Healthy choices in Crisis
Healthy choices in CrisisIn my early life and career, there were two incidences when I thought I would not survive and my future aspirations would be no more. These episodes seemed to happen in the so-called fate of the moment, with the saving grace of surviving a tragic outcome. One incident reverberated in my mind when I hit the brakes with an almost intuitive decision that reversed what I thought would be a deadly consequence for my wife and me. The near-fatal incident was when I drove south for a vacation with my wife several years after our marriage. We were on a two-lane road with the glow of the future in front of us. Our car was small, but I thought it was powerful for passing a large semi-tractor truck, which seemed to go slow enough as we both descended a hill. To my surprise, the truck driver appeared to speed up with no intention of letting me get past him. I then spotted another large truck coming up the hill at great speed in the same lane where I was trying to get past the truck on my right. My wife and I, for an instant, thought we were both going to get killed. With a quick, spontaneous decision, I hit the brake to slow my car, allowing the big truck to our right to glide past us, allowing me to duck back in behind him. It was just in time as the truck coming up the hill whizzed past us. We quickly buried the idea of the closeness to being killed. Still, the memory came up in the years to come as a haunting reminder of life's fragility, with so many inter-playing elements out of our awareness and control. A desperate moment can occur in anyone's life where life and its blessings seem to hang by a string. More dramatically, the incident could be like an unexpected misstep as when walking on a dangerous mountain path, tripping, and falling with the gripping fear of impending injury or death. Fortunately for many, there is a reprieve or a quick, decisive action that seems to come from our instinctive reflexes, perhaps prior survival teachings, or the correct, wise choice that saves the day for future challenges. The second incident was when I was a young hospital intern, in an early step of my training and career. The hospital administrator and chief doctor in charge had granted a fellow intern a month away from the hospital to work and study in a public health setting. I thought that would also be a grand opportunity for me as well. So, I inquired at the local medical school with the head of the public health division, and he said he would take me with open arms for a month elective. He would place me in a learning and work setting to learn about public health work. I would work with some of his most talented staff, who ran two public health programs in the area. I couldn't wait to meet with our hospital's head and chief doctor, but when I got back, he had left for the next several months to participate in an out-of-the-country program in his specialty. His second in charge and assistant was very open to the idea and opportunity offered to me. He thought it was worthwhile, especially as a similar program took place with one of my peers. So, with his blessing, he sent me off for a month of public health training and work exposure. I rotated through two excellent public health treatment centers and worked with several talented and dedicated public health doctors who were skilled teachers and mentors. I returned to my regular intern duties at the large hospital and felt fulfilled and enlightened by my experience. When the director returned, I got a terse call from his office that he wanted to see me. When I got there, he was in a rage and shouting at me. How could I desert my duties and go off on something he didn't authorize? He told me to gather my things and go as he terminated me from the program. I retreated from his office stunned and felt that my apparent inept decision would end my promising career and put me out of a job or at a significant disadvantage in finding another intern position at another university-affiliated hospital. I felt like the wall was caving in on me, as the chief didn't seem to accept my authorization to do the away program by his assistant, who was in charge when he left. In semi-shock, I wandered into the great empty amphitheater where grand rounds were held and set there alone with my thoughts spinning. After a few excruciating moments, I put the brakes on my spinning thoughts, took a couple of deep breaths, and knew what I had to do. I got up and marched directly back to the director's office. The chief was still angry when I got there, but he had at least calmed a little, and maybe he had figured out that there were considerations on both sides and probably that it would be hard to replace me on short notice. He told me to go to all the people and the head of the department at the other hospital and get letters in support of me and summarizing the work and training received in these public health settings. He berated me for going around him in doing what I had, which I felt was unfair as the person in charge had authorized it while he was away. I left relieved but traumatized about how easily life's journey could be disrupted, contrary to my ideas and beliefs about how life should work out. With these occurrences, there were no extenuating circumstances, entrapment in other life-complex situations, or built-up layers of misfortune and suffering. Fortunately, in both incidences, almost miraculously, there was a reprieve from a disastrous ending to a misstep, flawed choice, or fate itself. These brief, frightening challenges may provide experience and preparation for avoiding chronic entanglement in more protracted, later painful, or traumatic life events. Desperate times occur when there is a buildup of complexities. These might include failures, painful losses, traumatic and non-nourishing childhoods, feeling stuck or imprisoned in the chains of bad luck, failing relationships and careers, addictions, health decline, or suffering from painful medical conditions. The compounding of these demands and stresses can lead to a mental and physical health breakdown. Common signs include sleep difficulties, fatigue, loss of energy, motivation for activities, poor performance, painful moods, depression, anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness, loss of pleasure and joy, and the extreme loss of the will to get out of bed or to live. It would be like falling into a bottomless hole or sinking to the bottom of the great sea and being entangled in the chains of seaweed with little to no hope of escape—trapped and drowning. Wise choices and actions can