Tuesday, October 8, 2013

PTSD: THE WAR AT HOME. There is Help Being Offered at Omega Institute


PTSD can't be eradicated, but it can be mitigated. We are fighting a war in the U.S. If our soldiers come back with PTSD, then the citizens also are dealing with PTSD. It's as simple as that and Americans should no longer put their heads in the sand and pretend that they are not being impacted by the war abroad. It is here and we feel it as our soldiers and wounded warriors return home and attempt to deal.

For those with PTSD, sometimes it seems hopeless and worthless to even try to get to the next day. There is always hope and despite what it "seems," many people care. Do not believe those lies the mind sometimes screams out about aloneness and loneliness. If you reach out there is always help and you will find those who will listen. First, you have God. Second, you have yourself. If you don't believe in God, that's OK. You have a wonderful person, yourself. Third, there is a tremendous network of helpers. They are listed in my previous blog post about PTSD. 

One of the listings was the Omega Institute. Check out this press release about an upcoming conference that is going to make a difference in the lives of all who attend it. Hope you can make it or send someone there  to hear the speakers. If this conference doesn't fit into your schedule, check their website. They will have other offerings.

The following PRESS RELEASE is from Chrissa J. Pullicino, Public Relations Manager for Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Reaches Epidemic Levels Among Veterans

Omega Offers Alternative Treatment Options for Health-Care Professionals

RHINEBECK, NY – According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 percent of Iraqi War veterans, and 11 percent of those returning from the war in Afghanistan, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mental health issues among service members have reached a crisis level. The Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration have recognized the gravity of this epidemic and are now actively supporting mind-body modalities, from yoga to mindfulness practice, as a complement to traditional drug and talk therapies for veterans.

“The number of veterans suffering from PTSD is alarmingly high, and growing on a daily basis. Suicide, homelessness, drug use, and spousal abuse are just a few of the ways that PTSD affects veterans and their loved ones. For more than 20 years, Omega has provided programs to support the healing of veterans and affected family members,” said Carla Goldstein, chief external affairs officer. “Our Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference helps provide new tools for treatment so more veterans can experience healing.”

Veterans, Trauma & Treatment is an unprecedented gathering of experts in resiliency, trauma, and the treatment of trauma for veterans using complementary and alternative medicine. Health-care professionals, psychologists, social workers, caregivers, and counselors working with veterans suffering with PTSD and their families are welcome.

The Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference begins on Friday, October 18 at 8:00 p.m., with an opening keynote by Tracy Gaudet, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, followed by a keynote from Dr. Peter Levine, whose international best seller, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, has been translated into twenty-two languages. Throughout the weekend, conference participants will explore the best ways to use mind-body modalities to treat veterans who suffer with trauma.

In addition to hearing keynote talks from ten expert presenters, participants can choose from a variety of workshops, including mindfulness-based stress reduction, adaptive yoga for traumatically injured service members, the Social Resilience Model for healing communities with trauma, and attachment-based family interventions. Each workshop and keynote presentation has distinct learning objectives for the participants. The conference will end with a keynote address by Col. Richard R. Petri, MD, the chief of Physical Medicine and Integrative Health Services at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Omega welcomes anyone who seeks professional information on the mind-body modalities that the military is currently exploring. Continuing education credits are available.

For more details or to register, please visit eOmega.org or call 800.944.1001.

A limited number of media passes are available. Photography restrictions may apply. To apply for a media pass, visit eOmega.org/press.

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation's most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization, Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located on 200 acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York, and at exceptional locations around the world. eOmega.org

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

PTSD, The Ongoing War.

Courtesy of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Center for PTSD website
 When my friend's brother (I'll refer to him as Sam) returned from Iraq, he stayed in isolation in his room for some months, only leaving to meet infrequently with a few friends. He ate his meals in his room and watched TV and that was it. He rarely changed his clothes and he wore the same bandanna day in and day out. One day, his mom, my friend, said something about it. Sam, raged at her, screaming, "My buddy got blown up in front of me and it's his blood I'm wearing. Nobody washes this."

His mom said nothing more; she understood as did his siblings and his dad. He took off the bandanna when he was ready months later; it remained unwashed and blood soaked, hanging on a dresser mirror for over a year. Then he finally burned it on his own one night.

That first year back home, Sam was on the wrong medication, either too little or too much. The psychiatrist recommended to his parents by his family doctor did not completely understand PTSD. He didn't follow the best protocol for a returning vet. Sam was taking 10 meds with varying side effects that had to be counteracted by additional meds. It was a new situation for psychiatrists and their diagnosis at the time was spotty.  (It has since improved). He was physically ill and emotionally distraught, exacerbated all the more by those around him who could still smile and laugh and take pleasure in ridiculous things.

During that first year, Sam resisted counseling. His physical and mental condition worsened. He got into fights and during one of them, broke a bottle and threatened a group of young men in a parking lot. He was arrested and faced charges for fighting with a deadly weapon, though he was defending himself and the buddy who was with him. His family hired a lawyer and he pleaded guilty and paid fines and worked community service, his background figured in the sentence. Unable to  work, he found little purpose in his life, but unlike the soldier in the film, The Hurt Locker, he could never go back and serve in the military for another tour. He had seen enough.

Toward the end of that first year home, Sam met up with another returning vet who implored him to go to the V.A. for help. "They would understand," he said. It was a good thing. The V.A. doctor who examined Sam immediately took him off eight of the meds and told him his kidneys were in toxicity and if it wasn't stopped, he'd have to go on dialysis. Sam went into group, saw a therapist and joined other counseling sessions. Eventually after a few years, he was able to recover and find purpose in his life helping other returning vets. But the young, enthusiastic man who went off to preserve this country from terrorism vanished as if in a dream. He and his family will feel the impact of his time in Iraq for the rest their lives. But in this knowing, Sam is able to greatly help others who are returning to a culture that often doesn't understand and appears to be callous toward them in the extreme.

