Friday, July 31, 2015

Happy Mutt's Day

Ozzie, the only dog I ever owned. And ever will.
Today is Mutt's Day and I acknowledge it even though I'm neither a dog owner nor a dog lover. It's been proven a few times that I'm not a dog person, but I still like dogs and celebrate Mutt's Day because I dislike the practice of breeding dogs for certain pedigrees or characteristics. I think it's unnatural and makes dogs susceptible to health problems. 

When I was married, we had a pit bull mix named Ozzie. Who knows what breeds he had in him? You certainly couldn't tell from his ears. But I appreciated that his DNA had taken the best of whatever genes it had available and made a good dog. He's still a good dog, although I was happy to let my ex-husband take him because I just don't do well with a dog in my home. (No dogs in my home!)

Happy Mutt's Day to all mutts everywhere.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Un-American eating

Last November, I cut out sugar, grains, dairy and caffeine at the suggestion of a doctor who identified those things as contributing to my hormones being out of balance. Having gone on this type of diet a few times in my life, it's felt familiar even though it's also been uncomfortable and annoying to have to give up so many of my favorite foods. But maybe this time I'm ready to make these changes more permanent because after eight months of abstaining from sugar (including fruit and alcohol), grains (even brown rice and quinoa), dairy and caffeine, I'm not feeling the need to add these things back. In the past, chiropractors have put me on this candida diet for about six months and each time, at the end of those six months, I was chomping at the bit (as it were) to get back to desserts, processed snacks and bread. This time it's different.

Maybe eight months is the magical amount of time because right now I feel like I could continue to eat this way indefinitely. Cheese has lost a lot of appeal for me and most kinds now seem overly fermented and gross. A lot of foods and beverages taste too sweet, so I pass them up. My digestive system is more sensitive than ever to bread and pasta (they cause me stomach aches), so I don't want much of them. And grains like corn and rice kind of feel like non-foods that don't make me feel full or satisfied, so what's the point of eating them? (I never developed a coffee or alcohol habit.)

So, this could be it: at the age of 49 I'm going to become more boring than ever. I'll only date men who are comfortable with a woman who doesn't drink alcohol, "getting a cup of coffee" will strictly be a metaphor for me, I'll lose all interest in dessert menus and my friends will grow impatient with me because I'll never be in the mood for pizza or an ice cream cone. 

I'll also have to be careful not to become (more) insufferable. I'd better train myself to never talk about food, ever. If anyone asks me why I'm not eating what everyone else is eating, I'll give a non-answer and then change the subject. When I need to say how great I feel without dairy or wheat in my diet, I'll contain my remarks to this blog (where everyone can ignore me if they want). This might be my new lifestyle, if I can manage it: eating a completely un-American diet while never saying a word about it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Physical vs. emotional

In my last post I wrote that I believe I could get physically hooked on sugar again, but not emotionally. Those can be hard to distinguish, but what I mean is that when I cut out sugar last November, it only took a few weeks to feel my body make the adjustment. My 3:00 p.m. slump and energy dips disappeared and I stopped needing that shot of sugar to get me through the day. But my emotional need for sweets lasted much longer. I felt left out of the party, like my life had less fun and excitement. I felt deprived like a child who has to watch everyone else have a good time while she gets nothing.

Breaking that emotional need for sweets took much more than just abstaining from them. I continued the work I'd been doing for decades, which in the past eight months took the form of meditation and Emotional Freedom Technique. Only because this was a continuation of years of working on my sugar addiction and this was one of many attempts to cut back on sweets, I finally reached my current success. These days, sweetness is mostly just another flavor I can enjoy or not.

But I'm in a tricky place. This view of sweets is very new and if I assume too much, I could easily mistake my take-it-or-leave-it attitude for so-I-might-as-well-take-it-all. I could get physically hooked on the sugar roller coaster and then I'd have to start over again to get off.

So I'm not going to do that, but it's also the habits I have to focus on now. I'm talking about habits such as eyeing the pastry case in restaurants and cafes, looking at candy bars and imagining which one I'd get IF I were to get one, scrutinizing desserts before I turn them down, thinking, "I wish I could have one of those," paying too much attention to bakeries and donut shops as I pass them, envying other people's birthday cakes, and generally acting like someone who's still hooked on sweets. Those are all mental habits that I've had for a lifetime and I need to break them. Often I don't actually want the donut or the candy bar, I'm just in the habit of eyeing them. I don't really want the cookie or the frozen coffee drink with whipped cream, I just have a knee-jerk "Oh, she's so lucky to get to have that" reaction.

