Rebranding Prayer and Mindfulness Revisited

Last night I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I got up, did some writing on the computer (not a good idea when Church Health Readerone is having trouble sleeping!) and then read for a while. Finally I went back to bed around 3:30 a.m., but my mind was still buzzing. The last time I looked at the clock it was close to 4 a.m. I remember falling asleep with the Jesus Prayer going through my mind and heart. Why didn’t I try that first, before getting on the computer and reading? Why didn’t I think to approach my insomnia and monkey mind with mindfulness?

Earlier in the evening I had gone to a different sort of book event. Two Memphis authors—Suzanne Smith Henley and Greg Graber—discussed their books at the first ever book reading and signing at Church Health Center at Suzannethe Crosstown Concourse. I went because of my friendship with Suzanne, whom I’ve known since 2011 when she attended a creative nonfiction workshop I led at the Fogelman Center on the campus of the University of Memphis. I was also in a writers group with Suzanne for several years, and I was honored to be an early reader for her book, Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New. I did a review of the book here on my blog back in March, and a review on Amazon, Rehab, Heart Attacks, and the Holy Spirit Riding a Harley.” It was fun hearing Suzanne talk about her book again, with her unique perspective on the use of prayer beads and what she called “rebranding prayer.”

GregGreg Graber is the head of Middle School at Lausanne Collegiate School, and a mindfulness coach for the Memphis Grizzlies and several other sports teams. He spoke about his book, Slow Your Roll: Mindfulness For Fast Times. Greg also leads mindfulness workshops at the Church Health Center on Saturday mornings. His message about slowing down in this age of smart phones, tablets, and social media is timely and important, and can be incorporated into the lives of people of all faiths.

Suzanne and Greg were introduced by Dr. Scott Morris, founder and CEO of Church Health in Memphis, the largest faith-based healthcare ministry of its type. He’s a physician and a United Methodist pastor. I picked up a copy of the Church Health Reader Scott(Summer 2018, Volume 8, Number 3) while I was at the event, and was interested to read Scott’s article, “The Way of the Pilgrim.” Scott writes about his experience in college and beyond practicing transcendental meditation (TM). He says, “Even though I liked how it calmed my mind, I didn’t feel grounded in anything that was about God.”

He goes on to write about how the Jesus Prayer opened him to a Christian form of mindfulness:

When I first tried the Jesus Prayer with Henri Nouwen, it immediately seemed like TM. I just replaced om with the short prayer…. Years later I picked up a little book—it was only about three inches long—titled The Way of the Pilgrim…. I needed to try something, so I said to myself, ‘Start praying.’

‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’

These days we hear less about the Hari Krishnas and TM, but mindfulness and meditation are widespread and have proven health and spiritual benefits. Many people of faith use mindfulness practices for the same reasons I’ve used the Jesus Prayer all these years—to let go of everything that clutters our mind and be fully present in this moment, to be present in prayer, to experience it more clearly, and perhaps to find God waiting there.

There’s also an article in this issue of the Church Health Reader by Tim Stead titled “Mindfulness in the Christian Tradition,” which addresses the differences in the Buddhist approach and the Christian approach.

And another article by advanced practice psychiatric-mental health clinical nurse specialist Jane Slatery, “Will It Really Make Me Feel Better?” It’s about the research on mindfulness and medicine.

Some of these articles are available online (the ones with links) but others are only in the print edition. SUBSCRIBE to the Church Health Reader HERE. I just started my subscription and am looking forward to future issues. Join me?

Purple Angels, Disrupt Dementia, and Lewy Body Soldier

I recently shared a link to a wonderful site I had discovered, AlzAuthors.Org. It features over 150 authors writing about Alzheimer’s. A recent post at the site introduces Karen Severson, M.D. and her book—“Look, I Shrunk Grandma: A Psychiatrist’s Guide to Nursing Homes, Dementia, and End of Life.” Severson had several motivations for writing the book:

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She wanted to help families of loved ones with dementia understand the disease and the reasons for the treatment approaches in place in the nursing homes where their loved ones were residents. There is often tension between the residents’ families and the nursing home employees, and Severson’s book addresses those issues.

