article by Will Piper
In the 3 years and 4 months since I quit alcohol, I am super-aware of the attachment I continue to hold for sweet foodstuffs, as well as coffee, and wonder whether my emotional relationship with these things is a form of yearning for the forbidden fruit I no longer allow myself – alcohol. I also have a bit of a thing about sparkling water too. And chewing gum.
But when I quit the booze, I don’t think I actively sought substitutes for alcohol. The above list of cravings just sprung up from nowhere.
A sweet tooth, I am told, is a well-known consequence of quitting, amongst recovering alcoholics – something to do with the reduction in sugar consumption once the alcohol is removed. I have no reason to dispute this, but I also found that chocolate and puddings (especially chocolate puddings!) were powerful rewards (think: childhood treats) such that in the absence of any other vices, they acted as substitutes for alcohol – fondant treacle sponges tempting me from the supermarket aisles; slabs of chocolate luring me to the newsagent’s shelves, and restaurant menus tempting me with their caramelised descriptions.
From the moment I quit alcohol, I would eye up these descriptions on the menu in much the way I used to ogle the wine list, but without the same anxiety. This is my area now; my playground, and I’ll take my pudding with coffee too – to maximise the hit. Yes, “hit”. I think I’ve been seeking hits – as a substitute to the high that alcohol once promised. It really is addictive-like behaviour, based on the idea that if a pudding is absolutely lovely – then a pudding with coffee will be even lovelier – and must therefore be had! But there’s no getting away from the fact that when dining out, I’m giddy with the excitement of having my own well-deserved treat-area, impervious to cost, in this new-found paradise.
And in the ordinary course of daily life I get great comfort from chewing gum. It’s that always-available mini-hit in my pocket.
I worry a little that my addictive behaviour is being played out in these (less harmful) rituals. It’s the same with the little bit of excitement every time I pour sparkling water into my extra-large wine glass at home. The effervescent tumbler of celebration helps me rejoice at my own sobriety and self-control – time and time again. And I feel empowered by it.
I wonder what would happen if these treats were taken away from me – would I crumble? Or would I quickly adapt to their absence if they were taken away?
Deep down, I believe I’m stronger than I fear. I heard a powerful report on Radio 4 the other day about the health benefits of reducing salt-intake, and despite loving salt on my food, I have acted on the advice instantly by wiping it from my diet.
I think I’ll continue to indulge myself on these other relatively harmless excesses though, making sure that they don’t get out of hand. I may even go in for a dry January – or rather, a sour January. But I fear that might be a step too far. Sticky toffee Pudding is just too nice to shun for more than a fortnight!