The other day while writing, I recalled a time when small when I ate two portions of fish and chips straight after one another for dinner. I think I had visited my aunt and stayed later than usual, and rather than cooking a meal, we’d drove to the local chip shop. I loved the blue and white tiled walls, the warmth and shine of the counters, the smell of salt and vinegar, the hot oil. I loved watching the golden chips being scooped out of the fryer onto sheets of paper, the rustle of them being wrapped.
My aunt often had takeaways. At home, we only had fish and chips on holiday or occasionally had a cone for lunch if out shopping and my brother or I became hungry. Mother didn’t like us eating chips from cones or out of their paper wrappers. She preferred us to eat them at home, at the table set with placemats and cutlery and glasses of orange squash and salt and vinegar in glass bottles with little plastic tops. My aunt let me eat them however I wanted, so I gobbled up my parcel of chips, (which is what they always felt like: presents) from out of the crisp, but also slightly damp greasy paper and then ate some more, before going to raid the fridge for marathon chocolate bars or orange clubs, penguins or chocolate chip cookies.
I loved the fact she had a chocolate drawer in her fridge that would be constantly restocked with Cadbury fingers and caramel wafers, topics and slabs of fruit and nut. We didn’t have chocolate at home. Chocolate and sweets were considered a treat, but we did have a biscuit tin that mother kept a close eye upon, making sure no one person had too many or anyone became too greedy one week.
Mother paid for me to have a school meal for years and when I became a teenager, I decided to spend the money on chocolate instead. I saved up a weeks worth of money the first time, then went to the corner shop to see what I could spend my money on, and found to my delight if I concentrated on the small stuff, the mini chocolate bars and the mix-up type sweets in plastic cartons and pots, I could walk away with a ton of stuff to gorge on over the wasteland at the back of school.
Sugar has always been a problem. Cakes and biscuits, bars of chocolate, calorific puddings, trifles and sweets. I remember in my twenties deciding to buy just one chocolate bar every morning and how hard it felt to purchase just one, especially when at times I had bought so much, shopkeepers would ask if I planned on having a party. I’d take the one measly bar away and find a quiet spot to enjoy it with a cup if tea. It became a ritual, a sweet kick to get through another day, just like all the other rituals I’d been doing since small.
I never thought this could be an adoptee issue even though I had read the Primal Wound where Nancy spoke about it. I thought I had an addictive personality, although no one is sure such a thing exists, but it seemed feasible that if I had problems with alcohol, I may also have problems with other addictive substances and sugar, though seen as a normal part of our diet in the West, is probably the most addictive substance of them all.
Then I started to notice some other adoptees struggled too, with all sorts of issues around food. They constantly ate stuff they didn’t need as if filling a hole. Their guts metaphorically and physically ached for the maternal sustenance they had been forced to live without it seemed.
There has been more and more research into gut health and how much what’s going on in our digestive systems affects our overall wellbeing. The brain and gut like to be harmony, but this balance can be upset and remain out of sync unless brought under control.
Filling the gut ache I felt with sugary confectionary fulfilled me in the short term, but long term created havoc with my blood sugar levels and made me feel bloated, lethargic and tired.
Three years ago, I decided to stop.
If wasn’t easy, far from, but cutting out all processed sugar and starting to take care of myself, to eat things that worked for me rather than against me, things that made me feel healthy afterwards, energised, nourished, rather than tired and nauseous has been a one of my better decisions. We all need to love the smooth-working messiness of our guts.
It is after all who we all are. So, start small.