But she had another reason for writing the book:

My other motivation for writing Look, I Shrunk Grandma, a Psychiatrist’s Guide to Nursing Homes, Dementia and End of Life came from seeing persons with dementia suffering. Many families cling to a natural denial that dementia is terminal. As a result, they ask for medical procedures that could prolong life, but may also inadvertently cause more suffering. When stopping numerous interventions were suggested, we have been accused of being heartless or cruel, allowing someone to die. With the experience from my mother’s death, I wanted to do what I could to decrease end-of-life suffering.

Just a few days before this new book was introduced on the AlzAuthors.Org site, I read a special report in the July/August AARP Bulletin: “Our Goal: Disrupt Dementia.” One of several articles within the feature is Thomas K. Grose’s piece The Pursuit of A Cure for Dementia.” Grose explains about the Dementia Discovery Fund (DDF), a London investment fund that was set up in October of 2015 to “provide money to small companies seeking to discover novel therapies to stop or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia….” There’s lots of good information in this special report—well worth the read.

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Norman McNamara, the "Lewy Body Soldier"

Norman McNamara, the “Lewy Body Soldier”

And speaking of the UK, the third piece of my post today is about a British man who wrote a book after his diagnosis with Lewy Body Disease.  Norman McNamara started the organization known as the Purple Angel Dementia Campaign after he was diagnosed with a form of dementia at age 50. I’m reading his book, The Lewy Body Soldier, which is imagesan amazing achievement given he wrote it while facing the disease. If you’re a regular reader (or writer) of literary fiction or professional narrative nonfiction, don’t expect this book to knock your socks off with perfect prose. In fact, it’s full of “errors,” that are, for me, easy to forgive, because the person who wrote it wasn’t trying to win any literary awards. He wrote it to tell an urgent, universal, and important story. Here’s a video interview with McNamara and his wife and caregiver. (His verbal skills are pretty amazing, considering this was 8 years after his initial diagnosis.)

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Tangles and Plaques coverMy mother died from Alzheimer’s two years ago, and I wrote about her struggles with the disease and my relationship with her during the final decade of her life in my memoir TANGLES AND PLAQUES: A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER FACE ALZHEIMER’S. And her mother died from Alzheimer’s. I was familiar with this type of dementia, but I had never heard of Lewy Body Disease until two friends both were diagnosed with it. One has been in a nursing home for some time now, and the other is at home with 24/7 care from her husband, with part-time help. McNamara talks about some things in his book that I was not aware of before, including the experience of vivid hallucinations and night terrors. The disease, as he points out, isn’t a “one size fits all” type of thing.

Alz & Dem Services logoIf you or anyone you know has a loved one with dementia of any type, please share these links with them. I will be speaking at the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Services of Memphis’s annual conference on November 13, and I will continue to look for ways to learn more about this disease and share my knowledge and experience with others.

 

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Mindfulness and Addiction

NGM2017_09_SEPTEMBERThis coming Sunday, July 8, will be the ten-month anniversary of my last drink. I first wrote about this in my final blog post of 2017, “0 Meetings in 90 Days,” when I wrote about how I quit drinking on September 8, 2017.

I did a follow-up post three months later, on my 67th birthday, “Birthday Musings: People Can Change #sixmonthswithoutadrink”.  And again in January, “120 Days….”

I was talking with a friend about this yesterday and she mentioned an article she found interesting from the September 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine, “How Science is Unlocking the Secrets of Addiction” by Fran Smith. My friend loaned me her copy of the magazine and I read the article this morning.

While I found much that was helpful and interesting in the article—which wasn’t just about alcohol and other drug addictions, but also touched on addictions to food, shopping, and other behaviors—I took issue with the author’s definition of addiction as a disease. Although she presented a broad brush view of treatments, she seemed to agree with the Alcoholic Anonymous template when it comes to approaching alcoholism as a disease. I didn’t take issue with the plethora of treatments that are being studied to help people who are addicted to addictive substances, only with defining addiction as a disease. (One of the things that resonated with me about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, & Change Your Life, was her focus on alcohol as the extremely addictive drug that it is, rather than a focus on the “alcoholic” as a sick person.”)

Dr. Judson Brewer

Dr. Judson Brewer

Smith did part ways with AA on some important tenets in her National Geographic piece, though, and offered an alternative that touched on some of what works for me:

“Although 12-step programs, cognitive therapy, and other psychotherapeutic approaches are transformative for many people, they don’t work for everyone, and relapse rates are high…. [Judson]Brewer is a student of Buddhist psychology. He’s also a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction. He believes the best hope for treating addiction lies in melding modern science and ancient contemplative practice. He’s an evangelist for mindfulness, which uses meditation and other techniques to bring awareness to what we’re doing and feeling, especially to habits that drive self-defeating behavior….

