Gratitude Day

I started this blog post last Thursday and then abandoned it. I know how problematic Thanksgiving is…after all, I grew up with the Peanuts version of happy Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down together, a national myth that glosses over the facts as well as the history of colonization.

However, taking a day to express gratitude seems a positive practice. This year, we spent the evening with a group of new friends, and I watched The Last Waltz while I made sweet potato pie and lemon bars. I tear up every time when Bob Dylan starts his set with “Forever Young”. This, for the reader(s) of this blog, is my wish for you and know that I am grateful for you.

Breaking the Habit Loop

As I continued to consider how to live with my weight loss, I began the Mindful Eating course in the Ten Percent Happier App. It is led by Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist who focuses on using mindfulness techniques to break habits and addictions.

Brewer uses a particular kind of meditation called a body scan. You move your attention through each part of your body in a methodical way, aware of any sensations you feel. If your mind wanders, you bring it gently back to the body. Brewer’s idea is that by honing your focus in this way, you can, when cravings strike, catch yourself before you dive into the habit loop of mindless eating. His TED Talk is a good introduction to his approach to breaking habits.

I installed his Eat Right Now app and am working through the 22 -week weight loss course. It offers 15-minute modules each day that work through the concepts he outlines in the talk with a focus on eating. (He also has a smoking cessation app.) The app includes interactive tools including a stress test and want-o-meter. I have explored them but haven’t had a chance to use them on a regular basis.

One of the activities in the course is the raisin challenge. I’ve done it before in a couple different workshops, and it can seem silly. (Dan Harris notes his own sense of silliness even as he and Jud work through it; his skepticism is part of the reason I like him and his app so much.) The scenario is that you are a Martian who is given a raisin. You know it is edible but before you eat it, you need to prepare a report for your bosses. So, you take your time using all your senses to get to know this item before ultimately putting it in your mouth and eating it slowly.

One observation Brewer makes that I hadn’t heard before is to take the time to notice how your arm, elbow and hand all work together without thought to get that raisin to your mouth. You literally don’t have to think about it but when you do, it’s pretty amazing to consider how your body works without your mind. Brewer talks about it here as part of a teacher training course. He uses a great term I hadn’t heard before: craveogenic. I love listening to him talk about his relationship with specific foods and whether they lead to cravings or not.

The Real Life Story Behind Demon Copperhead

Cover of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America with a picture of Lee Country, Virginia, by Beth Macy

I followed up my reading of Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead with Beth Macy’s nonfiction report of the opioid crisis, Dopesick. I missed it when it was published, or rather knew it existed, but figured I knew the story. And, I did, but in only a general, standing outside looking in kind of way. Drugs were devastating communities in southwest Virginia, already devastated by poverty as the coal industry tanked.

Macy, a reporter based in Roanoke, Virginia, a city central to the story, introduces us to the human beings living out my truncated summary. Like Kingsolver, she begins in Lee County, Virginia, where a few locals were sounding alarm bells decades before anyone was paying attention, and then moves her narrative up Route 81, the “heroin highway,” Along the way, she stops in Abingdon, Virginia, where Purdue Pharma executives, makers of Oxycontin, were forced to face at least some accountability, a fine with no jail time, an insult to those who suffered from their ruthless marketing and deep legal pockets.

She spend times in her own town, particularly the privileged suburbs where nice white kids were suddenly dying, and one of them, son of a local business woman, was heading to prison for providing the killing dose of heroin. From there she goes to Woodstock, a bucolic community in the northern Shenandoah Valley where a mother hopes to ease her grief a bit if she can understand why her beloved son died.

As most of the victims themselves are either deceased or disappeared, Macy spends most of her time with mothers and local activists, some of whom managed to survive addiction and are now devoting their lives to saving others against overwhelming odds. It’s clear that, while Kingsolver used David Copperfield as the basis for her characters and plotting, the contemporary setting and events are drawn from Macy’s book from sleazy doctors who take advantage of addicts to pharm parties where young people pass around bowls of various types of pills, a sort of Russian roulette.

A friend told me that after I read Dopesick, I would be pissed. And, he was right. If you want to hear directly from a primary source, Dr. Van Zee, the Lee County doctor who sounded those early alarms, testified in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in 2002 as part of a discussion of balancing the risks and benefits of Oxycontin. The whole testimony is worth a read but do a search on Van Zee to get to his remarks. And just a reminder that these remarks were made ten years before that Roanoke County boy went to prison for supplying the heroin that killed his friend and sixteen years before Macy’s book was published.

Kingsolver’s characters are largely poor rural whites, those at the forefront of the epidemic, the ones Van Zee was seeing in his clinic in the early days of Oxy. Demon references the rich kids in high school, those whose parents owned the coal mines and other industries, but they are not really part of the story. And for most people the opioid crisis wasn’t a story until it moved out of the inner cities and mountain hollows. Nice, middle class white kids were dying, and suddenly people wanted to know why. But, even then, the response from law enforcement, medical authorities and government officials was simply inadequate to the magnitude of the problem and, as Macy calls it, the morphine molecule itself.

I learned a new word from this book: iatrogenic, or doctor-cause addiction. I was reminded of an interview Terry Gross did with Travis Reider, a bioethicist who found himself addicted to painkillers after a motorcycle accident. He described the dysfunction around opioids and makes the same point Kingsolver and Macy do: the medical community is good at getting people addicted but then walk away when help is needed to get clean as though it wasn’t their fault that you followed their directions.

I have just begun Macy’s new follow up, Raising Lazarus. She is chronicling the work of those on the front lines of the continuing epidemic, particularly people who are doing harm reduction through handing out syringes, fentanyl test strips, and Narcan, all controversial practices. Underlying their work is the belief that those suffering from substance abuse disorder are loved and respected as human beings under the power of a force greater than themselves.

Making

I love to make things. Crochet is my main medium along with paper. I made lots of crocheted pumpkins this fall as I used up part of my yarn stash. I subscribe to a monthly card making kit and enjoyed making the fall cards. Now I am using my Silhouette cutter to create DIY nativity scenes to send as Thanksgiving cards so they can be displayed through the season. I made instructions for how to assemble them.

Fall on the Farm

Three blog posts in a row for the new month, and I am ready for a break from stringing words together. Instead, how about a few photos? I walk Major the blind diabetic beagle* around our 18 acres every morning, and while it can be a challenge to take pictures as he strains at the leash or digs for moles, I have been trying to capture at least one picture each day. Lately, the light has been wonderful, and today the sun touched the dew on the spider webs. Enjoy a glimpse into my little corner of the world.

*Don’t feel too sorry for him. He was born 11 years ago on the farm and we’ve had him since he was 7 weeks old. He has a well-established map of the house and farm and seems to be doing fine on insulin.