Oftentimes, the family suffers along with the veteran. Patrick Stewart in a poignant revelation discussed how his father, who fought during WWII, abused him and his mother. Years later Stewart was told by an expert in the field that his father was suffering from PTSD and because he was never treated, it never left him. In the 1940s, this severe physical and psychological condition was known by the benign euphemism as "shell shock," and vets were left to handle their condition on their own, as they "bucked up and were men." Because of Stewart's traumatized childhood in remembrance of his father he supports the non profit UK organization Combat Stress and for his mother, Refuge, a non profit organization which gives women and children a SAFE refuge from violent partners/ spouses.

As is suggested in Sam's story, when vets came back from the war in Iraq, they were dislocated and the culture and doctors outside the VA were widely clueless even inattentive about PTSD. As a result of celebrity media attention, films, unfavorable and alarming statistics, tragic events and many vets speaking out, there has been forward momentum in educating the public and the medical profession about the traumatic physical and psychological burdens vets face coming home. Currently, in the United States as in the UK, with the help of vocal veterans, family members and celebrities bringing funds and awareness, non profits and branches of the military have created initiatives and programs some of which are on the forefront of new strategies to help vets recover from PTSD. Some of the following initiatives and organizations you may have heard of. Others I introduce here are innovative approaches helping vets deal with PTSD, including one I recently became aware of this weekend.

Non Profit Organizations:
1. The Wounded Warrior Project
The WWP helps vets recovering from severe physical and emotional injuries. It has done much to inform and expose the maiming severity of PTSD as a soul and spirit injury for vets like Sam, some who may return without physical injuries. The Wounded Warrior Program has a number of programs.
Courtesy of the Wounded Warrior Project website
  • Combat Stress Recovery Program.  The "Combat Stress Recovery Program," helps returning warriors deal with mental health and cognitive needs. The beauty of the program is that it provides services at key stages during a warrior's readjustment process. The program approaches PTSD and combat/operational stress from the warrior's perspective. The "stigma" associated with mental health, access to care and challenges to interpersonal relationships is overcome by understanding the situation of war and combat that soldiers face in the field. 
  •  The "Restore Warriors" website offers immediate engagement and feedback online in the privacy of one's home. The site offers a brief self-assessment tool if warriors want to get in touch with where they are in their emotional present. An online help tool offers warriors proactive self-help exercises for each element related to the following: stress, relationships, loss, self-esteem, betrayal, shame and guilt, self-care. Professional help contacts are given on the site and a warrior is a click away from a Live Chat or phone call with another warrior. Videos of warriors are also given with their stories, impressions and struggles. They are feeling and heartfelt and tie warriors together as a band of brothers helping one another. 
  • Project Odyssey,  is a program which uses nature and the outdoors in a more holistic approach toward recovery. Project Odyssey offers outdoor, rehabilitative retreats that help vets foster connections with the peaceful beauty of natural surroundings. On these retreats vets are able to share activities and experiences with peers, the Odyssey staff and trained counselors. Outdoor, recreational activities include horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, a high ropes course, fishing, skeet shooting, sled hockey and skiing at retreats held in various locations around the country. Vets have the time and opportunity to develop inner strengths and renew their courage to continue recovering and healing from the long war. It has been found that the experiences gained from Project Odyssey allow vets to face the challenges related to combat stress by helping them improve their mental attitudes and outlook. The environment is one of inspiration and encouragement for them "to build new skills, connect with peers, and find support for combat stress among Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) staff and trained counselors."
Courtesy of Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY. website

2. Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York is a nonprofit center for lifelong learning.  The Omega Institute, dedicated to awakening the best in the human spirit (since 1977) offers workshops, conferences, R&R retreats and online learning in addition to other programs on their 200-acre campus in the heart of the Hudson Valley. For more than 20 years Omega Institute has supported individuals, vets and family members dealing with PTSD.  This year they are offering a handful of workshops/conferences to address the various needs of military communities, families dealing with PTSD, and professionals working with active duty soldiers or veterans of any war.  In April, Omega Institute hosted a 5-day retreat for vets living with PTSD entitled, "The Costs of War, Violence & Denial" to learn meditation techniques for improved well-being.
Courtesy of Omega Institute Workshops website (Veterans, Trauma & Treatment)

Courtesy of Omega Institute Workshops website
 Mark your calendar for upcoming workshops/conferences being held in October. On October 18-20 Omega will be convening a weekend conference for Health-Care Professionals working with vets and their families:  "Veterans, Trauma & Treatment: Best Mind-Body Practices." The conference is providing information on the cutting-edge mind-body modalities that the military is investigating as a complement to traditional drug/talk programs. From October 20-25, a 5-day workshop is planned for yoga teachers servicing military communities, entitled "Teaching Yoga in Military Communities: Advanced Teaching Skills for Addressing Combat-Related Issues." Additionally, from October 20-25, Omega is offering "Healing from Military Trauma: A Retreat for Military Women and Women Veterans." Tiered pricing and scholarships are offered for many programs.

