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!)

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

Brain

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.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Never Make Plans

I had this great plan to come in here on this day and write some ...thing. I don't even know what, exactly, just some ..thing. But now it's today and I only have one thing, one tale, one story. And so I will tell it.

The first day of spring was March 21 that year. I didn't actually know this that morning when I got out of bed at 5:30 or 6, after announcing that I was in labor. I was to learn it in the form of a card of congratulations that came much later in the day. My labor was, at first, not to be believed by most, and in retrospect I can't really blame the people involved...they had reason to assume otherwise.

This was nothing like the first time. The first time the intensity of "real" contractions had taken me by surprise in spite of my endless readings of Spiritual Midwifery and Childbirth Without Fear, my relentless breathing practice and my harping to those around me that birth was PERFECTLY NATURAL and women had been doing it for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. I had become very emotional very quickly, right down to calling my mother to sob "...it hurts!" into her ear at 2am...she was the person on duty at the answering service that early morning, and although I wanted to be big and brave and know-it-all, I knew nothing, and I sobbed that into the phone. But I learned. And for some reason the second time around everything fell into place. It's not that it didn't hurt. I think it did. But it was manageable. Just relax, breathe; everything has an end point. You will not be in labor forever. This is the last time you will have that contraction. It will not come again. Be in it, then let it go. Metaphor for life, really.

Making my way downstairs quietly so as not to wake the sleeping toddler in the next room, I began my day as I always did. I started laundry. I considered that I could be away for a day at least, and so began making a quiche which could serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner for the people I was leaving on their own. I called my sister. I called my mother. I called my midwife. To all of them I calmly related that I was in labor and that my contractions were about 3 minutes apart. I am not sure any of them believed, but they mobilized anyway.

It was amazing, that labor. This, I knew, was what it was meant to be. Alone and peaceful, folding laundry and grating cheese between contractions, rolling out pastry...taking a small (and later regrettable) bite of bacon, sipping some water; I was like some other-worldly earth mother. Peaceful and graceful, I walked from room to room, taking one contraction at a time, enjoying the solitude with this little person inside me, knowing that this was to be our last few hours as one entity. A boy, they had said, based on heart rate. Most likely a boy. I wanted a girl. But a boy would save a fortune on clothes. And I had a name either way. It no longer mattered to me what you were. The who, on the other hand, was crucial. And that I wanted very much to learn.

It had not been a picture perfect pregnancy. We had moved early on, and I had done my usual moving in "thing" - attacked the house and the boxes and the appliances with bleach and vigor. I had moved the fridge, mopped the whole house, put the fridge back, and unpacked any number of boxes. Somewhere between the fridge and the hardwood floors I felt a twinge, and then another. Suddenly it dawned on me that pregnancy isn't a guarantee, and I became terrified for the little life inside me. A visit to the midwife showed that I had reason to be - I was 2 cm dilated and partially effaced. Bedrest. With a toddler.

I've never been good at sitting still. I think I lasted three days. I began to move cautiously - no heavy lifting, no pushing of appliances. I sat in Daniel's high chair to prepare meals at the kitchen counter. Not a lot of heavy cleaning got done. I carried grocery bags one at a time instead of losing myself up like a pack mule. The baby stuck with me; forgiveness offered for my ingratitude and heavy lifting. And I became a territorial, primal monster on the inside. When my grandmother "helpfully" and callously remarked that miscarriage was nature's way of fixing a mistake, I almost killed her. I am sure we did not speak for some time. And for the record, she doted on the eventual baby with greater zeal than I usually witnessed in her, so I sense she spoke with forked tongue - but then she's an Avery and they have that habit. Cruel to be kind was generally the order of their day. But not in my world, not on that topic. No. Not that baby. The mistake wasn't the baby. The mistake was the obsessive mother scrubbing a house from top to bottom in the first trimester. Why should the kid pay?

So here we were, all those threats of danger, and exactly one day before the calculated due date, right on schedule and with no more fuss than a walk to the park that baby was about to appear.

I remember the moment things changed in labor and my contractions moved to a minute or so apart. I would have been more than happy to stay right where I was, have the baby, get back to the quiche with it tied to my chest like the good primal animal I was. But midwives at home are not covered by insurance, and midwives in the hospital are. So we went.

I had no contractions from home to the hospital, about a 5 minute drive. On arrival, a gust of ice-cold -15F air rushed up to meet me when I opened the car door, rectifying that situation in a hurry. That was a "bad one", and I walked into the hospital more acutely aware than ever that I despise the cold.

