I’m a nail biter.   So opening things like oranges are difficult, nay, impossible for me without some sort of instrument of citrus negotiation – the corner of a credit card, house keys, pencil, even the plug for my headphones has done double duty as peel starter.  But once started, I am like a panda on a bamboo shoot – stripping, peeling, pulling, teeth all bared in gentle mashing.

I mention the orange because that is pretty much my only treat in the non-sugar (or heavily-reduced sugar) path I have been on for a few months now.  I go through bags of mandarins and clementines these days.  They’re like Kleenex, or breath mints, for me – found in miscellaneous pockets, and in my knapsack, locker, work drawer, etc.  They’re everywhere.

When I am not eating fruit, I am quite busy.  I work, I read and write, I have two young boys to rough house and bathe, I have chores, I have meetings to go to, sponsees to work with, a sponsor, and newcomers to talk to.  I have my blog.  I am active in recovery sites.  I play the lute (I made that last one up…but it does sound interesting).  When things seem to get a little hectic, when I find the squirrels in my head getting a little hyper, when I start to feel a little overwhelmed, there is something that I can do that takes that all away.

I peel an orange.

I stop what I am doing, sit down, and peel an orange.

And this is how I do it:

1) Using a citrus negotiating utensil (see above), I break the peel.

2) I smell the oils and aromatics that come from the peel.

3) I feel the weight of the orange in my hand.

4) I slowly peel from top to bottom.  Or bottom to top.  Or side to side.  Or try to get it all in one piece.  Or litter my lap with dozens of fragments.

5) I then slowly remove the bitter white pith.  I feel the weight lessened in my hand.

6) I gently break open the roundness of the orange, and smell the freshness of the fruit.

7) I remove any other pith.

8) I break the orange into segments.  I look at each segment, admire it’s shape, try to see all the little individual sacs on each segment.

9) Pop those babies like they were Pez, enjoying the sweetness, the juiciness, the life that comes to me with each segment.

10) Sit in silent contemplation.

You see, this is my meditation at times.  This is what removes me from the inner white noise, the emotional yanking and yakking, the steel cage of outside obligations and contracts.  It allows me to focus on one small piece at a time, to open a door of fresh air to my mind, to relieve and focus my senses to a small and wonderful art…of peeling an orange.

When I was drinking, I couldn’t focus on anything other than my wants.  I couldn’t sit still.  I couldn’t stay in the present.  My life, my sleep, my spirit was fractured in so many ways.  There was no stillness, other than the dull, throbbing stillness of alcohol-induced numbness.  And even in that so-called quiet, I could still feel the tom-tom drums of uneasiness fill me ears.  I was never at peace.  And who could be?  Crushing guilt, shame and remorse coursing through me, waves of panic and anxiety washing over me, webs of deception and lies spread out over me like wash lines, the physical pain and suffering from alcohol intake or withdrawal.  Sitting still was never an option for me.  Like a shark, I had to keep moving, or die.

So in my sobriety, I have found peace in many ways.  Through support, my program, my meetings, my family and work, I have found that life certainly could even out, that I didn’t have to feel that I was strapped onto the grill of a monster truck, up and down, over hill and over dale.  There was a sense of anchoring.  And yet, this alcoholic still needs to find a focal point, a place of being present.  And I have learned to find these spots in my life – little moments in my day where I just can be – focused on nothing but the now-ness of that time and space.

I find it when I stand waiting in the early morning snow, waiting for the bus…the  buzzing of a neon sign my mantra, I find it in the stillness in the empty elevator at work, I sense it when I sit on a park bench after walking the dog, watching the kids play hockey on the ice.  These segments of my day are cocoons of peace that I carry into the rest of my day.  They relieve the swarming hornets of thoughts past and future.  They swell the tide of emotional backlash of my panicked thinking.

So sometimes I need to peel an orange.

To sit and contemplate…piece of segment…segment of peace.

It’s all in the peeling.

23 Comments Add yours

  1. Lilly says:

    I came over today to comment on your post from the other day – which I really loved and related to and read late last night and thought about at length as I was falling asleep – and I really love this one too. I suspect this is a key thing in getting sober; learning to focus on the now and just be present. As I said the other day, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable – just feeling it instead of fighting it with booze or other addictions.

    I relate to both the nail biting and the compulsive tidiness you talked about yesterday. Personally, I think both are driven by anxiety. It took me ages to realise that I drank to self-medicate my anxiety but ultimately drinking just made me more anxious. I finally quit nail biting a few years ago only when I went through a horrible divorce and was so depressed the anxiety was removed and I magically just stopped the nail biting without even trying (while drinking like a fish). Needless to say I don’t recommend this cure. What does help me now though, on a superficial note, is regular manicures and lots of men get them these days too 🙂

    I’ve also felt this real urge to ‘de-clutter’ lately – and it’s not like I desperately need to given aforementioned compulsive tidiness. A metaphorical cleansing out of all corners of our life perhaps?

    I really love the way you write Paul and your insight into yourself and sobriety. Thanks for being here and sharing.

    Lilly xo

    1. Thanks Lilly for the lovely comments – lots to digest there! The nail biting actually started when I was a child, so it’s so part of me that I don’t even bother to fight it…early surrender of some sorts, I guess. A lot of my anxiety comes down to fear…and my feeling is that fear drives most things in life. So I think you’re right…anxiety tends hover around us at times.

      Metaphorical cleansing? Absolutely! Good catch on that one 😉

      Thanks for being here 🙂


      P.S Not sure of the manicure…I don’t think they’ll have anything to work with!

