Tuesday, October 16, 2018

(my)Passion

I think I was born hippie. Maybe it was the time (quite likely). Maybe it was the place (less likely).

When we moved here I thought I "knew" so much about race and inequality - and I was so wrong. It's much worse than I thought, and so deeply in us. We are so isolated in the north and surrounded by unrelenting whiteness, and so those of us who don't consider ourselves racist can pretend it's a thing somewhere, but after all rational people aren't like that and MOST people aren't like that. Right? And the problems in our own schools and lower income communities are simply about density and no jobs or...something. Right? Then you get here and the blinders get all ripped off - and this isn't even the deep south - and suddenly you're like "WHO ARE THESE HUMANS AND WHO THINKS LIKE THAT?" Then you dig deeper and discover the deeply entrenched social justice issues that affect everything from voting rights to schools - all aimed at keeping a group down, and keeping people riled up against one another - and...it's such a tangled mess. I'm living in a state with voting districts that are shaped like snakes and octopi. I am living in a state that's probably about to enact voter ID laws that will further marginalize the have-nots, regardless of skin color. I live in a state where a man can smoke a bowl, get out of his truck, and get killed; standing while black. I am looking to move back to a state that is deeply racist and pretends it isn't, which is super easy when your towns are 99.3% WHITE.

Then there's the planet. Poor thing. We get given this amazing gift and what do we do? Rape the ever loving crap out of it in a short-sighted gluttonous assault. We suddenly "need" meat three meals a day (not including snacks!) which is so destructive to the environment on so many levels from water use to land use for commodity feed crops that could be growing plant-based foods with 1/10th the water and land waste and we would be PERFECTLY HEALTHY - hell, we would be HEALTHIER!! But we continue to kill ourselves and the planet and the powers that be come up with new ways to compensate for those of us leaving the meat and dairy markets by touting Keto or Paleo as the new cure-all when the science clearly shows the exact opposite is true...the organism has subsisted on the planet for millennia with meat as a side dish, not a main course. And we are stuffing it with all this animal flesh and fat, while our cancer rates and heart disease rates continue to skyrocket. Sometimes in my more paranoid moments I think it's intentional - cut down on the population by killing 2/3 of us off with food. Last man standing, holding a carrot and a bunch of kale, wins.

Then there's the animals and the small humans - and I go back in my child-mind to the picture of Jesus from Sunday School, all white and blue-eyed, with his long hair and beard, surrounded by a rainbow of small children and small animals, dove of peace seated on his shoulder. "Suffer the little children to come unto me..." and "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren..." and ok yeah He didn't mention animals, but really. I have never been able to put the cow on my plate completely into a context that makes sense, and that's even harder now, having watched all these things...could we raise animals for consumption without ethical quandaries? Maybe. But that's not what we do now. What we do now are things that any ethical person, witnessing in person, would want to report to someone - immediately - to make it stop. BUT WE EAT THAT SHIT. And kids - talk about an abused group. Kids and old people - the groups we all say we care about, but never put our money where our mouths are.

And on it goes.

Trying to find "a passion" in all of this is like trying to choose which of your children to throw off the life boat first. "But I love the people and I love the planet and I love the babies and I love the animals and I love the snakes and the bugs and the birds and all the things and..." what do I do with all that?

Death and dying has been and continues to be very important to me, in the way birth is. The arrival and departure of a soul should be sacred; it should be an occasion marked not with solemnity, but with respect and awe. When we lose that we lose our humanity. Hell, we've lost our humanity.

I am not perfect. I fall, fail, make mistakes - but I keep open and willing to learn and grow and change. And I am seeking truth endlessly. I find nuggets and store them away, but hoarding does me no good - the nuggets MUST be shared. They must be spoken, they must be set free.

So what, then, is my passion, my calling, my "thing"? This has been a topic around here lately as we both wander through mid-life, coming to grips with the past, making sense of it, and moving into the future.

My kids, grown now, are still my passion - but in a different way. Now my focus needs to transition to their children. All I have learned, I can share with them. Make them all sugar free, flour free, and vegan, and get their parents breathing down my neck (insert evil laugh here). OK, maybe not - especially in a world where pizza and Pepsi are everywhere - but at least introduce them to the natural world in a way that creates awe and wonder and the reverence for all life that we lack - and if someday they chose to opt out of the animal-cruelty based food chain, then good for them. Teach them that all humans matter. Teach them that all animals matter. Teach them that THEY matter.

Outside of that, I feel like I need to find a crusade that brings all of my passion into play. Advocacy, which is ironic because that seed was first planted by the shrink last year, but I have not been able to find the path to it yet. I need....a foundation of my own, with an endless budget - I shall save the whole world! I suppose I also probably need to make enough money to feed myself, damned capitalist system. But I would so rather just give myself away to the things that ignite me. Who needs a paycheck when I am talking about restoring sanity and humanity?

For the time being, still lacking a clear direction, I want to get certified in plant-based nutrition (for which I require that green evil we all so depend on in the modern world). In my perfect world I would go back to school near-full-time, gain degrees in nursing, social justice, nutrition, education? I am not sure what best suits the rambling, incoherent path I seem to be on. Actually it isn't incoherent. I mean, at the core of all the things I am passionate about lies the same thing.