So there's the physical dependence, the emotional dependence, and the residual behaviors that no longer fit, but which I haven't let go of yet. I've got to stop acting like people walking around with ice cream cones and cinnamon rolls are living a better life than I am. Who knows the details of their lives? Just because they're having dessert doesn't mean they're happier and sleeping better at night. And I don't need to envy anyone their birthday cake. I had my birthday cake and it was delicious, but it gave me a stomach ache and I had as much as I wanted. It's time to let my actions follow my true desires. It's time to re-train my reactions so they're consistent with what I really want in my life.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A birthday miracle: the tyranny of sugar is over

49 candles ablaze

Now I know I've truly turned a corner on my sugar addiction. On the morning after my birthday party, with a quarter of my birthday cake sitting in my refrigerator, I wasn't even tempted to have cake for breakfast. It was my favorite cake (yellow cake with lemon filling and white buttercream) from my favorite bakery (Central Continental Bakery in Mt. Prospect, Illinois) and I didn't want to dig right into it the morning after my party!

Since grade school, one of my favorite traditions has been enjoying my leftover birthday cake in the days following my party. As a child and teenager, it would be the first thing I'd think of after I woke up: there's birthday cake in the house! As an adult, I decided that cake was best at breakfast time because that's when I was hungriest and could enjoy it the most. Living alone, I've cherished the days following my birthday parties because life is so much better with leftover birthday cake to relish, all by myself.

[Bizarrely, I'm taking a break from writing to tap away some nausea that suddenly came up.  ???]

But my most recent attempt to change how I feel about sweets has been the most successful yet. Eating birthday cake was a different experience this year. It tasted good, but not as good. Or maybe the change was that that I didn't feel the bliss I usually get from buttercream frosting. The chain reaction didn't happen that usually has me going back for seconds and thirds and later dragging my finger around the cake platter for extra frosting. The cake didn't "call my name," as people describe food they can't resist. It was just a very good cake that I was able to eat one piece of, and then stop.

The next day, after lunch, I had one more piece of cake and put the rest in the freezer, where it sits silently. I might or might not ever get to it. I believe I could get physically hooked on sugar again if I started eating it regularly, but I don't believe I'll be emotionally hooked on it anymore. That link has been broken.

My next decades are going to be so much better than the ones I've already lived.



Blew them all out in one breath because I still have the lungs of a singer!

Friday, July 24, 2015

My 49th Birthday

Today I turn 49 years old. I love my birthday.  Each year I throw myself a party, and tonight many of my friends are coming over. I'm particularly excited about this party because it falls on my actual birthday. That doesn't always happen.

Happy birthday to me! I'm one year closer to the big 50!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dog sitting

Her tail stayed down like that a LOT.
Someone who has a successful little side job with a dogsitting service suggested I try it as a way to make some extra money. You go to the website, sign up as a pet sitter, set your nightly rate and wait for someone to ask you to watch their dog or cat. The animal usually comes to your place, but you might go to their place. Like Uber and Airbnb, it's another way Americans have found to provide services for each other that benefit everyone. For people who dislike leaving their dog at a kennel or boarding service, this way they can go on vacation knowing their pet is getting lots of attention and walks and isn't stuck in a cage. 

The person I know who earns hundreds of dollars a month from this makes it look easy, so I figured I'd give it a try. I like dogs. I love stopping owners in the street and saying, "Can I say hi to your dog?" Since owning Ozzie the pit bull when I was married (Ozzie now lives with my ex), I've come to appreciate dogs and love running my hands over their fur. Their happy energy lifts my spirits and I come away from my little dog encounters feeling cheered.

Jim (not his real name) dropped off Daisy (not her real name) at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. We had done a brief visit the night before so Daisy could meet me and learn that I'm a good person who gives a great head-scratch. She seemed comfortable with me and I felt confident things would go well. Jim asked if he could pick Daisy up the next day at 8:30 p.m. That seemed late, but it was my first time and I didn't know the usual routine, so I said sure.

I expected Daisy to do some whining when Jim first left and she did. I talked soothingly to her as she whimpered and sniffed at the front door. When she began pacing through my apartment, I tried to pet her, but she shied way. Now the dog launched into full distress. For an hour she wouldn't be distracted by toys, food, water, a video (Jim said she liked Curious George) or my calming voice. And she wouldn't come near me, so I couldn't even pet her. With her tail firmly down between her legs she paced, whimpered, whined and occasionally barked. I live in an apartment and had only warned my downstairs neighbor about this dog, so I worried that someone would complain. 