Back then the hospital was in disarray for renovation, and the entrance door for all patients had changed to the ER side of the building. Not knowing where to go I signed in as directed and joined a host of others waiting for admission for various things - the ER, surgery, labs and radiology all in one giant space with temporary cubicles set up. Pre-HIPPA, you just wrote your name on a sheet of paper and waited to be called. Not the best triage system. People around me suggested that I tell "them" I was in labor...but "they" were busy and I didn't want to "make a fuss". Finally a woman near us walked up and said, pointing, "She's in labor...and her contractions are almost a minute apart. You should take her ahead of us." My name was taken, a call was made "upstairs", and a nurse in pink scrubs pushing a wheelchair appeared as if by magic. She introduced herself and asked me to get in the chair. I declined. No. No wheels. Pregnancy, labor, delivery - it isn't a handicap. It's a stage of life. It's bringing a new life. Thousands of years women have done this job. And the vast majority of those have been women laboring in a field somewhere, or out gathering firewood or berries, delivering a baby, tying the cord with whatever came to hand, cutting it with an unsterile object, and going back to work with the newborn tied to their chest. And we survive. It is what we are made to do.

When I stepped off the elevator my midwife was there to greet me. I was so happy to see her face. Midwives rotate. My least favorite had just gone off call. My most favorite had just come on. It could not have been more perfect. We walked down the hall and into my favorite room - The Big One With The Double Bed. No sterile hospital space, no bed that breaks down into something other, like a creepy medicalized Transformer. Just a regular bed.

A brief check showed that I was not just in labor, I was past transition and heading for home. My contractions, which had slowed during all the fuss of moving from home to hospital, and the weirdness of sitting in a crowded admissions area trying not to breathe "too loudly", bounced back to a minute or so apart. I still had my earth mother face...each contraction coming on, being acknowledged and ridden out, and then let go. Textbook. Exactly like I knew it could be. Exactly like I knew it SHOULD be. Not quite an hour later I watched in fascination as my belly lifted with a contraction and seemed to bear down, pushing without any help from me.

"Did that feel push-y?" asked Anne from her comfortable rocking chair opposite me. "Yes, a little" I responded. Endorphins are a wonderful thing.

She came to my side and checked - yes. 10cm. Time to let this baby out. Time to see that face. Time to meet that person. Let the bonding begin.

Left lateral Sims position, a brief series of controlled, perfect, panting pushes and I heard a voice say "Do you want to feel your babies head?"

"Yes."

One more push and the head was born. A brief moment to catch my breath, and shoulders next - big shoulders, too - that was memorable, although the pain immediately forgotten.

"It's a bouncing baby....GIRL!?"

Reaching down, I lifted the blueish squirming animal up to my face. Slowly, giant brown eyes opened in the little round face, covered in vernix and creased from a lifetime spent in water, and blinked up at me. And down I fell into them. Hello. Where have you been all my life? I'm your mother. And that won't ever change.

Lots would come after - both immediately and not - and more will come, some good, some bad, some indifferent. Some passionate, some angry, some cold and hurtful, some gentle and warm.

I have thought a lot in the last couple of years about whether or not, all things taken into account, I would do it again - either time. In my lower moments I question my sanity in choosing motherhood. I mean, really, you could smash your head on brick walls until you are bloody and the pain wouldn't come close. But neither would the joy.

In the final analysis here is where I stand: a thing, once done, cannot be undone. It can, however, be accepted for what it is, and, like contractions, moved past and forgotten - retaining the good, releasing the less than good. Hold onto the good, let go of everything that isn't. Hold onto the love, let go of everything that isn't.

And so... Happy Birthday, Girl. Whatever you are to yourself you remain one of the best things I have ever done in my life.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Chameleons and Other Creatures

I don't even know where to start this because I think it plans to be more self-revelatory than I have been in a long time.

I've been so boxed off from myself for so long...probably since I was a very small person, and certainly since around 2008 or so. And I can blame menopause, thyroid, deaths, births, marriages and divorces...but I think that is what we call life.

There are so very many things that I would do so very differently if I had a do-over.

We will start there. I am sorry. So very sorry for more things than I can put on 'paper', and if you are reading this my darling little porcupine, a fair amount of that is directed at you. My shrink informed me that I am "very self aware", and although I do reside in denial as much as possible, I am aware of things I did, stories I told, choices I made, words I chose, paths I took that were not for your betterment, or my own. I had this narrow restricted view of life, and now everything is so much more open. Dad would love this shit. (Dadism #1 - "Discretion is the better part of valor")

I've undergone and am undergoing this crazy process spiritually, politically, emotionally. Will I ever be less than my freaky self? Not likely. Have I changed deeply and in ways that you wouldn't recognize? Probably. Definitely. Part of that is simple self-discovery. Most of my life, and there's been half of it gone already, have been spent in chameleon mode - being who someone else thought I should be, or at a minimum trying to be who someone else thought I should be. The 'who' varied, but the need to make everything perfect, control everything, make everything right (be good, do penance, be better, be perfect) probably begins with - sorry, Pris - my mother. (Again, of course, because mothers are always at fault, which is sad but true - they spend more time with us than anyone, and their issues are projected onto us, even if, like me, you try to make it so that doesn't happen!). Growing up on eggshells, the scars of which many of us now bear, alters who you are at a very fundamental level. For some, there is a giving in. For others there is a strong and consistent resistance even in the face of apparent yielding, a deep knowledge that you are not what people think you are and not what you're being conditioned to be. Like a plant kept in the dark, but watered and fed. Pale and weak and unhealthy, but by God it knows there is sun someplace, and it will just hold the hell on until it gets there. It made me a crappy role model. (Dadism #2 - "I am I. Not who my mother was. Not who my father was. I am I.")

