Tuesday, October 16, 2018


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.


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


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.

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:


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


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

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!)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Red Pill Blue Pill

The last time I was here I was ranting about addiction, diet and brains. I will probably do more of that today. For Lorrie, who commented on my last post, there is a video at the bottom of this post that may help. I don't have a copy of the 2AAT book right by me at the moment, so don't remember what my exact directions were, but I believe this will help with twisted stitches questions.

Now on to the ranting. For Jacinda I may throw in a picture or two, although of what I do not know. Maybe lilies and cats. Just bear with, please. I do have a point here. Or maybe I have no point and am just ranting aimlessly again - but after a decade of menopausal brain stoppage, maybe this is a thing I need to do. VENT.

I have been eating "mostly vegetarian" for about three years which, combined with grief, resulted in a loss of about 12 pounds - not a lot, but remember I am 4'11". Recently I had re-gained some weight, and this upset me. Having been in what the author of Bright Line Eating calls a "right sized body" for the first time in three decades, I was displeased to see it changing back to the chubby-but-not-quite-obese body it had been in the middle bit of life. My body had disappeared from my daily thoughts - I didn't obsess, I didn't fuss and worry, I just WAS - and I was very displeased to lose that freedom. The gain began in response to work stress. Too much wine, too much chocolate, too many little cheats...and all the parts of my brain that demand the unhealthy woke right up and started jumping around like ranting, raging addicted toddlers.
(Chance bringing a plastic mouse to his clearly idiot humans who don't eat meat)
I was also increasingly concerned about Mr. Wonderful's various health/weight issues that seemed unresponsive to medication or exercise, and were really setting him (screw him - ME!!ME!! I DON'T LOOK GOOD IN BLACK, OK?!?) up for some unhappiness in the future. Enter Bright Line Eating but with a whole foods plant based diet at it's base. To update, we have been officially doing BLE for 12 days. I have lost 3.8 lbs. He has lost 6.4 lbs (Men. How do they do that. Every. frigging. time). More - MOST - importantly, his blood sugar is so normal that his medication has been halved, and at some point will likely go away entirely. I will never say that BLE, or any "diet" or "lifestyle change" not in line with the standard western diet (which we are liberally exporting around the globe with disastrous results) is easy. But I will say it is do-able. It has been my experience that things worth attaining are not easy...so would we really expect health to be any different?
 (Hawk Mountain stop in PA on our way home - would dearly love to return to do more of their trails)
As a result of reading the BLE book, I picked up a copy of The China Study, which is Thomas Campbell II's book on nutrition and health. About a chapter in I was recoiling and gasping at the idea that cancer could be turned on and off in rats by modifying the amount of animal protein in their diets. It just tumbles down from there - cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases...he confronts them all and with massive data (thousands of studies, not just his own, that clearly document a strong connection between animal protein in meat and dairy and negative outcomes on human health) proves just what our way of eating has done to us - and continues to do.

His recommendation, and his lifestyle of choice, is plant based, whole foods - low fat, lower protein - and that protein from plants. He cites doctors Esselstyn (well known cardiologist from The Cleveland Clinic who's groundbreaking studies in heart disease and diet SHOULD be explained to every cardiac patient on the planet) and Ornish (who allows much more dairy and egg whites, but still has amazing results), among others. They all come to the same conclusion. A plant based diet is preferred. Campbell is pretty specific, and his studies on those cancer rats indicates that keeping protein - plant based of course - to around 10% of our diet is ideal - this number is more in keeping with the diet of rural Chinese who, until we exported McDonald's and Starbucks and KFC all over their map, had remarkably low incidences of most of the disease that plague us here in the United States of Fast Food (God, Country, and Mickey D's!).

So why don't we eat this way, or tell people to eat this way? Why do most doctors hand their patients disjointed and conflicting handouts while making vague statements like "You should think more about diet and exercise..." with no real statements about what they KNOW from science WORKS? The most commonly cited reason: "These diets are too extreme. They are too complicated and difficult. Most people won't succeed."