When Daisy pooped in the dining room, I figured she needed a walk, but when she saw me with the leash, she darted away. She was afraid of me and there was nothing I could do to change it.

Two hours after Jim left, Daisy was still pacing and fretting, but finally she began to let me pet her. Once I accomplished that, I snapped the leash on and her attitude changed immediately. Her tail began to wag as we headed outside and she finally calmed down as she began exploring the neighborhood. I felt relieved. Now maybe I could start to enjoy my time with her. She was a beautiful, black pit bull with a glossy coat and a trim, muscular body. I liked petting her. She was young and healthy and I wanted us to relax together.

She didn't eliminate at all on the walk. Odd. But at least we returned to the apartment 45 minutes later in a better mood. Well, we were in a good mood until Daisy seemed to remember that Jim had left her. We had used the back door, so she returned to the front door where Jim had left and resumed pawing and crying. Oh, my god. Now what?

The weekend went on like this. Going to the kitchen to make myself a meal distracted her, so each time I cooked I made a point of accidentally dropping pieces of egg or chicken on the floor for her. She also got quiet while I sat at the dining table to eat, probably because she was still waiting for food (tiny pieces of which I dropped sporadically). I ate as slowly as possible, stretching out this peaceful time, but after I'd finished and sat for several minutes, she'd figure out I was done eating and start whining for attention again.

This was a high maintenance dog. 

In the afternoon, I spread my yoga mat on the floor and put a fluffy throw blanket over it. We spent some time on it, but she kept returning to the front door to whine. I couldn't let her cry it out because she would then escalate to barking. I already felt out of energy. I knew that another dog sitter would grab the couple of toys Jim had left and pretend to play with them as if I had discovered the most fun game in the world. Another dog sitter would jog around the apartment so Daisy could give chase or would follow her around giving her back rubs and telling her she's a good dog. I just didn't have it in me. All I could do was sit on the fluffy blanket and talk soothingly to her and give her petting and chest rubs when she came over to me. She came over for this physical comfort often, but in between she whimpered, pawed at the door and occasionally barked. This noise made me tense up every time.

Finally, she lay down next to me and we managed to take a nap. Relief! The dog was asleep and I felt renewed hope that things would get better. I had the air conditioner going, plus a fan, which did a pretty good job of blocking out all outside noise. This was good because there are many dogs in my neighborhood and Daisy reacted every time she heard a bark. With the motors humming, I hoped Daisy would stay asleep for a while. Jim had said she normally did a lot of laying around.

Unfortunately, a huge thunderstorm rolled in and woke her up. Damn! But at least Daisy didn't seem afraid of the thunder. I don't know what I would have done if she'd been phobic about it, as many dogs are. Instead, she simply resumed her usual level of anxiety, pacing, whimpering, and sniffing at the door. This dog just didn't want to be here. Even when the skies cleared up and the sun came back out, she kept fretting. Her stress wasn't about the weather. She just wanted Jim to come back.

I felt awful for her. The more she cried, the more I wanted to cry, until I finally did. Maybe she reminded me of a time when I had felt like my parents had abandoned me. I had no such memory, but I might have felt like that as a baby or toddler. I tried to hold it together. I tried to be calming and cheerful, but Daisy was too much for me. At one point, we were both an emotional mess.

I'm extremely grateful to the friend who dropped by that evening. Anticipating my anxiety with the dog, I had asked Ania if she wanted to visit that day, so she came by around 6:30. I had stopped crying by then and had taken the dog back outside where she was calmer. The three of us took a walk along the lakefront where Ania told me that Daisy looked happy outside. Ania observed Daisy's interest in the sand and grass, and in other dogs. 

Now that Ania pointed it out, I saw that Daisy was very interested in other dogs, but also afraid of them. She shied away or stopped walking if one were in front of us, but she also stared after them. A couple of dogs must have looked less intimidating because Daisy's tail stayed relaxed as she poked her snout towards them. These dogs wagged their tails and strained back towards her, and they tentatively greeted each other. It was sad that Daisy seemed to want to make friends, but didn't have the courage to be friendly. Her tail didn't wag once when we were outside. In fact, her tail didn't wag at all during the whole time she was with me, except when she would see me put on my shoes and sunhat to go out. She was not a relaxed dog.

