Most every day about this time, I brew a cup (fresh-ground Peet’s Major Dickason blend) and I treat myself to a biscotti. Nonni’s triple-chocolate, unless I’ve recently baked a batch of the spiced chocolate variety I love best.
But today it’s just a big, red mug of coffee, because I’m on Day Five of the Desert Rose Sober Cookie™ Challenge. It’s tempting to exempt my biscotti (it’s not a cookie, it’s an Italian biscuit!), but I’m holding true to the spirit of the challenge.
My coffee’s lonely, and I feel the tiniest sense of emptiness as well. I’m not going to get those 10 grams of sugar that boost my mood and my energy and help me over the finish line of the work day. I miss the anticipation of the first chocolate-y bite, the daily dilemma – to dunk or not to dunk? – and the way I try to make my cookie/biscuit last for five bites instead of four.
People in recovery, I’m told, sometimes miss their drugs in this way. They miss the anticipation of using. They miss the sensation of the first hit or the first sip, and the familiar feeling of being under the drug’s influence. It’s like my longing for an afternoon biscotti, times about a million.
I’m doing this challenge to look for insight. To look for common ground with the people I see come in our doors each day. What I’m trying to do – what I hope everyone taking the Sober Cookie™ Challenge is trying to do – is to blur the line between “us” and “them.”
I’m as flawed a human being as the woman who’s trying to quit booze or the guy who’s in his tenth trip to rehab. I don’t know the pull of drugs or alcohol. That’s not because of anything I did or didn’t do. That’s just by the grace of God.
Today’s bit of awareness, for me, is to remember how much people can miss the rituals surrounding their drug use, even as they work to be free. We build our lives around rituals and habits. Is relapse any wonder?
I never understood relapse before I came to work at Desert Rose rehab just a few months ago. Like so many others, I thought addiction was a kind of stubbornness. I was so wrong. I feel ashamed for ever having thought that.
The people who come through our program, the ones who are really ready to do the work, are as brave as anybody you’ll ever meet. Anybody who’s come out of addiction into lasting recovery is worthy of respect for that achievement. The Sober Cookie™ Challenge is a tribute to every one of them.
It’s rare for a small rehab center to have a writer on staff. A lot of places have huge marketing departments, but that’s not us. Desert Rose invests in people, not advertising.
I’m here to capture the stories of our clients, to put resources in the hands of people who need them, and to find thoughtful ways to share the world of addiction and recovery.
It’s the best part of my day when a young person – and they’re pretty much all young – sits on the little white loveseat in my office to tell me their story. It’s also usually the toughest, because of everything they’ve gone through. To a one, they’ve been brave, vulnerable and honest.
Not long ago, I sat with someone who is strong, straight-talking, and smart. Like most of our clients, there was a long history of family dysfunction, alcoholism, drugs, relapse, and trauma.
But clearly there was something else, something that took a couple hours to get to. It was an anguish about a deeply personal matter, along with the fear that no one – not parents, not friends, not even this loving Desert Rose community – would understand. We talked and cried, and finally went our separate ways.
As I drove home, I thought a lot about how we all just want to be understood . How, I wondered, could I possibly grasp what it’s like to fight every day to stay clean and sober?
Sugar. That could be the key to understanding. We’re just about to enter the season when sugar is everywhere . What if I said I wouldn’t eat a single Christmas cookie, so I could feel the cravings and temptations, and fight my brain’s deep desire for the dopamine rush? What if we asked everyone to take that pledge?
So the Sober Cookie™ Challenge was born.
I’m not a scientist, but I’m told that sugar stimulates the same pleasure receptors in the brain as drugs and alcohol, though to a far lesser degree. Not only will that cookie taste good, it will feel good. And your brain tells you another cookie will feel even better. And so on.
When you’re stressed or when you’re depressed or when you’re sad, the sugar in that cookie is going to give you a pick-me-up. If you’re hurting, it might numb your pain for a few seconds. You crave it. In the long run, it’s not very good for you.
In other words, it’s a drug, of sorts.
Now, hear me: I cannot know what an addict’s life is like just because I’m vowing to give up cookies for a few weeks . The Sober Cookie™ Challenge isn’t meant to make light of the life-and-death nature of addiction. We’re not suggesting that giving up a sugar cookie is the same thing as giving up heroin or scotch. It’s my worst fear that somebody’s going to misunderstand our motive, take offense, or be hurt.
Instead, it all just comes back to that young person who sat in my office, crying out to be understood. Here’s what I’d like to say to that courageous soul: You inspired this challenge. Everyone who joins this movement wants to understand, in the tiniest possible way, what it’s like for you to stay clean and sober. We love you, we care, and you are not alone.