Tag Archives: addiction

A Rolling Stone Gathers No…?

Kidney stone with a maximum dimension of 5mm.

Kidney stone with a maximum dimension of 5mm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

***Disclaimer: This is an absurdly long post. Read at your own risk.***

This post is officially for yesterday. I’ll be posting again this evening for today. For once, however, I actually had a pretty good reason for not writing yesterday. What is that reason, you ask? It is the simple matter of me passing a kidney stone, without any pain killers. Yep, you read that correctly. About 24 hours ago I passed a kidney stone and it was, to say the least, quite uncomfortable.

I knew something was wrong yesterday morning. When I awoke from the couple of hours I was able to sleep, I felt like someone was squeezing my lower abdomen in a vice. The pain got so bad that I began to vomit, and was unable to keep liquids down, rendering the pills I took for the nausea totally useless as twice I tried to take them and twice the just came back up again along with whatever was left of my stomach contents at that point.

But I suspected another bowel obstruction, so fortunately I decided I needed to get things checked out at the hospital. By 1pm I was at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital. I would have gone back to Legacy Meridian Park, where I was seen for the previous obstructions, but when I called, the guy at the ER admitting desk told me that the wait was over four hours long! So since all records are shared between Legacy hospitals, it made sense for me to go to Emmanuel, where the wait was only about an hour long, and where they would have all the records, lab tests, and scans from my previous visits to Meridian Park. Had I gone to Providence (where I would rather have gone, despite the fact that it is further away from my house than either of the Legacy hospitals), they would have had to start from scratch and re-do all the x-rays, CT scans, blood, urine and stool tests that were done originally at Meridian Park. And of course my experience is that sometimes two different doctors will read the same scans or the result of a blood test in two completely different ways.

So it made sense for me to go to Emmanuel rather than Providence.

I made sure I was able to drive; I had nothing left in my stomach, so vomiting wouldn’t be a problem. I was in pain, yes, but although it wasn’t getting any better, it also wasn’t getting worse. I was exhausted, yes, but I certainly was in no danger of falling asleep – there was far too much going on inside my body for me to be able to rest.

Once there, the wait seemed interminable. All I wanted was to lie down – the only position that seemed even remotely comfortable was lying on my left side with my knees curled nearly up to my chest. And there was no place in the ER waiting room for me to lie down like that. Instead I was forced to sit in a chair, hunched over so that my back wasn’t pressed against the chair. Not very comfortable in and of itself, and less comfortable for someone who has (albeit unknowingly) passed a kidney stone just an hour or two earlier.

Fortunately, the wait wasn’t much longer than an hour. By 2:30pm I was back in a room, lying on my side. The nurse placed an IV and drew blood for labs. Finally the doctor came in. He was a kind, partially balding man, probably in his mid-forties. His name was Dr. Gillette, which of course made me wonder if he was possibly related to either the family whose manual razors I have often used for shaving, or to my sister’s junior high basketball coach.

He asked me the obligatory questions, listened intently, then did his standard physical exam. Nothing was out of the ordinary, except that I nearly screamed and simultaneously jumped off the gurney when he pressed on my lower abdomen. I told him that it felt sort of similar to the way I’d felt with the bowel obstruction, but not exactly the same. And then, he asked me to lean forward and pressed on my lower back. I felt nothing when he pressed on the left side, but when he pressed on the right, I nearly vomited it was so painful.

He ordered x-rays to see if the obstruction had reoccurred, and ordered a urine test. Fortunately, I had just enough liquid in my body to be able to pee right away. He also ordered a bunch of IV fluids and some nausea medication through the IV as well. We were very clear that any sort of narcotic pain relievers were not an option.

The x-rays came back completely normal. But when he came back he told me that the urine had a lot of blood in it, which usually indicates either an infection somewhere in the urinary tract, bladder, or kidneys, or else a kidney stone, which he thought most likely. He ordered a CT scan to confirm.

Laying on my back in the CT was excruciating. But one of the great things about CT’s is that they take less than ten minutes. Before long I was back in my room, waiting. I didn’t have long to wait, however, because the doctor came back in to tell me that I had definitively passed a stone sometime in the past 12 hours. The CT scan I had taken at Meridian Park just days earlier had shown two medium sized stones in the right kidney. The scan he had just take showed only one. In addition, the scan showed significant inflammation throughout the urinary tract as well, which solidly proved his suspicion that the stone no longer appearing in the kidney had decided to take a painful tour of my ureter before exiting my body.

