I awoke this morning remembering a Baxter Black poem I heard recited on public radio twenty-some years ago. In it an infamous rodeo bull is eyeing a cowboy he’d several times defeated, who was fixing to ride him again, and musing, “Slow learner, that one.” I have remembered the line all these years because I could relate…to the cowboy, that is. Sometimes I’m a very slow learner…the most recent case in point being yesterday.
When I last posted, I had just learned that I have psoriatic arthritis. My right thumb was painfully swollen, I’d been given a prescription for methotrexate to ward off permanent joint deformity, and I’d realized how opposed I am to taking most drugs pushed by traditional medicine these days. This trifecta of events inspired me to read Dr. Cynthia Li’s book, Brave New Medicine, which I could hardly put down, followed by Dr. Mark Hyman’s books, 10-Day Detox Diet and Food: What the Heck Should I Eat? Then, convinced that my diet was promoting a level of inflammation that might well destroy my joints, I found a Functional Medicine practitioner and requested a blood test to identify foods to which my immune system is sensitive. I wasn’t surprised when it pointed to milk, corn, soy, pumpkin, and sugar; I had already figured out that each gave me heartburn. I also already knew that I am a sugar addict—an “up-at-3-am-to-eat-ice-cream-from-the-carton-while-standing-by-the-freezer” sugar addict. That fact became unavoidable when the test showed sugar to be singularly distressing to my immune system and Dr. Hyman’s 10-Day Detox book drove the truth home. I learned that sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine and that food companies deliberately add it to many processed foods to keep us coming back. I opened my cupboard and began reading labels, then, having declined a pill that could damage every organ in my body while only maybe saving my joints from the consequences of what I’d been eating, there was no reasonable option but to dive headfirst into managing my autoimmune condition with Dr. Hyman’s detox program.
Going cold turkey off sugar was not a pleasant experience! I spent Days 2 & 3 of the detox program resisting the impulse to snarl and hiss. Equally difficult was the marked change in my kitchen behavior—specifically, that I was actually in it! I spent hours slicing vegetables I’d always avoided. I faithfully followed Dr. Hyman’s recipes for smoothies, chicken soup, and dinner entrees—all requiring items that had never before graced my pantry (think chia seeds here). I ate my first sardines…EVER…after which I decided that I could do it again if I had to but certainly hoped that wouldn’t be the case any time soon. And the change wasn’t limited to my kitchen. I got up early enough to begin every damn day—including those when the temperature was below 10 degrees—with 30 minutes of walking. And I finished each evening with a 30-minute hot soak in Epson salts, baking soda, and lavender oil. In other words, about the only thing not ruled by this detox program was the decision as to which days to shampoo my hair!
And it wasn’t in vain. I was never hungry, didn’t (by Day 4, that is) miss the sugar, discovered that I actually liked chia seeds and could tolerate avocado in a smoothie, and lost six pounds. Not at all in vain…so I more or less stayed with it in the weeks that followed. Until yesterday.
Early in my detox program, a friend had baked me a batch of tasty, gluten-free Anti-Inflammatory Coconut and Sweet Potato Muffins loaded with things that are good for me. Only one drawback—they are sweetened with pure maple syrup. Now that I have successfully completed the detox, a bit of maple syrup here and there is okay; it doesn’t set me to salivating for refined sugar and the antioxidants in it are good for me. I had been eating a couple muffins a week without repercussions so when I ate the next-to-last one yesterday, I decided to bake more. Regrettably, I have not mastered the art of baking without partaking, and by day’s end I had eaten five of them. Then, with my stomach full, I decided to skip my usual supper of greens and protein, and just fix myself a smoothie. I reasoned that…well, what I reasoned is irrelevant because a mind saturated with one’s drug of choice is not to be trusted.
In effect, those five muffins were roughly the equivalent of a slice of Marie Callender Pumpkin Pie with a scoop of French Vanilla Ice Cream, my all-time favorite dessert. This time of year I have been known to consume it at least twice daily—willing to pop Pepcid for the resulting acid reflux—and never has that beloved pie done to me what followed during the night.
When I binge, I do it in earnest, and that night I stayed up until around midnight watching two seasons of Endeavour on Amazon Prime. I awoke at 2:30 with N-V-D. I knew it wasn’t the flu because my trachea was burning with gastric acid. I made it to the bathroom just in time, expelled for several painful minutes, then returned to bed. I awoke again at 3:30 for an encore of dry heaving. Then, at 4:30, excruciating leg cramps—which happen when I am low on fluids, antioxidants, or the minerals that my usual dinner would have provided—awakened me a third time, requiring that I walk around the house for 10 minutes for relief. I awoke at 8 AM, exhausted, crabby, and muttering about skipping my usual morning walk. Charlie would not have that; having heard “walk”, he ran back and forth, barking, between me and the basket in which his leash is stashed until the laces of my walking shoes were tied.
So why have I made my woeful lack of self-control public? Because I’m grateful to have been whacked upside the head in its wake! I’ve been a willfully slow learner when it comes to my own well-being; it took a health condition with potentially disabling consequences to motivate the changes I’m making now. And without much effort I could point to other areas of my life in which, to my detriment, I have lollygagged as a learner. I believe I’m in good company in this regard. Many of us are addicted to substances, thoughts, or behaviors that injure us. And few of us relish making the changes necessary to address these insults to our bodies, minds and spirits—and I do mean all three for they cannot be separated.
So okay, have a chuckle at my expense. It will be well worth it if you are then inspired to consider your own penchant for self-harm, and do something about it before that foul-tempered bull gets his chance.