Diet Danger Zones

I know all about things that can get me in trouble when I go on a weight loss program. Plant based whole food really is more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle, but because my #1 directive from my doctor to avoid diabetes is to lose weight, I have to work this into the PBWF diet, and it’s not that hard to do. Except when I make it that way.

Wine is not illegal on a PBWF diet. But I have recently discovered (this didn’t use to happen to me) that if I have a couple of glasses of wine in the evening, I don’t sleep well that night. I really need a good night’s sleep to function properly. (That wasn’t always the case, either. Clearly these are age related indignities.) When I don’t sleep my brain gets lazy and I decide that I’m just going to have a little chocolate or potato chips, or both.

All of these things (empty calories, sleepless nights, junk food) ruin a diet. I did that life expectancy quiz everyone my age has probably done at least once. The alcohol was set at 2.7 drinks a week and I left it there, not really wanting to know how much I drink. The quiz calculated I’d live to be 92! Not bad.

I asked my husband if I drank more than 2.7 drinks a week. He laughed. “You drink that in a day.” He has a point. I don’t drink every day, and I don’t drink 2.7 drinks every time I drink, but I know I drink more, maybe 6-8 drinks a week. That sounds high. I’m a little embarrassed by that number, but it’s pretty accurate. It’s really too many drinks for someone who has to lose 30 pounds. Or maybe more. For a person trying to lose a significant amount of weight, alcohol for the week should be zero.

And so should potato chips and chocolate and cheeseburgers. Zero, zero, zero. And yet, I am all too human. I make mistakes all the time. But it is really important to be me to straighten the curve and drinking 6-8 units of alcohol a week, which leads to eating junk food and not sleeping well, is not gonna help. I really don’t care about wine more than weight loss. I don’t care about wine more than sleeping. And so I am going to stop drinking alcohol and go with the #1 drink recommended by PBWF, a drink, as luck would have it, I really enjoy: water.




Addiction Stories

I’ve always been a sucker for a recovery memoir. Drinking: A Love Story still stays with me all these years later. Lit by Mary Karr simply lit up my life while I ingested its pages. But why? These are wretched stories of wrecked humans. Why did I love them so? Well there was the hard-won recovery. I used to wonder, even worry, why I liked these books so much. In addiction language they call this denial. I have always had a fair share of denial, and not just in regard to how many glasses of wine I consumed on a daily basis.

What the recovery memoir did for me, I had a hard time saying. Even before memoirs came into vogue, there was Eve Babitz’s amazing novel Sex and Rage, still on my bookshelf with a hardcover price of $8.95 and a bookplate proclaiming “From the library of Cynthia Jablonski.” (I have not been a Jablonski in over thirty years.) So my addiction to addiction stories goes way back. The copyright on Sex and Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time reads 1979.


Finally after decades of reading these stories, whether fictionalized or true, I started to recognize the main attraction: at least I wasn’t as bad as the authors. I couldn’t have a drinking problem. I knew what addiction looked like, I’d practically gotten a degree in the subject with all the first person accounts I read.

And yet…after staying up all hours to finish It’s So Easy: and other lies by Duff McKagan, I think I finally found the mirror I’ve been looking for all these years. Duff is an unlikely mentor. He’s at least ten years younger than I am, at his height of using he consumed a half gallon of vodka a day plus prodigious amounts of cocaine (enabling him to drink more) and downers (to let him sleep). I get physically ill if I try for a third martini.


Duff is also the former bass player of Guns ‘N Roses, who came into splashy rock stardom in his 20s when I was a 30-something mom of two. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band, but I watched MTV. I mean, what woman on earth would not be caught by Axl Rose’s gorgeous face? Their music? Background, pretty much. I preferred Stevie Nicks, who had addiction problems of her own, and idolized Janis Joplin, who had died of an overdose when I was in my teens.