We took a nice long walk and then returned to the apartment. Ania and I sat on the fluffy blanket and Daisy lay down between us, eventually closing her eyes. Peace! I told Ania how hard this was. I said Daisy's fear at being left by her owner felt familiar to me, making me feel afraid of abandonment, too. I told Ania I must have some old terror about being left behind by my parents and Daisy was making me feel that again. Then I just wept and tapped, as Daisy rested and Ania sat quietly. I love when friends know that the best thing to do when I'm crying is just sit with me. 

I felt much better, and Daisy was relaxed, when Ania left around 9:00. I thanked her many times for coming, and decided it was bedtime. Daisy and I had exhausted each other and I hoped we'd have a good sleep. As I went into the bedroom with Daisy's dog bed, she began to whine and pace again, sniffing at the front door. Christ god, this dog! So much for a peaceful transition into slumber. I lay in bed, my back sore from spending so much time on the floor, and hoped she'd join me. She did, but only for a few minutes. Then she was up again, whimpering and pacing. After several minutes she came to me with that "go for a walk" look, so I reluctantly, resentfully hauled myself out of bed. We stepped out into the sticky night air, Daisy happy to be back outside and me angry that we weren't winding down inside.

As we walked, I slipped into zombie mode. I could feel myself dissociating, pretending I wasn't really outside walking a dog at all. My movements became stiff and my eyes glazed over. I ignored where I was, I ignored how I felt, I ignored any thoughts of where I'd rather be. I just went numb. Once again, Daisy eliminated nothing. The only thing that pierced my brain fog was surprise at how small this dog's input and output were.

When we got back inside, I lay down on the fluffy blanket again, even though my back wanted none of it. Maybe Daisy felt more comfortable in the living room and the bedroom felt foreign. She lay down near me, finally quiet. I did my best to sleep, but it was useless and Daisy wasn't asleep either. Either her eyes were open or they were closed but I could tell she was awake because when a dog is truly asleep, it does that twitching thing. Daisy just lay still.

It must have been near 11:00p when I couldn't take the floor anymore. I got in bed, hoping this wouldn't set Daisy off again. Fortunately, she lay down in bed with me and kept still this time. But I was just too tense. Exhausted and sleepy, I lay next to that dog until 3:00a before I finally drifted off. I don't think she fell asleep before that either.

After Daisy's morning whimpering and sniffing at the front door, we were out for a walk before 8:00 am. I had texted the owner to keep him updated and he knew what an ordeal I was going through. Jim had agreed to come get her at 5:00p instead of later. Yay! I only had nine hours to get through!

The second day was better, but Daisy remained a whiny, high maintenance dog to the end. I was much more relaxed now and I think she was, too, but she never stopped watching the front door and she never stopped whimpering for attention. 

Daisy's anxiety with people and other dogs made her look like a traumatized dog, but she had been acquired as a puppy and had only had one home. I figured her owners had simply sheltered her too completely, handicapping her for the real world. Maybe they had given her all the attention and physical touch a puppy demands and maintained that level of attention into her young adulthood. Maybe they hadn't socialized her to play confidently with dogs. Maybe they hadn't modeled for her how to trust the wider world of people and animals. I texted my dog sitter friend, "I suspect her owners have overprotected her and spoiled her," and he texted back, "That happens a lot." Now he tells me! After I heard that, I knew I couldn't do this again. This behavior was common? Forget it! I realized there are probably as many bad-yet-animal-loving owners as there are bad parents. My disgust with the world grew. 

I was so happy to see that dog leave at 5:30 on Sunday. As much as Daisy wiggled and wagged and jumped and peed when Jim finally returned, I knew my relief matched her joy. Jim apologized for her being a big baby and I, of course, said it was fine, but I knew what I wasn't saying. The dogsitting website coaches us sitters to say that we enjoyed our time with the pet and would love to have them again. I obviously did not say that, but I also restrained myself from saying that I was going to delete my sitter profile from Rover.com just as soon as my payment cleared. 

I don't know why my dog sitting friend thought this would be a good idea for me. I clearly don't have the patience for the kind of dogs whose owners use such sites. Those websites probably exist for those who have raised their pets like brats, with no coping skills or ability to self-soothe. That's probably why the dogs fall apart in a kennel and need personal attention in a private home, and who wants to deal with THAT? Well, apparently, a lot of people do, but not me. 