Monday, October 15, 2018

And an Update for Jacinda

Hi! We are well! This weekend we went to a Charlotte VegFest, which must be done again the next time one is near me, or maybe I will just get one up of my own, and a town called Gold Hill where it rained so much that we gave up and went to the mall, where we bought discounted organic tea from the clearance section of HomeGoods. Nothing cures dampness like retail.
At Charlotte VegFest we found:
Farmer's First Coffee Company - they aren't "just" fair trade. The coffee in this bag was grown by this farmer. He gets paid about 4x what conventional growers are paid, which allows him to pay his workers, provide healthcare for them and his own family, and send his daughter to university. If I could drink coffee like this every day, I would be very happy.
Hempe, which is tempeh made with garbanzos and hemp seeds. It was being sampled in a mock chicken salad. We came away with three boxes and a free cookbook. I have seen this at Whole Foods, but like tempeh it is a little out of the price range for proteins here. But as a splurge item, something different now and then, it can stay on the menu.
Dr. T. Colin Campbell - author of The China Study, father of Dr. Thomas Campbell MD, who is proving to be well worth his salt in the areas of nutrition and lifestyle, and my hero in many ways. At a time when the political machine was gathering steam to shove us all further and further along the path to increased animal protein consumption, this man stood with the science, and paid professionally for it I am sure. But truth is truth, and while many may run, hide, or play politics, this man has stood firm on the facts - animal products are bad for us and the earth.

Read some signage at this booth, I am not sure who's it was, but I am always game for a little buddhist thought inserted into my day. One of the reasons why it is harder and harder for me to identify as Christian is because there seems to be no built in awareness that hurting things and trashing the planet goes against the teachings of Christ, which to me seems to fundamental to the whole thing. I am discovering more and more teachers over the generations who have shared this conclusion with me. Unfortunately, they are all mostly dead. Say you are vegan or don't eat meat to the average person on the street who identifies as Christian, and you get some push back. Dare I say a lot of push back. Also hazing. And a lot of snark. SO very Christian. Jesus loves a good bully.
Found out about this potential place - Brother Wolf Animal Sanctuary near Asheville, which will be some 80+ acres of space dedicated to healing and homing animals and - at least for short visits - humans. I like to imagine a world in which we don't need a place like this.
Decals from Goods and Evil, and also a t-shirt. Decals remaining are for my car. My new/used car which replaces the one I totaled in August - and, because it is used, it gets stickered all to hell. Like my laptops have been for the last decade.
 Namaste. And I thought you would particularly enjoy the bee one.
See. My mother would be so annoyed by these. But they please me immensely.
I started making Pussyhats - late to the party, but then I haven't had the freedom to contemplate getting to a march so it wasn't like I needed them. I am making two. One for me and one for whoever comes along - could be Gene, could be you. I understand from MaryAlice that there are lots of marches and etc in the county...there are fewer here, and rarer. More in Charlotte, and always seeming to coincide with work.
And this is Gold Hill, NC. We had already visited Reed's Gold Mine, which is the site of the first documented gold find in the United States. But this place had popped up as part of the NC Thread Trail system, so we wandered out - it is a short 2.2 miles, flat, along an old rail bed. Unfortunately it was 1.) Sunday - everything is closed, all the cars at the church and 2.) it was raining and I had no hat and 3.) and this was really the corker for me I think, there were a lot of gunshots. I heard a shotgun clearly, and a smaller gun in the opposite direction. All were repeated firings, but not like a shooting range. Could have been someone plinking or shooting in their own yard, or could have been someone hunting in the area. It's just not something we think about, we silly northerners, where hunting is not allowed on Sunday in many areas (like MA).  So instead we looked at locked buildings and wandered into the ones that don't have doors.


Later we came home and ended up watching a stupid sports-ball thing until midnight. Something about Kansas and the Patriots. I don't care much about football, but I can be amused by a good game. And that was a good game. Yoshi, however, was not impressed. "Just PUT ME TO BED!"
See you soon (no really). Also whatever you do, do NOT watch the movie Earthlings. It will ruin your dinner. But do watch Vegan Everyday Stories which features, among other things, an 8 year old vegan activist. Reminded me of small Talitha saying she wasn't eating meat. Wise child.

(self)Compassion

All roads lead to where you are meant to be.

Martyrdom serves neither the martyr nor the community, most especially in the form we have come to know it. Once in a while a prophet comes along who's example shines a light on the path, but by and large the average attempt at martyrdom falls remarkably flat. All that sacrifice and self-flagellation... and nothing to show for it in the end except a wounded soul.

Self-compassion is a key element of Bright Line Eating (which is going really well, by the way). We will all at some point stray from the path of dietary perfection - this weekend for example surrounded by samples of assorted vegan things, we both succumbed to "tasting" - very verboten. The key to success is not allowing that moment of less than optimal choice to dominate and overrule your desire for health and well-being. So when a Bright Line Eater falls off the wagon (so to speak) the trick is to get immediately back on - not the next day, not the next week, not on Monday, but IMMEDIATELY. The problem is that we (women a lot, and men too) will castigate, brow-beat, and generally terrorize ourselves with so much negative self-talk that we crumble and believe we are undeserving, we have failed, we cannot possibly succeed, we suck, we will be forever in a wrong-sized body, captive to our addictions and gluttony...so what to do but grab another Milky Way. BLE, when experienced with self-compassion at its core means that instead of all that you gently silence the negative self-talk, reach out with all you have, and give yourself a giant internal hug. I do this with visualization in which I see myself as a child who has made an honest mistake and feels genuinely bad for it. She does not get spanked. She gets hugged, encouraged, and loved to pieces, until we wipe our eyes and remember that we can choose better.