Still, when Duff listed his musical influences, he named many of the same bands (Clash, Stooges, Stones) I had treasured since my teen years. Okay, Clash was a little later, but boy do I love Joe Strummer. And so does Duff. I identified in so many incidental ways. We’ve both been married three times, have strong connections to Seattle and Los Angeles, both of us became full time college students in our thirties. a non-traditional college student, like Duff. I found other things to like in Duff: he’s a fabulous storyteller and takes great literature and good writing skills seriously. I’m a writer and reader. Those are my two primary focuses and have been for as long as I can remember. The number of parallels in our two vastly different lives, as well as his riveting story, captivated me.


Reading addiction stories, even biographies and autobiographies of writers (another favorite genre) often contain an addiction subplot, helped me understand that I have an addictive personality. I’m addicted to the genre of addiction stories, for example. I get hooked hard on things very easily. That could be why these stories resonate so strongly for me. I’m lucky, because I really can’t do drugs. Just about every drug, prescription or illegal, either bores me, scares me, or makes me physically ill.

After years of reading recovery memoirs I realized there was something worse than reading I was addicted to–junk food. I just could not get off sugar. No matter how many times I lost that extra fifty pounds (btw 50 pounds was the amount of weight Duff gained during his addiction) I’d gain at least some of it back. Prescription diet pills twisted my stomach into knots and made me more anxious than I already was…which was about the time Xanax entered the picture. The only drug, prescription or not, my body seemed more than okay with for a long long time.

Anxiety, panic and phobias are another similarity between Duff and me. I could totally relate to him having to be trashed to board an airplane and his free-floating anxiety, multiple phobias, and full-on panic attacks reminded me of myself. My quite recent self. I recall telling a doctor who’d given me diet pills that if I took a Xanax with it, I didn’t get the twisty tummy. She gave me a lecture, saying that my mixing meds was not healthy. So I stopped taking diet pills and started back up with the junk food. I continued to use Xanax until it gradually became a daily habit, sanctioned by my doctor for sleeplessness, anxiety, panic, migraine, and stress.

Duff shares his own intense go-round with my favorite drug ever, and his story of kicking Xanax inspires me right now, today, as I am slowly coming off what I thought was a pretty high dose. Compared to Duff, my dose was half a baby aspirin.

That I combined wine and Xanax several times a week “concerned” my therapist, who I started seeing about six months ago for anxiety and depression. I told her I had never been seriously depressed and I thought Xanax (among other things) was feeding my depression. I wanted to get off it. Again. (Not my first time kicking.) We immediately halved my dosage of Xanax. Not a huge problem. Going from half to nothing has proven sticky, though, and I’m still trying. Could I be addicted to Xanax? What about wine? Was there something here, or maybe more than one thing, that needed addressing?


Next appointment, I took a deep breath and asked the hard questions, the ones I couldn’t even ask myself for so long.  “So does “concerned” mean you think I have a substance abuse problem?” She was non-committal. “Not necessarily.” She said she was not an M.D. and didn’t feel comfortable making a medical diagnosis. Armed with years of addiction stories, knowing the jargon and the way the story always goes, I continued to prod. “Could I overdose? Is that why you said you were concerned?”

My habit consisted of 4 mg of Xanax and three large glasses of Chardonnay every other day with a few martini moments on special occasions. Like if it was Friday. Nothing at all by Duff standards. And yet..if a trained professional was concerned, I was, too. I’ve done a ton of work on myself through the years. I took up yoga and ditched meat. I meditate every day. I gave up sugar over a year ago. I wanted this therapist to help me cut my wine down to one glass (or two) and to help me get off Xanax as a daily habit.

Duff meditates. He eats clean. He calls food “fuel.” He also trained extensively in another form of Eastern body movement, more in intense style of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris than yoga will ever be, but still. He got the mind/body connection and learned, as I did, to find a safe, quiet place inside.

While Xanax helped me relax enough to get quiet inside, it eventually drained me of energy to the point of a mild but chronic depression. Drinking even the small amount I did gave me massive hangovers. My body had never liked what alcohol does to it. And it didn’t like pills much, either. Food, however, was the main culprit. Even after emergency surgery when an internal organ failed. Yet another thing Duff and I had in common. Duff’s explosion Duff’s was way worse than mine, but we are both lucky to be alive.