It was a bit of a relief, really, knowing that the stone had passed and therefore the worst was over, however, it didn’t change the fact that I was still in a substantial amount of pain. And it was at this point that the line became a bit hazy, for the doctor, if not for me. It was at this point, having satisfied himself that I was really in pain and not just there to try and scam drugs, he asked me if I wanted him to treat the pain or not. I’m not sure why I had the self-control to turn him down at that point, but I did.

I asked him if there was anything else, non-narcotic, that he could use to treat the pain. He said, actually, there was. Unfortunately, the particular drug he wanted to use was in my medical records in the list of drugs to which I am allergic. But it had been listed as an allergy since 2009 when the doctors at Serenity Lane (the first inpatient alcohol and drug treatment center I attended) in Eugene gave me an intramuscular injection of it, which caused an enormous rash, made me short of breath, as well as causing lightheadedness, dizziness, and a whopper of a migraine.

When faced with those two choices, however, I decided that perhaps taking a chance might be a good idea in this situation. I told the doctor that although the medication (a powerful anti-inflammatory called Toradol, also known as Ketorolac) was listed as an allergy, I would rather chance an allergic reaction than either have zero relief from the pain or take narcotics, which, although they may have helped in the short run, will always make me miserable later. He agreed, and ordered the Toradol, but made sure the nurse stayed with me for 10 minutes or so after she administered the medication, to make sure I didn’t have a severe reaction to it.

Fortunately, I had no negative reaction at all this time. It just goes to show you how complex our bodies are, that once I had a major issue with a medication, and several years later I had no problems with it at all. My suspicion is that the batch of medication given to me back at Serenity Lane was either old, or possibly just bad. Plus, the route of administration was different. An intramuscular (or IM) injection involves the medication being injected into muscle (usually shoulder, buttocks or thigh) and absorbing into the bloodstream from that tissue. It takes longer to be effective, and can sometimes cause a range of side effects that are unassociated with intravenous (or IV) injection. So perhaps that was the major difference. Or perhaps my body’s tolerance to the drug had just changed over the last four years. Who knows, really? The important thing is that the medication worked. I finally felt some relief, and was able to drive myself home, with the doctors instructions being to make sure I kept myself hydrated (as dehydration is the main cause of kidney stones) and to rest and take ibuprofen for the pain.

I could tell that the doctor was surprised that I didn’t accept his offer of opiate pain medication and that I didn’t ask for any to take home with me. Now, 24 hours later, I’m quite glad that I declined. If I had not, I surely would have run out of whatever medication he gave me (if I have access to a bottle of opiate medication, it is typically gone as quickly as I am capable of ingesting it) and would most likely be facing several days of misery. For most people, taking narcotics even round the clock for a day or two would not produce withdrawal effects. But for someone whose brain is still out of whack from years of opiate addiction, it can only take a day (for some people even just a few doses) and the withdrawal symptoms kick in.

Instead, although I feel sore, the pain is easing, and I don’t have to fight through three days of nausea, muscle aches and cramps, fatigue, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia and depression.

Right now, I’m just sore and tired – I didn’t sleep very well last night, because of the pain. But that is altogether preferable than the alternative.

I apologize to anyone who has kept reading this far. I know this post is immensely long compared to my usual. But it was a story I needed to tell. Not for bragging rights, but to remind myself that yes, I can make it through pain without having to take narcotics, and that I am capable or refusing them, even when they are offered by a sincerely compassionate doctor.

It is the reality that comes with being an addict – sometimes you need to chalk up the wins to remind yourself that you may be powerless over your drug of choice once you have made the decision to put that drug into your system, but that you have the power to choose not to use that drug in the first place.

Thank you all for reading, it is days like today where I am reminded how powerful it is to share your experience with others, even you may not know the majority of those with whom you share.

Peace to you,

-Nathan

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The Pros and Cons of our Neurobiological Reward System

Brain met

Brain met (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tonight’s post won’t be as creative as last night. Tonight I am just plain exhausted.

After missing four of my martial arts classes in a row because of the wedding, etc… I went to Karate for the first time in over a week tonight. I loved every minute of it, and once again, by the end I was dripping sweat, out of breath, and my muscles felt like jelly.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but the satisfaction I derive from this type of physical exhaustion it’s…well… to avoid going into topics that might be not family-friendly, let me just talk about the neurobiological component.

You see, our brains are wired to give us pleasure producing hormones and neurochemicals when we do something necessary or useful to sustain life. Thus eating, drinking, sleeping, and, of course, reproduction, all create a sense of pleasure in the brain, which is there to help keep us on track. Biologically, we are meant to keep ourselves alive and to continue the human race. And our brains are constantly trying to help us do just that.