Wow. Really? Because truth is hard to hear and takes work to follow, we should sugar (literally) coat it and prate about moderation? For my mother, moderation meant "I will, at dinner today, eat only a half a box of Mueller's angel hair pasta with a half a stick of butter and a half a jar of Ragu original and a little less shaker cheese, instead of the whole box, stick and jar." That totally worked. Not.
(Stairs - not always easy to climb but generally worth the effort to see the view)
What really got me yesterday was the connection, clearly made in multiple studies, that links consumption of cow's milk with a host of diseases that plague not just children but adults as well. Juvenile RA. Type 1 diabetes. Then on to a host of autoimmune problems that left me glad that I never really liked milk. I was the child who had to be harped at, and even then I would refuse to drink it. "Then you will have water!" Great, thank you. Pass the ice cubes. Pass all the plants. Maybe I can revere of control this Hashimoto nonsense, or maybe my Reynaud's will stop making winter painful. Or...maybe I can delay some other horror heading my way. Who knows. Just...plants, yes please!
(It is 'yeller squash' season - and Thank Troy, my tummy and freezer are FULL!)
So yeah, choosing healthy is not always easy, especially in a world where toxic marketing is aimed at getting us to do the easy things in order to line a few pockets. And I can see how this way of life might be viewed as "extreme". And in a very short sighted way it may appear complicated. Know what's more complicated? More extreme than a diet that will save your life, reduce environmental damage, make it so there's enough for everyone? Heart attacks. Strokes. Insulin injections. Losing a leg. Losing your vision. Premature death from a disease easily prevented or reversed with diet.  Per capita spending in the US on health care jumping from around $4800 in 2006 to over $10,000 in 2016. Five of the top ten causes of deaths in the US attributed to lifestyle choices and preventable illness. That's extreme. That's complicated. Eating plants is a fucking cake walk by comparison.
(It is also magnolia season, which smells citrus and spice and everything nice)
Things come together in my life in weird perfect storm ways. I am also reading The Master and His Emissary, a book about how our brain is divided, what the two sides do (or what we sort of think we know about what the two sides do based on research), and how our current culture favors left brain thought, and how damaging this can be to us culturally and socially - and individually. All that left brain literality, all that reliance on reason - some of which is very good, for example when it comes to NOT running out for a chocolate bar or a run through a drive through for a burger and fries. But at the same time, the other side of our brain, the right, needs to be allowed expression. If not, why we might find ourselves hyper-protectively ripping kids from their mothers and putting them in detention centers while we prepare to ship the adults back to...oh wait...that happened. Oops.
(Frankie strongly opposes the separating of families and incarceration of children under the current regime's "illegal alien" intolerance program)
All of this sounds extreme and depressing, right? The world is in turmoil, our president is a whack doodle surrounded by other whack doodles, we are eating ourselves into WALL*E's world (everyone in a scooter, bones melted, phones to faces, sucking down big gulps and throwing the trash to a hoard of specialized robots), we are inhumane, hyper protective, fearful, hiding behind the rule of law to cover our selfishness and on and on and on and on. DEAR GOD, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!

But...we are all gonna die anyway. Just think about this for a moment. And really, in the life of a universe - or even a planet - our time here is a fleck of dust. This too, shall pass. So then...what do we do? Cry? Hide? Run? Quit? Shop? Eat? Drink?
(Or just go kayak, which I highly recommend.)
I propose a happier alternative. Tolstoy, in The Kingdom of God is Within You, expounds on what he sees as the three conceptions of life that drive man's actions. In the first, the individual is embraced - he calls this the animal view of life. In the second, one embraces society - this he calls the pagan view of life. In the third, the whole world is embraced, and he calls this the divine view of life. From this view, it's all about love, man. He goes into this in greater detail than I care to here, but at the crux lies this kernel - in the first two, the scope is limited and the outcomes protective of self or of the immediate family, then larger community, then state, then country and so on in varying degrees of commitment and with willingness to sacrifice part of one to save one closer to one's self. But in the third worldview - the divine - life is not defined by "my" self, "my" family, "my" community (and so on) but by the idea that there is one underlying eternal factor - Christians would say God, Muslims Allah and so forth. "The motor power of his life is love". Uncle Leo has very, very few kind words for churches, orthodox clergy etc. ("It is terrible to think what the churches do to men").
(Dude has a point.)
This thinking aligns fairly neatly with thoughts expressed by Marcus Borg and others of emerging church thought. Borg speaks a great deal to the dichotomy facing Christianity in the modern world. We have, at the moment, two ways of seeing the Bible - the first is that the Bible is the literal word of God (you must believe in arks, virgin births, and the holding back of rivers, or you are damned!). In the second, the Bible is viewed in a historical and metaphorical manner. In the first, the literal understanding of the Bible, there is much to protect, much to insist, much to demand, much to feel shameful and guilty about. God is angry, and you better make sure you follow the rules or you are in deep shit. The core of the belief system is easily threatened, and must be protected at all costs. In the second...well, we are dust, and the Book - all the books - have some stuff in them that can help us to be better, nicer, kinder, gentler dust. There is nothing to defend, nothing to protect, nothing to war over. There is just a law of love, a global concern for humanity, for the planet, for everything. I feel like some notables may have mentioned this in their teachings...wait, what was that guy's name again? Oh yeah...JESUS (and others, but being reared Christian his teachings are the most well known to me).