Sun has a way of getting in through the cracks. The more cracks, the more sun. More cracks, more sun. And if you get shattered. Well. It hurts and you bleed, and then the sun hits you explosively and you begin to grow. That's me. Plant, in the dark. Watered and fed, sparsely. Waiting for the light. Afraid of it, because it's going to hurt, but wanting it anyway.

Slam all the doors, close all the windows, do what you will. Be a turtle, a porcupine, a chameleon hiding in the underbrush. The light will get in regardless. Then you can either ignore it or stare at it until your eyeballs burn up or...just let it shine. In my life I have done all that.

I have always thought I needed something for which to exist. Something to save, take care of and fix. I also believed that I had to be "good". And by good I mean perfect. And by perfect I mean "someone else's vision of perfection". Well, when all the things you think you exist for are gone, and you have nothing really left, you start to get up close and personal with who you actually are. I think for many of us, the "less damaged" (lucky? blessed? oh you fools be grateful!), this happens when we are young. For those of us stunted by the dark closet, it takes longer. Some never get there. (Dadism #3, adapted version - "You can make good men better. I am not sure what you can do about the rest.") For me, it took what feels like a really long time.

Who I am and what I believe is who I have always been. Who that is, is NOT who I appeared to be, or the beliefs I gave lip service to. There was always a war and a rebellion inside. Again, this goes back to the need to Be Perfect. Get It Right. Don't Make Me Hit You Again. For some people, there isn't enough love. There isn't enough proof. There isn't enough loyalty. There isn't enough of anything. When you grow up with someone like that as your primary caregiver - or even as a loud screaming nagging voice that you have to visit on weekends (just as an example), it causes you to believe that you must, must, must always try harder, be better, do more, prove this, prove that...but the bar always moves, because their needs are never met, and you always end up feeling worthless and like a failure because you just didn't get it exactly right AGAIN, no matter how hard you tried, no matter how much you wanted to that time. Example:

You have so much natural talent. You are so beautiful. (That girl is better than you. You could be better than her if you tried harder. She looks so pretty and thin.)

I love you more. (No, I love YOU more) No, I love YOU MORE! (OK, you win, you love me more.) If you REALLY loved me, you wouldn't give up so easily!!

Now let's say your other caregiver just wants things to be peaceful, and hopes that by not protesting, not making waves and not making a fuss things will go better for you. The unintended but unfortunately subliminally heard message is "...because you are great, and amazing, and I love you, but you are not worth the fight and the fuss, so let's just keep things quiet and hope it dies down, ok?"

I didn't realize that until recently. That's unfixable. Just pure "Oh, shit, I didn't see that, I am so sorry." But now...instead of endless self-torment...there is just forgiveness, awareness, and acceptance. I cannot undo anyone's past. Not even my own. The thing is what it is. And it doesn't have any...barbs anymore. It's neutralized. Seeing it from this place changes everything. And that brings us to Dadism #4 - "Time heals all wounds and wounds all heels". I always saw myself as both the heel and the wounded. I don't see either now, really. I am not a horrible person, and instead of that being lip service, it's now knowledge. And where the deep gashes were there are scars that are beginning to fade the more the sun pours in on them.

All along the path to this new and evolving place there were a series of wholly unhealthy diversions into territory in which I did not belong, but believed I deserved to be stuck in. It was all holes I put myself in, and clung to because I thought they would protect me or save me or keep me from Being Bad. All untrue. And nobody could get me out of that except me. (Dadism #5: "Charity (love) begins at home.")

So where, and who, am I now? Not really sure. Different. But not. Sit down with me and we can discuss the finer points and my answers will either shock you, or make you smile and say "Yeah. I know. I was wondering when you'd figure that out."

Some months ago I posted this thing on the facebooks that said "What if everything you ever believed wasn't true?" At the time I thought I understood what I was saying. Turns out I am only just beginning to understand what I meant. And probably never will know for sure.

But I do know this: If it doesn't look like love, it isn't for me. I like who I always was. And I am walking away from who I wasn't - no grudge, no guilt, no shame. Work in progress. Unfinished.