Researchers at the University of Washington showed that a program based on mindfulness was more effective in preventing drug-addiction relapse than 12-step programs….

Mindfulness trains people to pay attention to cravings without reacting to them. The idea is to ride out the wave of intense desire.

That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the past ten months—riding out the wave of intense desire. Yes, the desire for a vodka martini is sometimes still intense, but the good news is that I don’t have those desires as often as I did when I was drinking. I used to crave vodka pretty much all day, every day. Now I only crave it a few times a week, sometimes less. I actually have whole days without that craving, which is wonderful.
But when it comes, I use a combination of mindfulness and prayer to ride out the craving. Sometimes I even talk to myself aloud, saying things like, “Yes, that martini sounds wonderful, and would certainly take the edge off this emotional or physical pain I’m having right now, but one wouldn’t be enough. I would want two. Or three. And the next time I’m in pain—which is a daily thing for me—I would want alcohol again. So why go there?” Sometimes I do things to counter the intense desire. Things like exercise, or a “treat” like something sweet or taking a break from work to watch TV or read a good book. All of these things help, but the mindfulness and prayer are the main things keeping me from drinking.

As I’ve written about here before, I’m still struggling to learn to apply these same tactics to my struggles with food cravings. The main problem remains: one cannot quit eating; one has to learn to be moderate with food. I’ll close with an encouraging quote from the National Geographic article about a woman who is having some success with mindfulness and eating:

Donnamarie Larievy, a marketing consultant and executive coach, joined the weekly mindfulness group to break her ice cream and chocolate habit. Four months in, she eats healthier food and enjoys an occasional scoop of double fudge but rarely yearns for it. “It has been a life changer,” she says. “Bottom line, my cravings have decreased.”

I always love hearing from my readers on your experience in these areas. Please leave a question or comment here, or in a thread on Facebook. Thanks always for reading!

Throwback Thursday: Microwave Ovens

51ggf9VBaXL._SL1000_Our GE microwave oven quit working last week. It’s about five years old, and I read in the customer reviews for a similar model that they only last about five to seven years. We have a built-in above-counter shelf that was designed for a fairly large microwave, so I ordered another one. I measured carefully, or so I thought, but when it arrived, it was too deep for the space. I hadn’t allotted for the several inches that the electrical cord and plug takes up in the back. And, the specifications online don’t allow for the curved-out space on the back of the microwave where the fan (?) or other parts are encased. All that to say, we had to pack it up to return it and order a smaller one.

Scan 1Meanwhile, we have a really small one that we used to use in our master bathroom, which was upstairs in a previous house, so we’re using it temporarily. It’s amazing how dependent we’ve become on a microwave oven! This started me thinking back to the early days of our marriage, and trying to remember when we got our first one. This picture is from June 17, 1970. It’s one week after our wedding, and I’m cooking and serving the first meal I ever cooked. Ever. (I was barely 19 years old.) It’s oven-baked chopped-up steak and vegetables of some sort. I remember following the recipe, lots of chopping, baking in one of our new Corningware casseroles, and it coming out really tender and tasty.

Scan 2We didn’t have a table yet, so here’s Bill eating on our TV trays. And of course, we didn’t have a microwave. Although they were available for use in homes starting in 1967. But I can’t remember when we got our first one. Probably a few years later, when the prices began to come down.

I was discussing this with a friend today who quit using hers ten years ago, due to the warnings about possible health hazards. I also remember a discussion from about ten years ago with a woman who is a gourmet cook and doesn’t have or like microwaves. I’ve read about how they destroy so much of the nutritional value of the foods and other health issues, but I’m not ready to part with mine. And I don’t really “cook” a lot in it… other than to steam frozen vegetables. Mainly we re-heat leftovers in it, and we do that quite a bit.
So, do you use a microwave? How often and for actual cooking or just re-heating? It’s always fun to hear from readers… here or on Facebook.

Happy Throwback Thursday!

The Elephant’s Mother’s Nose

memory-test-002Yesterday afternoon I had an interview to decide if I qualify for long-term care insurance. I remember when my mother had this interview, which she failed. She was in her 70s and her dementia was already too obvious. I’m only 66 and hopefully still alert enough to pass. But I was surprised by the depth of the interview.