Self-compassion really is also at the heart of many religions, although it is veiled in allegory (and even, in some cases, illustrated by symbols - no, I am not a Mason, but I have studied with one). This means that the heart of the religion or system of belief is wrapped in - and occasionally, I would argue, obscured by - stories with political and moral nuggets buried within them. And often, I would also argue, in Christianity which is the predominate religion of the west and the one with which most of us are most familiar, we miss the actual meaning of the tale by refusing to apply cultural relativity to the words in the book. If I view the bible's teachings from a 2018 western perspective and without learning the original meaning and intent of the words, I will surely fail to understand the moral of the story. Context is everything. I am sure this happens in most religions, but I am very certain that it happens with the Christian bible - read this book for a bare surface scratching on this issue.

Although Christian systems offer up Jesus as the literal lamb of sacrifice, the idea of self-compassion lies buried in there as well. If I can't forgive myself, then all the forgiving God does is without real effect in my life. God can let me off the hook, but I can keep myself there!

But this is not what I wanted to say today. I wander so easily. I blame middle age - oh wait! No! I embrace myself for my meanderings!

Self-compassion requires self-awareness first, I believe, for how can I forgive myself and love myself and embrace myself if I have no idea what it is that brings me back, time and again, to the same failings? And denial can be so strong as to overwhelm the discovery of truth. Self-compassion must be a process.

This means - I forgive myself for killing hundreds of chickens. I forgive myself for keeping laying hens. I forgive myself for myriad other things I have done to animals over my lifespan. I do this regardless of whether or not I possessed the right knowledge at the time to make better choices. Regardless of whether I knew, in the moment, right from wrong. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I did not. But I forgive myself. Now I can embrace myself, cry a little or a lot, and move forward with renewed commitment and an open mind - learning more as I go, working on the spots where I stumble, being open to knowledge and change.




Sunday, October 14, 2018

(com)Passion

I find the development and evolution of self to be endlessly compelling. What I have often lacked in spite of a fair dose of self-awareness is the development of true self-compassion. I like to keep myself on the coals, so to speak; to hold myself accountable for both the things I have done and the things I could have prevented, and sometimes even things that have absolutely nothing to do with me, but if I can get a creative enough angle, I can MAKE them about me. Once hung and pilloried, with the blood of martyrdom coursing down my face, I internalize my shame and keep myself humiliated; bad, wrong, failed. I am, after all, a Horrible Human Being.

Or am I?

In most (dare I say all?) religion there is an element of compensation for "sin". In Christianity in particular those sins are hung on Jesus, who takes the abuse for us and thereby allows us to live free and clear, coming forth "white as snow" or "sinless". Go, and sin no more. Some have taken this idea to it's extreme - "If Christ is in me, I cannot sin. Therefore what I do, I do without shame." This same philosophy seems to infect the minds of radical Muslims flying into certain buildings, or kidnapping and raping into subjugation young women, or blowing up perfectly nice villages. Oh wait. That was us...

But I digress.

The primary piece if information that I believe we are supposed to glean from religion or a spiritual path is really more about self-compassion. Learning to see our failings, fallings, "sins" (and those who have sinned against us); learning to accept our collective fragile humanity, and then - and this is the part where I think most of us miss the boat, let the boat go, shove the boat way, way far away - not in the sense of denial, but from the perspective of liberation - CHANGING. GROWING. LEARNING.

This weekend we went to Charlotte VegFest, which was an amazing thing for me on a lot of fronts - certainly preaching to the choir, but there's always new songs to learn. We listened to a few speakers - most notably Dr. T. Colin Campbell (swoon) about whom I will speak in a later post. But for now I want to focus on the idea of compassion, expanding on it's presentation by Shabaka Amen, who was the first speaker of the day, and who said something that stuck with me: "You cannot be passionate about animals until you are compassionate to yourself". This may not be an exact quote, but that isn't the point. The point is that unless we are able to be compassionate with ourselves - really nitty gritty down and dirty open and honest about what we are and how we could be better, we cannot be truly, deeply passionate - or compassionate - about "others" (animals, people, bugs, etc).

That thread from that morning speech bled into the rest of my day. Ronnie Tsunami mentioned, in his talk, a few documentaries that I had not seen before (and here I thought I had them all covered!). Specifically he mentioned Earthlings, which he said he got about ten minutes into before converting to veganism. After last night I know why. I don't recommend it unless you know yourself to be self-compassionate, because your complicity in what you see on the screen could have you needing therapy or possibly an inpatient stay. How bad is it? Well. It had me up for a couple of hours trying to figure out how to feed my carnivorous pets ethically. That bad.

But again, I digress.

Near the beginning of Earthlings the screen is alight with quotes, some known, some not. One that stuck with me was this:

The Stages of Knowing:
1.) mockery
2.) violent opposition
3.) acceptance

That's what I woke up with in my head today, questioning, ruminating. Where am I on that scale? Am I truly accepting? Am I externally compliant and internally mocking or opposing? Am I justifying the actions of myself and others, which I think might be in-between opposition and acceptance?

In further research this morning, I came across the work of William G. Perry, an educational psychologist who developed a detailed theory (The Perry Scheme) of intellectual and ethical development in college students, the framework fo which is a nine-step progression from dualist thinking ("right is right and wrong is wrong and that's that!") to relativist thinking ("right and wrong change with perspective and awareness") to commitment ("I believe this or that, but I am open to learning and changing as I go.")

