A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Are Addicts Not In Recovery Weak?

Last week I was having a challenging discussion with a new friend of mine.  I told her that I believe that violence is a form of mental illness.  She didn't agree and cited self-defense and also the necessity of military intervention in some situations.  My orientation about human attitudes and behaviors is about health and sickness.  Her orientation is more about strength and weakness.  Her brother is an addict and, as far as I can tell, not in recovery.  They grew up in a troubled home with a mother who suffered from a psychotic illness and who was violent towards her children.  My friend survived that experience and became hard working and self-reliant.  Her brother didn't fare as well and became an addict.  She believes that her brother is weak whereas she learned and chose to be strong despite adversity.

I think it is a common misconception that addicts who are active in their addiction are morally weak. I think that it is a misconception the addicts who use agree with and that misconception hurts them.  Addicts discover that they are addicts when they try to control their addiction and fail to over and over again.  The 12 Step program emphasizes that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing.  I believe that addicts who use are not weak, but sick with an illness that affects them on all levels, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  They live with a daily handicap, one that many people won't acknowledge.  The illness shows itself most destructively in addicts behavior.  Because addicts behave badly, people judge them, but their judgment is truly superficial.

We cannot live each others' lives.  People may grow up in the same circumstances and go in opposite directions.  When there is abuse in the home, the chances of the children developing addictions goes up.  Each child's response to the abuse is unique.  Children vary in their sensitivity.  One instance of abuse can affect one child just as much as a child who has suffered through repeated abuse.  Genetics play a part too.  One child may have a predisposition towards addiction while their sibling does not.  It's not about strength and weakness.

Addicts in recovery are very strong individuals, but then so are addicts who use, if they survive.  Using addicts also vary widely as they try to cope with their illness.  Some are highly effective in their work and in using their talents, others struggle to earn a living.  Some addicts are highly respected members of their communities, others live on the edge of society and are looked down upon.  They both have an untreated illness and they both deserve respect for trying to survive each day.  Their greatest failure is to themselves for not loving themselves enough to move into recovery attitudes and behaviors, for not reaching out to others who are in recovery.

After I got home from spending some time with my friend I felt disturbed by this idea of seeing people as strong and weak.  That kind of thinking led to the rise of Hitler with people making prejudice into law and condemning, tormenting and murdering those they saw as weak.  Today I might see my friend again.  I would like to talk more with her about her brother and her family so that I can understand her orientation more deeply.  I would like to gently warn her and encourage her to rethink her position.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

All Human Beings Are Mentally Ill

Imagine that we are not alone in the universe as an intelligent species.  Imagine that there are other species who have evolved spiritually far beyond us to the point that they are highly aware, highly intelligent, well organized, dedicated to health and balance and peace.  Imagine that they have found us years ago and have chosen to remain hidden from us.  What would they conclude after watching us all across the globe for only one day?  They would see the devastation of war, hunger, poverty, disease and addiction.  They would see violence in the home and outside the home.  They would see overpopulation and pervasive pollution.  They would see mental illness in the forms of neurosis and psychosis.  They would also see effective intelligence, the ability to be empathetic and great creativity, but they would see a world of human mammals in a state of spiritual crisis.

The greatest spiritual crisis is to be out of balance and we are deeply unbalanced and unhealthy.  The manmade climate change we are experiencing is a huge symptom of this.  The earth itself is trying to get our attention, to force us to acknowledge that we are sick and irresponsible due to our collective sickness.  We are destroying our very home, yet so many of us stay hiding in denial.  If all of us were healthier, we would see that one of the first things that would need to end is war.  There is no way we can all join together if we continue to try to dominate each other.  The solution lies in effectively coming together to solve common problems.

Most of the world’s population is not doing much about climate change.  It is still predominantly  business as usual.  But there is an illness that is pushing individuals all over the world to face up to the fact that they are indeed very ill and in need of much support in order to recover.  That illness is the illness of addiction.  For most addicts if they continued business as usual in acting out in their addictions they would find themselves incarcerated or inside a psychiatric ward or dead.  Once inside an addictive lifestyle it tends to spiral downwards to some kind of bottom.  Hitting a bottom is a call to action, an opportunity to cultivate enough awareness to find a way to change.

I encountered the 12 Steps after one of my bottoms during an on going abusive relationship with an alcoholic.  I live in a poor, rural community with not a lot of services, but one thing I could find was an AA meeting which led me to an Al-Anon meeting.  My impression now of 12 Step groups is that there are many of them in the US and possible many of them in the world.  Awareness of these groups have found their way into popular US culture in books, TV and films.  A lot of rehabs model themselves after the 12 Steps or at least include 12 Step meetings as treatment.  There are those who swear by these groups and those who attack these groups.  Just how effective 12 Step groups are in treating addictions is yet to be found.  Because these are anonymous groups anyone can be a member who acknowledges that they have a serious problem with a substance or behavior, but there are no dues, you don’t sign up or register and there is no official count of all the members.

