Brad's Story: Sugar

Hi, my name is Brad, and I’m becoming a statistic.

I am 48. I’m tired a lot. And depending on who you talk to, I’m 50 to 70 pounds overweight.

My wife says I snore. She says I have sleep apnea. My doctor gives me a talking to every time I see him. It’s the same routine every time, “Your numbers are getting too high, Brad; you’re getting older. It’s only going to get harder…”

The scary part is the numbers continue creeping up and up and I’m watching them! I am starting to feel like a big person. Let me explain. I have a big frame, but I’ve always been nimble. I run a restaurant; the skinny young line cooks could never keep up with me. But now my mobility is starting to suffer. I watch (watch!) myself slow down and I tire more easily. I’m watching myself get aches and pains that were not there last year.

I have been in the food industry since I was 14. I have always been around alcohol, had my first drunk and drug buzz at 13. Of course I’ve been around food even longer. I am a chef at a great little restaurant. We make almost everything we serve in house. Our pastry chef is quite extraordinary, a master of pastry and dessert making.

I’m sober now and have been since I was 40. Doing life in the restaurant business, immersed in a world of great food and wine is only now getting easier eight years into sobriety. When I am feeling down and want to drink or drug, I can go to a meeting. Be it AA or Suppers, I am getting similar benefits: nice folks and great support with like-minded people who understand half of what I’m going through even before I say a word. But I can’t spend my whole life in meetings and everywhere I look there’s pastry. I guess it’s not unusual to transfer the compulsion to consume alcohol to the compulsion to eat foods that provide comfort. With food, abstinence is not an option. And because of my career and livelihood, I swim in a sea of constant temptations.

I’m not sure about the nature/nurture controversy. Was I born addicted or did it develop? When I was growing up my mother would always finish the food we left on our plates, so I think I learned some of my eating patterns there. Surrounded by food – good food, really really good food – I am continuously preparing the things I like to eat. That’s what a chef does, provides delicious interpretations of ingredients that others will delight in but can’t create themselves. It’s wonderful a couple nights a week, but I am immersed. Some weeks I work 68 hours, sometimes more. That’s 10 to 12 hours a day, five to six days a week. I almost always have a hankering for sweets, and more so since I stopped drinking. What with the stress, the long hours, the need for relief and comfort and the constant availability of chocolate mousse and fresh fruits pies and tarts, you can imagine how many extra calories I take in. Sometimes I find myself on my third cookie before I even realize I’m eating!

So it’s going to be a difficult road repairing my eating habits and still have a job in this business. One thing that has helped is learning that how I feel is data. But I need constant reminders to check in, to transcend the demands and stresses of the day and listen to all this internal wisdom I’ve been ignoring. To accomplish this, I need friends who can listen without judging, support my efforts even when I’m not perfect. In AA, I have a sponsor. We chat about AA stuff, steps, traditions, etc. and go on tangents about fly fishing or whatever. It’s good. Sometimes I get great advice; sometimes it’s just a change of thought patterns, and sometimes it is just two folks having a nice break and talking. But it is always with someone who feels safe to talk to and understands where I’m coming from.

At Suppers, there are no sponsors, rather “therapeutic friendships”, which sounds kinda fancy. But it means I have people to relate to, to be accountable to (I chuckle at the idea that we have a hard time being accountable to ourselves, and have to put that on others), to talk to, someone who can understand where I’m coming from without being judgmental. And maybe most important for me, they can give good quality advice, if I ask. Nobody beats me up more than I do myself. I’m an expert. If I eat poorly, I eat poorly some more and then some more, fueled by my own self recriminations.

I have demonstrated to myself enough times now that if I eat better I feel better. The mornings that I eat eggs, some meat and tomato juice, I am satisfied and not stealing cookies. If I eat this breakfast I can go for more hours before having lunch than when I eat a poor breakfast. My cravings are lessened as well and the effects are both physical and mental. Breakfasts of just coffee and a croissant send me down the road of poor eating habits for the day, or longer. I end up craving sweets and inevitably my mood suffers and I irritate my staff as well.

I need a constant infusion of support and nonjudgment to pull this off. I know that when I go to meetings my self-awareness improves. My self-esteem rises and when I feel good about myself, it’s easier to eat according to my intentions. After eight years, I’m still free of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. For me, by far the hardest substance to control is sugar.