Monday, April 2, 2012

Light at the End of the Tunnel

So, I haven't posted anything in awhile, and while I'd like to say its because of all the dates I've been busy with, or because I gave up blogging for Lent, it is really because of sugar.

I grew up in a Catholic home, and every Lent we were supposed to "give something up" as a testament of our faith in the story of Jesus' crucifixtion and subsequent resurrection. My childhood was marked with Lenten seasons promising to forego my allowance or fighting with my eight siblings. It is a practice that I never really understood, and didn't participate in for many years. I decided that this year, however, I would participate; not because I still consider myself Catholic (I don't), but because I had a better understanding as to what, exactly, it was really about. Keep reading.

Fat Tuesday rolled around this year and I brought a couple dozen paczski for the staff at work. My personal consumption for the day included: coffee, three Vanilla Angels, and a packet of Skittles. And that's it. My Lenten plan? No sugar.

Yep. I decided to give up sugar. No added sugar, not even honey or Splenda. The only sweetness allowed would be that found naturally in fruits and veggies; I would even give up those food high on the glycemic index- pineapple, bananas, carrots. Might I refer you to this post for how I feel about sugar? I have followed an Elfin diet (candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup) for as long as I can remember. My personal food pyramid had only sugar, save for the tiny triangle at the top, split equally among all of the other food groups. I went to bed still hopped up on sweet, sweet sugar, hoping and praying for the strength to follow through with the very public declaration of being a one-woman sugar-free zone for the next forty days and nights.

I know you've all heard stories about the horrible-ness that is sugar detox. I'm here to tell you that they are all true. I easily could have lost it and truly, physically harmed someone if I were less in control of my bearings. The first three days were a blur of cravings, crabbiness, and crying.

And then, it got easier.

I thought every day about what I was doing; staying focused and  making it through all forty days was a goal I knew I could reach. But why? I mean, besides the very shallow hope that I'd drop a few pounds (I haven't). It was, I decided, a test of will more than a religious practice, and yet there's a spiritual aspect that cannot be denied. Once the wall is broken through, there is a clarity to your days. There have been times these past few weeks when I have been tested, like at my friend Nicki's baby shower- pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting!- or even my standing date Friday nights with my steadies, Ben & Jerry.

And then, it got clearer.

The reasoning behind the practice, my own personal reasonings, the reasons I wish I knew about before a few weeks ago. It has to do with the word I've purposely avoided using until now: sacrifice.

My understanding of the purpose of Lent is for people to reflect on and try to come to terms with the sacrifices Jesus made for us stupid humans- the taunting, the temptations, the persecution, death. And really, if you choose to observe Lent, what you choose to give up or sacrifice as a means to empathize (???) with Jesus is your business; I do, however have a problem with putting qualifiers on that choice (i.e., "I'll give up candy, except for dark chocolate because of the antioxidants," or "I'll give up beer, except during March Madness."); to me, its worse than not observing at all. Not observing is, in a way, acknowledgement of your need for spiritual strength and guidance, whereas observing with exceptions is dismissing the need for those things, almost bragging that you are above needing help, that you don't need the example Jesus set. Think about this, the definition of sacrifice:
sacrifice (verb)- 1) offering of something to a deity; (noun) 2) something so offered; (verb) 3) the giving up of something valued for the sake of something else.

Its that third one that takes my sugar-free journey from rain-spattered windshield to crystal clear. The key to voluntary sacrifice, understanding the what and why of it, is to relinquish something that makes your day-to-day comfortable, not necessarily something you just happen to like a bunch.

And now, its clearer still.

Me being sugar-free forced me to focus on other areas of my life that perhaps I've been neglecting, and at the same time it offered me the opportunity to meditate on just why the thing I was giving up was so important in the first place. Well, for me, I like sugar. A lot. It tastes awesome. It makes me happy. I love the energy that courses through my body on a sugar high, that invincibility. Giving that up forced me to find new ways to cope with my sweet tooth, to find new things or rediscover old ones that made me feel the same way, both physiologically and emotionally.

And I thought about all of the other things I've done and still do, the other sacrifices I've made in order to make others  happy: my daughters, my friends, my students, my family. I've found that much of my life is spent making others' days comfortable. I'm sure many of you are nodding your heads in agreement. Its taken me a lot of time, but I'm okay with that, with my vocation being that of a person who brings learning experiences to others, mostly by unconventional means (this blog, even?). I love sharing knowledge and helping others grow. And most days, I'm even okay with knowing I'll never make a ton of money doing it.

So where does this leave me? Six days out from a self-induced sugar coma? Most likely, yes. But it also has brought me closer to who I think I used to be, the person I think I've forgotten about these past few difficult, liberating years where I've learned to live with less, both emotionally and materialistically. And now I'm closer still, even without the sugar rush to help move me along. Read that definition again, friends, and have a blessed Easter.