When the insurance company’s representative called early Monday morning, she told me that I would need to have the following information available for the interview:

Medical records for the past ten years, including:

names, addresses, and phone numbers of all physicians I had seen

all medications, prescription and over-the-counter, including dosages and conditions for which I am taking the medications

which physician prescribed each medication, when it was first prescribed, and whether or not the medications were correcting the problems

any surgeries, physical therapy, or other treatments; names of the diagnoses and outcome of the treatments

any diagnostic tests, i.e. MRI, CAT scans, EKG, EEG, stress tests, etc., and the results

any broken bones, treatment, and results

specifically any cancer (I’m a survivor from 2001), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.

any family history of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc. BEFORE AGE 65 (Thankfully they didn’t ask about after age 65, since both my mother and my grandmother died from Alzheimer’s, but the onset was in their 70s.)

I spent about an hour and a half before the interview, gathering all of that information from two file drawers full of medical files. Although it was time-consuming, I’m glad to have had a reason to compile this information into one (4-page) document for future reference.

One hour and 15 minutes of the interview was taken up with me verbally giving all of this information to the interviewer, and answering other specific medical questions. And then she asked something that surprised me:

How much time do you spend volunteering?

Volunteering? Does this have something to do with qualifying for long-term care insurance? Suddenly I felt defensive.

Um, I work.

Oh (surprised tone). What do you do?

I’m a self-employed writer. I work from home. I published three books last year, and drove over 9,000 miles to 40 events where I spoke about those books.

About how many hours a week do you spend on this work?

Well, on weeks when I’m not traveling and speaking, I spend about 30 hours a week at the computer, either writing or marketing my books. But then there are weeks when I’m traveling for several days, so I’m not sure how many hours that is.

Okay, so back to volunteering. How many times a month do you volunteer?

Seriously? (I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.) Well, since I work pretty much full time, my “volunteer work” is mostly spontaneous—taking a meal to someone who is sick or having a baby, visiting with a friend who is house-bound, that sort of thing. But I don’t really think of that as “volunteering.”

Okay. Let’s talk about exercise. How often and how do you exercise?

That one was easier: 3-4 times a week, 20 minutes on the elliptical machine.

The interviewer kept saying “thank you!” after each of my answers, with a tone one might use with a child, which was kind of annoying, but I pressed on.

CHT177480Finally, after one hour and 15 minutes of detailed questions, she got to the “memory” part of the interview. Of course. When my brain was tired. But thankfully it was really easy and only took about 15 minutes. First she asked me simple questions like today’s date, where I live, my name, address, date of birth, etc. Next she said a series of 4, 5 and then 6 one-digit numbers and had me repeat them back to her. She had me do a series of simple math equations. And then the fun part. (She was dealing with a writer, right?) She called out ten words, one at a time, and asked me to repeat the word and use it in a sentence. She did this twice, for some reason. And then a few minutes later, after the math quiz, she asked me to repeat as many of those words as I could remember. I remembered them all. In fact, I think I can remember them now: silver, orange, elephant, piano, mother, paper, glass, nose, captain, rope. Interesting selection of words, right? I think it would have been more fun if she had asked me to use them all in one sentence. Like this:

The elephant’s mother’s nose was decorated with silver and orange ropes, and the captain rode on top of the elephant reading a newspaper and drinking a glass of sherry.

So now we wait for the results—hopefully good results—and finalize the financial part of the application. It feels good to do this. Since my mother didn’t qualify for long-term-care insurance, she ran out of money after three years in assisted living and only a couple of years in a nursing home. Thankfully Medicaid kicked in and took care of her final years in nursing home care. Our situation is different, and this feels like the right thing to do. Our financial planner and the company we’re working with are reputable, and if we want to cancel the policy at some point, we get our money back, which is pretty amazing.

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Now if I can just remember where I put my cell phone….

120 Days….

treatment-120-days-badgeI had my last drink four months ago today, on September 8, 2017. (If you missed my post about quitting drinking, it’s here: “0 Meetings in 90 Days.”) Hopefully my brain cells are restoring themselves. Since both my mother and my grandmother died from Alzheimer’s, I’m hoping that my choice to be alcohol-free will help, although my grandmother never drank. Or smoked. And was never overweight. She lived a simple, completely drug-free life, but still died from Alzheimer’s.

So, this week we are signing me up for long-term care insurance. We’ve done our research, with help from our financial planner, and it seems like a good thing to do. Just in case.