Interestingly enough, scientists have found that strenuous exercise releases similar reward-producing chemicals in the brain. It may not be exactly the same as what you feel when you eat chocolate, for example, but the brain recognizes the benefit nonetheless.

Perhaps it is just a holdover from a time when our biological ancestors had to spend their days running through the forest tracking and hunting game and gathering food from various places. Whatever the reason, it is clear that our bodies still want to reward us when we allow them to move to the point of exhaustion.

There is, of course, a line to draw here, as with everything that stimulates the pleasure centers of our brains. There is always the possibility of “too much of a good thing”.

And I can see, very clearly, how exercise could become an addiction: when I got home right after my class, I sank into a chair, looked up at the ceiling, and honestly felt a better, truer high than I ever got from any external substance I put into my body.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I not only pushed myself to the point of exhaustion this evening, but I also pushed myself through a two mile run and a long set of strength and endurance building exercises this afternoon.

Plus I had been up since about six in the morning, so possibly I was also feeling the effects of sleep deprivation (which studies show can impair someone’s judgment significantly more than alcohol).

Either way, my body may have felt like it had just been hit by a truck, but my brain was telling me, “good work, let’s do it again on Thursday”.

I feel like the chemicals in my brain are finally beginning to level out to a point where my own endorphins kick in and the natural reward system is beginning to function once more.

The question I have to ask myself, no matter what it is, be it anything from food, exercise to sex – am I overdoing it? Am I doing this activity because I know it supports my wellness goals, or am I doing it strictly because it is pleasurable?

That is not to say that there is not a time and place to engage in activities strictly for pleasure. But for me, I just need to be on my guard.

I am of the opinion that one can become addicted to just about anything (including blogging….hmmmm). All that means is that I need to be aware of the balance of activities in my life, and make sure that that balance supports my goal of optimal wellness.

Thanks for reading, and I promise tomorrow’s post will be more… let’s say “interesting”.

Goodnight, and peace to you,

-Nathan

Mind-Body Separation

A visual Representation of my Path to Recovery

Yeah, my posting has been really spotty the last few days. And that really isn’t okay with me. My blog is really designed as a way for me to keep myself accountable and to help me analyze both my progress and my problems.

So when I don’t write, I deprive myself of my own insight and I deprive myself of your insight. I have found a lot to sustain me within the comments and suggestions I have received from all of you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you guys are continuing to stick with me through this difficult time.

For a while it sure seemed like things were just going to continue to be peachy right?

Everything was going smoothly. I was on track. I was exercising every day. My lung function was increasing. My body was feeling better and better (and looking better too, if you’ll excuse a bit of vanity).

And then I hit the end my subutex taper and it seemed like I was about to lose EVERYTHING I had worked for. I know now that it was just my mind telling me that, because there was a part of me that honestly wanted to lose everything because then people wouldn’t have any expectations of me anymore and it would be okay for me to self-destruct and use drugs. To give in.

But the universe has given me a support system for which I am supremely grateful. My parents Rob and Karen, my sister Rachael, my future brother-in-law Luke, my aunt Kate and uncle Richard, my aunt Laura, my closest friends Noah, Cheyne, and Dusty, and even some new friends I have met who also have CF and can relate to some of my struggles.

And because of that support system I have found the strength inside me to keep going even when part of me wants to just say “fuck it”.

But I’ve been thinking a lot over the last few nights about what it really is inside of me that makes me turn to a “quick fix”, makes me want to just take a pill instead of try one of the many other options open to me. You see, for a long time I really thought it was because I couldn’t handle pain – whether physical, mental or emotional. I thought I was so weak that anything would send me running for relief.

I’m sorry Mom, but I have to tell this story because it so clearly illustrates where I’ve been and what destructive part of me.

When my Mom first found out I had been using Heroin, she walked into my room, sat down across from me, and completely straight faced, told me that she didn’t expect me to make it and that really, it was no skin off her back since I had stolen from her, cheated her, lied to her and manipulated her constantly for over a year. She told me that she sure hoped that the rehab program I was planning on attending would work, but that in truth she had no hope for me. She told me that in her mind, she’d already lost her son.

And you know what I did? I didn’t shed a tear. I said, “well, I guess an apology isn’t going to cut it then”. I think if she hadn’t been as in control of herself as she was she would have slapped my face. Instead she said, “no, nothing you can say will make this better”. And she walked out of the room.

But here is the clincher. The second she’d left, I locked myself in the bathroom, fixed, and shot up. Because I didn’t know of any other way to relieve the pain of what I had just gone through.

