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Remember The Smoking!

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Grab your guns; we’re heading for the Alamo! On October 19th gun enthusiasts will be participating in a “Line In The Sand” armed rally in St. Antonio, Texas. Participants are encouraged to carry their “long guns” and the event is billed as family friendly. It is not a protest in the traditional sense, as Texas has some of the most lenient gun laws in the land; it’s more of a show of arms if you will. The assumed intent is to create a powerful visual of gun slinging American families. To encourage a wholesome atmosphere participants are asked to remove bullets from chambers before marching.

Once one gets past the image of a John Wayne (or Mel Brooks) movie, the conceit is not that strange. People often march to express strong feelings, and clearly people feel very strongly about their guns. What is strange is that as a nation we seem to have bought into that sentiment. We continuously elect representatives who hold gun rights sacred. It’s challenging to conjure any other “right” that directly impacts the rights of others as dramatically as gun rights. We think nothing of restricting individual rights that have little if any impact on larger society. We set restrictions on; who can marry, female reproduction, child safety, and the right to die. In the past few decades we have begun to set limits on individual rights which affect the public. You can no longer drink and drive with impunity. Smoking is so restricted as to be unrecognizable as the American pastime it once was.

Smoking was once ubiquitous. People smoked in movie theaters, buses, planes, and even elevators! Ashtrays were everywhere! Freestanding ashtrays were in doctor’s offices, factories, office buildings, and schools. The smoke cloud emerging from most teachers’ lounges rivaled that of a nuclear test. Once upon a time cigarette smoke was everywhere. About twenty-five years ago C. Everett Koop (U.S. Surgeon General) published a report equating the addictive nature of nicotine to that of heroin. You’d be forgiven for not considering this a “Eureka!” moment. But keep in mind that the tobacco industry was (if not is) one of the more powerful lobbying groups in the country. Shortly after the report’s publication cigarette packaging had to include a warning box. Dr. Koop later published a report regarding the hazards of “secondhand smoke.” The first restaurant smoking sections then cropped up. Some readers might remember the bizarreness of smoking sections; everyone seemed to pretend that smoke doesn’t move. But as behavior change motivation goes, baby steps are often the way to go. Fast-forward to 2013 and most of us live in a practically smoke-free environment. Smoking is considered a private behavior and as such cannot infringe upon the larger population.

So why haven’t we been able to treat gun ownership this way? Secondhand smoke couldn’t possibly kill more people than guns. Why have we not set limits on how many firearms a registered, licensed and certified owner can possess? Where are the laws about which kind of weapons are allowed outside of a registered, licensed and law abiding gun club and which must stay secured? Why do we tolerate gun show loopholes? How can a household that includes children be allowed guns, but apartment residents with children must have window guards? There are gun enthusiasts in favor of reasonable restrictions. Not all gun fans cling to the 2nd amendment like it was an out of context bible passage. Not every person who enjoys guns holds fast to rhetoric and flag waving. So where are those voices? Where is our C. Everett Koop?

People will show up to the Alamo with their guns and children. Even if the showing is paltry the imagery will be startling. Once again we will be lulled into thinking that gun owners are monolithic. Once again the issue will be framed as all or nothing. Color me a pessimist, but once again our capital will be noticeably silent.

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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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The Smoking (Gun) Section

Anti-smoking campaign launched

C. Everett Koop made a mark on public health in America. He was a forceful advocate for rational scientific facts that were at times in opposition to his own personal beliefs. He refused to imbue abortion with (unsubstantiated) claims of lasting psychological damage. He forced a (seemingly) reluctant administration into acknowledging and fighting AIDS. He may very well be the only surgeon general whom we can all name and picture and that is in no small part due to his anti-smoking campaign. Dr. Koop was the catalyst for the most dramatic change in social behavior in our time. Alarmed by the effects of smoking Dr. Koop, and without much support from his administration, he went up against the powerful tobacco lobby and took to the podium (in his impressive uniform.) He appealed directly to the nation to change their ways. He issued a report about second-hand smoke and campaigned for smoking restrictions in the workplace and restaurants. Through his efforts, both academic and rallying; Americans began to change their attitudes towards smoking. Smokers gradually went from the freedom to smoke anywhere in a restaurant, to doing so in a designated area, to doing so outdoors. People grumbled and even got angry, but they moved and public health improved. The air quality improved for all and smoking diminished (dramatically) overall.

