Heroin is no different than sugar. They both kill.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died yesterday, apparently alone in his bathroom with a needle in his arm.  I grieve for him, his family, and his close friends that must now face a reality that has been dulled by his absence.

His death, like many other Hollywood and music superstars before him, begins a new discussion about drug addiction and the struggle to get clean. Inevitably, there will be a large portion of the population that will view his drug use as a choice and his death, therefore, a decision. It’s often not said that succinctly, but if we tease out the underlying sentiment, I think I’ve nailed it down pretty well.

sugargreenLet me be clear on one thing before we begin: I am NOT, nor have I ever been, addicted to drugs or alcohol. I am NOT married to, been in a relationship with, or lost anyone I love dearly to the disease of addiction. I DO care a great deal about humanity and I mourn the loss of anyone to disease of any kind. I DO think it’s important to recognize addiction for what it is.

I don’t believe Phillip Seymour Hoffman had any choice in his addiction nor his death. The only way I can help you understand how I feel is to explain this in terms of sugar. Before you put me on blast for comparing a drug to a food, consider this statement from a report by NPR, “recent studies have shown that sugar can produce changes in the brain and behavior that resemble addiction.

Just like heroin, not everyone who tries sugar will become addicted and those that do become addicted to sugar will most likely not be able to stop without intervention.

Have you ever had an obese friend, family member, or acquaintance that expressed how much they would love to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle? Have you also watched that same person continuously make horrible food decisions day in and day out?  They may succeed in losing weight for periods of time on any number of fad diets, but sadly return to obesity every time.

Each doughnut, chocolate bar, or big mac they consume inches them closer to death.  From the Surgeon General’s Office: There are around 300,000 obesity related deaths each year, with risks rising as weight increases.  These friends and loved ones know the risk, if not the actual statistics, but they do it anyway.

We humans love to judge others and their decisions. For those of us not addicted to sugar, it’s utterly confusing why anyone would choose to do something that destroyed their quality of life and put them at risk of early death. Those not faced with addiction will look at each and every meal as a choice. But that is precisely the point at which addicts are separated from non-addicts.

We make choices every day by using our brains to evaluate the risk/reward, cost-to-benefit-ratio, chance of success or failure, etc. Based on our experiences in the world, we have each finely tuned our brain to assign value to all things in life – people, places, activities, and so on.  Imagine for a minute if that powerful choice machine, your brain, decided to change the value of certain things without your input. No amount of pleading, thinking, or praying will sway the brain in its decision. It has decided to do a big chemical backfire, and there is nothing you can do about it.

That is how I see addiction. I’m not a scientist, doctor, or anyone with any letters after my name, but I am someone that believes addicts do not have a choice.

It’s easy to look at a heroin, alcohol, or even sugar addict and think it is a choice. Was it a choice the first time someone tried heroin? Absolutely. But that choice was based on their experience with the world and the value their brain put on the experience of trying heroin; the risk versus reward. The choice to try heroin was the product of experience, the addiction to heroin was the product of the drug itself.

The choice to eat sugar is not as complicated since most of us get introduced to it within a few moments of birth, but addiction to sugar is a product of the food (drug) itself. When we begin to learn more about the power of sugar as an addictive substance, I hope we also gain a better understanding of the disease of addiction itself. Sugar is something that affects all of us and harder to ignore and marginalize.

If you enjoyed this, please share. It’s love and understanding that will move us forward.

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If you are looking for treatment for you or a loved one, please call or email one of the resources below. It’s not a choice, it’s a disease that needs treatment.

SAMHSA – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association

1-800-662-HELP (4357)
1-800-487-4889 (TDD)

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous

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The Day I Risked My Daughter’s Life To Save Others

Just thinking about that day makes my stomach turn and my hands go sweaty.

It was an otherwise normal day. The morning was a blur of frenzy as I tried to get ready for work while entertaining a 1-year-old in a plastic, jumpy play thingy. I’ve never liked mornings, and this one was no exception. Two cups of coffee and I knew things would look better.

