Lisa is a woman you definitely would want to be friends with. It’s hard not to like her. Five minutes into our conversation, we are speaking as if we were old friends. She is relatable and charming. Like so many of us, she is trying to make good choices, trying to be happy.
She is the embodiment of a woman in transition, a woman who has struggled in silence, a woman who wants to change, and then does.
Upon first glance, Lisa Kotin could be just like any other woman in America. She’s a wife, and mother. She’s a woman who has come into her own after several false starts. She’s honest, raw, and funny. She’s also battling a life-long battle with addiction…to sugar.
Here is her story.
In your book, you talk about your family dynamic, and how that fed into the story. Did you ever have a moment’s pause of ‘perhaps I shouldn’t say that?’
My sister calls me a provocateur, and my dad used to say that I was a ‘shit-stirrer’. I’m the youngest, and I had this theatricality that I was kind of born with. Plus, I was competing with my sister who was only a year and two months older than me. I have this mental image of my sister trying to ‘push me back up inside my mother’, because she was short changed by my arrival, and I was always competitive with her.
I don’t know why, but I was born this provocateur. My father would never admit it, but he’s very theatrical and emotional. My mother had this great love for the arts. You put all of these things together and that’s what I became. I want my siblings to love and appreciate me, but it’s not always going to be that way. I guess I’ve also come to realize that being the voice of the family isn’t always going to be appreciated.
Were you always outspoken?
I wanted to tell it like it was.
My dad would always say to me ‘You’re just like me’. There was one time when we were at home having dinner, and we got into an argument. He had blamed me for something, and it turned into this very heated fight. I finally turned to him and said ‘You always say I’m just like you, well then you must really hate yourself!’ I was five years old when this happened. That told me a lot.
Now that everything is out, and on the table. Do you feel as if you have a sort of no-holds-barred approach to living?
Let’s talk about your husband. I wanted to hate him so badly at the end of the book! There was a point in the book where you were speaking about the other woman that he’d had a relationship with at one point in your dating relationship, and you mentioned ‘Still, at this point, it’s difficult for me to type her name.’
This is 25 years later and I still have trouble with anyone who has her name, anyone whose name starts with that initial, even!
Did your husband have any thoughts on being mentioned in your book?
He edited my manuscript before I sent it to my agent and publisher. He’s been editing my scripts for two decades now. He’s been nothing but supportive, and that has been a huge bond in our relationship. He did have a little pause at one point like “oh…my name is in the book”.
The next book I’m writing is even more about our relationship, and what we went through trying to have a child, and his name is all over that book and so that makes him cringe sometimes, to see what I’m writing about. But he’s been so supportive.
It takes a strong person to be married to a writer, doesn’t it?
It really does. Philip Roth was interviewed on NPR one time and they asked him how his family and other people feel when he writes about them, and he said “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.”
There is an element of hypocrisy that comes with being a writer.
Well put. There was one piece that I wrote that’s in My Confection, and my husband read it, looked at me, and then ripped it in half. (Laughs) He now loves that chapter, but that was his initial response.
You were brave to completely lay it all on the line. When did you get to the point where you decided to write it all out?
I was doing one-woman shows for years, and I would write and perform these very dark comedy theater pieces and a lot of them had a lot of material around food, and sugar addiction and body image, and body dysmorphia and how I saw myself versus how the world saw me.
The pieces were really well received and great reviews. My mom passed away, and when she died I lost my nerve to get up on stage. And I started writing. I just wanted to write, and I wanted to write about sugar, and what it’s done to me. I think a lot of the reason why my mom got sick had to do with her diet and her lifestyle. So it was this writing about sugar that developed into a memoir. All the way through the writing, I was remembering all these things like they happened yesterday. It just came pouring out of me. I think after all those years of performing and having that ‘fourth wall’ of the theater, where I was essentially playing my family members, really helped the stories to come forth. It’s been relieving for me to write the book, to tell the story.
How was it for your family to have your book come out?
