Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cooling the stimulus

My battle against my lifelong sugar addiction is having a surge of success these days. In the past couple of months I've changed my diet for health reasons, but it hasn't been easy. Drastically reducing my consumption of grains, dairy and sugars, even fruit, has taken a huge commitment, and managing my sugar cravings has required lots of guided meditation and EFT tapping. While my main goals are to avoid diabetes and achieve hormonal balance, another is to get rid of my desire to binge on sweets while leaving the desire to eat healthy food. (And weight loss is a convenient side effect of all this improved eating.) I'm basically talking about addiction treatment that requires re-wiring the brain's old pathways of stimulus and release (for me, sugar is the biggest stimulus). How do you re-wire the brain? Meditation and tapping are how I'm doing it.

I meditate every morning and am always surprised by how much confidence it gives me. I've been using guided meditations by Joe Dispenza since October 2013 and they have really helped with my food issues. The amount of time I can go without being seriously tempted by cookies (or donut shops or bakeries) is getting longer. Pastries used to mesmerize me no matter what, even if I'd just eaten. Now they might or might not interest me. This shows huge progress for me. I'm developing indifference to dessert! I've dreamed of being this way.

The other day I had a setback that turned into success. I really needed cookies and no amount of tapping would make the craving go away. Finally I gave in to it and started eating cookies. I ended up eating...three of them. I ate three cookies and then just stopped. I paused between eating the third cookie and getting up for another one, and in that space of time I drank some water and then felt satisfied. The sugar binge was over! And it hadn't even turned into a full binge. It stunned me. It still stuns me.

Sugar just doesn't have the same power over me any more. I've cooled the stimulus. Will I backslide? Will anxiety and stress overtake me so that I inhale an entire layer cake next weekend? That's always possible, but right now it doesn't feel extremely likely. I'm excited to feel like there's hope for me. I'm excited about continuing the meditating and tapping and eventually leaving my old sugar-obsessed ways behind!

Life is good.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Why not blog?

Dec. 26, 2014
Fortunately, I don't let not having a blogging topic stop me from posting. This makes hitting my ten-posts-a-month goal easier. Maybe one day I'll raise the bar to ten interesting posts a month. But probably not.

This is a photo from about a month ago, of me holding a gingerbread man I had just decorated. My aunt had brought one of those kits to a party and I decided to crack it open. The cookie was already baked and ready to go. All you had to do was massage the plastic envelope of icing, cut a small hole in one corner and get going. The M&M-type candies were included.

I was going for some kind of gingerbread corpse, but my aunt saw a referee shirt, so maybe it's a dead referee. It didn't taste good, so I abandoned it on the table after the party, with one "hand" missing. To all you bloggers out there (are there any bloggers left in 2015?), yes, this counts as a post. By my definition, a post is organized, well-punctuated and spelled correctly. Ideally it has paragraphs. But it doesn't have to be interesting.

I recently visited the archived blog (that means the person stopped posting) of someone who blogged about a particular three-year experience. Once the experience ended, she figured she no longer had a blog topic, so she stopped blogging. This seems completely unreasonable to me. Why would the end of a particular part of your life mean you no longer have anything to blog about? If the writing is interesting enough to keep an audience, it doesn't matter what you're going through.

At least that's been my operating belief with my blog. I'm convinced that I'm interesting even when I write about nothing interesting at all, like right now. This entire blog, started in 2004, has been nothing but a catalog of my responses to my life, and that's a life that's been empty of international travel, child-bearing or expertise in an obscure yet impressive area. And yet I keep going, so thank you very much for reading.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Eighth post of the month

It's January 29th and I'm facing my personal blog crunch time: my goal is ten posts a month and this is just the eighth. That means it's time for me to post when I'm not feeling very passionate about any particular subject, but so it goes. It's time to post.

I realize that no one on the planet gives a damn about whether I post or not. One of my favorite Onion articles (actually I guess this is a Clickhole article) is called 'I Let Everyone Down': A Blogger Apologizes for Not Posting In A While. It makes the point that no one cares about blogs and any blogger who thinks that anyone will miss his or her posts is delusional. Well, I like to think of myself as only slightly delusional, but even I know that my ten-posts-per-month goal doesn't effect anything or anyone but myself. The article also makes fun of the minutia that usually make up the subject matter of blog posts. Again, I know this describes my blog. (I can't even remember why I named it Chicana on the Edge.)