  2. whinelessinwashington says:

    This is such a beautiful post – you have a great gift in writing! This so reminds me of all the buddhist-spiritual recovery hybrid books I love so much. I need so much to be reminded of this – and in response to Lilly, I think I have also started to realize that anxiety is too present in my life. I find it a bit ironic, because one of my best friends wrote this wonderful short story when we were in college and described me as ‘the calmest one of us’ – which I used to be. At least I think! Life, work, kids…I guess I need to peel more oranges. Such a wonderful thought.
    (ok, but Paul – have you had any of the Sumo -ugly but yummy- oranges out right now? They take approximately 2 seconds to peel. Maybe I should go back to clementines myself…)

    1. I think what you say describes me – I always portrayed myself as the calm, laid back one, but I was riddled with fears and anxiety. Amazing what a facade we can present to the world and be shredded up inside.

      Sumo oranges? Haven’t heard of them, but I have been enjoying the blood oranges now. Clementines are my babies now…

      Thank you for the kind words 🙂


  3. Funny, the first thing I thought was, I think I want to try this, but then I wonder how long it would take and do I have the time in my day to do it! LOL! Nuff said, I think I need to get some oranges!

    Thanks for this great post, I actually read it again and I could see myself peeling the orange. Living in the moment is amazing. I am sometimes able to “catch” a sweet or funny moment with my kids and just enjoy it. It seems really short but if I am able to actually sort of “stop the time” by being in that moment completely, then I can carry that feeling through out the day. Pretty cool!

    1. I too love catching those sweet moments with my boys and my wife as we hang out and just be a family. It’s quite the thing to be present and just take it in – it usually lasts me a second or two, but man, it’s groovy and makes me truly happy.

      Thanks for reminding me of that…awesome!


  4. Mrs D says:

    This is a lovely post! Lovely lovely. What a great idea, great image, great sentiment that you write surrounding this orange and your life. Fantastic sharing, thank you so much. I love your blog! And great idea about the manicures too!! x xxx

    1. Thank you Mrs. D…I am a huge fan of your blog as well…and yes, manicures. Sigh. I will have to work on that one. I don’t mind hot towels, lavender and soft music. It’s perhaps the stares of the ladies getting their pedis there that might frighten me! Thanks for the comments, as usual 🙂


  5. mishedup says:

    Love this post and many that I have read here….
    you have a lovely way with words, and a wonderful way of carrying the message…thank you so much, I just subscribed .

    1. Thanks mished…I am so happy to have your here….that just made my day! 🙂

  6. Paul, your writing has great “a-peel”… I guess I cannot list comedian as one of my gifts, but seriously, you are so gifted, and such an inspiration, each time I read. Thank you so much for sharing your gift!

    1. Grooooaaaannnn….lol. Thank you for your kindness…it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of such a wonderful, loving and supportive community…and you certainly are part of that. I love reading your blog and what you share as well.

      Thank you for reading 🙂

  7. byebyebeer says:

    I will never think of peeling an orange the same, thanks to this awesome post. Love oranges and clementines too…I like breaking them in half after peeling and pulling each segment off and savoring that first half for as long as possible (which never seems long enough). Like you, I’ve turned to fruit for comfort in place of sugary treats, and it does work. Thank god!

    1. Yes! Clementines and mandarins…no seeds, no time in peeling! I eat so many because I know that I am ok to eat as many as I want guilt free! I must say that cravings of cinnamon buns and donuts has been distracting me as of late…sigh. Oh well…keep on the path!

      Thanks for swinging by, as usual 🙂


  8. Your description of how you eat your orange could literally be the script to a guided meditation! Just say it really slowly over some mellow music and you’ll have Buddhists begging for your profound insight into fruit :p

    No, that really was a wonderful description- I want to say orgasmic with the risk of sexualising that poor innocent fruit.

    Basically, the jist of it is, I like your post 🙂
    (I’m aware they do have a button for saying that in a less long-winded way)

    1. Welcome, Natasha! I am honoured to have you in this little corner of the world. 🙂 Poor fruit…so misunderstood at times…taken for granted, methinks. Thank you for your kind words…means a lot to this drunk 😉


  9. runningonsober says:

    This is a beautiful post, Paul, thank you! I love the scent of oranges, and from an aromatherapy standpoint, the scent can be quite relaxing and calming, and it helps rebalance our positive and negative ions. (At least according to a friend who is an aromatherapy specialist.) The smell of vanilla and orange…? OMG, it puts me in such a calm zen state.

    May I ask when your sobriety “birthdate” is? You sound very wise, no matter your sober time, and I agree with all– your writing is truly a gift to us all.


    1. runningonsober says:

      I just read your reply in another post that you have 22 months… I celebrated 22 months yesterday. 🙂 Congrats to us both!

      1. Yay! We’re two days apart then…I am May 4th. Pretty darned cool 🙂

        1. runningonsober says:

          Yes indeedy!

    2. Yup, the smell of citrus is refreshing for me. Wakes me up!
      As for wise…ha ha…I just hang out with wise people…some of it comes through osmosis. That is why I follow so many blogs…need to learn more 🙂 You all help me in so many ways.


      1. runningonsober says:

        And humble too… 🙂

  10. Number 9 says:

    I LOVE CLEMENTINES. In the South, we call them “cuties.” I’m not a nail biter or a tidy person (definitely not that second thing) but I totally get the soothing aspect of peeling an orange. Our brains need touch, at least mine does. Manipulating something physically there (for me like the Rosary!) really grounds me when my thoughts are going haywire. The physical stuff. I can live up in my head all the time, so peeling an orange or even typing on this laptop grounds me. Great post!

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