Courtesy of the Guardians of Rescue website

 3. The Paws of War is a holistic program that provides treatment for the whole person through an intangible relationship with another being. This therapy dog program has been developed by the New York-based group Guardians of Rescue. GoR rescues dogs that either are strays or dogs that have to be left behind by deployed soldiers. The group then trains the dogs to become "buddies" for soldiers returning from the war zone with PTSD. Therapy dogs have been shown to help those with combat stress. The dogs provide comfort, unconditional affection and love. They offer a more potent connection than the isolating human interactions from those in a peacetime culture that little understands warfare and military society,  as has been indicated by vets' increased suicide rates and violent events, some enacted by vets who were attempting to deal with PTSD.
How the program works is the dogs received from shelters are evaluated prior to training to make sure they qualify. Each dog is carefully matched up with their vet/owner and follow up help and training is provided by GoR as well as free transportation and delivery. GoR gives a 100% guarantee with their buddies and will take a dog back if things don't work out. All Paws of War PTSD dogs are certified service dogs. Their certification qualifies them to travel in all public venues (including airlines, taxis, restaurants, etc.) with their military veteran owner as protected through the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Because Guardians of Rescue relies solely on public donations, there is no cost to the veteran.
Courtesy of the Guardians of Rescue website
These rescued dogs rescue their owners by helping restore their connections to civilian life through their love, support and enthusiasm. Vets find their relationship with their dog and caring for their dog makes it easier to get out of the hell of depression, sleeplessness and even pain from disabling physical injuries. Guardian volunteer U.S. Army Corporal John Walis, recovering from PTSD after serving in Afghanistan attests to the healing power of these therapy dogs in his testimony on the Paws of War website.
Courtesy of the Warrior Writers website
 4. Warrior Writers  is a national non-profit to promote recovery from PTSD and other issues military personnel have faced through their writing. Warrior Writers creates a culture that articulates veterans’ experiences. It provides a creative community for artistic expression. Most importantly this organization bears witness of the lived experiences of warriors. Click for Brochure
Courtesy of the Warrior Writers website
 This weekend I had the good fortune to attend "Smashing the Stigma: Female Veterans Take the Stage," which was a one night performance as part of the Women Center Stage Festival at The Culture Project in NYC. Five veterans, members of Warrior Writers from various branches of the military, presented their incredible work, expressing the truth of their experiences: their pain, their struggles, their scars, their triumphs. Five women told their individual stories about war, trauma, rape and motherhood. Most discussed how they are coping with PTSD. The women, Jenny Pacanowski, Susanne Rossignol, Nicole Goodwin, Jennifer Cole and Marie Delus shared personal moments. They revealed how their writings in workshops and in the community of Warrior Writers have enabled them to move forward in their lives, make sense of their journeys and embrace the hardships and the healing, never forgetting the loss, the sacrifice and the selves they left behind in the military and the war they continue to face at home.

Courtesy of the Culture Project /Women's Center Stage Festival website
 It was obvious to me from this performance that the program, Warrior Writers, connects a community of male and female warriors which has reached deep within to a soulful humanity. In the talk back after the performances Sunday night, no one in the audience wanted to leave. Their writings had touched  us in a way that the hollow writings of civilians could never do. It resonated and struck deep into common feelings of life battles along our human travels. Though we may not understand the terrors of combat, we as civilians can empathize with the loneliness, fear and brokenness of the human condition. The recovery they've achieved is ongoing and through their writings they are giving voice to that which has been unspeakable.
 US Military's Innovative Initiatives to Help With PTSD

Because of the mediocre success rate of giving active soldiers meds to cope or sending vets home with bottles of pills and a few therapy sessions to "cure" PTSD, the military, the VA and others have had to rethink such strategies. There are no quick and dirty answers, no facile cures. Many have come to believe that PTSD can be mitigated but never cured. To be effective and deep, the restoration must be gradual, the therapeutic process affirming, empathetic and uplifting. This takes time. There will be set backs. There must be a strong emotional component delivered by like minded individuals who have experienced trauma and who perhaps are farther along in the process to guide, offer a hand when needed and know when to back off when the anger comes until it breaks into the underlying sorrow and eventual reaching out for solace.

Soldiers in active duty who face PTSD need tools to help them regroup emotionally, de-compress and handle high levels of stress more effectively. Holistic and wellness practitioners who employ techniques like yoga, meditation, healing touch, craniosacral therapy, healthy, clean food and cleanses, guided spiritual principles even music therapy,  suggest that these techniques can enhance and restore the broken mind-body connections and return soldiers and vets to a state of increased well being. The military has come to realize the truth of this and has embraced holistic approaches to encourage recovery for active soldiers and for veterans.

1. The Warrior Resilence Center in Fort Bliss, Texas is the Army's premiere PTS treatment facility. It uses alternative medical practices and holistic approaches which have been found to be more effective based on objective data that the Warrior Resilence Center keeps and monitors. There are 14 similar facilities across the Army, including resilience centers in the war zone like The Freedom Restoration Center at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

However, each program differs because of available local resources and counselors' insights into what appears to be most helpful based upon the individual participants.  The program is four weeks. Soldiers in the program remain assigned to their current units. However, their duty station for four weeks is the Warrior Resilience Center, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The goal is to expose them to a little bit of everything so that, at the end of the four week period, they can help come up with an after-care program.  After  participants have tried all of the alternative treatments, they select which ones they prefer, which ones appear to work best as tools they can rely on to treat the symptoms of PTS and move forward.

The staff of 13 clinical social workers, psychologists, reiki master teachers, licensed massage therapists, an acupuncturist, and a yoga, tai chi and qigong instructor work together as a team to help the Soldiers. In addition to the various alternative treatments which participants select as the most effective, they also receive intensive therapy sessions. They have individual therapy twice a week and group therapy four times a week. According to social workers it is common to hear families praise the program and hear soldiers say the program saved their lives. The tools help soldiers return to their careers in the military where they are able to assist other soldiers. It is hoped that using these new techniques will also aid them in preserving their well being so they will continue the practices and better adapt to civilian life after their military service has ended.

Military Websites - The Department of Veterans Affairs

Meanwhile, until soldiers and veterans acknowledge that they are injured emotionally and psychologically, there are online sites which can bring soldiers toward the journey of realization.

1.Make the Connection is a personalized site helping vets and family connect with other vets and family going through similar experiences. They are able to share experiences and discover others' stories as well as share their own concerning a range of life issues from the loss of a family member to homelessness, addiction, employment and financial issues and relationship problems to name a few. Throughout the site, there are links to PTSD categories which direct the vets or family for help.