Still, there is value in consistency. One theory of expertise is that the people who are the best at what they do, have done it a lot. The figure was that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to get really, really good at it. The story I heard discussed the 10,000 hours Bill Gates spent programming and the 10,000 hours any top athlete has spent on their activity. For me, keeping this blog is part of my 10,000 hours as a writer. I have no idea how long it takes to hit 10,000 hours and it's possible that, at the age of 48 and a half, I hit my 10,000 hours years ago. In fact, I'm sure I did because I've spent huge amounts of time writing since I was 11 years old.

So thank you for visiting me here as I practice my art. I appreciate every click this blog gets. Watch this space for two more posts in the next two days.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Donating your voice can change a life

You know how Stephen Hawking talks through a machine with a synthesized voice? Millions of people around the world rely on similar technology, but that means that women, little girls and millions of others use the same masculine, adult, American-accented voice (I think there's also a female one, but still). Recently a company called VocaliD developed a way to pair an individual with a voice that closely matches their natural one. It requires a sample of the recipient's voice and the voice recordings of a donor who matches the recipient's age, size and vocal quality. VocaliD is currently building a voice bank for the millions of people who need individualized, synthesized voices, which means they need millions of voice donors from all over the world, people of different ages, sizes, voice pitches, languages and accents. Will you help?

VocaliD is facing an incredible task and it's doing it with:
  • Voice-blending technology
  • Donors who submit samples of their voices for the voice bank (for free, there's no payment involved)
  • Scientists and designers who blend a donor's and a recipient's voices until they have a completely unique voice that will be used only by the person for whom it was created (no one will be walking around with your voice, it doesn't work that way)
  • A website that makes it easy to submit samples of your voice.
It's a way to help others without having to give anything but a few hours of time, and you don't even have to leave your home! Plus it's a way to live forever because your voice can be used to help countless people.

I signed up and spent an hour and a half reading sentences into the microphone on my laptop computer. It's best to give three to four hours of speaking time, but you don't have to do it all at once. You need a computer with a microphone and the website says the Chrome browser works best, but I managed to do it with Firefox.

Upon registration I entered my gender, age, height and weight. After I read a few sentences, I was prompted to answer questions such as where I live (Chicago), where else I've lived (California) and what kind of accent people tell me I have (none). A question asked for one word that I'd use to describe my voice (I chose "soothing"). Then it was back to reading sentences. They started out very simple like Thank you and This is my new voice and I love you. They got more complicated as it went on, including statements like Food Network is crushing it with the kid chef shows. Then the sentences began to form little stories. The statement I enjoyed enunciating the most was I owe you a yo-yo.

Eventually it became clear that the sentences had been lifted from works of literature and at one point they alternated between novels. I think a Louisa May Alcott/Jack London mashup produced this sequence (earlier some of the sentences had included wolves and the names "Jo" and "Meg"):

A lady is always known by her neat boots.
He touched her with his muzzle.

Don't shake hands if you are introduced to anyone.
He ran with his head even.
She could not move about and amuse herself.

The pack formation would have been broken up.

And the sentence I said with the most relish and force: Kids don't belong.

I'm grateful that the hours of recording don't have to all be done at once because my voice gave out after an hour and a half. The website states that even one hour of recording helps, but I'll go back in and do more. I enjoyed it.

Does the idea of donating blood make you squeamish? Do you never have any money to give to good causes? Do mobility or transportation issues make you unable to volunteer outside of your home? Do you nevertheless want to make a difference in the life of a stranger? Donate your voice. The video below shows how big a difference you can make (it's just a minute and a half long). After you watch it, go to VocaliD and become immortal!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"I don't have time"

When a woman who's working full-time, has children to raise and runs a household tells me she doesn't have time for one more thing, I believe her. But I suspect there are many people who say they don't have time for stuff, who aren't telling the truth.

As an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley and then a graduate student at Cornell, I made time for what was important to me and didn't make time for what wasn't. One thing I did a lot was sleep, about eight hours a night. I've always prioritized basic needs like sleep over everything else, even grades. But since grades were also critical to me, that meant I spent most of my eight years at UCB and Cornell sleeping and studying. I never studied past 10 p.m, which meant I had to get all my essays written, math problems solved and texts read in the rest of the hours of the day. That was possible because I cut out almost all other activities during that time of my life. When someone invited me on a weekend trip or an afternoon swim, I might have said I didn't have time, but that wasn't strictly true. I had the time, but it would have meant losing time for the things I considered more important. I would have had to finish assignments by rushing through them, possibly sleep deprived, and that just wasn't in my nature.