Further (extremely) simplified, those nine stages or progressions become something, from what I have read so far, like this:

1.) The Garden of Eden:

In this phase, we believe a thing is true because we have been told that it is true. This is your basic garden variety religious or cultural education and inculcation. At times there are dualities within the scaffolds of our assorted indoctrinations, but they are usually justified or explained away by some intellectual sleight of hand. Think: "Mommy, if God said don't kill, why are we at war?". The adults fabricate some rationale, vaguely aware that they are spewing bullshit, or perhaps truly believing the righteousness of the cause, depending on where they are in their own journey of self-awareness and development. Also in this category are such nuggets as "But Pastor said..." and "The government entity knows best." The corollary from Earthlings would be mockery. I now what I know, and what you know is wrong. Idiot.

2.) Anything Goes

This phase is where I think most of us get stuck. In this phase, we are deeply - maybe unconsciously - aware that there are no right answers, that right and wrong are entirely dependent on the perspective of the individual - but in order to conceal this little fact from ourselves we engage in denials and justifications for our thoughts and behaviors that range from deeply held religious beliefs to strong secular attachments to any bloody effing thing that keeps us from looking at the thing that makes us culpable, PLEASE DEAR GOD DON'T LET ME SEE. This I think brings us - this need to keep the self unaware and "innocent" of who/whatever's blood, to justify our actions - to the point of violent opposition. We are the most adept at denial, and will use whatever skills come to hand to indulge that denial.

3.) Critical Thinking

Or, you know, acceptance. If I objectively and without rancor to self or others evaluate the facts and the sources of those facts, then I am able to approach all new information with an open mind - a mind that seeks knowledge and awareness, a mind unafraid of change and unafraid of truth. The alternative is, of course, a mind that continues to be slapped shut and rejects all new information that might result in expansion of awareness and understanding.

You cannot progress to acceptance without self-compassion.  If I am truly forgiven, if I am truly and deeply compassionate with myself, then the new information is not a threat. It is merely a window that lets more light into my world and clarifies my beliefs and awareness.

Stay tuned...

Monday, August 13, 2018

Saving Your Life

(*all lab results and personal information shared here has been with full permission of Mr. Wonderful)

Why are we posting this? Because we are not the only humans on the planet who are being given horribly mixed messages about food, lifestyle, activity and exercise, health and well-being. We're not the only people who have been sold a bill of goods around food "choices". We are not the only people told to just "eat everything in moderation and exercise more", and then felt the shame and disappointment when that doesn't work - AGAIN. We know that for us, this is working when nothing conventional thinking has offered us has - in fact even the fad things I have tried (Atkins! Zone!) have all been bullshit in the end. At it's core this is about truth and science and reality. For some of us, moderation isn't "enough". We need clear, bright lines to guide us and keep us safe. We need the freedom of fewer choices in a world that bombards us with half truths and untruths all day long. We need to obsess and think about food LESS, not MORE. The choice of what's on the menu today is already made. Follow the plan. Learn and grow as you go. And never forget to love yourself enough to trust your gut.

I had wanted to do this entry on Thursday last week, which represented the 60 day mark of the Bright Line Eating program to which we committed in June after our drive back from Massachusetts. I had been up there for three weeks. Before I left there had been some intense conversations with Mr. Wonderful about food and lifestyle choices. See, when we first got together, Mr. Wonderful was a single dad manorexic looking guy who drank screwdrivers, smoked too much, and appeared to subsist entirely on chocolate marshmallow ice cream topped with bananas and maple syrup, and a steady stream of road cycling. He was muscled from riding, but his lifestyle choices were not really in line with a long range potential for good health. When I moved in with him in December 1991, I brought with me two kids, three meals a day, and snacks. We both smoked. I quit in 1993, he struggled more than I did with nicotine. I dreamed of being a vegetarian. I tried being a vegetarian. I gained 30 pounds. We rarely used convenience food, but the balance wasn't all that great - meat was a big part of the day, we didn't eat enough vegetable and fruit, and we ate a ton of bread products. Compared to the "average American household" we were doing well. Except that...we weren't.

Meanwhile, my weight ranged on a kiddie coaster scale, and Mr. Wonderful steadily put weight on. He tried to quit smoking, which only added more pounds. Then he did quit smoking, finally, and that added even more.  He rode aggressively and was disappointed that riding didn't have more control over his weight and health - after all isn't that the cure? "JUST EXERCISE MORE! EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!" Then we added alcohol back in. And...more pounds. I ranged from "chubby" to "one point from obesity on the BMI chart". He did the same. I joined the YMCA and learned to swim, and swam daily until I swam a mile on weekdays and two miles on Saturday and Sunday. My laps were neatly recorded in an excel spread sheet. My weight didn't change. He rode his bike when he could. My blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol remained in check. His did not. Not even close. He found himself taking "old-man meds". This was depressing because it just didn't feel like HIM. We tried different things, different eating plans. I would make all his meals...but he is a grazer and would snack. I struggled with snacking myself. Neither of us was happy with our weight, and his blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol were alarmingly out of control even WITH medication. I saw myself becoming a widow before I was 60. I could see it coming, like a freight train with me tied to the tracks. In 2015, while living in Plymouth, I recommitted to being vegetarian. I told him I would no longer be cooking meat at home. This worked well, and I think we both had some benefits. We kept dairy in, however. We definitely ate better. We went to the health club 3-4 days a week. I walked every day, 3 miles a day, with the dogs. He joined us on weekends. But it still wasn't enough.

