Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot was inspired by an image taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft was departing for the fringes of the solar system, it took a final photograph of the earth.
Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured a portrait of our planet. Caught in the centre of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), it appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbour life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
~ Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
“Sobriety is the capacity to savour.” ~ Russ Hudson
In western society, alcohol is a symbol of sophistication, adulthood and relaxation. It represents having fun and letting loose. Consuming alcohol is often the centre point of many social gatherings, especially for young adults. Familiar sayings include: “I deserve a glass of wine” and “I need a drink to unwind.”
Cultural forces also fuel consumption. Since the mid-1990s, there’s been a ‘pinking’ of the alcohol market, with skinny cocktails and berry-flavored vodkas. Alcohol is packaged as an essential tool to “surviving” motherhood. Funny memes circulate the internet and wine companies brand their product as “mommy juice.” Women are sold the idea that parenthood is a burden that only alcohol can soothe: it is presented as the ultimate way for a woman to relax and reward herself. As a result, there is a growing number of alcohol dependent women.
“The pace at which most women live is punishing,” says Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. “You race home from a busy day at the office and have emails from work waiting for you and food to prepare and laundry piling up. The easiest thing to do when you’re standing at the cutting board making dinner is pour yourself a glass of wine. It’s the ultimate decompression tool.”
More women are drinking and the amount that they are drinking is increasing. A 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism laid it out in stark terms. From 2001 to 2013, the prevalence of alcohol use among women in the U.S. rose nearly 16 percent. And during the same time frame, the percentage of women who have four or more drinks on a given day, on a weekly basis, rose by 58 percent. “Drinking has a tendency to escalate—one glass turns into two and then three,” says psychologist Joseph Nowinski, PhD, author of Almost Alcoholic. “That doesn’t mean you’re an addict, but you should be aware that you’ve moved from low-risk drinking to a level that’s more dangerous.” A 2017 study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that problem drinking, defined as drinking to the point where it interferes with your life or you are unable to stop, jumped by more than 80% among American women between 2002 and 2013.
Women are also more likely than men to experience long-term negative health effects from alcohol use. A study from the University of Oxford found that many serious illnesses and chronic health conditions are linked to drinking, even at low levels. Long-term alcohol use can increase the risk of at least eight types of cancer (mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, breast, colon, rectum) and numerous other serious conditions (e.g. epilepsy, stroke, pancreatitis, dysrythmias, and hypertension).
It is important for women to speak openly to one another about the risks of alcohol consumption. It is easy it is to cross the line into dependency. We need to share our experiences and provide support to one another. Many people rely on some form of substance to ease from the pressures of daily life. Alcohol is readily available and drinking is openly encouraged but it can easily spin out of control: eventually leading to a decline in overall levels of mental and physical health.
In my own life, I have loved more than one alcoholic. I have witnessed first-hand how addiction destroys a person’s health and the ability to connect with others. It is a slow and painful loss. This experience made me mindful of my own relationship with alcohol; and I began to notice how I used it as a crutch when I was feeling particularly sad or stressed. It soothed the immediate pain but it was not the cure. Alcohol is more of a blunt instrument than a finely tuned tool. As Brené Brown says in the Gifts of Imperfection, “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
Over the years, I have learned that even the hardest feelings have something to teach me, but in order to receive, I must be willing to surrender: to place my head in the mouth of the lion and trust that I will not die. As a mother, I want to model making healthy choices for my daughter: to teach her that there are better ways of coping with the many pressures of life. I hope that when she witnesses me choosing to take a brave and open-hearted path, it will encourage her to do the same. All of these considerations eventually led me to the decision to give up alcohol and rely on other practices for stress management and relaxation (e.g exercise, meditation, yoga).
At first, it was not easy being one of the only sober people in the room. It runs against the grain of what everyone else is doing and it makes you stand out. I was often asked why I was drinking sparking water instead wine. When I responded that it was a choice for my health and wellbeing, I received a blank stare, or confused expression in return. Many people could not wrap their head around the concept; and some viewed my sobriety as a personal criticism of their choice to drink. Is it not. It is a gift that I am giving to myself. Over the years, this tension has lessened: or maybe I am just not worried about what other people think anymore. The people who initially had the most issue with my decision, faded out of my life, and those that still remain are very supportive. I cherish each opportunity to spend time with the people I love, with a clear head, and wake up in the morning, with no regrets.
