The hunger for sensation collapses into craving. The call seems to rise up from somewhere inside my flesh. It is deafening. My mouth obsesses. Sweets, yes, and the feel of pastry on the skin of my tongue. Nothing satisfies but the hook is in and pulls me from my desk, my book, my deeper pleasures.
Usually it’s in the form of a chocolate chip muffin from the supermarket. It might be a bagel, a cinnamon roll. Reason is useless. Already eaten a complete lunch? The craving hollers through a swollen stomach. Had a slab of banana bread for breakfast three hours earlier? It might as well have been last year.
The sugar high and inevitable crash are unwanted, the extra calories weigh me down. Keeping a supply of baked goods in the house would be disastrous, so I don’t dare make them at home. This means I purchase piecemeal, dropping somewhere between $1.50 – $3.00 a day to feed the craving.
I understand addiction now. It never made sense to me before, not viscerally, how a person could turn repeatedly to a substance they knew was doing them in. Why not quit? How hard can it be just to stop? Because I kicked smoking and drinking years ago, because I work out daily and stick to my job and my commitments, it all seemed so simple. The real challenges in life are about cultivation — building capacity, learning skills, growing a web of community. Those are complex processes that require creative attention and the involvement of other people. But quitting a bad habit? Straightforward. Just stop.
Now here I am on this day just like yesterday just like last week last month last year, wasting money and loading up on “treats,” feeling like crap about my finances and my health, and then soothing that distress with more store-bought sweets.
Just stop isn’t so simple anymore.
The hunger for sensation is much more expansive than this collapse into craving. It is a hunger to feel something other than worn out and confused. Almost any positive feeling — curiosity, awe, enthusiasm, playfulness, flow — would fit the bill, but they are as distant as rescue. Self pity takes over. I am bared before a bright wall of need. A mass of slavering humans behind, a vertiginous climb ahead. Affirmation and joy seem impossibly out of reach.
What’s within reach? Immediate gratification. Pleasure in the form of chocolate and a buttered crust. I heed the call and feed the mouth.
I’ve just swallowed the last crumb and tossed the empty paper sleeve aside. The rush of comfort is over. Scurrying right in on its tail is the next craving (more more more).
This pattern is a broken record. My needle is stuck in a groove on a particularly ugly note. I know this in my body, my mind, my wallet. What I am doing is not working. But hating myself for being stuck is ridiculous. The only way out is through, and the only one to take that step is me.
So here’s what I did.
I made myself a pleasure bank.
The images made their way up and out of old calendars and magazines. They capture art and dance, play and color. They are bright reminders of what else these moments on earth can be, what we all are if we are able to tap that hidden spring. I fashioned the box from bits of cardboard and cut a slit in the top. No bottom, no way out, not yet.
Every day that I forgo the pastry, I drop $1.50 in the bank. When I went to the movies with friends and everyone else bought candy and soda, I skipped the Twizzlers and later popped $4.00 in the bank.
It’s been a couple of months now. The bank is heavy with coins, stuffed with bills. When shopping at the supermarket, I have to wheel past the glass cases of muffins and donuts. At work, I pass right through the maddening baked warmth of Einstein’s bagels each time I enter or leave the building.
Almost every day since the pleasure bank took up residence on my bedside table — not every day, of course, because I’m still a mess of needs and hungers, but almost — I’ve steered clear of the pastries
What will become of the money? Ideas glimmer at the edge of imagination, but the final Pleasure has yet to materialize. It will be a non-food gift to the spirit in whatever form this flighty spirit might take. Maybe a sports massage, the 90-minute decadent kind. Maybe dance lessons. Maybe a down payment on a piano, a night at the theater, a day at a water park with Bug. The container garden could use a few decent flowerpots to replace our plastic cast-offs. These tired feet could use a new pair of shoes. Maybe the cash will go into the IRA to nourish the long-term pleasure of a stable retirement.
Whatever blessing the money takes, it’s a double pleasure to know that alchemy is an art (or maybe vice versa?) When turning one life-sapping habit into another, it is possible to make gold.