How much did I earn? My rate, like my friend's, is $30 a night. My friend says he would have told Jim that's $30 for a 24-hour period, but I didn't know. Clearly I needed a lot more coaching before taking this gig. Daisy was with me for a total of 31 hours, required my constant attention, caused me as much distress as I caused her, and I earned $30 for my trouble ($25.50 after Rover.com takes a cut). So that was worth it...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Old is good

My hair stylist recently made a comment about her children's definition of "old." She seemed to dislike their idea that she was just a couple of years away from being old, but I disliked her dislike. I said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with being old." She didn't understand this statement, so I explained it to her.

Americans have conflated oldness with infirmity and disease. People often say, "I don't feel old," when what they mean is that they don't feel out of breath, in arthritic pain, or any other symptoms of sickness. "I don't feel old" doesn't mean the person hasn't yet registered Republican or started saving for retirement. It doesn't mean they suddenly remember coming of age a few decades later than they did. "I don't feel old" doesn't mean someone is making the same harebrained decisions they made when they were 20. "I don't feel old" tends to be a statement about stamina, attitude and general health. 

Having equated old age with being sick or incapacitated, Americans are terrified of growing old. We insist we're not old no matter how old we get. "I'm not old" we say as we celebrate our 55th, 65th or even 75th birthdays. We can only say this because we've detached old age from chronological age. We say this because we've given old age a new definition: sourness of mood, pain in body and limited physical mobility.

But there are many people who reach the end of their lives without these characteristics. And there are plenty of people who suffer from crotchetiness or a life-threatening disease well before their 40s. Americans like to fantasize that older people are closer to death and younger people are farther from it, but that's completely false. Death claims plenty of children, teenagers and young adults all the time, whether through disease, accident or police. At no time is anyone any farther or closer to dying than anyone else.

But we Americans hate death and we handle it terribly. We can't think about it without great anxiety, so we tell each other that as long as we don't get old, we don't have to die. And now we've conveniently redefined "old" so that it doesn't apply to anyone who doesn't feel sick. We've even gone so far as to start believing that no one is old who maintains a cheerful outlook on life. No one's old and no one ever has to be!

Even though I was born and raised in the U.S, I failed to learn this fear of old age. For as long as I can remember, I've seen getting older as an advantage. You know the pride a six-year-old feels upon turning seven? I still feel that with every birthday. On July 24th I'll turn 49 and I'm glad.* I see 49 as one year more experienced and knowledgeable than 48. I've witnessed a bit more, learned a bit more, and felt a bit more. I'm one year farther from past painful lessons and I have one year more perspective on those events. I have one year more authority with which to say, "Yes, I know how that feels," and "I remember that," and "Actually, in my experience, it's like this." Growing old is one of the ways I feel increasingly solid and respectable. Aging has brought me confidence, peace of mind and the end of feeling afraid of the whole world. Aging has been great for me and I anticipate feeling better and better as I get even older.

Someone must have modeled this lack of fear of aging. It might have been my dad, who has never hesitated to tell anyone his age, has never colored his hair and has never fussed about his appearance. He just lives his life, and these days his life is pretty darn good. He has no chronic pain or health issues that slow him down. He's enjoying himself, completely unhampered by concern about whether he's behaving like all the other 78-year-olds. 

In other countries, people understand that how wrinkled or incapacitated or diseased someone is reflects the circumstances of their life, not how many years they've existed. When I taught ESL 22 years ago, I asked my classroom full of women from Japan, Germany, China, Mexico, Russia and Vietnam how they tell how old someone is. They listed things like how the person dresses and speaks. When I asked about wrinkles and gray hair, they said that only showed how hard someone's life is. It's as if Americans have taken the worst qualities of life and stuffed them into our definition of "old." This view of aging makes no sense and I've never bought it. 

After I explained my views to my hair stylist, she nodded and said she understood what I was saying, but I had my doubts about whether she could take it to heart. I can see that it's hard for middle aged American women to accept their own aging, even though I don't understand their discomfort. 

So happy birthday to me next Friday the 24th! We'll see if I still feel this way next year when I turn 50. OH, yeah...50!

*It occurs to me that my sister might not like me telling my age every year because anyone who knows how far apart we are in age can calculate how old she is. Sorry, Judy.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A friend's story about Norco, II

Part I is here.

The worst of the sleep disruption went away by the third night after she stopped taking Norco, but her mood plummeted the next day. She woke up feeling anxious, tense and worried. In the mirror she saw an ugly person with a ruined middle aged body. She felt sure she'd just get uglier and uglier for the rest of her life.