I did find out through a google search that out of the 196 countries in the world Alcoholics Anonymous have groups in 181 countries.  That's quite a large number considering the diversity of countries and cultures.  And yet one page of statistics I found, the only one I found, made the number of members worldwide out to be around 5 million.  I find that to be a unlikely assessment.  Another statistic I found was that approximately 6% of the world population is addicted to the internet which comes to about 420 million for internet addiction alone.  Now there are many types of addiction and the true numbers of how many are addicted from all those groups is not easy to find.  My impression and assumption right now is that addiction is a major health/spiritual crisis all over the globe.

My other impression and assumption is that 12 Step programs are solidly helping a fair number of those who seek out the programs' help.  Of course it seems as if the majority of addicts are caught within their addictions and not reaching out for any kind of help.  There is still a lot of stigma around being an addict and most people don't advertise their particular addictions.  But those that do go to 12 Step meeting often identify themselves as addicts as a form of greeting.  They face their illness head on and do not continue in shame but stay open within the group.  They fight shame by acknowledging that they are not bad people, but sick people trying to get well.

People within these groups are perfectly aware that we live in a addictive world and that there are challenges in the form of temptations all around them.  The reason the 12 Step program has left a mark on my spirit is because it has helped restore my sense of integrity.  I have come from several places of despair to a place of much greater contentment and balance.  It's been about 24 years since I went to my first Al-Anon meeting and in all that time I have not gone through all of the 12 Steps.  It's only recently that I found a sponsor and I don't go to meetings a lot and yet I have been faithful to reading 12 Step daily readers and other recovery literature.  I have cultivated a daily spiritual practice because I have been influenced by the 12 Step program at key points in my life.  There's a group slogan that reads "Progress, not perfection."

That could be a slogan of what we need on this planet.  A spiritual crisis can lead to that if we set aside denial and admit that we are all sick and in need of help from each other.  People in recovery have a lot to teach about overcoming illness day by day, about creating a support network, about having a daily spiritual practice, about learning to love and respect themselves and about being of service to those in need, especially other addicts, of which there are many.  It's called living a life in such a way that you practice peace.  Health and balance, there can be no overcoming the devastation in the world without them and the greater the number of individuals who embrace the practice, the greater chance we can stop this world from dying.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Documentary Film Review: Vegucated

Vegucated is a short documentary film that came out in 2011 directed by Marisa Miller Wolfson.  Marisa moved to New York City and became a vegan.  She decided to make this film and interviewed a bunch of people to participate in a 6 week study.  She selected three people, all dedicated meat, cheese and milk consumers, to go vegan for the entire 6 weeks.  The film starts out very funny and playful as Marisa gets to know these three people.  She visits them in their homes and checks out what kinds of foods they have in their refrigerators.  She takes them to visit Dr. Joel Fuhrman (who wrote the books Eat To Live and The End Of Diabetes) where they get a physical done and blood tests.  She takes them to see several people who are very knowledgeable about practicing the vegan diet.

After several weeks of trying the diet and testing out the foods, Marisa takes them to see a film about what goes on in slaughter houses with cows, chickens, pigs and fish.  This was a pivotal part of the documentary for me because I had never seen anything like it.  It was horrifying to discover what is going on on a daily basis in this country.  I had to avert my eyes on a number of occasions because I couldn't take looking at the examples of what people actually do to these creatures.  It is very hard to look at, but very important to look at, too.  I knew right then and there that I could not go on eating animal products.

The three people in this film became more and more committed to becoming vegetarian or vegan by the end of the film.  They, too, were horrified by the practices in the slaughterhouses.  Though it wasn't always easy to eat a totally vegan diet, all of them managed to do so.  At the end of the six weeks they returned to Dr. Fuhrman's office to get another physical and do another series of blood tests.  Bad cholesterol went way down along with blood pressure and one woman lost 10 pounds on the diet.

This documentary is well worth watching.  It is only an hour and 16 minutes and it truly is an education.

I've been on a mostly vegan diet for two weeks and have lost about 5 pounds.  I have been using two cookbooks, the Eat To Live recipe book and the Plantpure Nation recipe book.  I believe Dr. Fuhrman's Eat To Live recipe book is the better one for losing weight, but the Plantpure Nation book has some tastier recipes because the author uses more pasta, bread, sweeteners and salt.  Both are good starts.  I've been doing a lot of cooking lately.  Last night I prepared a chili to slow cook in my croc pot and also prepared a hearty oatmeal for the following morning.  My kitchen and refrigerator is stocked with fruits and vegetables which is a pleasing sight to wake up to in the morning.