Smoking became a personal behavior that must stay personal. What if we were to do the same with gun ownership? What if we were to treat guns as we do smoking, as a public health issue? People can own guns, they can shoot guns, but they most do so in the shooting section. Guns must be registered and licensed and be stored at a registered and licensed gun club. The clubs provide shooting ranges and would be allowed to sell ammunition. Licensing and registering a personal (at home) handgun would require the purchase of a gun safe. Gun security in a house in which children are allowed or live would be treated like cars and car seats. Any adult caught having an unsecured gun in proximity of a child would be subjected to the same penalties a person driving with an unrestrained child. Hunting is already a highly regulated endeavor. There are times of year in which a person is allowed to hunt particular animals and there is licensing. Hunting guns would be registered, licensed and stored at a hunting lodge (or a locker in the state police barracks.) Gun owners would be fined and have their license revoked if they don’t abide by the rules.

Would creating a ‘smoking’ section prevent illegal firearm sales or guns ending up in the wrong hands? Maybe, maybe not. But by changing what we consider normative behavior, we do change everything. What Dr. Koop did was shift our society’s perception of smoking. We moved from glamorizing a behavior to recognizing it for the blight on public health that it is. If we no longer accept that an individual’s right to gun ownership trumps that of the public good we will be that much closer to protecting our children and ourselves. If we begin to see that guns, like cigarettes, are a personal choice that must remain personal we are that much closer to controlling gun violence. People who choose to own and use guns responsibly should embrace this notion and extricate themselves from any organization that preaches personal freedoms above that of a safe and secure society. They should tear up their membership cards and visibly step away from an organization whose solution to violence is to arm elementary schools. There is a name for groups whose use of violence creates a general climate of fear in a population.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Step Into The Sun, Step Into The Light

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It’s been four weeks since we; stubbed out our last cigarette, scarfed our last overgrown cupcake, corked the bottle, and put on sneakers. How are we doing? Have there been some slips? Have there been any results? Well there’s some bad news and some good news. Bad first? Well, three weeks is when a new activity really loses its aura of novelty. The excitement of starting something has ebbed. Now it’s just doing the activity. If you haven’t seen immediate or significant results you might just be thinking; “one donut never hurt anyone.” You may have started a convincing inner dialogue of “Ya know four weeks is a long time. I showed I could do it if I put my mind to it. This is just a bad time for me. I’ll pick it up again when…” And you’d be right. January is a dumb time to change physical behavior. So are you ready for the good news? A new behavior becomes habit at five weeks. That’s right, you are almost at the sweet spot. This doesn’t mean that in one week you will awaken to a svelte non-craving new self. It means that it will no longer feel like a virtual living hell on earth to engage in your resolution behavior.

Instead of simply enduring this last week of drudge, let’s use it to tweak ourselves.

If it’s tobacco that you are trying to excise from your life, do you have proper support? Have you seen a doctor (who might suggest nicotine patches/gums?) Do you have a (smoke-free) buddy you can talk to/hang with? Have you cleaned and made uncomfortable all your smoking spots? Have you eliminated or altered smoking triggers (that after dinner coffee, those work breaks, the commuting)? Are you putting your cigarette money somewhere visible? Have you earmarked your new wealth for something? In just one week you are going to feel incredibly proud of yourself! You’ve made real and considerable strides in prolonging and improving the quality of your life. And your skin is going to look so much better.

If comfort foods have made you much too comfortable you may be questioning your resolve right about now. It’s January! A long dark month quite simply designed for massive doses of carbohydrates. But we’re four weeks in, so dammit it’s full steam ahead. If you’re interested in losing more than 20% of your body weight, you’ve seen a doctor, yes? Have you banished all processed/sugar infused/empty calorie food and beverage from your home/bag/car/desk/pockets/nightstand/locker? Good. Do you write down any and everything that passes your lips? You must. Food amnesia is the single biggest weight loss sabotage. You may be eating/drinking at times and not considering the calories. That overpriced latte? It’s not coffee it’s a hot milkshake. The glass of wine (or two or three) after work/with dinner total real calories. The birthday/retirement/fertility office party cake? Eating with people you don’t particularly care for does not burn calories. There’s nothing wrong with overpriced coffee, wine or cake. There’s only something wrong with mindless eating. It will get you. Now have you found a nice substitution for the afternoon snack/wine? Perhaps some flavored teas? Maybe lighting a scented candle is all the sensory comfort you need. The only way permanent behavior change works is if it doesn’t feel punitive. Consider adopting one or two new (or forgotten) behaviors that would feel rewarding.