2. The Veterans Affairs National Center on PTSD offers public and professional information about PTSD. On the "For Public" section, soldiers stories are presented. There are category links "just for women," self-assessment, self-help, treatment, therapies, PTSD communities, types of trauma, common problems, etc. The site also informs about current research initiatives on PTSD. For the"Professional" section one finds links like Co-occurring problems and treating specific groups to name a few. Links to assessment are in both the public and professional sections.

It's Never Too Late For Citizens to Become Involved

This year The Veterans Affairs designated June 2013 as PTSD awareness month. The month has passed but the statistics about vets with PTSD, TBI (traumatic brain injury) and their suicide rates continue (In 2011 200,000 soldiers returned with PTSD the numbers have increased since then.) The programs listed here and many others in individual states help. But such programs aid only those vets who seek treatment. According to the same statistics, 50% of the vets who return after deployment never seek help though they have PTSD. More must be done to assist warriors mitigate PTSD.

Courtesy of Policy Mic website
What have some individuals done? James Gandolfini was a proponent for supporting vets with PTSD and he remained on the front lines speaking out and raising money. Using his notoriety and connections, he drew attention to the vets' culture clash after returning home by producing two documentaries. In Alive Day: Home from Iraq (2007) Gandolfini personally interviewed 10 survivors of the Iraq War on the challenges they faced returning to civilian life. In 2010 he produced another documentary called Wartorn 1861-2010 (It won a Prism Award for Best Documentary) which focused on vets with PTSD from the Civil War to the present.

What can we do? We must expand our awareness and sensitivity toward returning vets and deployed soldiers. We must support all veterans, encourage them, be prayerful and hopeful. We can also petition our representatives ensuring that if any programs are to be cut, the last ones to be cut should be those supporting vets, their families and those still deployed in the Middle East. No family member upon welcoming their returning loved one home after agonizing months fearing for their safety should have to experience their suicide or other terrible event because their loved one's PTSD was left untreated.

Until then though the wars may end and the troops return home, their fight goes on. Keep them in remembrance and donate when you can to the Wounded Warrior Project and these other non profits.

Theirs is a cause worth supporting.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Don't Drink the Water! Gasland and Gasland II (On Demand) Warn How Fracking Can Destroy a Water Supply.

 Woody Allan's brilliant comedy remake Don't Drink the Water  (1994) based on his stage play of the same title (1966) about a family's mad cap experiences seeking refuge and escape from the American Embassy in Russia during the cold war is aptly named. In 1966 when Allan wrote the play, Americans traveling to non European countries weren't guaranteed safe drinking water and most likely would become sick, so they were warned off the tap unless they were in a 5 star hotel.

That was then. Now, the words "don't drink the water" send chills up the spines of many of us especially after Dick Cheney's tenure at Halliburton, his Vice-Presidency and the cozy relationships that corporations enjoy with our political leaders thanks to the Citizens United court case. We have seen and heard about egregious pollution scandals based on true to life stories, in Wooburn, Mass. (film,  A Civil Action) and the PG & E lawsuit in California in the film Erin Brokovitch. In both instances companies contaminated drinking water from the wells that serviced families making it into a hazard that killed. The polluting companies settled to make the suits go away, never admitting their chemicals in the water brought sickness and death.  Publicity from these cases and many others have smartened some of us up to drink bottled water, have reverse osmosis filters, distill our own water or have water companies deliver shipments to our homes. It has come to this; "don't drink the water" is a cruel joke for the US. We have devolved into a developing nation, thanks to corporations whose greed is transforming clear, clean drinking water into an unsafe, toxic liquid detrius, unless, of course, we speak out and prevent them, while "clean water supplies last!"

This unfortunate situation is occurring despite such acts as the Safe Water Drinking Act and the Clean Water Act.  The water supply for many Americans has been and is being compromised. Because of corporate power leveraged by millions of dollars, the EPA is powerless or dilatory in bringing the polluters to task. This was before the groundbreaking documentary Gasland by Josh Fox. After the documentary's release at Sundance and nomination for awards, many became aware of the term "fracking" made famous by the film. Now they generally know that if a company is fracking an area, there is a good chance that the groundwater may become contaminated by the chemicals used in the process because of migration. We may need natural gas, but must we sacrifice our water for it?
HBO website, Gasland II, debuting on July 8m 2013 (9:00-11:00 pm, (ET/PT)
Gasland II is showing on HBO July 8th, 9:00-11:15 ET/PT
Matthew Sanchez editor of Gasland and Gasland II with Director Josh Fox speaking at a reception and screening at HBO.

Pete Seeger singing "To Everything There is a Season" cupping his hands to hear the audience participate. At the 2013 Clearwater Festival, which Seeger and friends founded in 1969 to clean up the Hudson River. The festival has expanded its activism to close Indian River and ban fracking in NY.

Last week on June 25th the director of Gasland was at the HBO theater in NYC with friends, family and supporters to celebrate the screening of Gasland II, the dynamic and chilling sequel to his Academy Award nominated documentary Gasland, which explained the horrific impact of hydraulic fracturing-the process used to extract natural gas from shale. The documentary Gasland II debuted on HBO, MONDAY, July 8th. It is currently being shown ON DEMAND and is free for HBO subscribers.
Debra Winger (back to camera) Aidan Quinn, Josh Fox sharing a light moment.

 Debra Winger in discussion with Cindy Adams from the New York Post. Debra Winger was a consultant and creative adviser on Gasland II, as noted by Fox when he introduced Winger and she joined others onstage during the talk back after the screening. Winger also worked on Gasland with Fox. She smiled and responded to a question about her input that, at times, she "has been known to produce, direct and write." Clearly, her environmental stance is well known and she has been an invaluable collaborator on the documentaries. In the Q and A, Winger's experience came to the fore when she affirmed that the mainstream media is not going to publicize or cover the detrimental impact of fracking.

