Biochemistry

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.

Metamorphosis

Iroh-watches-over-Zuko-300x200

Uncle Iroh: You should know this is not a natural sickness. Your critical decision – what you did beneath that lake. It was such a conflict with your image of yourself that you are now at war within your own mind and body. You are going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience but when you come out of it. You will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be.

Do you remember hangovers? The head-in-a-vise headaches, the dehydration and cotton mouth, the sandpaper skin and sensitivity, the sour stomach and food that tasted like cardboard, the body aches and fatigue? Even though it’s been a couple of years I still do, vividly. That was my body fighting to get back to normalcy after I’d spent the night wrecking it by drinking and smoking too much. I feel such remorse when I think back to the way I disrespected my body and I certainly don’t miss the days lost, curled up on the couch in front of the TV, being physically unfit to do anything constructive or productive.

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 the flu, our bodies begin repairing. Blood will clot, new cells will replace old or damaged ones, muscle tissue will regenerate. When I gave up drinking and smoking, I understood that I may have had physical withdrawal symptoms until the toxins were 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.

Mentally, the fog lifted and there was a clarity of thought I had not felt in ages. For people who were binge drinkers (more than 3 or 4 drinks at a time) or high functioning alcoholics (those of us who drank heavily every day and still managed to hold down a job and perform well enough to keep our habit hidden) our performance levels naturally increase a few months after we quit. I was fortunate enough at that time to be offered the opportunity to broaden my professional experience and knowledge. I jumped right in. With growing confidence in my creative capabilities and my ability to tap into them now, I flexed my creative muscles and experimented with different outlets. Now, I’ve been thinking about going back to school to explore that side of me. So many things are changing, for the better.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ~ Haruki Murakami

~*~

This is Post M, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the kick-ass story lines, beautifully developed characters and exceptional storyboards) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.

The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here.

Booze-free Breakups, Blueberries and the Brightside

A few days into Sober Singledom and I’m doing alright. The episodes of being Miss Bitch while driving (swearing in sign language at incompetent and inconsiderate motorists, or grinding my teeth when faced with ineptitude at the office) are becoming less and less. Today is a rough one. I know my temper is short these days so I am reminding myself to breathe. Nevertheless, I have learned a few tricks while finding my way about this unfamiliar territory.

THE BOOZE-FREE BREAKUP

It’s remarkable how much this week has reminded me of the first few days after quitting, with the odd sleeping hours and the over-thinking. It’s ridiculous! Without the usual alcohol numbing escape I am analyzing everything. In between the “WTF” and the “How dare he?” questions, [Okay Phoenix, give Mr. Potato Head back his angry eyes] there are the “What if it’s really me?”, “What if I’m f***ed up?” and “What if I’m unlovable and will never be a compatible with anyone?” feelings. I know it’s okay to be sad, feel vulnerable and have my mind’s cogs turning and questioning everything.  I’m going with it but being careful not to get carried away by it. I accept that my sadness and regret stem from the fact that I’ve lost something that was a part of me, into which I put time, effort and emotion. It is natural for me to feel regret and loss but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am NOT back to square one. I am not the same person I was before the relationship began and today’s Me has so many new opportunities that the old me didn’t.

BUSY, NOT BOOZY

Ok, maybe I’m overdoing it a bit with the alliterations but work with me. I have a plan. I’ve been keeping myself busy without running from the rough stuff. I know I need to process everything to get through it, but I’m also taking care of ME in little ways, with mani-pedis, full body scrubs and moisturizing. You know how after a break-up, life feels surreal? Well being in contact with my own skin helps me to feel present and grounded. I’ve gotten a haircut and covered the 3mm of gray hair that would’ve frustrated me a week from now. I went to the dentist to clean and polish my pearly whites. I keep a new canvas with paints and brushes at the ready and try not to binge watch TV series, unless I really need to. I have my girls on call for silly pep talk or a heart to heart, and reach out on my blog when I need to. (Thanks so much to all of you for reaching back). I cleaned my apartment and de-cluttered my kitchen. Oh! Speaking of kitchens…

BLUEBERRIES

I can’t run to booze, cigs, or weed to alter my mood, so I’m keeping my fridge stocked with feel-happy foods. Did you know that there are many foods that actually have a positive effect on our mood? Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries contain nutrients that help reduce stress and depression. Dark chocolate (yum) is high in magnesium, a mineral that calms muscles and reduces stress and anxiety. It also contains phenylethylamine (the same chemical generated by the brain when falling in love), causing the release of endorphins. Salmon and walnuts are packed with omega-3 which helps fight depression and mood swings. Avocados, coconut milk, almond milk and mushrooms all contain vitamin D which can improve mood by enhancing the production of the happy hormone, serotonin. Synthesized by the body in response to sunlight, serotonin becomes a feel-good neurotransmitter. Greek yogurt is a mood and immune system booster. Green tea, which is my go-to hot beverage, is full of theanine, an antioxidant which acts as a calming agent. I always knew bananas were a happy food and add them to my smoothies a few times per week. They are full of energy, vitamin B6, tryptophan, iron, magnesium and potassium. In fact, one banana has enough stress-reducing magnesium for the entire day!