Baby Hands

Image Credit: Sias van Schalkwyk http://www.seepsteen.co.za

As I buckled my daughter into her car seat, a small thought began to nag at me. Voices of friends, family, and internet strangers started to swirl in my head as I made the 10 minute drive to the building that held my daughter’s fate. By the time we checked in I was frantic, although you would have never known from the outside.  When our name was called, I scooped her up and took her into the room that would make her cry and wail. I knew my heart would break.

When it was over, I watched her carefully. She seemed the same. Over the next few months, I looked for signs of sickness. In the end, we came out the other side unscathed.

That was six years ago, less than a year after Jenny McCarthy became a vocal anti-vaccine spokesperson.

While the rational side of me KNEW that the MMR vaccine did not cause autism, I couldn’t help but be bombarded by her face telling me that I was wrong. The rational side of me did the research to the best of my non-scientific ability and I had concluded that vaccinating my children  was the right decision, but the loud roar of the anti-vaccination movement could not be avoided.

The day that I took my first born to get her MMR vaccination, I was scared. Six years later, I am mad.

I shouldn’t have been scared by a beautiful, eloquent spokesperson that refuted science and held up her beautiful son as evidence. Her son that, according to her, became autistic after receiving vaccines. The son that, according to her, recovered from autism through chelation therapy. The son with autism that, according to her, caused her divorce.  I know all of this because she was EVERYWHERE – on the news, on talk shows, online. I couldn’t escape from her if I tried.

Six years later, a report surfaced that McCarthy admitted her son was misdiagnosed with autism and suffered instead from  Landau–Kleffner syndrome, a common misdiagnosis. A week later she slammed that report refuting it’s truth, and all links to the original reports have been disabled (good job, lawyers). Regardless, it’s too late for me. Personally, I don’t believe her son had autism and was cured by an obscure therapy any more than I believe her claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

I do, however, blame her for my fear of vaccines. I also blame the media that gave her airtime.

A few weeks after my son was born in 2010, a newborn died of whooping cough at my hospital during a horrific outbreak in our state. The outbreaks were concentrated in areas that had low vaccination rates. Once again, I was scared. Not of Jenny McCarthy’s dire warnings, but of the thousands of children that were not vaccinated because their parents were afraid; a fear that may have been triggered by Jenny McCarthy.

This fear continues to be propagated by the anti-vaccination community that will sell you thousands of dollars in supplements and call the government and Big Pharma evil money-mongers despite contributing $32 billion of revenue to the US economy in 2012 alone.

That day, six years ago, I was told that I was risking my daughter’s life by vaccinating her but I chose to do it anyway because the evidence told me that these vaccines were more likely to save other children than hurt my own.

Please share this so other parents know that they are not alone in their fear. I applaud the families that vaccinate and thank them from the bottom of my heart for saving the lives of others with their decision.

If you are concerned about vaccinating your children, here are just a few excellent resources to consider. 

**A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccinations & Autism** please read this if nothing else

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Vaccine Education Center

The History of Vaccines

HealthyChildren.org

Yes, I called the police when you said you were going to kill yourself on Facebook.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And I would do it again.

You see, we are Facebook friends, which means on some level you have invited me to participate in your life. We knew each other as children, more moons ago than I am going to count. We haven’t had a direct message conversation, and the last time we spoke it was probably about our math homework or boys. My memories of that time are fuzzy, but I remember your face. I remember that I genuinely thought you were a nice person. When I accepted your friend request – or maybe I sent one to you – I invited you into my life, and me into yours.

Last night, at 1:30am you posted that you were going to kill yourself.

I found myself staring at the line, paralyzed. Surely a good friend or family member is going to respond on Facebook and tell you that they were on their way.

A few minutes went by, and the only response was a plea to not go through with it. The poster was thousands of miles away. As was I.

I called the police in the city where the post originated with my wealth of information. First Name. Last Name. City. Nothing else. The dispatcher said she would attempt a wellness check if she could find an address. I hung up.