 Aidan Quinn, Debra Winger, Arliss Howard, Steve Jordan, Former Congressman Maurice Hinchey and family, were a few of the guests and advocates who joined Josh Fox to spur on the democratic process about fracking issues. Fox referred to some of the guests as his special friends. These are the living witnesses to the horrors of the fracking experience. These are the ones whose water hoses breathe fire, whose homes are worthless and who were the innocents who trusted the Gas and Oil companies' lies that having wells near their houses/land would not be harmful to their kids, their animals, their property, themselves. These are the ones who do not dare drink or cook with their tap water, but have to have it trucked in at a cost either they or we must pay, the import of which Gasland II makes globally clear.

The film which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to begrudgingly positive reviews has been screened in small towns nationwide. Fox and supporters decided to take it on a grassroots tour ahead of the HBO showing on July 8th. These were special screenings that began in Normal, Illinois. Why there? The Illinois legislature supported the Gas and Oil Industry, and Fox determined that the film would serve as a flashpoint revealing the unresponsiveness of the legislators to the will of the people who want a ban on fracking. When in conversation with Fox over the "unsuccessfulness" of the protest in Illinois, he countered that the populist support to ban fracking had grown. When the politicians had voted in support of the companies, the crowds at the hearing chanted, "Shame, shame, shame!"  Clearly, the legislators were subservient not to their voters, but to the companies whose money and power influenced the acceptance of fracking in the state.
According to Fox, the  anti-fracking advocates of Illinois are becoming legion, exacerbated by the truculent, recalcitrant legislators. Thus, the tour launch in Normal was a symbolic move and an uplifting one. Josh Fox appears to be ready for any and all pyrotechnics the corporate mighty and their media may be intending to send his way when Gasland II debuts.

One can understand how this gentle, unassuming spirit has created a mountain of controversy. With his signature banjo playing of "America the Beautiful" to close out the film credits and a relaxed Q & A afterward, Fox is an everyman.  His wry humor and insightful, prescient viewpoint in the first film is powered up in the second for good reason. Thirty-two countries globally are fracking. Nationally 34 states have thousands of wells.

John Fenton and son, Jeremiah Gee, The Switzers
(left to right) Josh Fox, John Fenton and son, Jeremiah Gee, Victoria Switzer, Jimmy Switzer
I also had the opportunity to speak with cast members John Fenton and Victoria Switzer. John is the Founder of Artists Against Fracking, from Pavillion, Wyoming. He is a tall, imposing man who is on a mission, and who speaks with power and eloquence about his experiences. I asked him how he got to know Josh Fox. John Fenton said that Fox visited the area and then asked if he could stay with him. They became friends as Fox covered the story and Fenton shared his home and his heart. Fenton made it a point to affirm how important it is to speak out about fracking and what it does to the environment and the lives of those who lease their land to the companies, or who are unfortunate to be living near fracking wells. Fenton said he will not be silenced. It is his obligation to speak out and to share what is going on. During the Q and A, he spoke out and received applause, his words resonating with the audience. Clearly, he has become a spokesperson in the campaign to ban fracking.
Former Congressman Maurice Hinchey, John Fenton speaking out.

Victoria Switzer is also an eloquent and heartfelt spokeswoman. She had words of praise for New Yorkers and cautioned me that we must never accept fracking in the state. She said once "they are in, they put in well after well. It isn't just one." She also referred to the companies as sending their "fiery darts" and we must reject them. The ironic comment was not lost on me. Certainly, the flames are iconic of the results of fracking on well water. The flames also reference potential gas explosions that can and have occurred as methane leaks and migrates. Methane migration and leakage has turned homes near wells into ticking time bombs. Some houses have become filled with so much methane, inspectors have told occupants to get out. (Methane, a dense, heavy greenhouse gas is produced during the extraction process. Folks, just say "clean natural gas." NOT! It is worse on the environment than CO2 emissions.)

Victoria Switzer mentioned that the companies didn't let on that the impact would be what it is. They implied that the water would be OK and that the drilling wouldn't have the negative impact that it has had (water contamination). The companies minimized the results of fracking, In other words, they committed a kind of fraud, perhaps, but of course, this is a slippery slope and subject to interpretation. The impression I received is if the companies had said to the Switzers and others some of the research that has been done on well cement failures and migration, the folks never would have allowed them access to their property.

Fox has highlighted Fenton, Switzer and others who have suffered the oppression of the Gas and Oil industry. His view is reasoned and clear: as citizens of this country, shouldn't we have access to clean, clear, non chemical water? This question is compelling and it crosses political lines and drives to the heart of human survival. We need clean water. Corporations are depriving us of this right. But is anyone listening? Where is our EPA in all of this?
Sherie Nevins (of HBO) Aidan Quinn, Josh Fox

The film's perspective has been enough to marshal the Gas and Oil Industry into heavy PR warfare against Fox, anti-fracking non profit groups, and those on the front lines like John Fenton and Victoria Switzer. However, despite their tactics, Fenton and others are standing up to companies by speaking out, by silently protesting, by litigating, by refusing to sell their homes and sign non-disclosure agreements. They are doing what they can and are pushing back BECAUSE, UNLIKE THE CORPORATIONS, they have nothing to lose. What they valued, their homes, property and their health has been taken from them and they had little to say about it because they committed the crime of not asking the right questions, not that the companies would have given them the right answers. In fact, they were misled and/or duped. It's the "F" word.

That is one of the most vital aspects of their story, the story that Fox is hammering out so that we will understand it in all of its ugliness and abuse and then be motivated to do something: first, ban all fracking. Second, advocate for renewable, sustainable energy. Fox will continue to take Gasland II on the road with Q and As and talk backs. With supporters and all present at the HBO reception, he is looking forward to its debut on HBO with anticipation and excitement.