Have you noticed that your workout clothes aren’t being washed as much as they were a few weeks ago? Is all the treadmill/stair-master/soul cycling very dull? Does real life get in the way? You’re not a failure; you’re just not a hamster who is perfectly enthralled with walking to nowhere. It’s time to find what makes you happy. No really. There was probably once a time you enjoyed playing/moving. Did you love to dance? Was it double-dutch that made your heart sing? Figure it out! Find the adult 21st century equivalent and do it. No one is watching and no one cares. The only way this is going to work (and it will work) is if you enjoy what you’re doing. Maybe you love learning new things? Use that to your fitness advantage. Take on new and complicated activities on a regular basis. Fitness is not a chore it’s time for yourself and a wonderful way to feel (and stay) alive.

Changing behavior in any real and lasting way is not easy. (If it were the world would be a much nicer place.) We all want (in our heart of hearts) to be our best selves. Often our best intentions are stymied by the pesky existence of others. But we do have complete control over how we treat our bodies. Physical behavior change that will lead to a healthier (and perhaps happier) you is attainable and within reach.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Well-Being

 

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The Race To The Cure

“28 days” has become shorthand for a detoxification program.  Perhaps you doubt me.  Perhaps you grew up only hearing “28 days” intoned by a distracted health & hygiene teacher while she directed her pointer towards an image evoking more cartoon bull’s head than uterus.  Trust me, four weeks (categorized in as days) means something else now.  Feel free to give it a test run and announce to your co-workers that you’re taking some time off; 28 days to be precise.  Then sit back and watch as one by one your office mates slide up to you and give you an awkward pat on the back, or shyly tell you about their own/their spouse/their parent/their child’s struggle.  Be prepared for the happy hour invitations to taper off as well.

28 Days” has become the normative addiction treatment time to such an extent that a movie was given only that title.  No subtitle was necessary; the masses knew exactly what was in store for Sandra Bullock.  But how in the world did we get to a point of this time period being synonymous with becoming sober?

Have you ever tried to cultivate a new behavior?  Perhaps you’ve quit smoking (if not, you really should consider it) or adopted an exercise program.  Maybe you’ve tried to modify someone else’s behavior, say, trying to get an infant to sleep through the majority of the night.  The first two weeks are hell.  Pure unadulterated hell.  Every morning brings the realization that; yes, you have to do that THING again.  At two weeks a change in diet is still feeling punitive and perhaps constipating.  By three or four weeks, the sulking starts to ebb and a begrudging buy-in takes its place.  By six weeks most new behaviors have found their firm footing.  Yes, you might still find yourself with a cigarette in your hand (perhaps at your high school reunion where you become a 17 year old trapped in a 42 year old’s body.)  But, by week six, your body and mind now have a sense memory and you have gotten past some unconscious triggers.  You can have a drink without smoking, finish a meal without smoking, etc.  It may always take effort to keep from lighting up, but it doesn’t take every cell in your body to resist.

Keeping that analogy in mind; how in the world is four weeks sufficient time to a) rid the body of substance b) discover why you use the substance c) develop coping mechanisms beyond using d) learn to be in the world without substances?  I don’t think there is anyone in the medical profession who would recommend such a brief treatment stint.  Six weeks might be sufficient time for some people who do not have multiple diagnoses (ex.; addiction + bipolar) or have not been addicted for too long a period.

Abbreviated treatment, whether 28 days inpatient or 6-10 therapy visits, is the brainchild of insurance companies.  There is no doubt that there are many many people who can greatly benefit from short-term problem solving based therapy.  But viewing all psychological conditions as the same is as nutty as considering every physical condition as equal.  A hospital stay for a tonsillectomy is not the same as that for brain surgery.

Addiction treatment is tricky.  Addicts are crafty folk.  Their relationship to their substance is the most important thing in the world to them.  The substance one is addicted to is not the issue.  Removing access to alcohol, drugs, starvation, for 28 days is meaningless.  Addicts don’t use because of how it makes them feel, they use to stop feeling like they do without it.  Helping someone to find comfort in their body, soul and the world without their substance of choice is hard work.  There are no shortcuts.  Four weeks is a significant time, it is.  It’s a long time to miss a traveling spouse.  It’s a long time to wait for test results.  It’s a long time to wait for an electrician.  But I don’t think it’s enough time to change the fundamental wiring of a human being.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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