This takes me back to right and left brain, maybe just for a second. Left brain - right hand; that kind of thought really enjoys the literal interpretation of the Bible. It loves the structure and rigidity, it defends rigorously, it squashes opposition. Right brain - left hand; this kind of thinking sees meaning in metaphor, embraces the creative, questions the need to defend at the expense of others. In general we tend to view left brain as "masculine" and right brain as "feminine", which really does a disservice to the brain, especially in our male-dominated society which values the masculine above the feminine; it mocks men who embrace their "feminine side", pays men more than women for the same work, dismisses social injustice with a wave of the hand because those injustices feed and protect that which is important to the left brain, etc. Left brain says "You don't look like me, worship like me, eat like me, act like me. You are other and must be assimilated, or destroyed." I envision left brain in a well-cut dark colored suit with a red tie. Right brain - who I see wearing tie-dye and cut-off's, with a joint in one hand and a peace sign in the other - says "Look at all these amazing and different ways of being! The world is truly a magical and awesome place". We are, according to this author, shutting off the right brain gradually over time and with ever increasing success.

I spent part of this morning looking at ways to increase right brain activity, which I think is a way to help in the process of healing what really is brain damage cause by food, environment, religion, etc. Here's a few ideas - because I think they are important and will make awareness and change easier to accomplish. Martha Beck has some ideas, most of which arose from a bit of writer's block she experienced. She calls it The Kitchen Sink method, and it really works. I know because I have used it myself without realizing that's what I was doing at the time. This Australian lady at the Memory Foundation has a video on ways to stimulate right brain. Actually they appear to have a couple. Livestrong has a nice list of right brain thinking activities. Meditation is a good start, really. Quieting the mind allows both sides more space. I sometimes visualize sunlight cascading down into the right side - NOT the left at first, and not evenly into the hemispheres...but into the right. Then it gets stopped up and cannot go further until the left side takes action (left brain likes action). The left must then open a series of locks, or floodgates, to allow the light to cascade into the left brain, and then down to my toes, gradually filling the body to the very top. But in the visualization, the left has to choose to allow communication with the right if it wants that sunlight - and it really wants it. I just want left brain to be active and participatory in encouraging connection between the hemispheres. I want it to have a choice.

I did say I had some happy news, or a happier alternative or whatever. So here's my happy news. We do have choices under all these layers of conflicting information, societal pressure, advertising mind-fucks, crappy parenting, traumatic events and so forth. Once you know these things, you can choose, even if it is tiny infinitesimal steps in a direction other than trapped. It won't be without complication, it will not be simple, it will not be without backsliding, failure and pain - although clearly we're all in pain already or we wouldn't be expressing our discomfort in our societal behaviors.

I choose to always keep looking for truth. I choose love. I choose health. I choose to think outside of myself. I choose to find ways to counter the negativity and fear we are endlessly fed. They may be small ways, but they are ways. I choose the red pill.

Oh, and Lorrie, here is your video. If this doesn't help, please comment below and I will try to get my hands on my own book. :)

Friday, June 08, 2018


So I have always been really interested in the human brain, how it works, what drives us, and how people who look "with it" on the surface can be so tormented by inner demons that they just...quit and cash out their chips way too early. I spent years watching my mother struggle with the very real demons of mental illness only to end up in a delusional space inside her own mind from which I could not rescue her. But it was her mind, not my own, and there just didn't seem to be a light bright enough to poke in. At some point she stopped looking for one.