That’s when I started to doubt what I had just done. I hardly knew you, had no idea if this was a serious threat,  What if it wasn’t a serious threat and you found out that I was the one that called? What if you get pissed at me, or what if I got you in some kind of trouble? What had I just done?

After my call, there was Facebook silence, and uneasy sleep.

When I woke up I searched for any news about your well being. Your “real” friends had since seen the post and were posting frantic messages of love and strength. I learned that someone else had called the police, and they had already done a wellness check because of an earlier caller. No information was received on how the check went. 24 hours later, and I’m still not certain of the outcome.

The only thing I know is that I made the right call, and I would do it again.

I can live with you hating me, un-friending me, even casting an evil curse on me.

What I couldn’t live with was doing nothing and finding out you meant it.

~~~

If you are thinking about suicide, or faced with a similar situation, here are some resources:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Reporting a Suicide Threat on Facebook

The universe is at it again.

Photo: Bresson Thomas

After getting Slapped by the Universe recently, I thought she was done with me.  But here she is again.

Like many people, I have friends on Facebook that I haven’t spoken to since high school. I am naturally curious, and pretty open, so if I get a friend request and I remember you,  I will accept. I don’t mind that we may not have been close back in the day, or may never see each other again, I genuinely like most people I have met in my life and happy to see them again if only in photos.  In most cases, I know them better now than I ever did.  In some cases, I am drawn to their updates and stories and find them fascinating individuals.

A year ago, a series of posts caught my attention and it has been captured ever since.  The poster, someone I went to high school with and haven’t seen or talked to since, has been telling the story of his 6-month-old daughter’s diagnosis and battle with SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy).  Typically babies with SMA Type I will not live past the age of two.  It’s a beautiful story of love, advocacy, and struggle, told bravely. It’s not the first time I have born witness to a person’s open struggles through social media, but there is something about this little girl, Braylin.  I feel compelled to help in any way I can to further SMA awareness, and help her family with the financial strain.

Like most people in this Great Recession, we have limited funds and a strict budget.  I wish I could support every cause, every walk, and every girl scout cookie seller I come across, but it’s just not possible.  Instead, I have selected a small number of causes that are close to my heart to support, giving what I can.  One organization I support is the Alzheimer’s Association, since the disease took my father just 2.5 years ago.  Sadly, SMA is not on my list.  And strangely, it has really been bothering me.

It’s as if the universe felt my struggle.

“SMA research offers a ‘collateral benefit’, meaning that scientific discoveries in the field of SMA will be strongly translational towards a host of other serious conditions; this also means that progress towards treating and curing spinal muscular atrophy will directly strengthen that same progress within numerous other medical categories. Advancements in the field of SMA research might therefore offer hope to not only members of the the SMA community, but also to the wide range of patients, families, and friends who have been affected by many other serious illnesses. Among the diseases and disorders that benefit from SMA research: Alzheimer’s…”

via An Important and Beneficial Aspect of SMA Research | Spinal Muscular Atrophy Blog.

The NIH has determined that SMA is closest to a cure out of 600 other disorders, and well known researchers have determined that a viable treatment for SMA is possible IF the research is funded. There is a lot of hope among the SMA community, and all the communities collaterally benefiting from their success, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s  and ALS/Lou Gherig’s Disease.

Once again, universe, well played. And thank you for not slapping me this time.

I’m not sure how this message from the universe will manifest yet, but I have added SMA to my list of causes as a subset of Alzheimer’s. Consider this your introduction.  You may not have any knowledge or been directly affected by this disease, but clearly the research is important to many of us.

Beyond the diseases, this experience has reminded me that we can find inspiration from anyone at any time.  It’s important to stay open the amazing stories happening around us and continue learning from the people that inhabit our world.  What began as a story that tugged at my mother’s heart, is ending as a larger message about listening to the universe and what she is telling us.  My gut was telling me that Braylin’s story was important to me, I just had no idea how our stories would intertwine into a shared goal of a cure for neurological diseases.

