Don't Pass Me that Donut: I'm Sweet Enough!

We had a great raised-poor weekend workshop last March at the Prindle Pond Conference Center in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, USA. Among the highlights:

• Gwen Brown (the RC International Liberation Reference Person for Raised Poor People) showed us what it meant to hang in there with our clients. She consistently stayed with every person she counseled in front of the group until he or she broke through some wall that had been in his or her way. She modeled acceptance, understanding, and high expectations. She was patient and relaxed in her counseling. She trusted the clients to point in the needed direction and then lovingly insisted that they stay there until they had beaten that distress. It was basic counseling, like we all learned in fundamentals class, exquisitely executed. Wow.

• The safety, the sense of belonging, of being home, was tangible. This was my first raised-poor workshop. I was the only person there from my Region (Vermont and New Hampshire), but I was home. I noticed that one quick way to cut right through my isolation distress was to take on the role of welcomer. Instead of holding back and hoping that someone would come get me, I went after everybody there. It started with my introduction the first evening when I exclaimed that "I want every one of you - come and snuggle!" Someone mentioned at the closing circle that one of the highlights had been being welcomed from the beginning by me. Wow.

• I got great information from Gwen. The demonstrations and my counseling sessions showed me how raised-poor distress works and how the reality of who I am isn't tarnished in any way by any of it. Particularly helpful was the insight that we come into this world completely innocent and with great expectations. When we see the damage from societal hurts in the eyes and behaviors of our beloved families, we mistakenly think it is us (no one explained to us how classism and other societal oppressions work, so how could we know?). But of course it wasn't me. I have great hope for the recovery work I can do by remembering how good I and everyone around me were back then and how valiantly and successfully we fought to maintain our connections with each other and reality.

•I led the effort to think about how the use of white processed sugar (sucrose) weaves itself into the hurts experienced by those of us who were raised poor. I got great support from the workshop coordinator to pursue this (thanks Gladys!) and excellent thinking, feedback, and encouragement from a large number of the workshop participants. The rest of this article is about that topic.

In my own life I've noticed that highly processed sugars "sink" me fast. I struggle much harder to think clearly for several hours after eating something sugary, and I have trouble noticing another person's attention and using that attention to discharge. My children seem to get "edgy" and unfocused after ingesting sugar. My son's eyes get bloodshot and glazed. I am particularly drawn to sweets when I'm feeling lonely and upset. Sure signs of an addiction, I think. These effects seem to be moderated somewhat if I've eaten other less sweet foods just before the sweets, especially some high-protein food like meat.

I led a topic table on sugar addiction during one meal. I hoped to get some insights into questions like: Do other people think of this as an addictive substance? What kind of effects do they notice? Does it look like the effects are a result of some biological reaction, or is it possible that sugar is a neutral substance that has gotten distress patterns attached to it by proximity to other hurtful experiences? I was working on a hunch that people who were raised poor might be even more vulnerable than others to distresses around sugar consumption because it was a cheap, easily available substance (at least in the United States) and might have played a larger part in our lives than in the lives of people higher up on the economic scale.

A full third of the forty-eight workshop participants sat in on the topic table discussion. I took a minute to describe why I initiated it, and then we each took a couple of minutes of the group's attention with the following questions in

• Does the use of sugar look like an addiction in your life?

• What effects do you notice from its

• If you feel drawn to it - under what

• In what ways have you been successful in adopting a rational use of this substance?

There was a vast majority, though not a unanimity, who thought that sugar was indeed an addiction for them. One person summed up her relationship to sugar nicely by referring to it as her "comfort substitute," to which there were many nods and hums. Several people described some degree of temporary "brain drain" following its use. One said that she noticed no difference at all, and another that her thinking seemed less clear but she had no trouble discharging. The most commonly expressed effective strategy for combating the addictive pull was deciding, getting close to another person, and discharging. Clear information was also considered useful. Two books were mentioned as being helpful in thinking and deciding about sugar use: Sugar Blues and Potatoes, not Prozac.

A couple of people expanded the focus of our topic by sharing observations that related substances produce similar effects. There might be a continuum from white, processed sucrose through brown sugar, honey, molasses, and into the simple, highly processed, more complex carbohydrates (like white macaroni and white bread - both also common USer raised-poor foods), with the effects of sugar being the most intense and acute and the effects of white bread/macaroni being more like "time release." This points to the need for broad evolving policies and guidelines regarding the rational use of food in general.

There was a lot of enthusiasm and appreciation for having broached the topic at all. It seems that this is a significant issue in many of our lives and one that the RC Communities and the society at large have hardly addressed. Indeed, this is in many ways an "invisible addiction" because of the lack of acknowledgment around it, which makes it harder to face clearly and challenge. Someone came up to me at the end of the workshop to proudly declare that she had gone sugar-free for the last half of the weekend, which she attributed to our recognition of the issue.

I would like to see us think together about this on a larger scale. My experience, thinking, and the thinking of others at this workshop suggest that we could do ourselves a great favor by adding sugar to the list of substances to avoid at all RC events.

Besides, who needs it? We're already plenty sweet enough!

Johnny Lee Lenhart
Brattleboro, Vermont, USA

Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07