I am not sure where this is going so I am just going to ramble. I am very good at that.

Anthony Bourdain killed himself today. Kate Spade the day before. Priscilla Morgan in 2011. Millions before, and millions more to come. I don't believe suicide is about a single choice. I used to think it was. I have always seen it as selfish and thoughtless. My mother reared me on The Hemlock Society and always had lots of information about how to end your life on hand. Her desire to control her death was terrifying for the developing little me; heartbreaking, devastating. I dedicated a fair amount of life energy toward trying to stop her. And yet, we know statistically that a certain percentage of mental illness is, frankly, fatal. It should not be so, and we should work to change that, but it is still a fact. The brain, as it turns out, is a treacherous thing. But it is also plastic, and with the right support and right path, it can heal and recover and blossom. Mental illness, addiction, self-destructive behaviors - whatever you want to label them - they do not need to be fatal.

Yesterday I watched Robert Lustig speaking on his book 'The Hacking of the American Mind'. It isn't just the American mind that has been hacked, but we Americans do seem to have cornered the market on denial and delusion and God knows we are spreading it around the globe as fast as we can. A few days before this I had come across Bright Line Eating as a result of my engagement in The Food Revolution summit earlier this year. My blood sugar is ok, my eating currently very clean (whole food, plant based, vegan) but there are pitfalls everywhere and I have fallen into a couple in the last few years (maple syrup, wine). Things come together sometimes. Perfect storms of information which, if you are open to it, can change your life or at least your view of life. Bright Line Eating is basically about addiction, and adopts a pretty hard stance on the substances that addict us. Lots of very good, convincing and clean science backs this all up. Moderation simply isn't an option. Anyone who's ever been really clean knows this. Zero tolerance. The minute you step over the line into moderation, all bets are off. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you have let the snake out of the bag and I guarantee he will will coil up around you and tighten until your lights go out, or you find a way to cut him loose. I love snakes from a distance. But I want to cut mine loose.

I am an addict. Drug of choice isn't relevant, since we now know that the function in the brain is the much the same, regardless of substance. The difference between drugs of choice is about legality, stigma, and money, not about what they ALL do to your brain. Hell, rats in studies have been addicted to levers. You heard me. METAL. LEVERS. The substance isn't the issue. But I digress.

This addictive part of me is not an unknown for me personally, although sometimes surprises others. My parents were, in their own ways, addicts as well - with my father aware of and modulating his addictions (except maybe that one time when he ate that whole tub of bacon in my dining room), and my mother insisting that she was not an addict at all, but a victim of the health care industry that gave her valium and darvon, then ruthlessly took them away. It wasn't her fault - and based on brain chemistry and a traumatic upbringing, it really wasn't her fault. The idea of fault, like the concept of sin, tends to bring shame and guilt, which in turn paralyzes people into inaction. Resignation. "I must be a horrible person and therefore cannot change" instead of "I am a normal human being who strives to be my best self, fails at times, forgives myself, and tries again". But she would never admit that she was "like those people", to which I would often reply "those people... like the human ones? Like me?" She hated that I identified with addiction and referred to myself as an addict. I was, she insisted "better than that"; better than "those people".

She struggled with food addiction for all of her life, as have I. She was addicted to opioids and benzos given by doctors, and if she were alive and walking today would probably be one of those great grandmas in the county with a (nicely dressed, well-spoken, clean-looking) dealer on lock. She had ways of obtaining codeine and benzos that blew my mind, because I knew her primary physician would not prescribe. She would, in middle and later life, never drink more than one beer, insisting that any more would make her "a drunk like (her) father". She would never accept any of this as addiction, or "dry drunk" control of a potential addiction. And she strongly recommended that I exert greater moral control over myself and "remember who (I was)". The problem is, I am not sure that she ever understood or knew who SHE was, let alone who I was. She never understood that addictive brain type isn't a choice (no kid lisps that they want to be a drunk when they grow up!), that brains are being fundamentally altered from our earliest days, that for a certain percentage of us "moderation" is simply a thing that cannot exist safely, that addiction isn't a moral flaw...and on and on and on. Most of us never gain the insight into the brain that comes with learning and awareness - not to mention the huge advances in science. But I've seen it without proof for a very long time, and am starting to see it now a growing body of proof - thanks to science, PET scans, and smart people who've put this shit together - all of whom I envy their damn PhD's. I was too busy reproducing to get mine.