A friend just sent me a link to this article in The Atlantic:

“Even Small Amounts of Alcohol Impair Memory,” by Olga Khazan.

Another reason to be glad that I quit drinking altogether, rather than choosing to try to drink moderately.

IMG_1176Meanwhile, my new struggle is to learn how to use the same cognitive process I used to quit drinking in order to change my eating habits. I feel a strong addictive pull towards certain junk foods that I once felt towards alcohol. I understand that this is common for people who quit drinking, but I want to get a handle on it. Fondue chocolate (I just melt it in a mug and eat it with a spoon) and kettle-cooked potato chips (I often eat a whole bag at one sitting) are my main two cravings these days.
Oh, and I’ve almost completely quit drinking Cokes, which I loved almost as much as vodka! But I’ve switched to Diet Coke with Splenda. I know it’s also not so great for me, but it’s a step in the right direction. Except that it has lots of caffeine. But I only drink decaf coffee (usually one cup in the morning) so maybe the caffeine from the Diet Cokes with Splenda (3-4/day) isn’t hurting too much. (When I was still drinking real Cokes, I only drank 1-2 of the tiny ones each day.)

Somehow I’ve got to re-introduce healthy vegetables into my daily diet. I probably only eat vegetables 3-4 times a week, rather than several times a day. Gonna’ work on that in 2018. I don’t have an actual “New Year’s resolution,” but the beginning of a new year does feel like a good time to set goals. For me, getting a handle on compulsive eating is #1, and starting a new book is #2. Since I’ve already published 3 books (with a 4th coming in May), writing another book definitely seems easier than quitting the chocolate and chips, but we’ll see how it goes.

What are your goals (personal? professional?) for 2018?

0 Meetings in 90 Days—My Final Post of 2017

90 in 90I had planned to post this on December 8, but I decided to sit on it for awhile, just to be sure I wanted to go public with it. Having returned from a wonderful Christmas visit with kids and grands in Colorado, and now as I prepare for our (almost) annual New Year’s Day/St. Basil’s Day party on Monday, I have decided that I want to share this important part of “my story.” This clarity came to me yesterday as I was checking out at the liquor store, where I purchased three bottles of liquor for “Mississippi Bourbon Punch,” a hit at many of our parties, and 8 bottles of wine. I realized that although I will be drinking sparkling water as I enjoy the afternoon and evening with friends, watching the bowl games and playing board games on the breakfast table, I won’t be “missing out” by abstaining from the (delicious) bourbon punch and wine. I didn’t know I would feel this way back on September 8, when I made a life-changing decision. So, here’s the post I wrote 90 days later….

0 Meetings in 90 Days—December 8, 2017

I’ve considered quitting drinking for a number of years, and I even visited an AA meeting once, about ten years ago. I read a good bit of their literature, and as happy as I am for the millions of people it has helped, it has never resonated with me personally. So, today I’m sharing a different approach that I discovered a few months ago. Why today? Well, if I was in AA, today I would be getting my 90-day “chip.” My last drink was on September 8.

AA encourages people to go to “90 meetings in 90 days” when they first quit drinking—either on their own or in a treatment center. I understand their reasons—those first three months can be tough, and people need support. It’s just that my support has come from other sources. I’d like to share a little bit about those sources, beginning with a book.

This Naked Mind coverI don’t remember how I heard about Annie Grace’s book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness, and Change Your Life.(Check out the reviews on Goodreads for responses from more readers.) I read This Naked Mind over one weekend (September 8-10) and made the decision to quit drinking before I even finished the book. This is the first time I’ve ever made this decision, although I’ve thought about it for many years, being concerned about the effect alcohol was having on my body and mind. But every time I considered it, I couldn’t imagine dealing with anxiety, stress, physical pain, and even social events without it. And now—90 days in—I’ve never been more hopeful about my life and my health.

There’s not one word about God or faith in this book—it’s strictly scientific and anecdotal. But I prayed fervently as I read, and I continue to pray every day for God’s grace to continue the journey. It’s been nothing short of amazing so far. Sure, there have been times (almost daily) when I’ve craved a drink, but by God’s grace I’ve been able to remind myself that (1) one drink is never enough and (2) any amount of alcohol is bad for me. You might not agree with that last statement, and I have no desire to argue or convince, but if you’re curious, Grace’s book has over 250 endnotes, many citing academic/medical/scientific sources to back up her mission, which she states clearly near the end of the book:

My mission, the mission of This Naked Mind, is to change how our society views alcohol, to expose the truth and to provide tools to change our direction.