Despite what people say, addicts still feel. They feel deeply. At least, I did. And hearing my mom tell me that she really had no hope for my recovery cut me to the core. But I was so cut off from those emotions after artificially suppressing them with drugs for so long that the only option I felt that I had was to get high and just escape.

That’s a hard story for me to tell, and it sure isn’t the worst of what I’ve been through with my family and friends during the last 5 years. If people could be canonized for dealing with addicts then most of my family and friends deserve that, if not a sainthood. They have continued to love me and stick with me when I have given up on myself.

So that takes me back to my original topic. What is it inside me that has been making me run for quick, easy relief or more appropriately, escape – whenever I feel any sort of emotional, mental, or physical pain?

Am I really weak? Cause at this point in my life I don’t think so. I’ve done some pretty amazing things in my life. And I continue to notice my strength increasing, but it seems to really be limited to the physical realm. So yeah, I can tolerate a much higher level of physical pain than I used to be able to. I can sit with a terrible cough-induced headache and do nothing but put an ice pack on my head or maybe take a couple Excedrin. In the past these kinds of headaches sent me running for opiates.

I can get on the treadmill, do my Tai Chi, contort my body into the Lotus Position (although that has gotten easier and easier as my flexibility increases) and deal with the pain and even to a certain extent enjoy it.

Buuut…the mental/emotional pain is different. I spoke with my aunt this morning as she was slicing apples and I was making tea. We talked about how there is this part of my mind that just seems to want something, anything to relieve those symptoms.

On the one hand, I know that for a few days still the clonazepam I am taking won’t form a dependence for me and that it is helping me continue to pursue my goal of optimal wellness. But soon it will run out and I need to be ready, not just to find new ways to mitigate symptoms but to find new ways to think about my body, to realize that most of my symptoms are CREATED by my mind.

Many people have written many books about the “mind-body connection”. And I understand that pretty well I think. My issue at the moment is the opposite: I want to know about “mind-body separation”.

My aunt was telling me that part of what I need to do is start to actually sit in my body and feel what it feels and ignore what my brain wants to tell me about how I am feeling.

So, my goal today is not just to endure pain, but to try and separate the pain my mind wants to create for me from the actual pain inside my body. To separate them and to try to respond to them in a way that truly creates harmony inside my whole being.

Thanks for reading guys and for keeping up with this process with me. It’s been a tough week, but I think I am through the absolute worst of it now and I believe it is now a matter of staying the course and finding some new ways to connect with my body and new ways to quiet my mind.

Peace to you all, and I hope you hear my gratitude flooding out into the universe toward you all today.

-Nathan

By the way, I added the photo at the beginning because it really symbolized form the the path I am taking. It is full of snags, twists and turns. It is difficult, but it is leading somewherebetter than being stuck in this forest.

 

Making Sense of Subutex

So I’ve been going through the withdrawal process from Subutex. Regular readers know that, but some of you who may have just stumbled onto my blog might not. Subutex is what is called a partial opiod agonist, meaning that it partially stimulates the opiod receptors in the brain. Those are the same receptors that are stimulated by pain-killing drugs like morphine, heroin, and oxycodone (also opium, from which the receptors get their name). As most of you know I am in the process of recovering from my addiction to this type of drug.

Interesting right? But I bet you might have some questions, questions like:

So how does the Subutex work, what does it do, and why is it helpful for addicts? And if it helps, why would you want to stop taking it?

You might also be wondering what withdrawal is and what it is like.

So I thought tonight I would just give you as simple an explanation as possible to answer those questions.

  1. How does Subutex work, and what does it do?

Imagine that those opiod receptors in your brain are like big push-buttons. You know that giant red button in cartoons that always has a sign next to it saying “don’t push” or something like that? Or is it that someone always walks in and tells the guy, “whatever you do, don’t push the red button”? Well anyway, you can picture it right? So when you introduce a drug such as morphine into the brain, it is like someone hitting that red button with a giant sledgehammer. The drug hits those receptors on practically every possible surface available. But the button is made of plastic. The sledgehammer doesn’t stick to it, it just slides off after it hits the button.

In contrast, Subutex is like someone pouring a bottle of epoxy onto the button. It presses the button down just slightly, but it also adheres to the button, then hardens, making it nearly impossible for anything else to get to it.

So while taking a drug like morphine has a significant pain-killing effect but also has side effects like euphoria, intense drowsiness, loss of coordination, slowed breathing and heart-rate, decreased libido…etc etc etc…I could list side effects forever, but you get the idea…on the other hand, taking Subutex does have some pain reducing effects, but mostly it prevents that button from popping back up (after having been hit repeatedly by the morphine sledgehammer) and prevents the morphine sledgehammer from hitting it anymore.

