Biology

My Beating Heart

Artwork by Michael Parkes

Artwork by Michael Parkes

“Once. I was on a trek in the Andes, and a hummingbird flew up to me and just hovered there staring at me. Its tiny heart was pattering like a machine gun… And I thought, what a thing, you know, to have to work that hard every day just to stay alive, to be constantly on the verge of death, and how satisfying every day must be that it survived” ~ Klaus Mikaelson

The human body is remarkable in the way it is designed to repair and heal itself. With the exception of serious illnesses or compromised immune systems, from the moment we sustain an injury or get sick, our bodies begin repairing. Blood clots, new cells replace old or damaged ones, muscle tissue regenerates. When I gave up drinking, I understood that I would experience physical withdrawal symptoms until the alcohol was completely out of my system, and I also understood that healing would take time. For me, I started feeling healthier about six weeks after I quit. By then my sleeping and eating habits had normalized. My energy levels were higher than ever and I steered more of it toward enjoying life instead of fighting hangovers.

A few months ago I went in for my annual physical and after listening to my heartbeat my doctor recommended that I schedule an echo cardiogram. She explained that it was probably nothing to be concerned about, but she was hearing a ‘snap’ in the mistral valve of my heart. She explained what the mistral valve was and what may have been creating the sound she heard through her stethoscope. Of course when I got to work that day I googled and learned all about the mistral valve and put myself in a nice little state of panic. After a few deep breaths I decided not to worry until there was something to worry about, after all the appointment was a week away and I didn’t want to spend seven whole days worrying and imagining the worst.

The day of the echo cardiogram I arrived at the lab early and while I waited, chatted with an elderly lady who was also scheduled for the same scan. Having been in and out of hospitals for problems with her heart, she was worried because the prognosis for her ailment was not good. I didn’t know what to say to her.

When it was my turn in the exam room, I removed my shirt, and lay down as I was asked. The technician came in, set up the monitor and explained what he was going to do. I knew from my research on the net that it was more or less the same equipment used when performing a sonogram to see unborn babies. Then I heard a squoosh-woosh, squoosh-woosh sound and looking at the monitor saw my heart pumping away. It was fascinating. Almost as cool as seeing a baby on the monitor.

The technician looked at my heart from three different perspectives, and explained which image showed my mistral valve. The squoosh-woosh sound continued and I felt so very protective of my own heart. It actually seemed vulnerable, which made me feel guilty for ever doing things that were bad for my heart. Things like way too much alcohol and thousands of cigarettes, poor diet and not exercising. My heart was working so faithfully to keep me alive and I had been completely disregarding that fact for most of my life.

I started to feel better when the technician said that all seemed well. What a relief. I was very grateful. Then the doc came in and confirmed the technician’s opinion, “Yes…”, he said, studying the images, “Yes, you have one happy healthy heart there.” I liked that. ‘Happy healthy heart.’

From my Happy Healthy Heart to yours: Be kind to your hearts and take care of them. They work hard to keep you alive, and they give you the chance to see all the beauty, love, and magic in this world.

Take care of each other’s hearts too.

~*~

On February 6th 2014, four days after I stopped drinking alcohol, I started this blog. My two-year soberversary is fast approaching and my January posts, inspired by fictional philosophers who’ve inspired me with their bad-ass thoughts, is a way of celebrating my journey. I hope, in turn, to inspire you on yours.

Self-Destruction or Self-Preservation?

beauty-22

“You don’t have a drinking problem you know. You just have to stop letting the bad stuff get to you. It’s only when you drink that you bring up all that old stuff and then you end up drinking more and crying.”

Worst advice I’ve ever been given. But in his defense, the person who said that had been a drinking buddy for a long time. In his defense I was still determinedly running from my darkside, hand in hand with Johnnie, Jack, and Jager.

But in my buddy’s “advice” lay two main truths. I was letting the ‘bad stuff’ (old demons, any perceived slights, rejections and unfair treatment) get to me. When new bad stuff happened and I dealt with it by drinking, all I would talk about would be the old bad stuff. And then the inevitable alcohol soaked outpouring would drench my world and any ready ear, friend or stranger.

It is astonishing (and a bit disturbing), the number of people I told about the bad stuff: about the stuff that bothered me to my core.  Okay, yes, they still bother me but I am learning how to deal with them in a healthier way, with self preservation in mind instead of self destruction. Self destruction only ever told me that my fears of being unworthy, unlovable or undeserving were warranted. I thought myself ‘bad’ and treated myself as such.

Anyway, to get back on topic. Alcohol never made anything better. Sure, the first couple of drinks felt good because all the pleasure centers in my brain were tickled, tricking me into believing that this high meant I was happy. But the warning bells would already be going off by the end of glass two. I would choose to ignore them and the switch would be flipped.

Now that the alcohol induced fog has lifted and I’m allowing myself time to see, recognize and sit with the ‘bad stuff’, slowly but surely I am creating new ways of dealing with them. Bit by bit I am forming new habits. Instead of paying attention to the “I am feeling (insert difficult emotion here), so I want / need / deserve a drink” thoughts, I’m shifting my focus because I know drinking never really made anything better.

Yes, sometimes I don’t want to sit with my feelings or understand my triggers. Yes, sometimes I get tired of the over-thinking, and the mantras, and the pep talks to myself. But you know what? I’ll take being ‘frustrated with myself for brooding too much’ over ‘frustrated with myself for drinking’ any day. I know the brooding won’t last. I know that it’s all part of the process. I know it’s part of developing new habits, which instead of harming me, are actually helping me this time.

Love and light!

Phoenix

Photo Credit: Beyond The Mirror

Dr. Maté Talks About Addiction

I came across this video on Films for Action and found it particularly helpful in understanding the root causes of addiction and how to deal with them. Dr. Maté is a renowned author known for his knowledge about attention deficit disorder, stress, addiction, chronic illness and parental relations.

Of course after this short video I had to view more. This second video is brilliant. It is a clip from Dr. Maté’s talks at TEDxRio. His theme was addiction: from drugs to power.

“From the lack of love to the desire to escape oneself, from susceptibility of the being to interior power — nothing escapes.”