“Wow, you were an authentic 1950s-style juvenile delinquent.”
I said this after hearing stories about how at twelve he was buying loose cigarettes for a nickel, was shooting at people with a BB guns, sneaking off to drink the priest’s wine when he was an alter boy in the 1940s,
“Not at all. This was what boys did”, he explained, offended. Then his memories took over and a twinkle came into his eyes. “It wasn’t about getting drunk so much as it was the rush of getting away with something. That old priest had no idea.” It still made him laugh. He’s been sober for forty-one years without AA. Had he gone the AA route, he would have heard stories similar to this a thousand times.
In many ways it was no different from my story – being fueled forward by the “rush” of breaking rules, of being bad, of intense feelings. Hell, I still like a good rush wherever I can find one.
It got me thinking about own early thrill-seeking behavior; of all the ways I sought out a “rush” long before I ever had my first illicit drink, before drugs were in the picture. It got me thinking about Butter Tarts. For those not “in-the-know”, Butter Tarts are a national Canadian foodstuff. Japanese have sushi, Eastern Europeans have pirogues, and Canadians have butter tarts.
I was a teenager trapped in a child’s body, at least that’s how I felt. Parental supervision horrified me. That was for babies and, god help me, I was NOT going to look like a baby. I demanded personal space. When I was four, our backyard opened up to the school playground. This house was an ideal set-up for my parents. They could keep their eye on me from the window.
Winter in Canada is brutal and the 1960s were no exception. A few times each winter, the chain-link fence surrounding the schoolyard would get covered by beautiful, sparkling ice. Each link coated like a candy apple, twinkling in the sun, like diamonds, seducing me. Traumatic memories of last years’ fence experience shot through my Being like a warning bell but I WAS POWERLESS. I couldn’t stop myself from sticking out my tongue and licking that fence. The consequences were immediate. My tongue instantly stuck to the fence and I’d be racked by terror. The fear that my tongue was going to get ripped out of my bod. All I could do was scream. There were at least ten of us hanging by our tongues every winter day. (Ha – I wonder what path their lives took?) Eventually my mom would spot us from the window, come over and pour something warm on our tongues to dislodge us.
By the fifth grade someone turned me onto a new kind of high and it was the only thing I thought about. I would wait impatiently for the recess bell, start counting the minutes until 330 when school let out so that I could run to the playground with my friends and we could knock ourselves out. Here’s how it worked: one person would spin around until they were completely dizzy and then hold their breath while another kid would lift them up and squeeze their diaphragm until they passed out. My blackout never felt long enough to satisfy me. I was ravaged by jealousy when a friend would pass out for three or four minutes. I suspected they were faking but I was dying of envy nonetheless.
“Patty, why were all the kids laying on the ground like that?” my mom would ask when I finally came home. “ I’d come up with a full description of a fictitious game. Nothing was going to get in my way of blacking out the next day. I knew she wouldn’t have gone for the truth.
The constant high throughout my childhood, though, was corn syrup. It was a bit more opiate-like than the adrenaline-fueled thrill-seeking. I was a chatty, restless and often bored kid. I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom discovered it as a way to calm me down – sugar coma style. I would fill a cereal bowl with corn syrup and spend the entire episode of a TV show dipping and licking my spoon until it was gone. It was my way of unwinding. When people talk about using sugar as a drug I recount my corn syrup childhood. It took 20 years of telling this story before I started to wonder why we always had corn syrup in my house. I personally have never had a reason to buy it. In fact, I avoid all foods that contain it.
Last year I asked my mother to send me a recipe for butter tarts after realizing my American friends had never heard of them. Butter Tarts, this delicious combination of butter and brown sugar filled tart pastry that oozes with sweetness as soon as you bite into it. The secret ingredient it turns out is corn syrup.
While we were filming Relapse, I was invited to several speaker events put on for the cast and crew of both Relapse and Intervention. Researchers, scientists, policy advisors, treatment specialists, therapists would bring their latest findings. One topic was how to recognize the potential addict and how to intervene before they ever pick up. I saw a chart and words jumped out at me Thrill Seeking Behavior.
While writing blog, this I thought I’d google corn syrup for the hell of it.. I found this:
1. In early times, they tried to treat alcoholism by substituting corn syrup for alcohol while weaning off. 2. High fructose corn syrup is as damaging to the liver as alcohol.
Although you might consider this a controversial statement, understanding it is actually quite simple: Both corn syrup and alcohol are metabolized by similar pathways in the liver. 3. It is very damaging to the body's metabolism and biochemistry which makes it a major contributor towards alcoholism and relapse.