When I moved to NC I had lost a bunch of weight, but whether that was a result of grief, super low thyroid, or vegetarianism I do not know; I suspect all three. Disappointingly, meat sneaked back in - it had made a re-appearance when the young woman we brought with us to help us get settled expressed her need for meat. For her, we said, for her...and began to eat it. Gene continued to snack. He is particularly fond of sugar - candy, starchy vegetables, popcorn, alcohol. I am particularly fond of sugar as well, but in a different form - cocoa powder, potatoes, and wine. It just was not a pretty picture. Having lost weight, I watched myself snack it all back on. After all, I said, work was stressful. I stress-ate. He hit a high of 196#. I was almost back up to 120# - I prefer to be under 110#. The lifestyle was out of control, and I knew that for me it was unsustainable. But what about him? He seemed depressed about the situation and seemed unable to see choices. He talked about genetics, and said this 'was just the way things were'.

In the early spring of 2018 I bought into The Food Revolution Network's annual summit. I remember we were in the car and listening to a free live session when the offer to purchase came on. I just bought it. I figured that we could listen when on road trips, and maybe he could find some nugget of hope, some alternative to the depressing idea of out-of-control genetics killing him slowly. Anything to get him away from statements like "I'll probably turn 65, retire, and die." He had reason to be depressed, and good reason to see a bleak future. In April of 2018 his lab work looked like a cardiac event waiting to happen. His weight was at an all time high. His blood sugar was 127+ in the mornings ON Metformin. His blood pressure was around 150/90 WITH two meds. His cholesterol had hit an all time high as well - total was 208, triglycerides 336 ON A STATIN. In short, he was not kidding when he said he might just turn 65, retire, and die. Something had to change.

While I was in Massachusetts he ate no meat - as an experiment to see if he really missed it. The older he gets, the more ethical questions come up for him about eating animals. He isn't a cruel man, and sadly our meat comes with a dose of well-documented cruelty. He didn't tell me this until we were on the way home, listening to more Food Revolution Network stuff. The various presenters talked about the dangers of processed foods, expressed documented concerns about meat, looked at food as medicine; food as the way to health. They described genetics as latent potentials, not die-cast futures. They gave back control to the individual by presenting peer-reviewed nutritional science. Not Pollan's "eat food, mostly plants" ideology which never felt 100% right to me because it really avoids the blatant environmental issues around meat - never mind the cruelty issue for a second - but a more honest "eat whole food, plant based, no meat, no dairy" concept. This sort of eating plan is also well documented and supported in peer-reviewed science.

And then they brought on Susan Pierce Thompson, PhD, creator of Bright Line Eating. As we drove along listening she synopsized her beliefs and her program. Processed foods - flours, sugars, alcohols - are, for many of us, addictive. Whole foods are what we were genetically designed to eat. Flour and sugar are the legal food equivalent of heroin and cocaine. When we stopped for a potty break we discussed what she was saying. It felt very true. Yes, food is addictive. We joke about it culturally, but it isn't a joke at all - the science bears it out. The brain has been compromised. Damaged by the drugs hiding in our food. And most of us have been eating it since we were born.

"We could try it", I said. "I can get her book, and read it, and we can just...try it."

"I have to do something. I'll try it." he said. And in that moment I saw what I had been waiting for - the spark of survival drive that just might be enough to change our future.

Home we came, and I ordered the book. I read it and ordered a copy of The China Study. We discussed the plan. I wanted to make it whole food plant based, and if he really couldn't stand it, he could add in a piece of meat now and then. Three meals a day, portions weighed. Anything not on the list and not at the right time of day is "Not My Food", and therefore off limits. It isn't a choice any more. It's just the way it is. No snacking. No candy. No wine. No cocoa powder. The inner conversations are healthy. "I recognize that you want that, but it isn't yours. Why do you think that you want it? What is something else that would make you feel good that isn't food that's not yours?" Inner family work. Healing. Allowing our brains to recover from lifetimes of addictive foods - literally - and lifetimes of proteins unhealthy for humans to consume day in and day out, three meals a day. Learning food triggers. No blame, no shame, no guilt. Awareness, acceptance, and self-compassion. Being mindful of emotional or behavioral impulses to consume food that isn't "mine". Healing the gut, the heart, the mind. The whole thing.

We began on June 11, 2018. Fresh start. I bought tons of vegetables. I cleared the house of things like honey and maple syrup and gluten free flours. We had a "last binge" and work up feeling...like shit. And we said good-bye to it all and stepped into a new normal.

At first it was hard, and I was deeply grateful that I hadn't picked up any work hours. The shifts I work are usually 8am-8pm. I leave home at 7am (no later than 7:09 am to be precise) and get back anywhere between 8:30 and 11pm, depending on the day. Being home meant I was free to focus on weighing, planning, and learning what worked. At first eating all of the food the plan demands was difficult. We literally could not finish meals, especially at night. Eventually we have found things that work, and only sometimes are too full at supper now. I will share a typical day at the end of this post. I learned to bite, lick, and taste less (I do taste occasionally, I have peace with that, because I am the cook and I need things to be palatable for a fairly picky man). I had a horrible feeling of shame when I returned from grocery shopping one day and popped a grape into my mouth without thinking. I sat down and thought about this - was that really the end of the world? Was I going to allow that one slip to destroy me inside? Or was I going to give myself an internal hug, and talk about how to avoid a similar misstep in the future, with lots of love and self-compassion? I did the latter. And we moved forward.

We talked about the hurdles. His afternoon habit of returning to the cafeteria at work for a snack and coffee was a hard one; so too the piles of food that seem to grow from the furniture in corporate offices. And the "leftovers" after meetings which he felt guilty about "wasting". I have worked a couple of days and felt myself mindlessly reaching for my Milky Way Midnight Mini "treat". I stop myself, redirect, and get a cup of tea or decaf instead.

