grace lavery and candy for a personal essay about sobriety and sugar
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Eating a Ton of Candy Helps Me Stay Sober

No one tells you that a big part of quitting drinking can be incessantly craving sugar.

This Is Fine. is a weekly newsletter from VICE about the personal tactics people use to make the world feel less harrowing. In this edition, Grace Lavery talks about one of the sweetest parts of staying sober. Sign up here to receive an essay about a dealing-with-life strategy via This Is Fine. every other Sunday evening.


Illustration by Esme Blegvad

After I got clean and sober in 2016, I got addicted to candy. There is always candy around, when you stop drinking and using drugs! Sober people explain this fact with a frankly implausible-sounding claim: When you remove large quantities of alcohol from your daily caloric regimen, your body sometimes reassesses its relationship to sugar—which, for a lot of alcoholics, means intensely craving it (whether because of sugar cravings related to lower caloric intake when a person cuts out alcohol, alcohol's relationship to low blood sugar, or a host of psychological reasons). In the early stages, I got through a couple of bags of Haribo and a tray of Chips Ahoy! every day. (I learned not to be sheepish about having the word “ahoy!” in my daily vocabulary.)


Aside from candy's physiological compensations, it replaced the branding of alcohol that I found I missed so much. Those sophisticated beauties tossing martini glasses through their hands on vodka commercials were replaced by a squadron of happy little squashy frogs of a vibrant emerald shade that plop between my finger and thumb and taste oddly of milk. Gummy cherries felt like tattoos, assured of a plasticky realness that connoted authenticity even more powerfully than a Robert Crumb–style illustration, maybe of gawking eyes in a skull against a gray-blue backdrop, on the label of a small-batch craft beer. Alcohol marketing had so effectively persuaded me that I was a sophisticated, suave bitch, and that my drinking signified a worldly, lived-in quality, that, upon realizing the scale of my deception, my best move was to do away with the idea of sophistication entirely and invest heavily in the aesthetics of crappiness. I take in candy and make a face like Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes) on one of his sour days.

Sourness, in fact, was my earliest sensory obsession. Years before I learned the other ways we can produce other kinds of pleasure in our own bodies. I used to snatch the lemon-shaped squeezy bottle of concentrated lemon juice from the kitchen and take it to school so I could take a hit when things got boring. I scrunched up my eyes and gasped as it hit me, learning to look like an alcoholic a good few years before I learned to drink like one. The drama I learned taking lemon shots never left me: One of the last times I snorted cocaine alone in a bathroom, as it hit me I said to myself, seemingly involuntarily, “Hoo boy! Daddy’s coming home!” and was so embarrassed I almost quit on the spot.


As a child, when I didn’t want sour candies, I obtained macro quantities of primo Rowntrees Fruit Gums—ultra-chewy British sweets that you gnash for a little while, then have to pull off your hard palate—from my local tuck shop (an old-timey English phrase for a place that sells things to kids, and one which makes me feel a long way away from home). I sorted and ranked the flavors in order of preference, putting the lesser flavors into my left pocket and the better ones into my right.

I've now regressed to a stage where I bulk-buy these same British candies of my childhood and ship them to California. Happy is the moment when I pour dozens, hundreds, of bright little tubes, cylinders of cozy British eccentricity, into the bottom drawer on the right of the sink. I set about eating them far, far too quickly. I try to avoid talking about my what my alcohol and drug addictions were like at the time (fun, boring, sad, happy—read any book about addiction, they’re all the same, and they’re all correct), but, to be specific about the state of my candy problem, I can tell you that I've guzzled 30 tubes of Rowntrees Fruit Gums in a single day more often than I would like. I'm writing to you from my bed, where I have a set of these little Rowntrees tubes tucked into my flank, absorbing the heat of my body to soften them a little, so they chew rather than splinter.

The point is the bizarre, jaw-clenching, sticky-eyed, headbanging rush I get when the sweet acidic taste hits me. That rush combines the spontaneous refreshment of poppers with the deep, satisfying tang of a whiskey sour. Better: I can eat candy at any time of day or night, and sometimes even in front of people. It doesn’t intoxicate me, any more than the euphoria of scratching an itch lasts for more than a fragment of a second. I’m just a fucking freak for candy and I don’t care who knows it.

I used to think of cigarettes as a homeopathic treatment for my death drive, but even those, I’ve given up. I now derive an even better suite of effects from candy: I enjoy an acid-scorched tongue, the bulging eyes of a sugar rush, a flavor palette designed to hook children, and a comforting, lovely universe of shapes and colors—soft, luscious red cherries that flop and slip between my lips, handsome blue cubes and champagne-colored discs, cheerful milky frogs, long, neon snakes. They are the constituents of a sweeter world. They keep me alive.

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