Not making sense? Keep reading, it will.

  1. Why do they give Subutex to addicts if it is just another drug?

I covered this a bit in the last question, because they overlap. But this is pretty easy to answer. Because the Subutex stimulates the opiod receptors gently instead of smashing down on them like morphine does, it doesn’t create the kind of “high” that other opiods do. In fact, it really doesn’t create much of a high at all. What it does is stop addicts, whose brains and bodies have adjusted to having those buttons (the receptors) pressed constantly, from going into acute withdrawal when they cease to use the other drugs.

Subutex also blockades the receptors so that if an addict who was taking the subutex had a moment of weakness and went out to get some heroin or morphine or whatever and used it, it wouldn’t have any effect while the subutex is still in their system. And the subutex stays in a person’s system for an average of 24-48 hours which means as long as those who are using it take it at least once every 24 hours (it is usually dosed 2-3 times a day to be safe) then they are safe from both relapse and withdrawal, the two biggest issues for recovering addicts like myself.

  1. What is withdrawal and what is it like?

I think I talked about this one a bit on my Info page, but let me give you a more detailed account. When a person (even someone who is not an addict) uses any of a variety of substances including drugs like heroin, cocaine, alcohol or tobacco over a long period of time, their bodies adapt to those substances. It is one of the most remarkable things about the human body, it adapts to its current circumstances in order to achieve equilibrium with its surroundings. This happens with other more innocuous substances too, like caffeine, chocolate, gluten, casein (the protein in milk/dairy products), sugar, and even some herbs.

The problem is that when the body adapts to the frequent use of such substances, it develops what we call a dependence. In other words, when that substance is taken away, the body has a rebound reaction.

Whatever the effects of a drug are, the withdrawal process is usually the direct opposite. So if morphine or heroin make you sleepy, euphoric, itchy, warm, and unconcerned, then the withdrawal process causes insomnia, depression, goosebumps, cold sweats, and anxiety. And of course, since opiods are used to kill pain, the withdrawal process from opiods usually causes what is called hyperalgesia – basically the body’s pain threshold is significantly lowered so that it seems like every single inch of you hurts.

Doesn’t sound like fun does it? You’d be surprised how little difference there is between the withdrawal process for a cocaine addict vs. a caffeine addict. Just because a substance is legal or even legally and legitimately prescribed to you (as the pain medications were for me at first) doesn’t mean it won’t cause dependence and withdrawal. ALWAYS check with your doctor or pharmacist when you get a new prescription so that you know the risks.

Here’s where we get to the final and more difficult question: if subutex stops you from having to deal with withdrawal, helps with pain and cravings and prevents relapse, then why would you want to stop taking it at all?

This one is tougher for me to answer, because it isn’t science I need to answer this question, it is personal feelings. You see, all the literature says that the longer someone stays on the subutex, the better chance they have of successfully recovering from addiction. The problem is that most addicts like myself are not capable of using our medication properly, even the subutex. Now my ability to manage my own medication is increasing, and if I had access to my last few days of subutex all at once, this minute, I would probably still stick to the dosing schedule I have laid out for myself. But I have also been on the subutex for over three months, and during that time I have built up a whole lot of other coping mechanisms for dealing with pain, stress, anxiety, and cravings. If I had been given a whole bottle of subutex to myself right when I left the hospital it probably would have been gone in just a few days. I wouldn’t have gotten any high from it, but my brain would have convinced me that if I just took a few extra pills I might feel better than I already did, and I would have listened.

But now, because I need someone else to distribute it to me, the subutex has become a liability. It also ties me down. I have to make sure I have enough of it to last me because if I were to run out of it before my next doctor’s appointment, I would go into painful withdrawal which might make me want to go back to my old habits and use other drugs again. I have to take it, every day. I don’t have a choice.

And having no choice but to take a drug in order to feel normal is the same thing for me as my addiction. They are too similar. And I don’t like it. I don’t want my body to be dependent on something like this in order to function. That isn’t to say that I think medication is bad or that subutex is bad. I think that subutex is a fantastic medication and that it can work wonders for addicts who use it responsibly and who have supervision and counseling. But after a while, except in rare situations, the subutex ends up just being another addiction or dependence, and I believe that the responsible choice is for me to end my relationship with this type of mind/mood altering substance once and for all.

I will probably have days in the next few weeks when I will regret this decision. But I will have an entire life ahead of me that I can live without being tied to a bottle of pills.

I hope all those answers made sense. I really just set out to write this post to answer some questions I have had both from others and from myself as I go through this process of weaning myself off of Subutex.