Thompson talks about imagining yourself "wearing bunny slippers" during the weight loss phase of her program - take it easy on yourself, worry about exercise later. Losing weight is hard. You release stored up toxins from fat cells into your body. You may be tired. You may experience cravings as the brain tries to get it's drugs back. So reduce your decisions. Don't add in an exercise regimen until it feels right. We had already established personal routines - I walk, he walks and plays table tennis - and we kept those up, with occasional skips if it just didn't feel right. Self-compassion again. No obsessing about anything.

Last week he went to the doctor for a scheduled follow up. I knew he had lost weight, and I knew his blood pressure and blood sugar were down. I wasn't sure what the rest of his labs would show, and I was definitely not sure how his doctor would respond to this allegedly "restrictive" eating plan and lifestyle.

I didn't need to be concerned. After the weigh-in showed a nearly 30lb weight loss, and the blood pressure check revealed a normal BP, the conversation went something like this:

"Wow. I am amazed. What have you been doing?"

"My wife and I are on this plan. She thinks the food is killing us. We eat basically vegan, three meals a day, no snacks."

"Your wife is right. The food is killing us. But...I believe strongly in genetics, especially with cholesterol, so let's do some labs before we take you off all your meds."

I was chomping at the bit, but anxious. What if the doctor was right about the genetics? Would that just throw him back into that defeatist, depressed mindset where he was left feeling out of control of his own life, his own destiny? Would he give up? Head to the snack bar? Run to the store for dead animal parts? I worried. Then the labs came.

I WORRIED FOR NOTHING.
8/3/2018 labs show:
Total cholesterol - 145 (highest was 208, normal is under 200).
Triglycerides - 121 (highest was 336, normal is under 150).
Fasting blood glucose - 84 (highest was 134 while ON Metformin!! Normal is 65-99. He stopped taking Metformin in early July because his morning sugars were in the low 80's)

Weight this morning (8/13) - 166.2 (highest was 196). Blood pressure yesterday morning off of one med but still on the second - 127/70. Not perfect...but we are getting there. Blood sugar, which he checks once a week or occasionally after a meal was 107. I think this will come down too, and most days it is down to the mid-80's.

Me - well I've lost ten pounds. I feel really good. I love my food. My skin looks better, my sleep is better, and my tummy is very, very happy (I have IBS but... the symptoms are basically GONE). I don't feel deprived, and he says he doesn't either. I think twice in the last 60 days he's had beef cravings, and has had steak, measured portion of course. When we get closer to goal weight we will add back in things cautiously - for me that may be soon. He would say he misses popcorn. I mostly miss my cocoa powder. But...for me those foods are a slippery slope, gateway drug, danger, and my life is worth more than the fleeting pleasure. There's other things. Like, oh, living healthfully, having more energy, not destroying our bodies with food...all that.

The plan is now easy and feels right. If a thing calls to me I just have a little internal chat about what is and is not my food. It isn't perfect, or always easy - but then when were we promised a simple and easy life?? I think we spend way too much time rewarding ourselves, or making excuses for bad choices. The truth is we don't "deserve" food. Hunger is not an emergency, and there are things in life WAY more important than appeasing some stomping internal child who wants wine, or a candy bar or a piece of meat. Like being alive to see my grandchildren grow. Like not having a slow, lingering horrible death from a preventable disease, but living long enough to get hit by a truck or something. Like that. As Thompson says, this lifestyle isn't "extreme". Extreme is having your limbs cut off or losing your sight to diabetes. Extreme is a health care system that will collapse at some point under the revenue burden of failed "treatments" for preventable diseases. That's extreme. Eating a giant salad for supper...that's fucking simple.

I said I would share a typical day...I do a lot of prep when I have time, so the assembly of meals is much simpler now. We have a repertoire of things we like. We often mix and match proteins and vegetables from a core of liked flavor profiles. We weight nearly everything unless we are out, and then we read menus ahead and have a plan, or we bring food. I prepare the veg and protein separately. I find keeping them separate to be easier for me. This is an average day - I am not giving quantities, just know that we each consume the correct amount for our respective x and y chromosomes based on Bright Line Eating:

Breakfast:

Soy yogurt (made in our instant pot with this starter from Amazon)
Oatmeal prepared with soy milk
Fresh fruit, usually a combination of berries, stone fruits, and banana
Flax seed and walnuts, ground.
Generous sprinkle of cinnamon or my breakfast blend of cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and ginger

Lunch (really this is today's lunch for me!):

Roasted cauliflower from last night
Hummus
Blueberries

Dinner:

Big (really, 8 ounces of salad is a lot!) mixed tossed salad.
Zoodles with homemade red cabbage and bell pepper pickle and Thai peanut sauce
Tofu

There's always a bunch of vegetables prepped in the fridge, and usually two or three protein choices as well - tofu, tempeh (also made at home now), or bean salads with flavors that lean toward Mexican, Mediterranean, Thai, what have you. Sometimes the vegetables are cooked, sometimes they are raw. Fat is limited, more than Bright Line Eating recommends, based on Dr. Esselstyn's work around heart disease and fat intake. We do consume some fat, however. After reading his work and looking at Gene's labs and knowing his history...I am not kidding, he was a cardiac event waiting to happen!! Our fats are tiny amount of walnuts, maybe a teaspoon of oil in a pan to keep the tofu from sticking, or a little avocado. No big amounts; nothing more than teaspoons. Breakfast occasionally is tofu and a baked potato or brown rice with fruit.