Gasland Part II debuts on HBO Monday, July 8, 2013 (9-11:15 pm ET/PT)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Is Your Food Addiction Making You Fat? SUGAR: Part I

The above are the most used ingredients in food processing.
 The history of corporate food manufacturing in this nation has been a death-struggle competition for the emotions, hearts and appetites of consumers. If you find this hard to believe perhaps you didn't read the New York Times article by Michael Moss or his wonderful book. According to Moss' research, the industry does not care if the foods they manufacture give you insane, unstoppable cravings, or make you overweight, fat, or sick. Companies spend millions in food labs to make sure their products keep your senses enthralled with the look, the "mouth feel," the smell, the crunchiness or softness or smoothness and above all the tastes which bring you to your very individual "bliss point" (Their word, not mine.) while eating their product. Most of the information given below is referenced from Moss' book, Foodopoly by Wenonah Hauter and from articles on MedPage Today.

The combination of ingredients are often chemical, but they serve their purpose. They bring you toward an orgasmic foodie experience that broccoli, beans and spinach, regardless, of the brilliance of Master Chef Eric Ripirt's culinary craftsmanship, will never give you. The artificial ingredients are formulated and modified in test kitchens in a long, involved process with the help of people like you and me who are paid for their time and their taste opinions. Once a food is created, then the extremely clever marketing companies take over and it will be impossible for you to resist these products which you will return to again and again and again, unless you are A HEALTH LUNATIC.

The result of this food creation process began on a mega scale about 80 years ago. It has been and will be ongoing and is spreading to third world countries. A food which manifests the prototypic example, might be the magnificent  101 year-old Oreo Cookie, a cookie which, once you taste it (like most manufactured food products in the US) sells itself. Oreos are advertised on their website as "Milk's Favorite Cookie." They are a globally renown all time best selling favorite. The original tastes fabulous dunked in milk; two semi-sweet, dry, crunchy, chocolate cookie rounds with the ultra-sweet vanilla creme sandwiched between.
The original Oreo at 101 years-old.
When you bite, you hear and feel the muffled snap in your head that excites your brain anticipating what follows:  the dry, dark chocolate crumbles melting into the vanilla creme sweetness as you chew. The milk stems the dryness of the chocolate cookie, softens the feel in your mouth which you then swallow simultaneously savoring the semi-sweet chocolatey taste and vanilla creme smoothness. The hint of real cream fat in the thirst quenching milk brings you to your rapture. The combinations of dry, crunch, semi-sweet chocolate, vanilla sweetness and bit of salt to enhance the flavors is complimented by the milk washing this sublimity down. This cookie has been carefully crafted to make you fall in love forever.
The green tea ice cream Oreo flavor a big seller in China.

The original Oreos are heavenly and over the decades the taste testers and food scientists added spin offs to tweak your palate's curiosity and interest in a never ending line extension of joy (chocolate banana split creme; peanut butter fudge cremes; golden chocolate cremes, etc.) They reconfigured size: regular (for you Goldilocks who find it "just right.") bite size: (for those of you who are waist-line conscious) and king size (for large appetites). They've also careened Oreos into innovations like Oreo pie crust, Oreo truffle candies and much more to keep those clever chemists and food scientists working for their hefty paychecks.
Oreos website which often has related videos.

The brilliant marketing on the website trends beautifully with social media. There's an Oreo song and cat and dog videos and other fun stuff and you and your family can share a photo to add to the picture gallery of favorite Oreo moments. And OMG then there are the recipes and what you can do with Oreos: candies, drinks, cakes, cheesecakes, parfaits, pies. If you can imagine it, it can be turned into a recipe using Oreos. Unabashedly, I have to admit, on the one hand, I do admire what the company has done to capture our hearts, minds and tastes so that we do not "just eat one." On the other hand, their marketing campaign is tragic in that thousand of dollars could be spent on R & D for healthier foods that decrease obesity and overweight.

If your "thing" isn't Oreos, maybe, like my friend who who watches her weight, it's Mallowmars. She ate an entire box in one sitting and became so ashamed, she stapled the empty box to the bulletin board in the employee cafeteria to remind herself that she was OFF THE CHARTS addicted and out of control. Did she ever do that again? Do you think she will tell us? Let's face it. Maybe we lie to our friends about our self-control, but all of us have had our moments where we overate cookies or a dessert or whatever and then thought, "Wow! That was a pig out." Maybe we didn't think it and just ate and kept overeating until were were overweight or obese.
Yummy scones.

Well, use as an example whatever cookies you like: perhaps the classic Pepperidge Farm line or  move away from processed cookies to high end (Petrossian or other gourmet) fresh bakery items, gluten free items, or treats that use organic wheat, or imported biscottis, pastries, fruit tarts, etc. All of these "TREATS" are fashioned so that the sumptuous taste blitzs your brain with joy and stimulates your cravings for more, maybe not today, but the memory is there. What has created the memory, the craving for more? What is lighting you up? It is the food additive with little or no nutritional value. It is the ingredient that has the power to bring you EMOTIONAL COMFORT, SATISFACTION AND WELL BEING when all else in your life may be in the swamp and you need a "feel good drug" or "pick me up."
Desserts served after the high carb, high fat scones and sandwiches at an afternoon tea.