She made herself meditate, partly just to get to that place where the world goes away and your mind rests in nothingness. She made it there a couple of times during a 45-minute meditation, but mostly she felt like she was zombie-ing out, shutting down, going numb. Did that dead, lifeless mental state count as calm stillness?

She made herself eat a breakfast of eggs and papadam even though she craved pancakes with real maple syrup. She spent lots and lots of time online, reading articles linked on Facebook, checking email, reading NPR stories, watching Seth Meyer monologues. 

She had never been one for the outdoors, but after reading an article about how walking in nature helps depression, she decided to take a walk. The beach was two blocks from her apartment and it occurred to her what a shame it was that she rarely spent any time there. 

With dully glazed eyes and stiff movements, she reached the beach. Her mind stayed gray-blank as she dug her heels into the sand for that satisfying crunch. Slipping off her sandals, she let her feet take in the feel of the shifting grains. Her eyes stayed riveted on the ground before her as she took small steps, more focused on the powdery feel than on covering distance. "I just have to keep moving," she thought. "All that matters is that I keep moving." This kept her from lying down and letting lethargy take over, which she very much wanted to do. 

She passed an ice cream vendor and felt the strength of her sugar cravings. All morning she'd been longing for candy bars, donuts, and cake. She wanted a cookie so badly it hurt. This bewildered her. 

After staggering along for fifteen minutes, she got tired of the weight of her purse and let it and her sandals drop. Now she walked in a circle around them, eyes still focused on the sand at her feet, mind still filled with nothing more than the sensation of grinding grains.

At one point she lifted her head, stared toward the water and started crying. Why did she feel this way? Was it the fucking Norco screwing with her brain? What was wrong with her? She went through several kleenexes, giving in to despair. 

Then she stopped walking. Stopped crying. Dug her feet down into dampness. Saw nothing with her eyes as she focused on the feeling of sand against toes. Back to empty numbness. 

Finally, she moved off the sand and sat on a bench. She couldn't bear the prospect of the rest of the afternoon and evening with nothing to do, no place to go, no one to talk to. She couldn't go back to her apartment, she couldn't. She pulled out her phone and called a friend she hadn't seen in a while. Luckily, the friend answered and asked how she was. Her voice shakey, she said, "I'm not doing well. Do you think, either today or tomorrow, you could give me a reason to leave my apartment and talk to another human being?"

They met a little later, shared a meal, had a long conversation. She ate white bread with her lunch, even though what she wanted was the cupcake in the pastry case. She felt much better afterwards and thanked her friend many times for responding. She felt proud of herself for asking for what she needed. 

That evening, the sugar cravings that she'd been fighting for a week overwhelmed her. She had worked hard on her sugar abstinence and hated to blow it now. She didn't even keep sweets in the apartment anymore, but finally she went into her kitchen for the only thing with processed sugar she still had: a boxed cake mix at the bottom of a drawer. 

Her mind gave no argument as she opened the box, slit the plastic bag and stuck in a spoon. When the powder hit her tongue she felt both bliss and sharp disappointment in herself: her streak of sugar sobriety was over. The spoon went in again and again until the edge was off her craving. She tried to put the bag away and forget about it, but ended up pouring the rest of the yellow cake mix into a bowl, adding the rest of the ingredients and baking herself a one-layer cake. After eating lots of the batter, she only needed two pieces of the finished product before she felt done with it. NOW she could relax.

Worry lived at the back of her mind that she'd opened a dangerous door and the sugar bingeing would continue the next day and become a habit again, but it didn't. The next day she woke up in a much better mood and took another walk on the lakefront, this time without the zombie stagger and the weeping. She passed an ice cream truck and a snack stand without a second glance. It stunned her, but the horrible cravings of the previous several days were gone. How was it possible? As miraculous as it was, she could feel that she was back on the sugar-free wagon without a struggle. She had no sweets that day. She didn't need them. 

The pain, the Norco, the cravings, the sleep problems - she longed for this ordeal to end, although she considered herself lucky to not have bigger addiction problems. One thing was definite: she would never touch another opioid drug again. 



Wednesday, July 08, 2015

A friend's story about Norco

It was just five days. Her prescription was for 20 pills to be taken every six hours. After the doctors in the emergency room couldn't figure out what was causing the intense pain in her abdomen, they gave her the prescription and told her to go home. It wasn't appendicitis or any other inflammation, and the CAT scan showed no blockages of any kind. Her pain, which had hit level 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, had no origin they could figure out, so she left the hospital to have the scrip filled.