If you have any questions feel free to email them to me or leave a comment.

Peace to you,

-Nathan

Letting the River Return

Today, Richard and I were driving back from my dental appointment and we got to talking about maturity, and how we evolve as people over time. He asked me if it seemed like I had been making a sort of accelerated leap forward in the past few months, if it seemed like I was rushing through several stages of my personal evolution all at once.

The first thing that came to my mind was what I have been told many times in drug and alcohol treatment: that we stop maturing when we start using drugs. I can’t tell you how many therapists have told me something along the lines of, “you are emotionally stuck at the point in your life when you started using”.

I think that this is somewhat true. I know that, for me, a part of me has been stuck back there in my junior year of college. I didn’t want responsibility, I didn’t have many boundaries, I was undeniably selfish, I had a certain amount of delusions of grandeur; I was a somewhat typical undergraduate student. However, I felt like there was something about me that was wrong. I felt physical and emotional pain, and to try and dull it, I started to take drugs, and very quickly they became my life. Everything else fell by the wayside. I did, truly, become stuck.

Now, as we were talking, I was trying to explain to Richard what things were like for me now, feeling like I have finally come, “unstuck”.

The image that came almost immediately to my mind was that of a deep, wide river. Let’s say you were to dam that river. Unless you have a large depression in which to collect the excess water, what will happen is that you will divert the river’s course. The water will turn, as best it can, and find a new path down toward the sea. Now, let’s say that you were to destroy that dam. What would happen? Well, first, there would be a surge of water, back down the old, dry riverbed. Then, slowly, the river would return to its old course, and after a time, no sign of the dam or the river’s old path would exist.

To me, that image demonstrates very clearly what things feel like for me at this point in my life. If the direction of my life is the direction of the river, and my addiction is the dam, I feel as if I have finally pulled down most of the dam, and there has been a surge of energy inside me, directing me back onto the course I was meant to be on. And after some more time has gone by, the evidence of that addiction, the destructive path that the river created when it had to go around that dam, will finally be erased. Nature will reclaim that dead, dry path that leads nowhere, and the water of life will return to the course it was always meant to follow.

I think that this image so clearly speaks for me that I really don’t need to go on and on about it. I think that I can just leave you with that image in your minds, and with the question: what does the dam symbolize in your life? Do you struggle with an addiction, like I do? Maybe it is a destructive relationship, or a job that doesn’t allow you to utilize your skills and strengths. Perhaps it is depression, or illness. That dam could be anything, anything at all. And if you aren’t careful and that dam gets big enough it could force the river of your life down a path it isn’t meant to follow. If you can recognize the dam in your life before it gets too big, perhaps you won’t have to go through the process I am going through now, having to tear that dam down piece by piece.

I wish you peace and a restful sleep, and I wish you clarity and insight as you explore what in your life might be altering the flow.

Thank you for reading,

-Nathan

Where the Wild Wheat Went

A variety of foods made from wheat.

A variety of foods made from wheat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, so I was just shocked so hard I feel as if I grabbed a high voltage wire in the middle of a thunderstorm while being struck by lightning and putting my hand into a tank of water with an electric eel.

 

Yeah, fine, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. But seriously, my jaw was on the floor.

 

Here’s what happened:

 

Today, during a discussion with my aunt and uncle about what the next month is going to look like for us, my aunt Kate told my uncle Richard and I that she wanted us all to listen to an interview with a doctor that she had heard of who talks about the reasons why wheat is bad for you. It came up because we have all been eating a gluten-free diet since I moved in 28 days ago. At this point, we were all considering adding just a little bit of gluten back into our diets to see how it would affect us. But Kate said she wanted us to listen to this thing before we changed. My uncle said, “why don’t we listen to it this evening after dinner?” So we all agreed to do so.

 

And we did. The interview is with Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who has worked for years to help his patients who suffer from heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and many other conditions. He has recently written a book called Wheat Belly. It is about the enormous health benefits of removing wheat from your diet. According to Dr. Davis, his patients routinely lose significant amounts of weight, reduce blood sugar levels to the point of actually “curing” their diabetes and significantly lower their blood pressure and are able to stop taking prescription drugs to manage it, among many other things.

 

Now, all that makes sense to me. Wheat, because of its carbohydrate structure and some of its other chemical compounds, pumps up your blood sugar more than pretty much any other grain or carbohydrate source. Dr. Davis explained that this is partly due to the genetic modification wheat has undergone since the 1970’s when a high-yeild, dwarf strain of wheat was produced that was supposed to be hardier, yielded ten times the amount of its earlier siblings per acre, and had a shorter stalk which shorted growth time, reduced need for nutrients, and allowed the wheat to withstand heavy winds and rains. BUT….What the scientists who produced it were unaware of was that it also contained a special compound called amylopectin A– which is more efficiently converted to blood sugar than nearly any other carbohydrate including straight table sugar! It also contained an altered form of gliadin – a protein that was accidentally modified in geneticists quest for higher yield.