Sugar! Liquid sugar via high fructose corn syrup, liquid fruit juice concentrate (distilled only to sugar) or whatever current processed sugar morph the industry uses that is even sweeter and more intense than 8 teaspoons of table sugar which you would never put in a cup of anything. Researchers have discovered that we are genetically hot wired in our brains for that sweet taste. It's almost as natural as breathing. The food industry has taken the hot wiring and from baby formula to Ensure and in all of the processed foods in the age groups in between, they've added excessive amounts of sugar and hooked us, prompting our "out of the blue" sugar cravings, in weird forms. What are your craves? My friends range all over: a piece of red velvet cake, an almond croissant, a Milky Way, a huge corn muffin, Snickers, a carmel Frappuccino. We never tire of the "bliss points" these yummies shoot to our brains. Sugar  is perhaps more addictive than alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. In fact alcoholics and drug addicts also are sugar addicts. In Michael Moss's book, researchers discovered that the brain lights up similarly according to MRI data.
The brain lights up with infusions of sugar in any form: raw, brown, organic sugar, stevia, high fructose corn syrup, all of it. There is no distinction except in intensity with the high fructose being even sweeter than granulated.
Sugar works on the body like a drug and behaves like a drug in our brains/minds from the moment the right amount of sweetness assaults our taste buds to the point where our insulin levels skyrocket to generate that contented, satisfied, numb feeling. That is why the food industrial complex uses so much of it to addict us. The danger is that unlike other drugs, sugar is legal. You can have as much of it as you want, and it seems that kids can't get enough of it in cereals, drinks (Kool Aide and other powdery convenience drinks), candy, puddings, snacks, etc. Teens need their sugary drinks, and sodas and snacks, and twenty and thirty somethings need their power drinks like Red Bull, etc. and health bars all of which have sugar. Families and moms and the rest of us can't get enough of it in processed foods, snacks, desserts, canned foods and sauces and ready-made meals in packages, meals from food industry eateries (Applebee's) or dinners from high end restaurants. It is added to just about everything made for us that we eat, and barring the substance itself, an alternative is always handy to add the sweet taste (carrots or other sweeter veggies or fruits, maple syrup, agave, stevia, etc.) Some implicate sugar as the medium that along with protein feeds cancer cells making your body very acidic; an acidic body some have hypothesized is the playground for cancer.
Brown or white sugar, it's still sugar and it's addictive.

We don't even have to examine the research studies to understand that we love the taste of sweetness. Each day Americans on average if they eat processed foods or sodas have about 18 teaspoons of sugar a day. If you binge, it's more. Specifically, how does an Oreo or Mallowmar get you to eat the whole box or half a package? How does soda including diet soda increase your appetite? Scientists are trying to figure that out as they are trying to figure out how sugar impacts the entire body. It's ability to stimulate cravings has been studied by scientists in the food industry. Time and again they've proven that sugar sells product. They've made trillions off the excessive use of sugar. They also know something else, but as mentioned, they are not concerned about it unless the sales deteriorate for all brands with excessive sugar.
Overweight has become the norm; Type II diabetes has increased.
They know sugar greatly increases the likelihood of one's becoming fat and obese. Obesity and overweight increase the risk for getting Type II Diabetes and having cardiovascular problems and strokes. With Type II, the likelihood of extreme complications like glaucoma, infection leading to amputation, depressed immune systems, stroke and heart disease increases with each pound of fat beyond normal weight. For the aging boomer population, this can lead to mobility issues and impairment. Bloated and weighted down by obesity and excessive fat, it becomes difficult to lead an active lifestyle. Most likely individuals in various states of impairment will rely more and more on scooters, motorized assistive devices and possibly handicapped vehicles to get around.
Shopping in a cereal aisle; some cereals are 50% sugar.

Despite the 62% overweight and or obese in our nation overall, the FDA does not regulate the addition of sugar to most products. It should. It could stem the obesity crisis. It won't because it is afraid to take on the food industry. Meanwhile our excessive sugar consumption is causing us to self-destruct. The addictive properties of sugar make us want more exponentially in a cycle of increasing intake. When we eat more, initially we feel comfort, but if we notice weight gain, that comfort becomes irritation, frustration and depression. And then we eat a pastry or candy bar to make us feel better; the cycle continues. If we eat less sugar to lose weight, we also become depressed because we want our sugar fix. The gradual weaning off sugar takes about one month before the taste memory is out of our system and the cravings are gone. This weaning should be gradual to trick the body's cells into becoming accustomed to taking in a little less and then a little less sugar. If one stops abruptly, the likelihood one will go back to getting the sugar fix is great.

One reason why people have such a difficult time with a sugar addiction is emotional. The individual relies on that sweet taste and foods with sugar to achieve peace and balance. They experience a severe emotional withdrawal without sugar, a sense of emptiness, lack of ease, frustration, irritation, sadness and depression. Their bodies have been so flooded with this substance and are so used to it that doing without it is extremely painful because their emotional well being depends upon their fix. They've become addicted.
Our brains are hot wired for sugar, revealing our cravings and addiction to it.
Cut back on one's sugar or starch/carbs/breads (it's broken down into sugar) by going cold turkey? The body reacts immediately with various physical reactions. Some have headaches, others become anxious or nervous, others become light headed (low blood sugar) others have cold sweats. Oftentimes, to distract from the emotional response to the denial of sugar, some rewire their brain by flooding it with another substance, or diet or taste. Cigarettes have a smokey (unless using menthol) bitter aftertaste that decreases one's appetite for sugar. Cigarettes successfully diffuse the palate and muffle the brain's desire for the rush it receives from sugar. The smoke distracts the memory more quickly and helps to wean one from the dependency by creating another dependency. The addiction to bitter smokey taste replaces the addiction to the sweet one. This is why cigarettes help one lose weight. The smokey taste discourages eating and the smoker eats less reaching for a cigarette instead, eating smoke. If one attempts to end either the cigarette or the sugar addiction, the individual substitutes one addiction for the other. It's a no win situation. That is why the cigarette addicted need help getting off the cigarettes and if they go cold turkey, their need for sweets increases and they gain weight.
There are between 2000-5000 taste buds on the back and front of the tongue.

If one is curtailing one's sugar addiction, it must be a very slow process to trick and retrain your taste buds and trick your fat cells.  When they are deprived, fat cells cry out from having less sugar when they've been used to feeding off it; they are shrinking and attempt to hold onto their size.  Hunger pangs intensify, even though one may eat other foods. Still the brain is signaled that there is the need for sugar. The irony is this can happen to obese people, who are not starving and have no need to eat since they have so much fat stored up that they could use as energy. Yet, they feel hunger. Their bodies are addicted to that need for sugar. For the obese and overweight, the pangs can be extremely painful, especially if the individual has been obese or overweight for a long time and has been sugar addicted for a long time.

