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 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 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'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.