Grace believes that alcohol is bad for everyone, not just for people who have or have had “problems” with it. Her view is that the alcohol is the problem, and that’s it’s bad for everyone. It’s an extremely addictive drug. She even discourages drinking moderately, citing how bad one or two drinks a day is for your health. She’s definitely an anti-alcohol vigilante, spreading her message through her book, websites, workshops, etc.

One thing that struck me as different about Annie Grace’s approach than any I had read before is that she blames the drink, not the drinker. Her tone throughout the book is positive, hopeful, and non judgmental. Her own story is woven through the narrative, which gives it a strong, personal message.

So, what does Grace mean by “the naked mind”? In Chapter 1 she says:

Did you know your unconscious mind is responsible for your desires?… Unconscious learning happens automatically and unintentionally through experiences, observations, condition, and practice. We’ve been conditioned to believe we enjoy drinking. We think it enhances our social life and relieves boredom and stress. We believe these things below our conscious awareness. This is why, even after we consciously acknowledge that alcohol takes more than it gives, we retain the desire to drink.

She explains in much detail, which I won’t do here, how stressful it is when our conscious and unconscious minds are at war with each other, which she calls “cognitive dissonance.” And then she says:

Your opinions about alcohol and your desire to drink spring from the lifelong mental conditioning of your unconscious mind…. The goal of This Naked Mind is to reverse the conditioning in your unconscious mind by educating your conscious mind…. You can easily and peacefully end the conflict inside your brain.

And somehow, by God’s grace, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 90 days. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it? And yet, I am experiencing this right now. Every time my unconscious mind tells me that a drink will help (relieve anxiety, stress, or pain, or enhance pleasure) I choose (with my conscious mind) to believe that it will not help, and I don’t take that drink. Whenever I’m tempted to have “just one,” I remind myself that one is never enough. That over the years I’ve conditioned my body to need more than one drink in order to get the relief or pleasure I’m seeking. And the conflict between my unconscious and conscious mind is lessening every day.

If you’re interested in what Grace has to say about how the alcohol industry markets their products (fascinating and scary) and also the details about the specific ways that alcohol is bad for you, read the book or check out her web site. And for my friends whose lives have been blessed by Alcoholics Anonymous, I hope that I haven’t offended you. I’ve just never been able to accept the theory that people who are addicted to an addictive drug have an incurable disease. As Grace says:

The nebulous idea of an addictive personality allows us to protect our precious alcohol. We focus on the addictive personality, which makes alcohol dangerous for them but not for us. We protect the alcohol and blame the individual. This takes hope away from the alcoholic, encouraging them to believe they are powerless against their personality…. A collection of traits, which can have positive or negative implications for someone’s life, should not be stigmatized and labeled as “addictive.”

I’ll close with a comment from Grace about moderation, which had been my goal before reading her book.  She explains about how dopamine creates tolerance, so that the brain craves more than just one drink. Her words ring so true to me, 90 days in:

Moderation is like an alcohol diet that will continue for the rest of your life.

Instead of struggling with moderation (and poisoning my body in the process) I am choosing to abstain, and I feel better than I have in years.

It’s Not Just About the Building

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A few months ago I was invited to write a guest blog post for Charli Riggle’s blog, which features articles and information about disabilities, as well as children’s books, and spirituality. (Charli is a diverse and brilliant woman. Check out her new web site.) The post is up now:

“It’s Not Just About the Building”

I hope you’ll click on the link and read it and leave a comment.

Today I’m off to Eupora, Mississippi, to the Webster County Friends of the Library group to talk with them about my novel CHERRY BOMB. And on Saturday I’ll be in Nashville at the Southern Festival of Books, where I’m on a panel at 4 p.m., also talking about my novel CHERRY BOMB. To keep up with where I’ll be when, visit my EVENTS page on my web site.

Have a great week!

Silver Linings Playbook: Part III

neck xray side July 2013A week or so ago, I whined here about the pain I’ve been having in my neck. I hate to complain, and I try hard not to whine at home all the time, knowing that I’ll get a compassionate response from my husband. But who wants to live with someone who complains all the time, right? (Those are screws fusing my C4 through L1 vertebrae.)

