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Yarrow or Hemlock? Which Will You Choose?

Posted Nov 18 2012 9:31pm

Bear Grylls, having lunch.

It’s Thursday night and I’m sitting on the couch with my ex-husband, Mark, watching Man Vs. Wild on Netflix and drinking a glass of white wine.

There are many things wrong with this picture.

1. I’m hanging out with my ex-husband. But that can be explained by the fact that he’s in town visiting our daughter and we’ve actually become dear friends.

2. Bear Grylls, the star of Man Vs. Wild , is somewhere in the African desert, squeezing drops of water from elephant dung into his mouth. I get that his choices are either that or death, but really? Elephant dung?

3. (And perhaps most conspicuously…) I am drinking a glass of wine. I haven’t had a glass of wine in more than a decade! Alcohol, as you will often hear me say, is the fastest way to progress your MS. It’s bad news. For those of us with multiple sclerosis, it’s the devil masked in drink. But here I am, supposed “self-healing coach,” drinking of this devil’s fruit. What gives?!

That’s a good question.

Have you ever seen Man Vs. Wild ? I wouldn’t have thought I’d like a show like this, but it’s one of my ex-husband’s favorites and turns out that I really enjoy all the talk about what it takes to survive in the wild, and how it can all be seen as metaphors for healing. In every episode, former Special Forces adventure-badass Bear Grylls is airdropped into various remote locations and forced to navigate to civilization using only the tools he finds in nature (and sharing survival strategies with the viewers along the way).

As I sit there sipping my wine, throwing all metaphorical caution to the wind, I watch Bear in Sierra Nevada, crouched between a hemlock plant and a yarrow plant. He explains that the yarrow heals wounds and helps clot blood and that Achilles used it on his troops after they were “stabbed and mashed to bits” by the enemy.  Then he grabs the hemlock and says, “This is what Socrates was poisoned on. If I just had a bite of it, swallowed and digested it, this stuff could kill me in under an hour. ”

Hemlock

Yarrow

 

“Nature,” Bear says, sharing a gem of off-the-cuff truth, “gives you everything to heal you on one side, and then, just a meter way, there’s hemlock to kill you.”

As I take another sip of my wine and feel the warmth spread throughout my body, Bear’s words seem to solidify into a mass of large block letters that migrate menacingly from the television and stop just inches from my nose, arranging themselves in the letters H-E-M-L-O-C-K. They sit there, waiting to be acknowledged, as only true wisdom that I’ve chosen to blatantly ignore would.

There is definitely a pound of organic spinach just a few feet away from me in the fridge at this very moment, I think. That’s the yarrow. But I’ve chosen to ingest the hemlock.

“Oh nonsense!” says my ex-husband, when I share this reflection with him. “The body needs a certain amount of alcohol. And the break you are giving that neurotic brain of yours right now is probably healing you more than any damn spinach could. Drink up, just do it in extreme moderation.”

Fast forward to the next morning, at 7:45 am, when my daughter and Mark burst into my room shouting and laughing, “Hey! You slept through your alarm, you drunk! Gwen missed the bus! Wake up, you wino, or we’re calling Child Protective Services!”

My ex-husband, he’s got quite the sense of humor.

That was Friday morning. Today is Sunday evening. I’m still sick. And I wake up thinking about this other story Bear told in a different episode about three Mexican fishermen who spent nine months stranded at sea and survived only by drinking turtle blood and their own urine.

He said that the people who stand the best chance of survival are the ones prepared to push the limits. “It’s only because they were prepared to go to those extremes that they are alive today.”

Which got me wondering, in my state of fatigued, wine hangoverness … what extremes am I willing to go to for my survival? And what extremes am I willing to go to so that I don’t just survive but thrive?

Was it the wine that got me sick? Maybe. But as Mark was quick to remind me, it could’ve also been:

1. The decaf iced Starbucks coffee (that I never usually drink) but that has been a staple at my breakfast table this week, thanks to the ex.

2. The 36 hours I went without sleep recently (long story).

3. The soda I drank (guilty but only because he bought it and put it in my fridge!)

4. Or the three batches of sugar-free, gluten-free brownies I ate in 48 hours while making my brownie video for the blog.

Surely, all these factors contributed to my (hopefully temporary) downfall. But the question remains, if nature gives us everything we need to either heal ourselves or kill ourselves, which are we going to choose? Are coffee and alcohol and soda truly our modern-day hemlock?

According to Harvard Medical School’s Family Health Guide, there are benefits to chocolate, coffee, and alcohol, when used in moderation (no comment on soda!). However, as we all know, the health needs and consequences of those living with chronic illness are often much more severe than the average person. Which is why I’m certainly not suggesting that any of you abandon the strict diet I’ve endorsed on this blog.

But still, I can’t help but wonder, how can it be all bad? How can it be completely unhealthy for someone like me – who doesn’t drink or smoke or do drugs or party or even eat sugar – to take a break from thinking every once in a while and enjoy the sweet nectar oblivion offered up by the gods themselves?

A recent article in Wired Magazine tried to explain the perplexingly consistent research that suggests that despite the potential adverse effects of drinking alcohol, those who drink in moderation simply live longer than those who don’t. “Since chronic stress is really, really bad for us,” it says, “finding a substance that can reliably interrupt the stress loop might have medical benefits.”

Following that same line of reasoning, there’s something to be said for the joy of an occasional cup of quality iced decaf in the morning. Surely there are health benefits to the feeling of indulgence and pleasure I get from tasting that decadent flavor…

Bear Grylls poignantly reminds us that nature has given us everything we need, and is not without humor in its geographic placement of such gifts. Just as in nature, where the hemlock and yarrow grow side by side, in the grocery store the same holds true. Organic greens sit beside pesticide-riddled, genetically modified fruit. One market houses both foods full of high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils that can get you sick, and fresh, ultra-healing produce like organic kale and garlic.

Every next moment is another opportunity to choose. Hemlock or yarrow? But perhaps more importantly, to decide which is which. And…when is some hemlock, in moderation, the best prescription money can buy?

What do you think? Leave a comment HERE.

 

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