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety but connection.”~ Jessica Lahey, The Addiction Inoculation
There is a growing movement of “sober curious” women seeking to have a different relationship with alcohol and a range of support options available to them. This includes programs and resources that offer assistance with everything from moderating alcohol intake to choosing abstinence. Here are a few that I have come across. I hope that you find them helpful. Let me know if you discover any new ones to highlight.
Club Soda Club helps people live well by being more mindful about drinking. Whether you want to cut down, take a break from alcohol, or stop drinking all together, you are welcome to join them.
Moderation Management (moderation.org) is a free program that starts with 30 days of abstinence and includes a “mutual-help” environment with meetings that you can attend in person or dial into by phone as you work on changing your habits.
Hello Sunday Morning recognizes that you don’t need to have a clinical addiction in order to change your drinking habits. Whether you just want to learn how to limit your drinking, take a break or just better understand alcohol use, Hello Sunday Morning can help.
The Luckiest Club is a web-based, online information-sharing and connection platform which seeks to provide opportunities for like-minded people to find each other and form connections. It facilitates the sharing of information that improves understanding of addiction, sobriety, sober living, and related information.
Tempest provides a mobile, self-directed yet supported method to get and stay sober. The course includes weekly live sessions, weekly recorded lectures, Q&A sessions, daily guided meditations, intention-setting and more.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love the French language and I love listening to podcasts while I am out walking. Nothing improves my conversational skills more than listening in on native speakers. Duolingo French is my favourite language podcast that I have discovered so far. Every episode is beautifully presented, centered on an inspiring true story, told by the person highlighted.
The producers showcase different cultural perspectives and delve into issues such as equity, diversity, social justice and anti-racism, which I deeply value. I highly recommend that you check it out. It is a high quality listening experience. Let me know if you have any recommendations for podcasts that you love!
La reine du codage (The Coding Queen) – Duolingo French Podcast
Neurologists, Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, created the Healthy Minds Initiative in response to the helplessness that they felt working within the traditional “sick care” model. After watching all the latest drugs and treatments fail to stop dementia, they set out to discover a better preventative approach.
Currently, approximately six million people are living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. and 500,000 in Canada. It is the most common type of dementia. Every 64 seconds someone is diagnosed. This number is likely an underestimation of its true prevalence, as many people consider cognitive impairment to be a normal part of aging, and therefore never report it.
Two-thirds of individuals diagnosed are women. The likelihood of a woman developing Alzheimer’s disease during her lifetime is 1 in 6, compared to a man, which is 1 in 11. It is projected that if we do not take measure to slow the current trajectory, the number of people living with this disease will triple by 2050.
The good news is that Alzheimer’s is not a genetic inevitability and a diagnosis does not have to result in a death sentence. In fact, according to these two doctors, 90% of all Alzheimer’s cases can be prevented; and for the 10% with a strong genetic risk for cognitive decline, the disease can be delayed for ten to fifteen years.
Based upon their extensive research, the Sherzai’s have formed the following conclusions:
- Physical exercise increases both the number of brain cells and the connections between them.
- Chronic stress puts the brain in a state of high inflammation, causing structural damage.
- Restorative sleep is essential for cognitive and overall health.
- Meat and animal products are degenerative for your brain.
- Education, learning and other complex cognitive activities protect your brain against decline.
- Social support has an undeniable influence on the way your brain ages.
They developed a plan to promote the necessary lifestyle changes. They call the plan, “NEURO.” It includes:
- Nutrition: A whole-food, plant-based diet low in sugar, salt, and processed foods.
- Exercise: An active lifestyle that incorporates movement every hour.
- Unwind: Stress management in the form of meditation, yoga, mindful breathing exercises.
- Restore: Seven to eight hours of regular, detoxifying sleep.
- Optimize: Multimodal activities that challenge many of the brain’s capacities.