We all have time for what's important to us. Recently a friend told me why he had waited so long to get back to me about something. He listed the home projects he'd needed to do and his preparation for an event. His explanation petered out with, "...and I procrastinated."

Yes. I procrastinate all the time. I'm procrastinating now. If someone asks me tomorrow why I didn't get a certain thing done today, it wouldn't be truthful to say, "I didn't have time." The truth would be that I didn't feel like doing that other thing, so I occupied myself with blogging and watching Twilight Zone episodes until I looked at the clock and said, "Oh, it's too late to do that now." And if I were very honest, I'd say, "I didn't do it because I was afraid that X might happen if I did it, and I'm just not ready for that yet."

It feels better to say, "I don't have time" than to say "I don't think I'm smart enough" or "I'm afraid to find out that answer" or "I'd have to change who I am" or "I don't want to fail." And when we truly don't have time to squeeze in one more thing, that's because our lives are full of the things that are important to us and that other thing just doesn't rank. It's much more polite to say, "I don't have time" than "I just don't like you" or "I don't want to" or "Why would I want to spend time with those people?"

So we say we don't have time and it's easy to believe because Americans are some of the busiest damn people on the planet. We almost shun sleep and tend to overfill our schedules, so when one American says to another "I don't have time" no one challenges it. But I say that such a statement isn't honest. It lets us get by without opening ourselves up, but it's not the true reason that people don't prioritize whatever they're saying they don't have time for.

Maybe I'm setting myself up for some awkward moments by posting this. I can imagine my friends no longer letting me get away with saying I don't have time (but at least that would tell me which friends read my blog). I guess that would serve me right and keep me honest. Of course, if you press me, I'm usually happy to tell you what's really going on in my head. So feel free to stop me the next time I say I don't have time. Ask me for the real reason, but be careful: I'll tell you.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Potatoes, too? Yes, damn it.

Maybe I already knew this but was in denial: white potatoes don't do anything good for us and might even be harmful. Damn it. Some online research I did yesterday reminded me that white potatoes are members of the nightshade family of plants and contain alkaloids, which are toxic to humans and animals. Alkaloids can cause problems with the stomach lining and worse. Damn it!

Of course I already knew that white potatoes turn to sugar the minute you put them in your mouth and cause even greater blood sugar surges than plain white sugar. So as far as my insulin levels are concerned, if I'm in the mood to munch on potato chips, I'd do better to sit down with the sugar bowl and spoon. Christ.

I don't know if I'm ready to do anything with this knowledge yet. I was trying to tell myself that if I cooked the potatoes myself, in healthy coconut oil or ghee, they were okay. I wanted to believe that, but I can't any more. Now when I sit down to a meal that includes white potatoes, I'll have to be honest with myself about what I'm doing: choosing to eat a toxic food because I'm just not ready to let go of it yet. I'm not!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Menstruation and the homeless

The Huffington Post published this article: For Homeless Women, Getting Their Period Is One Of The Most Difficult Challenges. This had never occurred to me, but now I wondered: how are homeless women supposed to afford pads and tampons? Getting your period when you don't even have a home, much less hourly access to a bathroom, sounds like a nightmare bigger than the ones I already have at night.

First, can we please finally remove the taboo from talking about menstruation? Americans are so squeamish about women's monthly menstrual cycles that problems like this can go on and on without ever being addressed. Women menstruate. Let's be mature about this biological fact and make it okay to acknowledge in public.

Next, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to start purchasing extra pads and tampons when I do my usual grocery shopping. The closest homeless support organization to me is Cornerstone Community Outreach in Chicago and they accept goods donations seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at 4628 N. Clifton Avenue (near the Wilson el stop on the red line). If you live in Chicago, join me in donating regularly to Cornerstone Community Outreach -- or another homeless shelter -- so that women without their own homes, bathrooms or showers can at least get the menstruation products they need. What a horrible predicament to be in: homeless and on your period. These women need our help.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cake, cake, cake...

Last night I went to a birthday party. There were so many delicious homemade dishes (it was a potluck) that I ate very slowly so I wouldn't over do it. But there was birthday cake. I ate birthday cake. I also had a cookie and half a donut.

