I used to smoke. Only socially, which means that over a couple of years I managed to train my brain to believe that moonlight + being out + drinking Jack Daniels = cigarette needed. Despite the fact that I haven’t smoked in years, I know that this equation lives on in my head; it’s led to a strange glitch where if you smoke at a table next to me at a café, I’LL MOVE OR LEAVE, and if you smoke in your apartment and the smell drifts into mine, I’LL NOISILY CLOSE ALL OF MY WINDOWS WHILE MUTTERING ABOUT THE RIGHT TO BREATHE CLEAN AIR IN MY OWN HOME, and if you smoke next to a playground, I’LL PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVELY LET YOU KNOW THIS IS NOT COOL, but if it’s night time and I’m out and I’ve had a drink or two, I WILL FOLLOW YOU, precious smoking person, IN THE HOPE THAT I WILL BE ABLE TO SUCK IN SOME OF YOUR FUMES.
I’ve been thinking about addictions lately, because I tend to feel smug about the fact that I don’t need caffeinated beverages to wake up and I spend none of my time playing mobile phone games. My “How flipping wonderful must I be?!” illusions came crashing down the other day, though, when a naturopath on the radio mentioned that it’s harder to give up sugar than cocaine. I’d already been thinking about sugar and salt thanks to Michael Pollan’s wise little food guide Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, which made me firmly resolve to eat far less (to none) of both. Ha! The cocaine comment made it clear why I’d had no luck over the previous weeks with this resolution.
I knew that sugar would be a tough one (for a start, my brain has also been taught that the end of dinner = dessert). I’ve had a long love-love relationship with sugar, with many happy memories attached to our fun times together. My mother went through a hippy phase when we were in primary school, which meant she made kelp bread for our sandwiches and fed us something called Total Vegetable Protein, which made me gag. I therefore didn’t eat much when I wasn’t being watched (I used to either throw the sandwiches in the bin at school or leave them to go mouldy at the bottom of my bag; I still remember the smell of them in my particularly horrible nightmares) and instead sought out sugar as a speedy pacifier for my rumbly tummy.
Because it was clear that my cravings for sugar would not be satisfied at home, I spent a lot of my non-home time sniffing out sweet snacks. After-school youth group = jelly babies. Friends’ houses = chocolate bars. Visiting my dad for holidays = cordial and sugar on toasted muesli. All of my pocket money went towards a variety of artificially-coloured and -flavoured treats. My siblings used to stop at the petrol station on our walk to school to get our daily dose of lollies. When my sister and I ran out of money, we’d borrow some from our brother; he kept a log of how much we owed him, and charged interest on our small loans. It also helped that a couple of boys at school offered me money to go out with them for a week or so (I married one in the playground for $5; it wasn’t my proudest moment, but a girl needs her gobstoppers).
I was expecting to have little problem with letting go of salt, until I spread my toast at Mum’s place the other day and after my first bite shrieked, “THERE’S SOMETHING TERRIBLY WRONG WITH THIS PEANUT BUTTER!” only to be told that it was not rancid, just a salt-free version of the paste. It was awful. And then I tried salt-free pistachios and popcorn which forced me to question whether I really liked either of these things at all, or whether I’d just appreciated the different textures upon which to find my salt.
I tend to do pretty well at avoiding salty and sugary foods as long as we keep them out of our house; when they’re around, my self-control spots them, says, “Right, well I’m off then!” and marches out the door, leaving me to put up an embarrassingly weak fight against temptation, if I bother with resisting at all. It really must stop
eventually. But can an old brain
be taught new maths? Is it doable without hypnosis? Is there some kind of support group for this?! I’m sorry for all the judging, addicted people. *assumes
foetal position and cries*