“Cigarettes And Chocolate Milk
Cigarettes and chocolate milk
these are just a couple of my cravings
everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger
a little bit thicker
a little bit harmful for me…”
I am thoroughly familiar with The Golden Mean, “all things in moderation,” and blah, blah, blah. As a student of Buddhism, I am repeatedly confronted with the basic tenet that cravings are the root of all suffering, and that being in the present moment, not longing for something different, is the path to enlightenment.
The problem is that moderation takes huge discipline, and that when I am tired, or hungry, or celebratory, or breathing, I tend to want something, and it is very rarely “just enough.” Back in the days when I was not eating a low-carb diet, I would be drawn into the kitchen by the inexorable pull of the remains of the triple layer carrot cake, or the virgin carton of “Moose Tracks” in the freezer. I wasn’t after a “bite,” or a “taste;” I wanted enough to create the culinary equivalent of Blotto. I could eat four slices of pizza, seven cookies, or half a bowl of leftover Halloween candy without thinking, after which I would be placid and satisfied (until the next time). I don’t do that anymore, not because I have become more disciplined, but because I don’t want to die before the next season of “The Rachel Zoe Project” begins.
Even about diet and excercise I have been immoderate; two years ago when I “went on a diet” and began working out at the local YMCA, I was obsessed with calories ingested, calories burned, and the logging and tracking thereof. Since I couldn’t actually eat what I wanted to eat, and made myself burn calories in ways that I truly hated, my cravings were displaced into data-gathering, rule-following, and petty triumphs over shin splints and metabolism. Of course it didn’t work, and I gained it all back (with extra). This time around, there has to be a balance of pleasure and pain so that there is no room for the feeling that I want, I need, I have to have something dramatic to make me feel better. If I am craving the solace of an inappropriate snack, I have two hands full of peanuts instead of one. Extra calories, certainly, but no carbs and no damage. If I don’t want to go for a walk, I go anyway, but I walk slower, or for a shorter distance; my Id is pleased that we have gotten away with something, and I still burn some calories and get my heart rate up.
Food being off the table, so to speak, there are other things that pull me towards the tipping point. During a recent bout of sciatica, I was given giant, economy-sized bottles of Vicodin, Flexeril and Valium. I was in a tremendous amount of pain, and there was no “high” involved, merely a cessation of the feeling that I would amputate my left leg if I could get up off the couch and find my chef’s knife. I do recall, though, that a “sciatica cocktail” left me feeling mellow and made me forget everything unpleasant that might previously have been lurking in my addled mind. I was also a more benevolent creature, unruffled by things that would ordinarily cause me to snap at loved ones or begin to stew about ways to express my unhappiness at the loudness of the television or the shoes in the middle of the living room floor.
I wondered, more than once, how it would feel to take those pills, even just one Vicodin, when I was not in pain. Would I be a kinder, happier, generally smoother person? Would I be more relaxed and charming in social situations? The fact that I even think these things is a flashing red indicator that I am lacking in some fundamental kind of equanimity. Do other people think things like that? Is that how addicts get started? I have not, of course, tested the Better Living Through Chemistry idea, but what does it say about me that I even let the thoughts form in my head without stabbing them with my piercing understanding of all things rational and moderate?
I am also every marketer’s dream. When I see ads for lipstick that plumps, moistens, glosses and refines, I am galvanized to act. I want the perfume that no man can resist, the jeans that will make me look like Twiggy, and the rings that cost as much as our house. There is nothing wrong with identifying a product that one can afford, and that is useful, but this is not that. This is belief in the transformative power of merchandise, belief that, despite objective evidence to the contrary, the presence of that object in this life will make it better. It is materialistic, un-spiritual, banal and generally unattractive, but it happens. As with food, and my stash of potential mood-elevators, I am able to control my actions; it is very rare that I actually buy anything that I covet unless it is a particularly zippy new kind of Kashi bar that also happens to be on sale. The issue is not the doing, but the wanting to, which takes up precious energy and cheapens the life around me by comparison.
Wainright goes on, in “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk,” to say that, in addition to cigarettes, chocolate milk and jelly beans “there’s those other things /Which for several reasons we won’t mention.” I have craved other things, far darker than anything I’m willing to discuss in a blog post that my mother will read. There was a time in my life when it seemed very romantic, artistic and edgy to switch off the controls and let myself pursue whatever I craved. Maturity, marriage and motherhood have all contributed to the end of that kind of thing, but it still worries me that there was a time when I would drive to a man’s house in the dead of night to leave a note on his windshield, begging him to come back. Fortunately, as long as my husband is alive and well, it seems unlikely that I will revert to stalking unkind and inappropriate men because of my deep belief that we are soul mates, and that the “having” of him would make me whole.
The harsh truth is that I am very bad at “being here now.” No matter how hard I try (which may, in itself, be the problem) I seem, much of the time, to be craving something that part of me believes will make be prettier, happier, calmer and generally better. If I stop cold and send myself a memo concerning the failure of all previous food, perfume, CDs and handbags to make my life better, I can come back to a place where I need nothing more than to be who I am and where I am. Maybe I just solved my own problem. I can make a Post-It note with a reminder. A really beautiful Post-It note from of those cool, exclusive and expensive online stationery stores with unusual and interesting designs that would inspire me every time I looked at my desk….