• Lisa Alex Gray

Chocolate Rehab: My Journey on the Wagon and Off Again.

My first memory of chocolate was biting the ear off a Chocolate Easter Bunny and trying to cram peanut butter inside the hole.

I had more peanut butter on my hands and face than in the bunny, but my taste buds were satisfied, so the experiment was considered a success.

It was the early 70s and yoga, granola, and transcendental meditation we’re all the rage.

My mother was a full-fledged member of all of the above and ready to add new fades to the arsenal at any moment.

And then it happened.

Before I knew what hit me, the family was placed on a “health kick” - yeap those existed in the 70s.

All sweets and sugary cereals quickly departed the house.

I stood watching, as my mother conducted a clean sweep of the kitchen, saluting Captain Crunch a fond farewell as his cereal box disappeared into the trash bin.

Our breakfast cereal became wheat flakes, contained in a non-cartoony box, void of any cute mascot, and any flavor as well.

The only sugar in the house was a 12 oz label-less brown paper bag containing raw sugar rocks the size of gravel.

Any attempt at using them to enhance the dead, bland taste of the wheat flakes was cereal suicide. The sugar would land like bombs on the wheat flakes, sinking them to the bottom of the bowl, where it sat unwilling to break down or add a modicum of flavor to death flakes - as though in defiance.

The only other option available for a seven-year-old longing for the days of sugar was the not so cleverly masked “chocolate shake” my mother would offer as a “treat” once in a while.

The shake consisted of milk, ice, and cocoa-flavored protein powder - yes, protein powder also existed in the seventies.

To give you an idea of what the protein powder tasted like, think of the worst protein powder you’ve EVER tasted, now times that by infinity - I would have given my left roller skate for that protein powder back then.

The shake tasted like a frothy, Cardboard-A-Chino. Not that I have experience tasting cardboard, but sometimes a taste is so acute it reminds you of a smell - equally acute. And there you have the Cardboard-A-Chino.

My peanut butter stuffed chocolate bunny was fading from memory, like childhood visits to my alcoholic dentist, and I was powerless to do anything about it.

By the way, did I mention my dad was a military man who doled out orders like a… well like a military man?

No, I’m not getting off-topic. In fact, I promise you will soon see the relevance in my story.

One day a few months after “health kick” onset, I was playing ball outside with a friend, when he reached into his pocket pulled out a Hershey bar, took a bite, then naively offered me some.

My mouth instantly watered at the thought.

I looked around for the Sugar Police and the neighborhood appeared safe. So I took a small piece and shoved it in my mouth.

Fireworks went off as a chocolate euphoria exploded across my tongue. I closed my eyes and savored the moment.

My taste buds were alive one again.

Then, suddenly my hearing was alive once again with the sound of approaching footsteps. I opened my eyes just in time to see my dad closing in on me with a scowl on his face. “Spit it out.” He demanded.

At first, my mouth refused to cooperate and sealed shut like a trap door.

But realizing defeat by a larger more threatening predator, I eventually pried my lips apart and tipped my head down, surrendering the chocolate to the pavement.

My friend stood by watching the scene with a look of horror on his face, I’m sure partially in fear my dad was coming for him next.

My days of chocolate were officially over. I surrendered knowing it was useless to fight it any further.

Well, years passed since the reign of the “Health Kick” and soon I was an adult with a family of my own.

Yet a funny thing happened, I was still unable to indulge in any sweets. I couldn’t even walk down the candy aisle at my local grocery store. It was as though it didn’t exist - like the thirteenth floor in a hotel.

My taste buds remained in shackles but now of my own accord.

Until one day, like magic, the thirteenth floor became visible. I’m not even sure what brought it on. Maybe I just paused long enough in my hypnotic grocery store trance to actually notice the aisle.

Well, once I noticed it I had to ask myself why I never went down there. Was it just by habit from years of compliance? Had I become the baby elephant, now grown and held captive by a small chain around my ankle?

I mean I was an adult now, capable of making my own decisions. I could vote, drink alcohol, drive a car. Heck, I owned my own home. Yet I still wasn’t old enough to eat chocolate?

Well, enough was enough.

I marched down the candy aisle determined to stock up and take charge of my destiny (well at least my sugar destiny).

Instantly, I became the epitome of a “Kid in a candy store” - I was absolutely giddy - When had they come up with so many choices?

I poured over the bags of candy unable to decide.

I rifled through bag after bag, until something caught my eye almost causing tears to flow.

I felt shackles fall to the floor as I freely reached for my sweet salvation.

With a contented smile on my face, I proudly pushed my cart away, with a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups clutched to my chest.

I guess some childhood habits you’re just meant to keep.


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