The Norco worked well for her. As long as she took it every six hours, the pain mostly went away. She ran out of pills on a Monday afternoon and nervously waited for the pain to come back that night. If it reached level 7, she would head back to the ER.

The pain didn't come back.

On Tuesday morning she followed up with her regular doctor who identified the problem as a fibroid tumor in the uterus (very common and completely benign). The doctor gave her a prescription for a different painkiller, plus another prescription for Norco, just in case.

She briefly mentioned to her doctor that she hadn't slept well the night before, but didn't go into detail. She didn't want to detract from the business of identifying and treating the main problem, but it had been a weird night. She had gone to bed at her usual time, feeling nice and drowsy, but as she closed her eyes and let her body relax into the mattress she suddenly felt the urge to move. She rolled to her other side and adjusted her legs into a new position and sighed back into the pillow. In a second, the feeling of restlessness came back and she began to point her feet and then pull them back into a pointed heel, over and over again, quickly. What was going on? Why did her body feel like this?

When the foot-flexing didn't bring relief, she rolled onto her back and began kicking her legs against the mattress as if she were doing the back stroke across a pool. This was bizarre! She had heard of restless leg syndrome, but this felt like restless entire body. She felt as if she had suddenly been filled with high octane fuel and needed to burn off energy. Frustratingly, she still felt drowsy and knew she needed to sleep.

She took a Bach flower essence for sleep. She tapped. She listened to a meditation recording. She watched a YouTube ASMR video. Nothing worked. Her body could not unplug from whatever power source was feeding it. She lay in her bed with her eyes closed, with either her legs kicking or other large muscle groups flexing and unflexing. Ten-thirty became 11:30, which became 12:30. Sometimes she got up and walked around for a few minutes, but that just made her exhaustion more obvious. She just wasn't awake enough to watch a TV show or read a book. She wanted to sleep. Hoping that her grogginess would carry her off, she'd hurry back to the pillow, snuggle into it, but then feel the restlessness overtake her limbs again. She simply could not resist the urge to twist and twitch. It was after 1:00 before her jumpy muscles finally gave in to unconsciousness.

She figured it must be related to the Norco because nothing else in her routine had changed. She went online and learned how addicting the hydrocodone-based drugs are: that they can hook you after just one or two weeks of regular use. She felt horrified by a video that showed changes that happen to the brain when it's on opioid drugs. She read accounts of addicts trying to quit and the withdrawal symptoms they experienced. One of them was sleeplessness.

"Oh, my god," she said to herself. "What have I done? There's no way I'm getting that second Norco prescription filled." The second night wasn't as bad and she fell asleep in half the time it had taken on the first night, but she longed for her usual sleep pattern. Please, please let the third night be normal. Or at least the fourth.

During the day she noticed that her sugar cravings were bad. She kept thinking about frosted layer cakes and bakeries and pancake houses. Her research told her that hydrocodone screws with the brain's ability to regulate serotonin, the hormone that's critical to a stable mood. If your brain loses its ability to produce serotonin, which opioid drugs can cause, you might find yourself willing to do anything to feel good again. That often means using other drugs like alcohol or heroin. She wondered if Norco messed with appetite if your drug of choice was sugar. She kept wanting to eat even when she wasn't hungry. 

She fed her sugar cravings with fresh fruit, nuts, tea with honey, peanut butter, salads dressed with processed dressing, a Kind bar, and potato salad with sweet relish. Her mood was terrible. If she'd realized that Norco would screw with her careful sugar sobriety, she would have talked to the ER doctors about a different painkiller, but she hadn't known.

Tonight will be her third night after quitting Norco. She dreads getting in bed and wonders how pill addicts ever manage to kick. She has new sympathy for them.

A friend's story about Norco, II

Saturday, July 04, 2015

How does racism hurt white people?


Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist and writer for The Atlantic. In this three-minute and 20-second video from PBS NewsHour's Brief But Spectacular series, what strikes me is his use of the word "luxury." He says, "You really can't be an African American in this country and see, say, a Walter Scott video and be completely amazed. You just don't have the luxury of living that way. You know, you've had interactions with the police. You know people who bad things have happened to just for being who they are."

That's the blind spot for many of us: we don't recognize that we live with the luxury of not having to think about racism. It's part of white privilege, which all white people have as well as many people of color if we look or act certain ways. I have white privilege because of my class, education, coffee-with-cream-colored skin, and because I sound exactly like a white woman when I talk. I live a life of luxury because my white privilege means I don't get stopped by police, followed in stores, or asked to move on if I linger on the sidewalk. 