Goodness, this has gotten long. I am SO very good at that. I will end with this...

 This is Gene in December of 2017. 

This is Gene last Thursday night at Barcelona Burger, waiting for his bean burger and salad.

If I had any more feelings in my heart about these images, I would burst. I am proud, happy, relieved. Even if we get hit by a bus and never see old age...by God we tried our damndest to escape genetics and a faulty, flawed, disastrous, horrific food system. And so can you. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  You can be good to yourself. That doesn't need to involve food.The gratitude, it overwhelms me!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

And Still With No Solid Plan

This weekend I attended the INELDA End of Life Doula training class in Raleigh. When I signed up I did so because I just felt like it was a thing I needed to do, without a real firm grasp of why or how. I still don't have a firm grasp on the plan...and I am going to just let that be OK for now. I did come away with a deeper feeling of commitment to the dying - and I really hadn't thought that possible. Some people seemed to be walking away with an almost evangelical commitment to this work as a life's calling. I didn't get that spiritual high, but then I can be very pragmatic and skeptical. And, too, many of those expressing commitment with evangelical fervor have less experience in death and dying. For me, this isn't like a new revelation. It's more of a no-brainer. As Susan said "All roads led you here." Although I feel like the work of an End of Life doula is in the first place of extreme importance and in the second something I can easily see myself doing, I still have the many unanswered questions of a natural born skeptic. What about my nursing license? How does the insurance work if you have that license? How can I appropriately balance the "mandatory reporter" nurse side with the "doula: keeper of confessions" side? Which one takes precedence? And on and on and on.

I am a nurse, both by profession in my current iteration and by "calling", for lack of a better word. I feel very strongly about death (and birth, as those who've known me a long time can attest). The excessive medicalization of the two greatest transitions in our existence on this sphere has disturbed me since I came to understand that they were taken from us by the (allegedly well-intentioned, but let's be real - today it's about the money) western medical model. The discovery that this thing had been taken away without any solid reasoning beyond convenience and profit bothered me. It seemed to me, growing up, that both birth and death were extremely natural processes that only quite rarely became complicated enough to require some kind of intervention - and yet we willingly handed them over with a quick brow swipe and a "thank God that's all out of MY hands!" Women drugged into pseudo contentment, feet high up in the air, blue-tinged babies dragged out of dope-lazy birth canals - or worse, women cut open like sides of beef when their labor didn't progress according to the narrow statistical "curve" model created by some sexist, meddling quack named Freidman...grandma dying "peacefully" medicated (or so we are assured by the staff who were probably in another room when it happened) in a nursing home bed while the kids and grandkids were at work and school.

Gone the natural progression of our lives from birth to death, gone the sounds and smells of birth and death in our homes, gone the bedside sitting at both labors, gone the intimacy, the proximity, the depth of these most sacred of passages. Instead most of us continue to cling to the "shallow and complex" life afforded by that dubious miracle that is modern western medicine. Let someone else do it. It's too hard, too scary, too painful. Give me drugs, just get it over with. But research begins to show that our removal from these most basic nitty-gritty beginnings and endings (on both counts) is actually less healthy for us than the relative trauma of intimate participation. Some of us feel that in our bones, and know the trade off isn't worth the loss of intimacy, of selflessness, of the most painful and yet most beautiful expressions of love that occur in those spaces.

The death of simple and deep. We are trading out the painful reality of human existence for this artificial alternative that allows us to remain "above all that", allows us to move forward lacking awareness (of self or of others), avoiding pain, running from reality. Abandoning the people who love us at the very moment when they most need us. Abandoning ourselves.

I am idealistic. But at my core very, very simple. Why is there injustice? Because we have allowed ourselves to fall prey to propaganda spin, turning "us" against "them", produced by a bunch of white men in suits who have no interest in our awakening to the truth that there is no "them", there is only us, thereby lining their pockets with our blindness. Why is the food killing us? Because we got over-involved with some magic chemical voodoo to "fix" food, resulting in processed crap that destroys our bodies, with a huge shift in the macronutrient percentages we have successfully eaten for 50,000 years. Why is birth so hard? Because we allowed more magical modern voodoo to bring us these trojan horse gifts that transform the majority of births into a loss of feminine power and a destruction of immediate bonding with newborns. Why is death so scary and taboo? Because we gave grandma to the hospital or the nursing home to "protect" ourselves and our children, so now grandma doesn't die in the living room, cared for lovingly by her deeply exhausted family, thereby depriving us of the experience of the good death.

Don't get me wrong. I am GRATEFUL for much of what we have. I am glad that, after 36-48 hours of protracted naturally initiated labor, there is an OR. I am grateful that there are places we can turn to when our loved one, dying at home, becomes terminally agitated in a way that we cannot control. I am less grateful for white men in suits and Monsanto, but that's another tale for another day. I am glad that WHEN THERE IS REAL NEED there is help at the ready.

But the decisions about when and how to intervene...those are much more complicated. How is it that a patient can spend some number of hundreds of days in a hospital bed, have innumerable procedures performed on them, each time with no explanation to the family that the patient will not regain function, will not improve, will never speak, will never swallow...the only reason is a padded bottom line. Otherwise the compassionate thing, the morally right thing, would be to sit down with that family and tell them the truth - she/he has had a massive stroke/horrible heart attack/whatever it was that put you here. She/he will not have any sort of meaningful recovery. She/he will not speak again, will not be able to communicate, will continue to decline. There is nothing we can do, and the best hope we CAN offer you is hospice at home, or transfer to a long term care facility that can support you through her/his end of life process. Her/his death. It isn't a dirty word.