I have yet to do a blood test to establish a baseline.  This coming week I will see a nurse practitioner and will start the process.  I'm hoping that 3-4 weeks of eating vegan will have dropped my bad cholesterol, reduced my blood pressure and dropped my weight even more.  The more I study and practice this diet, the more I think it is the right choice.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Diabetes And A Mostly Vegan Diet

I found out last week that I have diabetes.  I picked up three books by a doctor named Joel Fuhrman:  The End Of Diabetes, Eat To Live and the Eat To Live recipe book.  Dr. Fuhrman claims that diabetes can be reduced, even eliminated, through using his diet plan.  It is a diet plan that is mostly vegan, that is, very little animal products.  Not only is he critical of relying on animal products, but he  does not believe that the medications are truly helpful and with extended use could be harmful.  So he is targeting both the animal product industries and the pharmaceutical industries.  Huge companies that affect our daily lives.  He believes that good nutrition and exercise should be the primary treatment for all kinds of illnesses and disorders.  This approach requires a serious commitment to a lifestyle change.

It's been a little over a week that I began eating a mostly vegan diet.  I am not following Dr. Fuhrman's diet exactly, but close enough.  I invested in a high speed blender, a Blendtec, which cost over $250, but which, so far, has been very worth it.  I usually have at least one smoothie a day with fruit and lettuce and flax seeds or chia seeds and soybean milk.  It's a fast way to get fruit and greens into me and it is filling and tasty and simple.  I also made up a few recipes, a broccoli mushroom soup with blended cashews to give it a creamy texture and a vegetable stew with sweet potatoes, onions, chick peas, zucchini, stewed tomatoes.  Taste wise these two recipes were okay and filling, but not great.  I just have to keep trying out the recipes to see which ones I respond to.  I definitely enjoy the vegetable wraps as well as the smoothies.  I think I also need to get adjusted to different flavors, awaken my taste buds, so to speak.

Dr. Fuhrman says that it is possible to lose 20 pounds in the first 6 weeks and then continue to lose weight over the year.  He includes in his books many success stories especially from very obese people trying to combat multiple health issues, losing a great amount of weight more quickly than other diets.  One of the keys to fighting diabetes is to first get down to a healthy weight and to maintain that weight.  Insulin is the means that allows glucose to be released into the cells.  The more fat around the cells, the harder it is for the insulin to be effective.  Removing the fat also removes the stress to the body.

There are quite a few documentaries on Netflix about the incredible value of eating a mostly plant based diet.  One very good documentary I watched was called Plant Pure Nation.  A study group went into several communities in the Southern United States and found volunteers to eat pre-prepared plant based meals for 10 days.  First they did a blood test and at the end of the 10 days they did another blood test.  The results were astonishing.  For many people bad cholesterol plummeted.  I believe that blood pressure was reduced as well as glucose levels and people lost weight in just 10 days.

In my diet before I did not eat red meat or many eggs or a lot of rice, pasta, bread and salt, but I did drink a lot of milk, including chocolate milk and some cheese and ice cream and a fair amount of yogurt.  For years I've used Splenda until I heard negative things about it and stopped using it.  I did not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and drank a lot of coffee.  Now I'm mostly drinking water and eating mostly fruits and vegetables.  It just seems like common sense to go on this mostly vegan diet and yet I had never considered it before.  When I did eat vegetarian meals, they often had a lot of cheese in them and oils, some salt.  Now no cheese, little oil and no added salt.

I'm monitoring my progress using a calendar and will continue to do so for 5 more weeks and I will weigh myself once a week.  This is not a portion control, calorie counting diet.  Dr. Fuhrman believes that you should stick to a 3 meal plan and not snack, but I'm finding that I prefer to eat four to five moderate meals during a day, but that might change as I find recipes that I like.  It does take work, shopping a couple of times a week and food preparation, but I'm finding that this is a good thing for me, keeps me aware and involved and appreciative of my food.

I walked three times this week and am hoping to work my way up to a daily constitutional.  I also have some exercise equipment to work out with when I'm home.  But getting out and walking has been quite nice, something I would never consider before.  And now in Spring it is a great time for diet and exercise.  I got myself a small backpack with a water bladder and a couple of walking sticks to use in the woods.  I feel pretty committed to this.  I still have to see a doctor and get a baseline blood test done.  Initially I am not going to take any medication.  Truly I am suspicious of medications, though I do faithfully take my anti-pyschotics and anti depressant.

The strange thing is that a diagnosis of diabetes might be a blessing in disguise.  I have been obese, not eating well, not exercising and smoking for many years and now might be my chance to reverse the damage I have done to my body and finally head back towards a healthy weight.  The amazing thing about the body is if you treat it right it responds in health.  A true miracle.