The danger of the snooze button

As I alluded in my post this morning, I’m currently wrestling with a health issue, and if you wondered what the “old dog, new tricks” reference in the title was all about, all shall now be revealed…eventually…because I like taking the scenic route.


When I turned 30 I felt liberated. My twenties, after all, had been a decade of turmoil, of trying to extricate myself from my family and my internalized family baggage, all the while struggling inelegantly to grow up.

Even though the ten years that saw me graduating from college, moving 3,000 miles from home, developing a career as a social worker, and having a serious 3-year relationship with a woman was one prolonged effort to become an adult, when I turned 30 it didn’t feel as if all my efforts had finally come to fruition. Rather, it was like someone had simply waved a magic wand or handed me a membership card and suddenly I was adult.

In my latter thirties I had two pretty serious health issues that, at the time, seemed like wake-up calls. Despite my having been an athlete all throughout my youth, always participating in one sport or another, I’d become less and less physically active in my twenties, developing a dangerous procrastination concerning my health, rooted in the notion that I’d somehow get my act together sooner or later.

And so, after having survived a malignant deep tissue skin cancer with only a sizable scar and divot in my left upper arm, and a few years later having my gall bladder removed after a series of excruciating gallstone attacks, when I turned 40 I remember making an earnest resolution to take control of my health. Everything I read about aging and most people I talked to who were in their 40s and 50s made it clear: as you age it is harder to get back into shape after a period of inactivity, harder to maintain a regular exercise regimen, and harder to recover from injuries.

I remember going to my doctor and telling him that I wanted a complete physical, and that I’d like to once and for all get my knees thoroughly checked out, because for years I’d experienced stiffness and pain when I tried to run or on long hikes involving significant elevation gain and loss. I said to my doctor, in a speech I remember almost word-for-word, that I was ready to make big changes, to become much more physically active, to develop exercise habits in my 40s that will be sustainable throughout my 50s and 60s, with the aim to prevent all kinds of illness and injuries that prematurely erode the quality of life for so many people.

X-rays and MRIs concluded that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my knees.

Six years later, having failed to manifest a healthier lifestyle, I’ve recently developed serious sciatica symptoms, with pain that radiates from my lower back down my left leg, as of late keeping me from sleeping well. A visit to an alternative health care provider resulted in the following diagnosis: inflammation caused mostly by inactivity, but quite possibly, as well, from having developed a sensitivity to Gluten.

Gluten, that protein in wheat, barley, and rye that gives the dough made from these grains elasticity and the final product chewiness, a protein that happens to be present in many of the foods I enjoy and can’t imagine living without.

I’m from New Jersey. Let’s face it. Life without pizza and beer is unfathomable to me.

And yet, I know intuitively that I just can’t hit the snooze button many more times before I slip further down the slippery slope and develop chronic illnesses from which I might never fully recover.

And so, the question that begs asking: What about that whole “old dogs, new tricks” thing? Can I really change?

Well, as I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post, before the whole sciatica thing flared up, I’d already started a new exercise regimen, walking to and from work and attended a yoga class twice a week. Naturally, I’ve not been at it long enough to see any improvement. These things take much longer than that, but it’s a start and something to celebrate.

The harder piece, by far, will be the dietary changes, despite the fact that my wife has blazed the trail for me over the past five years or so, having successfully eliminated gluten and feeling much better for it.

And so, with the New Year’s Resolution season rapidly approaching, I know what I have to do, but it feels like I’m preparing to climb Everest. Yet, maybe I can glean something from the rock climbing world that can be useful. Many rock climbers, like other athletes, do this carb loading thing, consuming large amounts of carbohydrates the night before a big climb to maximize the storage of energy in the muscles. Well…

…I had this idea that I wrote off as silly at first, but the more I think about it the more I like it. The idea is to create a ritual farewell to beer, to invite my beer drinking buddies, and anyone else who can make it, to a party. At the party much beer and pizza will be consumed — a grand metaphorical carb loading to prepare me for the gluten-free life ahead of me. A fire will be lit in a fire pit, we will dance around the fire, drunk with beer, and we will sing and celebrate the simple pleasures of the fermented grain beverage. And at the end of the dance, I will take a full, unopened bottle of one of my favorite brews, I will lift it into the air, say a few words of gratitude for all the joy this beverage has given me over the years, and then I will throw it, swiftly, into the fire, where the glass will smash and the beer will be burned up by the flames.

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