THE BRIGHTSIDE

My impatience won’t last and I have admitted that the Universe is not really out to get me. I am so thankful that I am not dissolving into tears which I may very well have been doing if I’d been drinking. Being weepy and sorry for myself always came hand in hand with being too drunk.

I tell myself that the over-thinking and super analyzing is going to get me where I need to go much quicker. Instead of swallowing the rough feelings with whichever drink of choice as I would’ve done before, I am woman-ing up (with my pillow in hand) and allowing those pesky feelings to be sorted out.

My ex and I are on good terms and that’s a relief. We might even become better friends down the road because there was no damning, reckless,hurtful or resentful behaviour by either party in the end.

Because I have a sober head and able to stop an emotional meltdown, I am happy to report that I don’t see any risk of me turning to hook-ups to feel less needy. I know it is natural to feel that way after a break up as I am out of my comfort zone and just want to feel safe again, but that won’t happen by jumping into waiting arms or onto a waiting body. The age old advice: “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else” is utter BS. Those rebound relationships are never good. For me anyway. All my life, all they have ever done was delay the process of healing.

All these blueberries and dark chocolate and body treatments are actually good for my skin. Taking care of myself is comforting and protective in a way. I feel safe and fairly stable.

Remaining sober and taking care of myself physically has allowed me to be more present and recognize the positive things that are happening. I found the gumption to request and receive a raise at work which allowed me to buy my sister’s car. She is migrating so the sale of the car will help cover her start up costs. New articles are being published and proposals for future commissions have been accepted. I have seven articles due, my mom is visiting next week and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a break up, or booze jeopardize the positive adventures coming my way – career-wise, creatively or otherwise.

Love and light, Phoenix.

Click here for Blueberry Coconut Ice Cream with Dark Chocolate Bits

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.”

Once A Pickle, Always a Pickle

Pleasant-Pickle-Face

Written by: Lushwell

“Can I get you a drink?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“Really? Why? I mean, why don’t you drink?”

“Same reason I don’t smoke. I see little good coming from it.”

The issue of drinking or abstaining is hosted in OUR minds. We make it an issue. “I have to drink to fit in”. Bullsh_t. Most who have encountered one of our bizarre episodes will be delighted when the night is through and we haven’t made an ass of ourselves and the cops weren’t needed. This time.

Discretion in drinking, or discretion in abstaining? You will find several schools of thought on this board regarding the realistic ability to control drinking. I subscribe to the thought that once predicable control of alcohol / chemicals usage has been lost, it is gone for good. Responsible efforts then need to be focused on abstinence.

I recall an old saying that you can take a cucumber and make it into a pickle, but once it becomes a pickle, it will never be a cucumber again. That sums it up for me pretty well. I passed from being a cucumber into the land of pickles. There isn’t any magic chant or potion or meeting to attend that will make me a cucumber again. I will be a pickle from here on out. This fact was pretty evident to me, in spite of my denial and excuses and rationalization. I didn’t drink every day. I didn’t drink antifreeze. The cops didn’t need to be called every time I opened a beer. I learned that those things, while important, weren’t what determined that I had crossed over into pickle territory. That test was much simpler. Here is the test:

It isn’t about how much we drink

Or how often

Or where

Or with who

Or when.

Its about what happens when we do drink. The inability to predict what will happen, how we will act, what we will do, and when it will end.

If any of the above fits, you may be in pickle territory. Don’t worry, though. We can get you out of the pickle brine. There is a way out. You’ll still be a pickle though.

I’m not sure where discretion fits in here for you. You can always call ahead and warn the party hosts that someone else will have to be the reason for the next exciting episode of “Cops” to be filmed at their party, as you will not be performing. See how many tell you they are sorry to hear that.

Originally published by Lushwell

The Woman with Two Brains

Well no wonder!

Note to Self:

Ask Brain One (ruled by Gaba) to research Glutamate.  Ask Brain Two (ruled by Glutamate) to research Gaba.