To meet the little girl that inspired this post, you can find her at StrongHeartWeakMuscles.com. Braylin’s parents are fighters, and they do everything they can to give her what she needs. Please consider contributing to their fund to help offset the astronomical cost of care. Just the initial set up for in-home equipment is over $20,000 with future costs over $100,000.

You can learn more about SMA at Families of SMA.

It just so happens that I am still here.

I wake up every morning and plan my day. My day, however, often has other plans.

My absence from BME is pretty representative of the way life is today.  How many of us have stopped watching the news, or more importantly the stock markets?  Sometimes it’s OK to just check out, pretend that the real world is far, far away.  In fact, I recommend it.

All good things must come to an end, and better things await us when we are ready to jump back into reality – ready to work, ready to remedy the past that ails us.  Running indefinitely away takes us only farther away from what we need to be doing, and it makes us really, really tired.  Taking a jog, on the other hand, is good for your heart, health, and mind.

We live in a chronic state of fatigue, with seemingly no end in sight. Checking out may seem like a luxury, but only if you are reading “sleep all day” in that directive.  I still have to work to pay my bills, my kids still need to have their meals made, laundry done. My bills demand attention, along with the dogs.  I needed to check out, so I did. I stopped reading the news, perusing blogs, and writing my own blog.  I can’t afford to run away, but I can stop doing the things that eat away my time to relax, despite being things that I enjoy.  Even if I enjoy something, it doesn’t mean it is relaxing.

The news was making me panicked, the stock market was making me sea sick.  Reading blogs just nagged at me to get back to my own, despite being cleverly written gems that deserved Huffington Post publication.  This precious space, BME, seemed more deserving of quality versus content, and I just got too tired to marry the two.  So I took a break.

If you find you need to check out, take a look at your time.  Other than the bare necessities, what are the things that eat into your day? Do you really need to cook a full dinner every night or can you dial it in for a few days – or maybe a week? Even if you love cooking, sometimes you just need to sit on the couch and rest. If talking to friends and family on the phone is fun, but you end up involved in more drama, take a week off.  Maybe your social schedule has gotten a little to packed, or your golf game is so far off you are just practicing your hazard shots, whatever it is, it  maybe not giving you the pleasure you need to feel rested and happy.

Work and responsibility take a toll, don’t let your “free time” become anything other than what you need, even if it’s just sleep.

My hiatus is over, and I am ready to play again.

PTSD = Pretty Tough, Sad Deal

I've had a migraine/headache for 6 days straig...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you read the news at all, you know that PTSD is actually Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but what does it really mean? I don’t think the general population can truly understand, and it becomes a diagnosis, a thing that soldiers get, a Pretty Tough, Sad Deal.  We all agree we should help those suffering with it, but since we don’t get what it is, it’s hard to say just how much tax-payer money we want to invest or how many days of leave this disorder deserves.

I took my oldest to swimming lessons yesterday and was enjoying conversation when I looked at the pool.  We all keep an eye on our little ones since the instructors work with each child individually, and the waiting students don’t always stay on the step as directed, goofing off as kids will do.  I realized I had not been very attentive in the last few minutes, and looked to where my daughter was dutifully hanging on the wall.  It was then I noticed the little boy swimming in circles away from the wall.  It took me a minute, but when I realized that I was watching a child in distress, things moved quickly.

The child was quickly assisted out of the water, clearly scared, but seemed to be fine. As a precaution the mother was asked to take him directly to the doctor in case he had inhaled water, which causes dry drowning even when things seem fine.

The mother thanked me as she left the pool for being the one to spot the serious trouble, and we all left the lesson. It was our last day, and we will probably never see each other again.