It was very different for them. Even though I’d been portraying them in one way or another for so many years, it was entirely different because the book is very real.
What did your siblings say when they read your book?
Only one of my siblings actually read the book, even though I gave them all advance copies of it. So that was a bit hurtful and frustrating. My brother did read a bit of it, and his one request was to change the names of my siblings, which I did.
My older sister said she loves the book, but opted to not have a reading in her local bookstore.
My other sister read the first chapter, and couldn’t read any more than that as she said that it brought her to her knees. I warned her, and recounted one of the stories that I talk about in the book when I’d visited her at UC Santa Cruz, and I was eating everything in sight and she was sipping ice water.
I’m fairly certain that my siblings would feel the same way if I wrote a book.
So you get it. My siblings used to come to my shows, as did my parents, but the book is just different. The word on the page is the truth, and reading that is different than seeing a show where there is a fourth wall. I do kinda/sorta have their support, but I’m not turning to them for support.
Talk to me about how you got into performance art?
I started doing plays when I was 5. I was the youngest of four kids, and it was the only time my siblings would listen to me. I would write these plays and act them out with my cousins, and the family would gather after dinner and watch these shows.
When I was a teenager I got into Mime, and in that, I found my voice. I could totally express myself and nobody would shush me.
After 3 rounds of college, I finally ended up at NYU in the dramatic writing program, and I started writing these pieces and integrating the acting and the movement and the comedy, that I then performed in the theater. I was into this whole performance art thing in New York in the late-80’s/early 90’s, all those downtown East Village clubs, which was great. I always liked being able to control the direction, it was a way for me to totally express myself and not be dependent upon someone else’s writing.
I did hundreds of shows all over the place.
Did you feel as if you were living out what was going on in your own life, through your art?
Yes. The first piece I did was called Anorexorcise: The Mourning Workout which was a spoof, on the whole Jane Fonda exercise routine, but it was this blonde-wigged fantasy workout character, who would take women through this self-help fitness routine, but it was basically about ‘eating, bingeing, working out, and vomiting’, which was all done through comedy. It was the first time I was presenting the dark side through comedy. A lot of those family issues I talk about in my book I first debuted through my theater pieces.
And that was something that I’ve been doing since I was 5. I would write these stories about my family, and then act out all the characters.
Did your family ever give you hell for these shows?
I did a lot of characterization of my mom and dad. I channeled the qualities and dynamics of these different characters. They didn’t take it personally, or if they did they didn’t tell me that.
What do you do on special events? Do you have sugar?
On my husband’s birthday, I bought him a very small cake that a few people could enjoy but was a size that wouldn’t allow for any of it to be leftover.
What about Halloween? Do you give out candy?
We leave the house and go to our friend’s house so that I don’t have to have any responsibility. My daughter felt that we should have a bowl of something to give out at the house, so we put a bowl out with a sign. We came back and there was still some candy left, I gave my daughter some, but I had to throw away the rest. I can’t have it around.
Do you feel that the addiction to sugar will ever get easier?
They say in 12-step programs that the obsession gets lifted. I haven’t worked the 12 steps of OA (Overeaters Anonymous), but what I’m doing right now is just trying to connect with others who are going through what I’m going through. I’m going one day at a time without sugar. The desire for it changes every day, but there hasn’t been a day where I don’t think about it.
Is it a demon on your shoulder?
I’ve tried to look it in the eye. I’ve tried to do the little at a time thing, where I go and get a little bit of dark chocolate from Trader Joe’s and then promise myself that I will only eat a little bit of it each day and really enjoy it. But that didn’t work for me...by the time I got from the store to my car, the chocolate bar was completely gone. So I’ve tried, but I have a reaction. Unsure if it’s physical, emotional, spiritual or whatever it may be. For today, I just can’t do it. I’m much happier when I’m not in the grips of an addiction.
Do you ever allow yourself a cheat day?
Not even a cheat day on your birthday? No cake?
Maybe it will get to the point where I can do that, but for today, it gets me going. Once I have it, it sets me off. I’ll just end up back in it.