I hate that I inherited my father's sweet tooth, got hooked on sugar as a child, formed emotional attachments to the act of eating sweets and have had to work like hell for decades to try to get rid of this addiction. And it's not gone. On nights like last night it feels like my obsession with sugar hasn't gone anywhere and all it takes is a help-yourself frosted layer cake for me to go down the rabbit hole of just-one-more-piece.

But arguably I didn't go down that rabbit hole very far. I didn't go nearly as far as I have in the past. That's progress. I also cut myself a piece of that cake to take home, but then dropped it in the garbage so I wouldn't even be tempted to eat it today. Right now I'm back on the wagon (this is important because I'm in danger of becoming pre-diabetic).

Today I keep thinking about it. Unfortunately, this party was in my apartment complex and I can easily walk over to my neighbor's place and wheedle for some of the sweets that were left over at the end of the night. I could send him an email or a text telling him what a great time I had and then drop a hint that I'm available to help him with any cake or donuts that he got stuck with. If he has any, he'd invite me right over.

Because I keep thinking about doing that, I'm going to tap and meditate now. I feel angry, deprived and hopeless. It's time for a few (or a hundred) rounds of Emotional Freedom Technique tapping.

Pregnant? Have a drink.

There's no correlation between women who drink moderately (no more than one drink a day) during pregnancy and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome increases with heavy drinking, which is more than one drink a day.

American women used to drink moderately during pregnancy as a matter of course before American society swung heavily towards our current beliefs that children are precious and fetuses matter more than the humans who carry them. In the 60's and 70's babies and children were regularly vilified in American mainstream media from movies like Rosemary's Baby (1968) to The Brood (1979). I believe the current angelification (I made up that word) of kids is temporary and in another generation or two we'll be back to a more reasonable view of how much adults should sacrifice for children.

So if you're pregnant and you want a drink, have a damn drink. And if you see a pregnant woman enjoying a glass of wine or shot of tequila, leave her alone!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Healthy practices - don't fight yourself

While I've been successfully improving my health and losing weight by altering what I eat, that's only half the story. The other half is the inner work I've been doing to align my conscious self with my subconscious, that place from which so much self-sabotage comes. At the age of 48, I've spent decades fighting myself: part of me wanting to eat healthy, nutritious food while another part of me NEEDED that cake. The battle waged every day and it was hell on my self-esteem and body.

Why is taking care of yourself so hard? Why do we sometimes know exactly what we need, but still not do it? I believe we resist it for emotional reasons. We're blocked by things we don't want to look at such as believing we deserve what we've got or thinking life is supposed to be hard or fearing that being healthy means giving up something else. Such issues go very deep, are often very old and take concentrated effort to heal. That's why it makes no sense to try to force yourself to exercise or improve your diet. You have to be emotionally ready to make those changes or you'll just go back and forth, taking steps forward and backward, over and over. I did that for years. If you’re not ready to face the emotional pain that will come up when you start to improve your health, you won't improve your health. Those of us who want to push and pull others towards the health we know they're capable of aren't honoring the fear and pain that keeps people where they are. Some people need to stay where they are. Some people need it so much they stay there for a lifetime and die that way and that's just how it is.

I'm only able to stick so well to my current detoxification plan (no sugar, dairy, grains, caffeine or alcohol) because I've done two decades of work on my sugar addiction and self-hatred. The daily war I used to wage within my mind and body has calmed down to a daily skirmish (I'm still working on it) because I've dug into those painful issues. I’ve moved out the old fears enough to be able to get this current toehold on true health. My journey has included countless therapies and healing modalities (talk therapy, meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique and Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing were big ones for me). All that work had to be done before I could get to this place where I truly have a shot at treating myself well without giving in to old habits of bingeing and self-loathing.

To give an idea of the kind of work I'm writing about, here are some practitioners who are good at getting down to the hard-wiring that keeps us from consistently doing what's best for us: Jon Gabriel, Margaret Lynch, Joe Dispenza, but there are many ways to get there. I've worked a little bit with their books, but I did most of my personal work with practitioners in Chicago and Wilmette, Illinois. I think personal work with a practitioner is best.

People who trumpet their physical health accomplishments without mentioning the inner work it took to get there, irritate me. Reaching health and staying there takes resources, especially emotional ones. Maintaining poor habits is often the result of learning that we don't deserve better. Unlearning that belief has to come before we can reach lasting improvement in how we treat ourselves.