 

Dr. Davis explains that the further back you go in history, the better the wheat is for humans. Anything pre-1970 is better. But going back to Emmer and Einkorn (two of the earliest forms of wheat every discovered) is the best. Hence my title.

 

Now, here’s the shocker. This altered form of gliadin contains a compound called gliadorphin. It comes from gluten. It is called alternately both gliadorphin and gluteomorphin. Recognize those suffixes? Yeah, they mean that those compounds are Opiates! If you want to know more about what an opiate is, take a look at my Info page under the section “What is an Opiate?”.   

 

Short form: opiates are any substance that stimulates the opiate receptors in your brain. The most commonly known opiates are morphine, heroin, oxycodone (aka Oxycontin/Percocet), and hydrocodone (aka Vicodin). These substances relieve pain, slow digestion, suppress the cough, cause intense drowsiness, and can also cause feelings of euphoria (a feeling of well-being unrelated to actual circumstances). They are also some of the most addictive substances known to man.

 

The belief is that the opiates in wheat, lets choose the name gluteomorphin (cause it is easiest to spell, being a combination of gluten and morphine), act as a very potent appetite stimulator. They can also cause some of the effects of other opiates, usually drowsiness, poor intestinal motility, and even some mild euphoria.

 

They can also be blocked by opiate blocking drugs like Naltrexone and Naloxone.

 

You may not be able to appreciate how incredibly shocking this was to me. But suffice it to say that I forgot to breathe for about 15 seconds after I heard that, and it took all my self-control to not shout, “WHAT THE F@%&!” at the top of my voice.

 

My aunt, uncle and I discussed this for a bit, stopping the audio track for a minute. I realized while we were talking that I have always craved heavy carbohydrate foods and often foods with gluten when I was going through withdrawl from the drugs I had been taking (which are of course, also opiates). Now, oddly enough, I also craved dairy products. I thought about that while we listened to the rest of the interview. And I looked it up on google. Sure enough, there is a protein in dairy products called casein which also acts as an opiate!

 

Holy SH%$! That was the first thing that came to my mind.

 

Second, was why on earth do I not already know this?

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I am essentially an amateur pharmacist. I know quite a lot about drugs and about pharmacology and how certain foods affect certain drugs, etc. But I had never, and I mean never heard about this. Not in any of my research had I found a single inkling suggesting that there were opiate compounds in the food I ate every day.

 

Dr. Davis’s belief is that this information is suppressed by the giant agribusiness interests that spend billions of dollars a year just lobbying congress to support their ability to keep the public misinformed. Now, I’m no conspiracy nut, but I know that a lot of large corporations spend billions on advertising and PR to keep their message in the limelight and to keep other information out of the public’s eye. It would be verrry bad press for all the food producers that are growing tons of this heavily modified “new” wheat and processing it into all kinds of things we eat every day if all of a sudden it became known that wheat not only is tied to diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory conditions, and obesity, but that it also contained an addictive drug !

 

So yeah, I have to say I buy the story. It explains a lot, frankly. It explains the amazing rise of obesity and heart disease and diabetes since the 1970’s when this “new” genetically modified wheat first appeared on the scene. It explains the difficulty people have giving up wheat products. It explains why I used to have to bring an average of 3 pieces of bread per person to every table when I worked in a restaurant. And that was before their meal!

 

And it also explains why every time I was going through opiate withdrawl, wheat and dairy based foods made me feel a little bit better.

 

And now, thanks to my aunt Kate who has a lot of passion for this way of eating (she has a blog called The Joyful Eater which is all about plant-based eating and why it can truly make food a joyful experience)…I am off of wheat and dairy. And after learning about gluten and casein and the opiates they contain, I don’t ever want to go back on them. I am literally cringing just thinking about it.

 

I mean seriously, maybe these substances are part of the reason why there is such a high rate of relapse among opiate addicts. Perhaps gluteomorphin and casomorphin (as the substance in casein is called) stimulate the receptors in an addicts mind just enough to potentially trigger cravings and eventually relapse. That seems plausible as a scenario. And if it is, then people should know about it. Yet, not a single one of any of the treatment facilities, rehabs, or hospitals I have been to have ever mentioned anything along these lines.

