  Tobacco companies used to do the same thing, and then when they were banned from doing so, the smokers themselves banded together in solidarity.  Being a smoker became an identity, albeit a persecuted one.  A friend once said to me ‘I know I should give up smoking, but all the cool people at a party smoke, and I wouldn’t have an excuse to go outside with them anymore’.  I knew what she meant.

I have fulminated against alcohol marketing a few times on this blog, and every time I am misinterpreted as wanting to ban alcohol.  Let me be clear: I don’t want to ban alcohol.  I don’t want to ban any drug, in fact.  I am strongly in favour of decriminalisation.  Stop fighting a punitive war on addicts and start addressing root causes, and while you’re at it, how about funding some decent welfare programs and promoting equality and then let’s see who ends up under a bridge smoking crack.


My issue is with marketing, and this article – with which I pretty much agree – only strengthens that view.  If the opposite of addiction is human connection, then the attempt to sell human connection as a lure to buying a drug is all the more dangerous.  Marketing preys on the lonely and the unhappy and the isolated.  So does addiction.

When I miss drinking, what I miss is the shared experience of drinking.  Of course, in the end drinking became deeply isolating for me, because I was hugging secrets, and living with shame, and choosing to stay home and drink instead of go out and painfully moderate.  That, too, is part of the nature of addiction.  Like an abusive partner, it creates an environment in which it can flourish.  It robs you of friendship, family, community, so that all that is left in your life is the drug itself.

But twenty years of associating alcohol with community don’t go away just because my logical brain knows better.  It is lonely to be the only person sipping cola in a room of twenty drinkers.  It feels like a loss, sometimes, that I can’t share a bottle of wine with LH, a bottle that we bought together on our honeymoon and saved for a special occasion.

I don’t miss drinking.  I miss bonding.  I know it’s an illusion, and that my authentic self is better at making authentic connections with people.  But this, you see, is where my issue with alcohol marketing comes from.  It isn’t enough to tell people that they should drink responsibility, when most marketing campaigns are aimed squarely at the people who won’t, because they can’t.

But in the meantime, sober friends, go join a club.  Make a new friend.  Take up a hobby.  You are loveable and worthy and valuable in your own right.  We all are.