move the affected from the bottom of hopeless despair to the heights of hopeful possibility, security, and relief from suffering. Eddie* shares his journey to awareness My addiction to alcohol and drugs took hold when I went away to college at age 17. By 22, I was locked up for using and selling narcotics and served in the notorious Attica Prison, where a prisoner rebellion took place in September 1971, killing 43 people. I then spent six straight months in solitary confinement. Though I survived and was released after two years, I walked out into freedom, still unknowingly shackled with invisible yet major trauma. After ordering a book, I taught myself yoga in prison and practiced regularly in my cell. After being released, I quit a nasty cigarette habit and started making other lifestyle changes. Besides yoga, I began running and did 10K races. One major shift was in what I ate. I studied nutrition and holistic health and became a vegetarian, learning how to sustain an organic garden and make yogurt and sprouts. I married and started a family while holding down whatever job I had moving forward. No more heroin or cocaine, or black-market pills for me! No more arrests from there on! I felt myself getting stronger and healthier, and I certainly looked better and hopefully acted more responsibly. I began meditating in the early '80s and lived in two Buddhist retreat centers. I studied, practiced, and participated in numerous retreats in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. with a wide range of Eastern and Western meditation teachers, including H.H. Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. I've spent the equivalent of two years in a retreat setting. The meditation has been incredibly helpful! The unique quality of mindfulness meditation is that it encouraged me to watch my moment-to-moment experience and reactivity, tracking and understanding my own conditioning. I became more able to make choices rather than react, freeing me from patterns of obsession and compulsion. I learned to objectively and compassionately witness my habits of mind and emotional patterns, thereby providing a simple but powerful route for getting myself unstuck. In addition to whatever else I've done to avoid returning to active addiction, I have found a community of recovery addicts, learned how to be in a conscious, committed relationship with a loving partner, and gotten therapeutic interventions designed to address the trauma I experienced. I am now teaching yoga and meditation while maintaining my own practice, as well as facilitating breathwork sessions and supporting individuals using plant medicine therapeutically/intentionally via preparation, space holding in ceremony, and integration. I get to the gym several times a week to work out, hike in nature when I can, follow a plant-based diet and stimulate my brain with reading, puzzles, and games. A holistic lifestyle has allowed me to remain drug and alcohol-free while displaying health markers equivalent to a man much younger than I am at age 74. My life is not perfect, but I've learned to find balance and peace of mind at a level I never dreamed of decades ago. *Eddie LeShure is an extraordinarily talented teacher, counselor, colleague, and friend with whom I have had the opportunity to know from several holistic and integrative programs in which we both worked. He shares his poignant personal story of getting untangled from the layers of complex issues in his life, including trauma and addiction. Any compounding of underlying, unaware, and unresolved life issues can cause pain, suffering, anxiety, depression, or even death. Eddie and his partner, Margaret Kirshner, have undoubtedly saved lives with their heartfelt and dedicated work in their therapeutic teaching, mentoring, and coaching programs called A Mindful Emergence. Tips and Points to Ponder Over the years, many have shared stories about how they were entangled and felt imprisoned by layered, complex life situations that seemed insurmountable. Often, they had gone to a health care provider or therapist that offered only medication or traditional therapy, which were not helpful. In some situations, the treatments had side effects, made their struggles and suffering worse, or had not offered the help they were desperate to find. Recently, a long-known acquaintance shared that she had gone to a healthcare provider who began anti-depressants, which worsened things with health issues and sleep. Her caregiver did not recommend therapy support to get attention to the problems. Medication can be helpful in certain situations but usually is more effective when used with a more comprehensive and holistic program. When help is required, seek integrative-oriented practitioners that look at a broader array of underlying issues and treatment options. Recommendations may include approaches considered alternative or complementary in our communities but effective for many and embraced worldwide. See other related articles by Dr. Parks. Eddie's choices and beneficial outcomes show the power of making wise choices and getting guidance on a sustainable life-enhancing program for healing, transformation, and renewal. Recognize and accept the gravity and seriousness of the buildup of stress and problems that can destroy your well-being, health, and life. After realizing and accepting that serious, destructive issues exist, then is the time to act and make changes. The most formidable challenge is an initial effort and willingness to get help, unstuck, and on a healing trajectory. Most have become so entangled in problems and their complexity they are in unawareness, denial, and stuck, with a loss of motivation or the energy to seek help or to take the initial steps towards change, healing, and restoration. Some only begin when on the cliff's edge or desperate to pull themselves out of what feels like a deep, untenable place of suffering. There are many choices and resources to help work towards healing and repair when feeling overwhelmed or pushed to your limit. Most important is the goal of reestablishing the balance in your life, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects, essential for health and well-being. Some resources are closer than you imagine, while others might be harder to find and require research or guidance from an experienced and trusted source. Wise decisions and actions are necessary to avoid the dangers of an immediate situation or the destructiveness from a built-up of progressive impairing and damaging stresses and issues. Unattended, the risk is losing the essence of health, well-being, and spirit.