There have been glimmers and glimpses for me all of my life of truth. I have struggled with varying degrees of addiction to various things and substances for as long as I can remember - beginning, from my earliest memories - with food. Food is the first thing we have access to that fundamentally alters our brain chemistry and can set us up for a lifetime of addictive behavior. I was a formula baby. My mother made it herself with a variety of substances, including corn syrup. It's what they did. No one could have known then what the outcome would be. There were no PET scans. Maybe someone suspected...they must have been messing around with rats enough to know what sugar does to the behavior of animals. and could have predicted that it would affect human behavior as well. My first non-formula food was at 14 days old when I was fed orange juice. That was rapidly followed by beer in my bottle when I developed a UTI - it would make me pee, the doctor said - this is the same doctor that accidentally overdosed me on phenobarbital and belladonna for colic when I was an infant, so he probably knew best, right? After that came codeine cough syrup by the gallon to control a wicked asthmatic cough that kept the whole house up at night - ALL prescribed and legal and recommended by the experts. In the early 70's beer was everywhere and kids sipping half-empty cans at various gatherings was just a thing that happened. I am lucky I survived, really. Those addictions were not my choice but that doesn't change what they were - exposure to substances that poisoned my brain and established pathways and patterns that I will likely confront until I die. This is not hopelessness - it is honesty, and everything good and clear begins with honesty.

I cannot remember at what point I became aware that my brain wanted things that were poison, but I do remember telling my mother in my early teens I was done with the codeine because I did not like how it made me feel - it had gotten to feel normal, and life without it was not. Something in my controlling little self rejected this idea of normalcy found only in a bottle of tiny white pills or cherry flavored syrup. In retrospect this experience likely saved my life or at least a lot of years of potential addictions to other drugs. I had a healthy respect for them - healthy enough to keep me off street drugs, with the exception of marijuana. She was terrified that I would cough myself to death, die in my sleep, not survive adolescence without it. Surprisingly I did survive - in retrospect the withdrawal must have been a fun ride, but I was too young to suffer much for long, thank God. Nicotine is a wonderful cough suppressant when you are smoking a pack a day. You hack up a lung in the morning, light a butt, and damned if your breathing doesn't come right into line...with a wheeze so tight you CAN'T cough. Then came Dexatrim...which one could obtain legally at the pharmacy on Main Street, and take to not only lose weight but stay awake for DAYS on end - always a benefit when you work during the day but all the fun happens at night. When my sister Jody pointed out that the stuff would kill me, I thought about that annoying banging heartbeat feeling, and quit - cold turkey, just like I had stopped the codeine. Oh to be young again - young and so very stupid. Weight loss is it's own addiction. So next up, free of opioids and amphetamine - but still sucking down nicotine - was a foray into anorexia (at my lightest I was around 70 lbs, and convinced I was fat). Beer came next, followed by wine and a brief trip into hard liquor. I didn't struggle as much with obvious sugar. I could not, for example, eat an entire pan of brownies like my friend Cheryl could, unless I was very stoned (did I mention pot?) or drunk. I occasionally found myself eating a half a batch of cookies, but I tended more toward pizza, or half-pound roast beef sandwiches loaded with Hellmann's. So next comes bulimia, of course. All the while subconsciously aware that something just was very very wrong in my brain. Something I couldn't prove, or pinpoint, or explain. I just knew that something wasn't...right.

Next follows a few decades of being relatively clean and sober and truly happy, although still not fully understanding what my addictions were, or how they worked, or how my brain did crazy shit to get what it wanted - which ultimately was (is) sugar, no matter how well disguised. I now call this the "pizza and puking" years. In a very weak defense, pizza did make me feel horribly ill. It wasn't until about 13 years ago that I discovered that wheat is not my friend, and that gluten literally makes me sick. Now, 13 years off of it, and even a little can wreak havoc. Then there was Diet Coke...consumed by the gallon during college because it was cheaper than buying food - and I needed my food stamps to feed my kids...or I was just addicted to the stuff, one or the other - or both. I drank that until the left side of my face started to go numb and a concerned individual mentioned that perhaps aspartame was bad for humans. A little reading and a lot of withdrawal and my face only gets numb when I fall off the "artificial sweetener" wagon, usually by accident. READ YOUR LABELS!!