Back to my question to the therapist: Really? 4 mg of Xanax and 3 glasses of wine every other day might make me in danger of an OD? It’s possible, my therapist said, or, under the influence of that much, you might take more by mistake and then overdose. Ha. She had me. I kept pretty rigid count of my wine. I never finished a bottle. That was my rule. Except sometimes…I broke my own rule. Rarely, but sometimes, I finished the bottle. And sometimes I had five Xanax.

So this is me now, tapering off the Xanax. Taking a mini-break from alcohol, which was my idea. Doc does not think I’m an alcoholic. I was however risking dangerous combinations of substances. That’s over. Duff’s story gave me courage in the midst of my own drawn out detox from Xanax. Having read what Duff put his body through, and how he survived it, has strengthened my determination. I can do this. It’s time. 


Now I finally understand why I’ve spent all these years reading addiction stories. I was searching for the one that most matched my own. Book after book, I was relieved. No, that’s not me. Nope, I’d never be able to drink/drug that much.

Duff’s memoir was The One. He exposes his own waking nightmares with anxiety, panic and a crazy rainbow of phobias. I know now that for me this is the baseline reason for all the other stuff. Just as my sugar jones led me to crave more sugar, my mental condition caused some other addictive behaviors. For a long time, I used to think I’d never live to be old. Duff had that same feeling. Yet here we both still are, getting older, in our wildly divergent lives.

Jesse (1954-2014)

peace.imagesAn old friend from my past died a few weeks ago, and he’s been on my mind a lot since then. Jesse and I knew each other as teen and new adults. Friendships in those years meant more than family to me, and it was the same for my friends. We were family to each other, because our families of origin didn’t work.

Many of our gang, dubbed the Pranksters by the slyly intelligent Doug Beeler years before I read Ken Kesey, had fathers who drank, parents who were divorced, mothers who hit us, and so on. Some of us had been forcefully evicted from the family home. Jesse, in this merry band of long-haired freaks, was the coolest.

Jesse’s family seemed fine to me, but he fit right in with the rest of us misfits. Jesse wasn’t much taller than me, and I’m 5’3. He had shoulder length black hair and a tidy mustache that didn’t ever grow over onto his lips. He had black framed glasses when wire rimmed specs were the rage. He was damn smart, and those glasses suited him. He was unique. A character. A charmer with braces and an easy smile. He was a peacekeeper and a positive force in our band of gypsies.

One of the things I really loved about him was his vocabulary. He spoke with ease and assurance in long sentences designed to provoke laughter. We always wanted to laugh back then. Laugh and listen to music. And if we could, get high.

Jesse called weed things like sweet leaf and smoke. He called cigarettes “tubes.” When he had to leave, he’d say “Gotta book” and when he loved something, it was “cool” it was “far fucking out.” We all loved the F word as adjective, but Jesse said it first.

He wore plaid flannel shirts and jeans with holes, not patches. He had a style about him, a bandana around his forehead and crown, with the rest of that dark hair in disarray to his shoulders, no farther. Worn boots that looked like Doc Martens before there were Doc Martens.

Jesse taught me to beg with class. He had a loose-limbed stance and a totally relaxed walk. He was relaxed when he pan-handled, too. The world was a different place then. We were too young to work and too old for an allowance. Some of us didn’t have addresses, most of us walked or hitched by way of transportation. On rare occasions, Jesse’s dad would let him drive the ‘Cuda.

On those days when we wanted to be high, which was every minute of every day, and needed money for beer or weed, Jesse taught me to stand casually outside the party store at the Crossroads (also named by Beeler, Jesse’s best friend) and instead of holding out a hand and saying “please can you buy me some beer and also can you pay for it?” look a person in the eye to get a feel if they would give me their loose change.

Then, still not holding out my hand, say two words: “Spare change?” Only when I heard the jingle of silver coming out of pocket or purse, did I hold out my hand for the offered coins and say thank you. Jesse always added “peace” so I did, too. So this job of pan-handling for substance abuse purposes had two parts: part one, gather “bread” part two: find a buyer for beer or a seller of pot.