The best way to get off the sugar addiction is take one less of a treat or one bite less and train yourself to continue to take less where you would have been eating more. Wean yourself off processed foods this way. Substitute live fruits and vegetables that are sweet after you cut back on the processed foods. Eat more of them. Drink water and lemon or lime juice to neutralize the taste for sugar. If you persist after one month it will turn into two and three months, and you will have done it gradually with much less pain than stopping completely. Remember, this is an ADDICTION. Gradual lessening of a dependence is less depressing and less painful with minimal withdrawal symptoms.

Above all, this information should encourage you to understand that it's not really your fault, though others may blame you for overindulging or being obese. Food companies have hooked you into eating desserts and  treats and drinking sodas or power drinks. They've made it convenient for you and your family to dine out at fast food restaurants that they service with their processed foods. They've worked day and night to lure you with products and advertising, and they are spending millions to KEEP YOU ADDICTED. Like DEALERS, they don't care if you get sick; they just want your money. And it's legal for them to get it by addicting you. Avoid processed foods after gradual weaning off of them. Don't give these companies your emotions, your heart, your body and your well being; avoid their sugar drug. Take control for yourself. Force these companies to bend to your will. Do not bend to theirs. Our lives are already at risk with the water we drink, the air we breathe. We at least can control some of the foods we put in our bodies with better choices. You'll be happier for it in the long run and it can be fun besting the companies that for so long have dictated your lifestyle and made you an ADDICT. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Disabled by Obesity

I have a few friends who are morbidly obese. Having experienced the garden variety of obesity going through 60 pound weight fluctuations and trying to diet,  I reached 240 pounds. At 5'5.6" my BMI was listed on Table 2. That table was for the morbidly obese. My BMI was around 40. For my height, a normal BMI should be between 19-24. I was so out of control, but I couldn't get out from under the emotional, psychological and physical suffocation of my overeating. I loved to eat. And eat I did!

So I understand what the obese are going through up to a point. Fortunately, I never experienced the physical disabilities my two friends experienced a good part of their lives, finding it difficult to walk or move. I remained active, though I was easily winded climbing 3 flights of stairs. I played tennis, but it was Doubles and I let others run the ball down, happy to cover half a court. My knees did ache. I had to take two Advils before and after I played. I had reflux when I overate and would wake up having aspirated food into my lungs. I had asthma. I also had yearly colds which developed into bronchitis as well as sinus infections. Still, I overate.
I was addicted to gluten products like scones, pastries, pasta and especially breads.
Weight Watchers didn't work for me. I used my own weight loss plan; no pills, nada.
To what extent were these illnesses attributable to my obesity? I believe to a great extent because when I lost 120 pounds during a period of two years and changed my lifestyle to include eating only live, organic produce and dairy, and fruits and vegetables with little meat, chicken and fish, I never had a cold, asthma or bronchitis again. Did I mention that I discovered I had a gluten sensitivity?  During the course of the second year of weight loss, I jettisoned all bread, flour products, pastries, potatoes, grains (especially the genetically tweaked whole grains and wheat products). I eliminated eating processed foods in cans and packages that had additives, chemicals, coloring and dyes. I only ate foods that were recently alive and were not genetically enhanced or adulterated, to the best of my knowledge. (We are learning to what extent the industrial food complex keeps us in the dark about GMO produce, grains, etc.)

With my normal weight, 20-21 BMI, I can climb 5 flights of stairs without breathing heavily. I have won three tennis leagues in first and second place and I continue to enjoy great health and happiness. How are my friends?
My friends are still obese even though two had lap band surgery. One lost about 60 pounds and the other close to 90 pounds, but they have gained and lost the same 10-30 pounds after the initial weight loss because they have learned to accommodate their lap bands; they graze during the day, eating foods that they can get down easily with the lap band. My morbidly obese friend has had hip replacement and now has to have knee replacement. My friend used a golf cart to get around because her hip had disintegrated from a combination of weight and arthritis. After the hip replacement she was better, but now her knees and back are going. Unless they can arrest their obesity they will most likely have to use handicapped motorized devices to get around indefinitely. They may even have to outfit a new accessible vehicle to accommodate their condition, especially if it becomes very painful or impossible to get in and out of a car. Many find such vans the only way to negotiate debilities safely, especially if individuals are not in large urban areas that have accommodating wheelchair buses or community accessibility conveyances.  My friends are with it baby boomers and are not incapacitated. Handicapped accessible vehicles will provide hope for them to stay mobile and connected to friends and community in the next decade if they are unable to alter their current lifestyle path.
An obese man with dangerous weight around his middle.

My fear for both is the known complications that can arise from obesity like Type II diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart ailments (my friend needed a pacemaker at 61) and cancer. One high school classmate who had been morbidly obese and was walking with a cane when I last saw her had cancer and died. She was in her 50s. The downward cycle can happen quickly if one is relegated to a wheel chair after a limb amputation and one continues to overeat.

A patient being treated for morbid obesity; a view of the foot and leg.
Obesity is a disability in every aspect of one's persona (physically, emotionally, psychologically) and chronic overeating is not easily abated, especially in our culture where cheap available, convenient foods encourage weight gain because of their excessive amounts of fat, sugar and salt. Recently, I was interviewed by Raghavendra Purohit creator of the blog about healthy eating choices. I gave 5  interviews about (CLICK HERE FOR THE INTERVIEWS) healthy food selection, weight loss and obesity. In the third segment of the 5 part interview, I discussed how I had lost the weight and kept it off. CLICK HERE FOR THE INTERVIEW. My only hope for those who are obese and morbidly obese like my friends is that they can change their lifestyles and eating habits. It worked for me. But everyone must find his or her own pace then make their own decisions about their lives. Everyone's body and life path is different.

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