Last night, as I lay watching the LED lights of my clock, I was haunted by the image of the boy. Swimming, lost, in danger. I thought about my reaction, which seemed delayed, in retrospect, given the seriousness of the situation, like a delay in a television program when the mouth moves, but the words come out later.  I worry about the boy despite knowing that he went to a doctor.  I worry about the mother, who will worry well past this day.  I worry about the swim school, comprised of an amazing group of people, and what it might mean for them.  I worried for hours, running the scenarios of what might have been if my reaction had been faster, or slower, or if the child had been mine.

I rose this morning, neither rested nor in a much better place than the night before.  It was in deliberation that I came to the conclusion that I was having post-traumatic stress.  Not the same as PTSD, but I think it gave me greater insight to what may be going on in the disorder, particularly in the case of our military.

I had done everything right, but I still felt like there was more I could do, or that I could have done things faster or better.  We ask our military to do things in the name of right, and we train them to do it better than the rest.  But does telling them they did the right thing well take away the nightmares and sleepless nights when they return home to their beds?

I do not compare my experience to theirs as equals, but simply as a moment of insight. It may not take more than a few days for my adrenalin and stress to abate, but this experience has made me more compassionate to those that have seen and done things I cannot even imagine.

There is no perfect plan for recovery. You cannot count the number of sessions it will take to restore order in a person’s life.  There is no perfect pill that exists that wipes away memories and leaves the spaces full with rich and rewarding experiences.  There should not be a limit set on how far we will go to help our returning military restore a balance in their lives. If faced with a decision to extend the military benefits, allowing for more treatment, extending coverage to families and loved ones, we should not hesitate.  PTSD is hard to understand, but it is real.

Getting slapped by the Universe…

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease (Photo credit: AJC1)

Hurts. I’m not going to lie.

May 5th would have been my dad’s 71st birthday.  Instead, he’s been physically gone over 2 years.  Mentally, it was many years before, having succumbed to early-onset Alzheimer’s.  He didn’t really  know who I was in the end, but I was there with him when he passed.  That was a good thing, which the universe seemed to know.

For the past two years I have been at peace with my dad’s passing, but recently I have been wondering, “Do I remember my dad’s laugh? Or what made him laugh? How was his smile?”.  The farther the anniversary, the more I fear I am forgetting. Which in context, is a very scary thing.  And when I get scared, I get busy. Luckily, I have two young children so time to think is a luxury.  I have put austerity measures into place.

Earlier this week, I got a call from the Alzheimer’s Association asking if I would volunteer for the 2012 Memory Walk.  I had done the walk for the past 2 years, so it was not out of the blue, but I hadn’t even thought about the walk yet.  Things that happen in October are lucky if they make my radar by September these days.  Ultimately, it was fine. It was busy work, not thoughtful work necessarily. I assembled my team page, sent my emails, and posted my plea for support on Facebook.  I can now ignore it for a bit (maybe till September?).  The universe was winding me up a bit, throwing me the walk just after my dad’s birthday.  Well played, Universe, but a soft blow.

Then the news today. A WAR on Alzheimer’s! New clinical trials that show some real potential.  A commitment from our country to recognize this epidemic that will triple over the next few decades.  Why was this news so important to me? My father had early-onset Alzheimer’s. My aunt is suffering the disease now. Alzheimer’s is in my genes. Literally. If what the research says is true, I may be carrying genes that would give me a 50% chance of having Alzheimer’s. Crap odds.  Even if I don’t need the cure, my brother, sister, cousin, or my children might.  Scary and hopeful at the same time, Universe is winding up for the punch here.

Then the punch.

A fellow blogger announces her new website: www.DeadDadsClub.com. It’s a beautiful site, a place to share stories about your dad, reading the stories of other members.  It’s club with an initiation that makes hazing look like sandbox play.  It’s a reminder to remember. If you can.

TKO.

Winner: Universe

Let me tell you about my dad. His smile was the same as my son’s.  He laughed at silly stuff, unimportant things, and mostly himself.  His laugh made other people laugh because of its genuine tenor and kind intention.   It sounded young, like good days. The early days, the days before Alzheimer’s.

You can run, but you can’t hide from what you know in your heart you must do.  I needed to think about my dad so that I would know that I do remember the important stuff, if not the details.  While initially a little painful, it was ultimately a good match, one that I am glad I lost.

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