Later, when I was on the road and hungry, I didn’t panhandle much. I’d rather go hungry and only felt comfortable begging with Jesse safely tucked somewhere close but out of sight. Also, I did not like the taste of beer, but drank it only for the buzz. Jesse taught me how to do that, too. Drink as much as possible in one swallow, then pass the GIQ.

Jesse could roll a joint with one hand, hanging from the limbs  of a tree in the “Living Room” (another DB coinage) deep in the woods at the state park where we sometimes hung out. He’d spark a match and inhale with aplomb, that sweet smile on his face as he held the smoke as long as possible.

When I got the news of Jesse’s death, I hadn’t seen him in forty years. Our paths diverged as I got straight and started a family. I have heard through mutual friends, though, that he went out the way he was then. Still seeking the next high, still smiling.

Day #2 Holiday Diet

I think I did pretty well yesterday considering I hosted a dinner party. The main dish was Beef Burgundy, so I didn’t partake of that. Just some noodles I served on the side. And salad. And 2 or 3 glasses of wine. Possibly four. I did well on  the appetizers too, only having one mini-quiche and 1 salmon dip cracker. Didn’t care for the dip. That always helps.

But the Ritz crackers Al insists on serving with the dip were pretty good, so I had 4 or 5 of those. Maybe 8. No more than 10. Had leftover pizza for lunch. OK calories not great there but I really dislike throwing away food. Al might have eaten it, but he didn’t get a chance.

Cereal with banana for breakfast. And lots of coffee with fat free vanilla creamer. I think there’s lots of sugar in that. Should read labels more. Oh and then I had a mid-day snack of chips and salsa. Tortilla chips. Whole wheat tortilla chips. Healthy.

I know before I can get serious about this I need to count calories. What bugs me about that is I can only eat 1200 a day to lose a pound a week. A friend of mine eats about 2,000 calories a day and is not overweight. That’s almost double my food! So then the slippery slope of how unfair life is begins. Maybe everyone gets to eat 2000 calories a day. Maybe I am the only person in the world (besides my dad, also a perpetual dieter) who can only have half of what everyone else is chowing on.

Life is not fair! My friend does exercise daily. Not yoga, sigh. Walking and weight lifting. Hello Treadmill you sadist you.


Expecting a Miracle

The other day I picked up my special journal, the one I paid $30 for at Papyrus in January 2013. I don’t usually spend that much cash on special journals. They’re kind of a pain to write in; I prefer spiral topped lined notebooks with strong backs. But I was compelled to buy the journal and decided I’d only record special events in it.

I read it the other day and was amazed at all the changes I’ve gone through in 2013 and how random and careless my entries seemed. One factor stood out: I had tried to lose weight, and bemoaned almost every entry that it wasn’t happening. But when I added up all the pounds, I saw that I had lost 15 pounds and kept it off…until Thanksgiving. Now my jeans are tight again and I need to reign myself back in. I rather liked being medium instead of large.

Of course it’s complete folly to go on a diet during the holidays. I am terrible at depriving myself. If there is chocolate, I will eat it. If there is wine, I will drink it. If there are potato chips, well, that’s my preferred trifecta of gluttony. The way I lost the weight was to not have any of these things in my house. Well, I always have wine, but I left it corked. And I took to eating two squares of dark chocolate most days. The taste is so intense I had no urge to binge. As for the chips, I just said no. (Whereas right now I write the word “chips” and want to devour a bag.)

I have been reading books about the brain and impulse control. I know that I need to train myself to say no to certain trigger foods and all will be well with the weight and health. The longer I train myself to say no, the more I succeed. It’s that simple. However…

Yesterday, my complete list of food included every bad thing plus pizza. Not a vegetable passed my lips. Well, the mushrooms on the pizza. But I am determined to do better, no matter how hopeless or inconvenient it seems. Christmas is a time for miracles and I’m asking for one now.