I suppose the dirtying of the words birth and death goes back to that so very American puritanical prudery and skewed religiosity so particular to us here. Birth means someone got pregnant, and if someone got pregnant, someone probably had sex. And sex, like death, is a thing we both obsess over, desperately want, and despise at the same time. Death means someone is dying, and what if the Christians are right and he/she goes to hell, but what if nothing happens and it's all for nought (untrue - even if there is no heaven and no hell, there is still the NOW, and the NOW matters so very deeply because we are all so connected...but I digress), and how do I feel about the ending of life and so on and so on - again simultaneously obsessed with and fascinated by, yet terrified of and repulsed by. Plus there is decay and odor, and grandma might soil herself and someone might have to clean it up.

There I go ranting again.

My point here, today, is this - I still have no solid plan. I came away with a lot of good information. I feel like the independent "hanging a shingle" death doula track may not be right for my anti-social self. Most people seem very able to give elevator speeches and "reach out" to the community with death cafes and stuff - like Norwex parties only for death education...how do you keep that from becoming self-promotion? I simultaneously like and am concerned about that idea of the death cafe. I am pretty sure half the people in the room can give the first names of their table mates. I only remember 3. Faces I remember, but not names. It was sort of like work, really. Are you dying? Yes? OK. You definitely have a name, and I will remember it, and use it. Are you the immediate support? Yes? Good. I will probably remember your name, and will use it after asking you if it's ok and confirming what your loved one prefers to be called. Are you an administrator? Yeah. I'll get back to you on that whole name thing later, maybe in a year or so. All this "networking" nonsense? Nobody networked 50,000 years ago and people still died and got born attended by invisible people mostly lost to history. As it should be. Handing out of business cards, "making connections"...really? Are we entrepreneurs selling ourselves, or are we servants called to care for the dying and their families? I lose it in there somewhere. I'm here to serve, not sell. But first I need to take the first step. Whatever that looks like. I just still have no plan.




Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's Natural

I think I miss my father most when I wipe my ass. He was the only other human being I ever knew who would willingly and openly admit how hard it is to get it all. We would moan about this topic the way frustrated housewives bitch about muddy footprints. He came by this earthiness honestly. My paternal grandmother farted in front of me regularly, and when I got old enough to tell her to "say excuse me", she reprimanded me, saying that God put the air in and intended for it to come out - no apology necessary. I tried this at home. My mother was not nearly as accommodating of the almighty as GW was. "Hold it in" was her motto on most topics. It was never mine.

I've always been fascinated by and drawn to the functioning of the human body and the human mind. Interruptions aside, I probably would have been a doctor of something. But life wins in the end, and who we are isn't about the degrees we hold, it's about the cumulative experience, how we allow it to teach us, how we open ourselves up to and meet the act of living.

INELDA End of Life Doula training class is coming up, and in the initial pre-class work we are introduced to the idea of the End of Life Doula, the various activities an EOL doula may perform, the ways in which an EOL doula can facilitate conversations and communication between family members with the dying person. We were asked to think of the death of someone near to us and reflect on how that death was - what could have been different, what sort of conversations could and should have taken place, how the wishes of the dying person were accommodated. I think the biggest gap for me at Dad's end of life is in the idea of legacy. He wanted very much to talk about it, and we tried, but I lacked the language and the skills to give him an outlet for that. I regret this deeply. The instructor talks about having made an audio recording about 40 minutes in length where he asked his father things he had never dared or thought to ask before. It was some months before he could listen to this legacy journey, and when he did he found it immensely healing -it brought his father back to him in a real and powerful way. I wish I had done this. I have two or three short recordings, not conversations, but clips culled from my answering machine - my favorite being my final birthday message, left for me a mere 14 days before he died. It was that important to him - sleeping 18-20 hours a day, barely awake when he was awake, calling me to say happy birthday was a priority. I know that feeling - more intensely in the last couple of years when that greeting of a loved one has been thwarted by estrangement - but I digress.

This class will open up new pathways into the end of life experience for me. I have no idea where it will lead. I intend to become certified, which will require a minimum of three willing volunteer families who allow me into their space at an unbelievably delicate and precious time. Navigating the challenge of having clinical nursing skills that MUST BE set aside will be new. Being present, active listening, facilitating communication, holding space - all of those things are the things that I so very desperately long to do with my patients now, and most of the time cannot because time ties my hands behind my back and Medicare holds me hostage to an iPad. (The irony of this apparent skill is that if you are not dying, I will rattle on, ignore your thoughts and feelings, and generally be the biggest personality in the room wherever possible. But if you are dying or birthing it becomes the one space where I am easily able to lay myself down. I wish I knew why. Anyway.)  I look forward to that part of this work. I am looking forward to discovering new ways to give meaning to legacy, and hope I can be of value to someone who struggles with that. It will honor that man, who sat in that chair, pointed at me and said to his home hospice nurse "...she's goooood...." to which she replied "Yes, she is. She really needs to come work with us."

How very right they were. And how very hard I resisted. But in my life the times at which I have felt the most present, the times at which I have felt the most comfortable and connected, I was either attending a birth or attending someone and their support system at end of life. You can run, and you can run faster, but in the end you cannot hide. What I am, I am. And what I am is a death professional. Whatever form that takes.

(don't worry - soon we will talk about knitting or quilting or something, I promise!)