And all the while words are popping up on my radar...hyper palatability. neurotoxins. dopamine. serotonin. conspiracy (that one is my favorite). compulsion. addiction. advertising. down regulation.

I love how people insist they make their own choices, and that fat kids are just a result of parents with no will power and generally weak moral fiber. Neither of these things is true. People are deluded - and, frankly, drugged - into thinking they have free will, and fat kids (and adults) are a result of a carefully orchestrated marketing strategy to sell as much food to as many people as possible. And it is working really, really well.

Lustig says - and given what he does as a life's work he would know - that we have an epidemic - AN EPIDEMIC - of obese 6-month olds. The rising cost of food related illness is skyrocketing ever upwards, and will decimate our economy very soon - well, really it already is. Lack of protection from lobby groups and marketers who seek to promote their products regardless of the harm inflicted on humanity continues as some sort of short-sighted egotistical American idea that we have CHOICES, after all, and just need SELF CONTROL and MORE EXERCISE to balance out that additional gut-load of calories in their poison crap - trust me, they just want you to buy their shit, and it making you feel bad about yourself sells more ice cream and fries, well, they just run to the bank that much faster. As any addict in recovery can tell you...it just isn't always that easy. Gene just showed me a reddit this morning of a group of morbidly obese kids dancing by a pool. Trust me, those kids did NOT choose to be that fat, and their parents are likely as confused as anyone. Misinformation abounds. Everything in moderation, after all. Just exercise it off (do you know how long it takes to exercise off a 20 ounce Coke?). McDonald's is OK as long as you don't eat there daily. Whatever. If that's you, and you can walk away after half a sleeve of fries, great, and I am truly very happy for you. You won the genetic lottery, my friend. But for 30-50-% of us - and that number is climbing every day - there just is no safe way to consume that shit. And "that shit" includes crap like the boxes of "weight control" oatmeal I saw yesterday that contain SIXTY CALORIES MORE than plain oatmeal. And the processed food, and the frozen food, and the fast food...and on and on and on. If it's fast, convenient, easy, or processed....probably bad. I would rant about meat, but I will let others do that.

There used to be this thing called science, and we used to believe in it. At this point, all the endless Boy Who Cried Wolf shouting has left many of us confused, bewildered, and quite hopeless, not knowing who or what to believe.

I don't like hopelessness. Hopelessness kills people, or gives them space to kill themselves. It doesn't fit my personality - like the skinny people who can skip the fries. I am very grateful for that part of me - the bit that keeps getting back up again, over and over, always willing to try. So I reject hopelessness. But I am also aware that my brain is hurting and damaged; I've let it get poisoned, and that choices that will bring it back aren't going to be easy to make. I have been meditating for 4 months now (180 days straight as of today, not counting the couple of start-and-stop months before that) which is a really good start. Things seem to be clearing up in there. The sugar that has gradually crept back into my life as comfort in grief needs to go - and it even has an end date now. Some of that is wine, some of it is food, all of it is nothing but refined, brain-damaging poison.

My plan for myself is to use Bright Line Eating from the book, and not the boot camp because right now I just plain cannot afford it. I am not obese. But I am an addict who needs to get clean - even if the drugs of choice are "only" sugar and Facebook. Bright lines seems like a really good place to start. Really, really bright ones. Lines that I simply cannot cross. One day at a time.

This started with a short riff about suicide. See, I think it's all connected; addiction, mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts, depression - all of it is connected up there with all those neurotransmitters and neural pathways. That brain...it's a complex and at the same time simple thing. Our enemy is within. I think we need to know that enemy, look it squarely and honestly in it's face, and find a way to talk it down. I don't know how, and I suspect the path is different for us all. I just know that if you are struggling...keep looking for answers, keep reaching out, keep finding paths to survive. Survive until you thrive. Hope lives. It's real, and happiness is not a myth. Pleasure is a lie. But happiness is real. Go find some.