Of course, white privilege only goes so far for people of color. When it comes down to it, our physical features override how we talk or dress and our luxury ends. But many white Americans can live their whole lives without ever having to think about things like Black churches being burned down or unarmed Black men being gunned down by police or the lack of access that many women of color have to health care or how many people live in American jail-like conditions because they came to the U.S. from Mexico or Guatemala out of economic desperation. Most white people don't feel the effects of these conditions on their own lives so they ignore them, and they ignore them because they can. Rather than see themselves as living as a state of luxury, these white people see their lives as "normal." To them, the lives of people who live under the weight of racial oppression seem abnormal, foreign and a million miles away. Those are the "other" people, and once you see someone as "other," it's easy to dehumanize and emotionally distance yourself from them.

The way to change people's view of others is to bring those others close, humanize them, and show the connections between the groups. Someone used the concept of otherness to explain how same-sex marriage gained acceptance among Americans. He said the critical shift happened when more gay and lesbian family members, co-workers and neighbors began coming out to the people who knew them. When people realized that "those people" were their own family and friends, they couldn't keep dehumanizing them. Once that happened, the path to accepting same-sex marriage became much clearer. 

Unfortunately, this dynamic hasn't been possible between white people and people of color because it's too easy to identify the physical characteristics of race and culture. We wear our otherness on our faces and there's usually no hiding it. So how do you manage a sea change regarding racism?

Maybe the model is animal rights. Yes, I realize that comparison is offensive, but I think it works. I have a hard time caring about animal rights unless I see how the issue directly affects me. Maybe that makes me a selfish, uncaring person, but I think such a stance is common. The only way to make some people change entrenched views about others is to show them how they are directly affected by the way those others are treated. I have the luxury of never thinking about the living conditions of the cattle, chicken and pigs I eat, but if you tell me those conditions cause risks to my own health, you'll get my attention. If you can convince me that eating certain animals is bad for me, you might even get me to stop eating them altogether. A friend of mine says many people are actually convinced to support animal rights simply by hearing of the suffering of animals (those are better people than I). But this friend acknowleges that hearing about suffering doesn't do it for everyone, and some people need to hear how animal rights affects their own health directly.

On the topic of racism, at a certain point we will have reached all the people we're going to influence by talking about justice and human rights. Maybe we're already at that point. What's left are the people who will only be swayed by feeling the negative impact of racism on their own lives, which leads to the question (and doesn't beg it): what are the negative effects of racism on white Americans? 

Hmm.

My best response right now is that racism negatively affects white people by shutting down the vast resources that people of color offer. There are dying white communities throughout the country that need an influx of immigrants to revive their economies, provide labor and get government money flowing into their schools and public services again. Also, considering that in the next 25 years the population of the U.S. will have more people of color than whites, to keep locking up and killing large numbers of people of color will hurt our national productivity and ability to function in a global economy. As people of color gain the majority, it will become a greater national liability to deny us decent housing, health care, schools, etc. A government can't keep its own people in economic distress and thrive without turning into some kind of dictatorship or failed state. 

Of course, maintaining prejudice against Blacks, Mexicans, etc. also means white people deny themselves rich experiences of friendship and community. That's a harder loss to argue, but maybe we can say that seeing all people as potential friends helps mood and increases levels of happiness and feelings of safety. Those things have positive effects on a country's economy, too.

While there are many people who live in the luxury of not having to think about racism, their time of enjoying that privilege will end. The United States is heading towards a demographic makeup that will require the dismantling of its systemic, institutionalized racism or we'll become a country that marginalizes its majority. On this American Independence Day, can you leave a comment on a way that you see that racism in the U.S. hurts white people?

Oh, yeah and happy Fourth of July, America.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Sweet dreams

Last night I dreamt I was eating layer cake. I scooped off the sculpted yet gooey white frosting with my finger and wrapped my mouth around it. In other dreams I've abstained from desserts or only tasted them because even in the dream, I remember that my doctor took me off sugar. I awaken from those dreams frustrated, mad at myself for not diving into the cupcakes because it was just a dream, damn it! I could have eaten it all and been none the worse.

But last night I had no such hesitation. I just enjoyed that cake, piece after frosted piece, and it was good. I ate as much as I wanted with no guilt whatsoever. Is that how addicts dream?