In your book, there was a running theme about the health issues you were having when you would eat sugar, such as bloating and stomach pains, etc. Does that also play into the decision to quit?
I’m working on dealing with a lot of health stuff now; my immune system got shot to hell. It was a vicious cycle. About two years ago, I had a whole work up done and they found out that I have metaplasia, which is a precursor to cancer. I got scared into abstinence. I was abstinent from sugar for two years and then fell off the wagon. It was then, after I fell back into it again, that I realized that I had an addiction to sugar.
You also go into detail about the many ways that you’ve tried to quit sugar, including a stay at an ashram, where you were eating hard rice as a primary staple in your diet.
Yes, it was a macrobiotic house.
That was one of the most humorous stories because you talk about sneaking out of the macrobiotic house one day, with the sole purpose of obtaining candy bars.
When you’re an addict, it’s not about what is in your brain. It’s a drive to get your ‘stuff’. While it may be less extreme than meth or something like that, But the thing is that with any addiction, you can’t talk yourself out of it, there has to be a surrender. At that time, I was so far from surrendering. I couldn’t stop the self-destructive behavior I was exhibiting, so they kicked me out of the macrobiotic house.
At the point that they kicked you out, was it because they found you having sex with someone in your room or was it because you had chocolate on your breath?
The guy that led the house said that I had a toxic energy and that I needed to leave. From my viewpoint, it was because I was sleeping with the house chef and then bingeing on food. I felt that they must have known what I was doing. Macrobiotics believe that food is God, so to them, I was dirtying their house and their food. They may not have known the specifics of the what and who, but in their minds, I was toxifying their house.
Do you feel that the sexual exploits and the sugar addiction all have a singular root that started with how you were raised and the way you grew up?
My relationships with people out in the world stem from what happened to me with my siblings, and my placement in my family and the dynamics between me and my parents. It all goes down to bingeing and fasting. My Mom was like a binge, and my Dad was like a fast. Through my awareness, and my relationship with my husband and daughter, and certain friends, I’m trying to be more mindful, and not to relive my childhood every day.
Tell me about your daughter. As a mom to a young girl, does this feed into any fears you may have in regard to her health?
I try to reach a happy medium. I don’t keep sugar in my house. I’m trying to make sure that it’s not a forbidden thing. I give her sugar on a regular basis, but I don’t keep it in the house. I work on a lot of awareness with her. She’s very savvy. She even drew a few pictures of the cover of my book that are on my Facebook page.
Do you feel a sense of freedom now?
Yes. I am dealing with health issues which are challenging, but I do feel much more comfortable in my skin than I did when I was in my 20’s, and even my 30s.
I grew up in a family focused on food. Food was love, and it was, ‘food will fix you, and food will save you’, so it was a constant battle. ‘Food is good’. ‘Food is bad’. I’m trying to get rid of the judgment as it relates to food. If I eat white flour, then I eat white flour. Would I be healthier if I went on a totally green-leafy diet? Sure, but that will not happen in my lifetime. So I’m trying to take away the judgment as it relates to food and do the best I can.
Have you had anyone reach out to you with a similar addiction?
There have been a few who have reached out, but I would love to have more of a relationship with the world out there. I do believe I have something to offer in regard to this. I recently went to a small private book release party, and there were a few people who came up to me and were very moved by my journey. For all the public awareness of addiction, sugar addiction, and self-hate and all the issues that women are faced with in regard to their bodies, I think at the root of it is denial. Hearing someone who is telling a similar story to your own is a powerful thing. That’s part of why I'm doing the vlogs as well on my YouTube channel.
SHANNA SABET-DEMOTT is a freelance writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her husband George DeMott sings Italian arias in the shower, and Pop-Opera around the world. She has an 11 year old daughter who has survived 3 brain surgeries, and has shown her Mama the meaning of bravery at every turn. She is a lover of telling stories about food and life on her blogs, eatingoutvegas.com and stumblingbeauty.com