 

And that, reader, pisses me off!

 

I hope this post made you want to learn more. I sure do. Check out Dr. William Davis’s website, the Wheat Belly Blog. Maybe even buy his book. I sure am planning on it. I want to finish with this question to you:

 

Suppose someone gave you…say…a milkshake. They told you it was delicious and, also, healthier than a normal milkshake. So you drank it. In fact, it was so good, you drank one every day, sometimes twice a day for the next year. Then, at the end of that year, the person who gave it to you told you, “oops, yeah, I forgot to tell you…those milkshakes contain a drug that is addicting and is associated with obesity, heart disease, diabetes, as well as inflammatory conditions like arthritis and cataracts! Sorry! No harm done. I just didn’t want to tell you because I was afraid you would stop drinking the milkshakes and I get paid a hundred dollars for every one you drink!”

 

Suppose that happened. Would you say, “oh, no worries. no big deal. also, can I have another milkshake?”

 

Or would you pummel that guy until he screamed for his mommy?

 

Yeah. Me too.

 

 

 

Do your own research. Decide what is true. And act on it.

 

Goodnight,

 

-Nathan

 

 

 

The Dance

So much is different in my life today; it is hard to imagine that less than two months ago I was a homeless addict struggling just to get enough drugs to keep me from going into withdrawl. I couldn’t even worry about where I would sleep at night until I got a fix to keep me going. And the places I stayed and the people with whom I associated…well, they were bad enough that even I can barely believe they were a part of my life.

Now, I’m sitting in a lovely house in a nice part of town, resting in a comfortable recliner. I have a laptop computer on which I am typing, and my aunt and uncle are sitting quietly on their sofa across the room. My aunt has her cat on her lap and is reading while my uncle works on his computer. It is such a peaceful and domestic scene that I am almost overwhelmed with gratitude. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

Not only do I find myself in a scene of simple, contented relaxation, I also find myself more physically healthy than I have been in probably 5 years, and in addition to that I feel like my emotional and spiritual health has been progressing at a rate I never thought possible.

But I’ve been here before. Or at least, I have thought I was here in the past. Looking back over the last five years I can see a clear pattern of behavior that goes something like this:

Nathan makes poor decisions. He is using drugs. His life gets worse and worse as he alienates people, squanders his resources (and often those of others), lies, cheats, steals, and generally destroys himself (and anyone dumb enough to be nearby). A crisis occurs. Sometimes it is his physical health, sometimes mental health, and sometimes it is just that he gets caught red handed by someone who cares enough to want to help. Given a choice between death/insanity/abandonment or rehab/treatment – Nathan chooses to try and get well. He starts to improve and he gets out of treatment with firm resolve to do things right this time. And for a while, he does. Two weeks, a month, even several months go by. Then life steps back in. He slowly gives up the routine things that he knows are helping him stay on track. And still, he does alright. But then all of a sudden he is alone and unarmed against the enemy (which is, unfortunately, his own mind). A crisis comes, or perhaps merely the perception of crisis. Nathan thinks, “wow, this is horrible, and I know what I could do to make me feel better….”. Yeah, you guessed it. And now, because he has let all of his defenses fall into disrepair, that thought goes straight into action and the next thing Nathan knows, he is back at the beginning of the cycle.

Rinse, repeat.

So here’s what is on my mind right now as I sit in gratitude for the support of my family and the opportunity to pursue this amazing quest for optimum wellness: what can I do to keep myself in this new reality rather than returning to the old one described above?

I am naturally a person who likes some variety to life. I do value consistency, but I often have not exhibited consistency in my behavior. Right now I think the answer to my question is just that, consistency. I have found a routine in the past two weeks that is not just maintaining my health but improving it in a visible way. I MUST stick with this routine.

I also need to keep improving it and adding new things to it as I get stronger and healthier and able to handle more. I know that the two biggest pitfalls for me are stress and boredom. Sounds kinda contradictory huh? That’s why I know I need to move slowly and intentionally. I can’t just rush into things and make enormous commitments that I can’t handle. And when/if I bite off more than I can chew, I need to be man enough to speak up and say, “hey, I’m overwhelmed, I need some help!”. If I can make balance a priority then I think I can maintain the progress I have been making since I began this quest.

So ends the practical portion of this post.

Now for the conceptual:

I think every moment in each day of my life is like a step in an immensely complex dance. I don’t know who the choreographer is, and the stage is the infinite universe. I may not be able to see what is coming next, or when the people who dance with me will enter or exit, but at times when I give myself fully to the movement I can hear the music to which I dance.

And that faint melody gives me hope.

-Nathan