So this morning I had an appointment with a pain specialist at Campbell Clinic. I had seen Dr. Martinez a few years ago—before my wreck—and had liked his professional and compassionate manner. Our visit this morning did not disappoint.

My appointment was for 7:40 a.m. at a clinic that is 30-45 minutes from my house, especially in rush-hour traffic. But having an early appointment meant not having to wait long, which was good. And once I was in the exam room, he took lots of time with me, really listening—really hearing me—about my pain. This is something I did NOT experience at the neurology clinic in May.
First he talked with me and examined my neck and got all the specifics he could gather about my pain. Then he looked at the x-rays that were done at the neurologist’s clinic in May. Then he sent me for a couple of more x-rays to get some different views. Then he met with me again and we discussed my options. He definitely recommended physical therapy, and I’ll start the first of six sessions next Tuesday. I’m thrilled that he suggested the director of their PT program, who is a friend of mine whom I worked with after my wreck and surgeries four years ago.

Then he talked with me about other options, including an occipital nerve block, and maybe an ultra-sound-guided block. He would do the first one. A colleague (I assume a surgeon but I forgot to ask) would do the more invasive one, under anesthesia.

I’m a real wimp about needles and pain, but I’m also tired of this on-going pain and stiffness. So here’s what I’ve decided:

Next Tuesday I’ll have my first PT appointment and will discuss these options with my friend/physical therapist. Then I’ll decide whether to (a) wait until I’ve had all 6 PT appointments (and I imagine also doing work at home) to decide whether or not to do the nerve block, or (b) go ahead and schedule the nerve block.

As I’m reading this I’m thinking this is a boring blog post, but I felt like I had bombarded my readers with so much about my books, and publishing, and all of that, so I just decided to share what’s going on.

If any of you have had nerve blocks, I’d love to hear about your experience, and your advice. Leave me a comment here or on Facebook. And thanks, always, for reading! (Hopefully I’ll have something more upbeat here on Friday!)

Silver Linings Playbook Part II: Hope Revisited

SuSuat-Campbell-Clinic-180x300Four years ago this past weekendI was in a near-fatal car wreck just outside Fairhope, Alabama. July 7, just before midnight. I was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, where surgeries were performed on my (broken) neck, right leg, and ankle. I left there four days later with lots of hardware from the surgeries, much of which is still in my body. My first blog post three weeks later tells a bit about what happened: “Silver Linings Playbook Part I: Hope.”

Here I am four years later and while I still see the silver lining in what happened to me, I’ve had increasing pain and stiffness in my neck for the past few months. So, I decided to go for a follow up at the neurology office where I was seen for my neck four years ago. They did an x-ray, said that nothing had changed, and to come back in a year for another x-ray. I had done several weeks of physical therapy four years earlier, but they never asked me to come back for follow up after that. When I asked the doctor about doing some stretching exercises or more PT for the pain and stiffness he said not to. Just leave it alone.

I left the office disheartened. I understand that I’ll have to live with some stiffness and lack of mobility in my neck, but the increase in pain—and regular headaches—doesn’t seem that something that should be ignored. I felt like I had just been dismissed.

My massage therapist has also been concerned, and so I talked with a physical therapist/friend this weekend, who encouraged me to see a pain specialist at the orthopedic clinic where he works. This morning I called to make an appointment, and they put me in touch with their “spinal liaison” who asked for surgical records from the surgery that had been done in 2013 in Florida, so that their physicians could review it and determine whether I needed more diagnostic tests done, or whether their pain specialist could help me. I’m waiting on their review now.

Caught me without my neck brace, which I wore for six months, but took off at times.

Caught me without my neck brace, which I wore for six months, but took off at times.

I’m sure that the hours I spend at the computer and also poring over books doesn’t help. Most evenings I have pain trying to sit up and watch TV or read, and I’m always relieved when I can finally go to bed and lay my head down flat. I feel immediate relief. The human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, which might not sound like much until you think about a neck full of metal screws is holding it up. And waking up with a headache every day isn’t fun.

So now I’m revisiting “hope” for some relief as I wait to hear back from the clinic. Hope that physical therapy and/or some other non-surgical relief will be coming soon. Thanks for reading… I don’t mean to complain, as I have so much to be thankful for. Every time I feel the pain, I’m reminded that I could have died or been paralyzed.

Hoping to get some relief before starting up my book tour for Cherry Bomb in August. Stay tuned!

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