By Lisa Kotin
I will never understand how lovers can buy one another chocolate for Valentine’s Day. If I eat chocolate, the last thing I want to do is to get romantic. I just want to hole up in the bathroom with my box of sea salt caramels and my nuts and chews. Door locked. Lights off. So not even I can see myself going down on the goods.
One year ago, my memoir My Confection: Odyssey of a Sugar Addict was published. It’s a darkly funny and somewhat gnarly trip into the head of a sugar addict. Having my book published was one of the greatest honors of my life. Except that the day my book was published, all I wanted was sugar.
How could I fall off the wagon now? People were depending on me. I could not let my publisher down. I should be able to maintain perfect abstinence. I should be a pillar of self-discipline, a guiding light for women and men, young and old, who suffer from the same addiction. I should never want sugar again, giving other addicts the hope that they, too, can quit the sweet stuff and be free.
I was in a bookstore café that day, doing some work while excitedly waiting and watching to see if anyone might pick up a copy of my book. The little bags of dark chocolate-covered almonds lined up by the café register called to me. I felt mad at those little bags. Why did they have to sell sugar in a bookstore? Shouldn’t the books be enough?
I wish I could tell you I have maintained perfect abstinence from sugar since that day. But I have had my ups and downs. Holidays are always a special challenge. Last Halloween, just before taking my daughter trick-or-treating, I plied myself with so much Maltitol-sweetened chocolate I could have gone as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, as I was literally doubled over from gas. I held out sugar-free through Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years, only to break my abstinence on New Year’s Day, when all the company was gone—because the day after New Year’s would be the perfect date to start over. Right?
And now, here comes the biggest chocolate holiday of the year. Valentine’s Day. Years before we had our daughter, I bought a tube of chocolate lube. I thought if the lube was good and I could enjoy it while being intimate with my husband, maybe I wouldn’t have to hide my sugar obsession any more. I could combine my truest loves and all would be happy. Except I took one lick, nearly puked, and that was the end of that.
Two Valentine’s Days ago, I drove to my daughter’s favorite chocolate shop to buy her two dark truffles. Just two. This was rich stuff for an eight year old. The clerk seemed annoyed when I requested the signature gold box, ribbon and bag for such a small purchase. “Thank you so much!” I oozed gratitude as he rang me up. “These are for my daughter. It’s her favorite chocolate.” He didn’t smile. There were three people behind me, no doubt waiting to spend quite a bit more.
By the time I reached the car, one of the truffles was already gone. I turned around and strode back to the shop, demolishing the second truffle en route. “Hey, so, I forgot, I need to buy two more—for a friend,” I told the same clerk. He looked at me like, Yeah, right. “Oh, and, I don’t need a box this time!” I thought he would thank me for that. He didn’t. I placed the plain little bag with the truffles in the back seat out of reach—not that that’s ever stopped me before. Once home, I replaced the truffles in the little gold box and tucked them away in my lingerie drawer, just like my mother used to do with her sweets.
Until that night when I couldn’t take it anymore and I demolished those truffles as well.
“I totally forgot to get some for my husband!” I told the same clerk the next day, Valentine’s Day. “Can I please get another little box? With a seal?” This was it. This time I was not going to succumb. And I did not. I did, however, get to relish in my daughter’s delight at receiving her favorite annual treat.
I recently posted a photo on Facebook of my daughter beholding an (organic, non-GMO, no artificial ingredients whatsoever) ice-cream sandwich. I got liked. I also got shamed by a health writer who had endorsed my memoir. She said my post “made her stomach churn.” I had to ask myself, Why did I post this? Was I trying to provoke a response? Was I looking to be punished? Was I asking for permission?
Shame is intricately tied in with my sugar addiction. Sugar makes me bad. And unlovable. I have deep shame about wanting sugar, especially after having the privilege of having my memoir published. Especially when I now know so much about the damage sugar causes. It makes me unfocused. It makes me not want to be in my body. It makes me not want to eat real food. Eventually, it makes me sick. But you know what? It isn’t just the sugar that makes me sick. It’s also what I do to myself once I have the sugar. The judgment. The self-loathing. The drive to obliterate myself with more, more, more.
Of course, my worst fear is that someone who read my book might see me furtively popping a Hershey’s Kiss in my mouth while I roam the Target aisles. And they will know. Know what? What exactly will they know? That I still want sugar. That I am a fraud. Or maybe that I am human.
About the Author
Lisa Kotin is a writer, director, actor, and performance artist based in Los Angeles. She graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and went on to perform original shows combining physical comedy, monologues, and short films in the United States and United Kingdom. Kotin’s show Temporary Girl, which drew upon her experiences at 100+ temp jobs, is about a dysfunctional family as seen through the eyes of an office temp, and was adapted into a movie that Leonard Maltin praised as “bright and original, with the definite ring of truth.” Follow her on Twitter at @LisaKotin and visit her website.