I have included two great interviews with the Sherzai’s below, with Rich Roll, where you can gain a solid understanding of their work. They have also written two books, The Alzheimer’s Solution, and The 30-Day Alzheimer’s Solution, as well as produce a regular blog and podcast on the subject.
Bryan Stevenson is the visionary founder and executive director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
In his book, Just Mercy, Stevenson mixes commentary and reportage, against the true story of Walter McMillian, an innocent black Alabaman sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of an 18-year-old white woman.
Throughout the book, Stevenson provides historical context, as well as his own moral and philosophical reflections on the American criminal justice and penal systems. He ultimately argues that society should choose empathy and mercy over condemnation and punishment.
“Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison; one in every three black male babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.”
Just Mercy is centered around unravelling McMillian’s case, revealing gross police and prosecutorial misconduct, while also weaving in stories of other death-row inmates. Stevenson does this to illustrate the common infringement of victims’ rights, inflexible sentencing laws, and practices of injustice that result in too many juveniles, minorities, and mentally ill people being imprisoned in the United States.
“We will ultimately not be judged by our technology, we won’t be judged by our design, we won’t be judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society . . . by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated.”
Throughout the book, Stevenson writes about the histories of different marginalized groups. He describes the racial history of the United States, from slavery through Reconstruction, post-Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, to the current day. He argues that efforts to oppress and dominate black people have not ended, but have endured through new institutions and social practices; and mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects poor people and minorities, is the latest incarnation of systemic racial and economic violence.
“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.”
This is an incredibly well-written and powerfully presented book. I learned a lot by reading it and I highly recommend that you pick it up.
I love French culture and the French language. As a way to build my skills, I am trying to watch more French content, and Netflix has some good shows on offer.
“Call My Agent!” revolves around the personal and professional lives of a tight-knit but dysfunctional team of charismatic Parisian talent agents. Called “Dix Pour Cent” (10 percent) in France, every episode features a string of cameos from well-known actors, such as Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci and Sigourney Weaver.
The series is very well-done and I am enjoying it a lot. It is an extremely witty satire of working in the film business. The characters are both flawed and endearing. The story-lines are fast-paced and funny. The comedic writing, timing and delivery is impeccable. It is easy to lose yourself in each well-crafted episode and I highly recommend that you check it out. Let me know if you have any shows that I should see!
As we look for ways to meaningfully support anti-racism efforts and reconciliation, choosing to spend our money in a locally-owned, independently run BIPOC-run businesses is a great place to start.
Massy Books is 100% Indigenous owned and operated bookstore located in Vancouver, British Columbia. They operate on the ancestral, unceded, and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
The store opened its doors in June 2017, and in addition to books, it houses a performance space and art gallery. Massy Books is committed to supporting the local community, and it has partnered with non-profit organizations such as Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), The Writer’s Exchange (WE), and Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN).
Independently run bookstores need us, now more than ever, to choose them over online retailers and big box stores. Shopping at a locally-owned business generates three times as much economic benefit for your community versus shopping at a chain. Buying local also means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint. Lastly, it generates more income for the writers who create the books that we love to read. I would love to hear more about the local bookstore that you support!
Anxiety has been my constant companion since I was a young teen. It is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worry and physical changes like a racing heart. It is a feeling of being in danger, without knowing exactly why. People who experience anxiety tend to have recurring, intrusive thoughts and concerns. They may avoid certain situations or experiences. Anxiety can be debilitating: convincing you that hiding in bed is preferable to facing the outside world.
Over the years, I have learned that being a highly-sensitive person is a super-power. It allows you to see, feel and experience the world around you more deeply and in technicolour. You tend to notice details, make subtle connections, and understand complexity. You also empathize deeply. All of this goodness also lends itself to anxiety. The gift is also the curse.
In order to live at peace with my anxiety, I have cultivated some tactics, and I thought I would share them with you.
I move my body every day. Whether it be yoga, walking, or a high-intensity strength class, it is essential to regularly sweat and stretch. Movement helps to break the anxiety loop and grounds me in the moment. It connects me to my heart and breath. Whether I want to do it or not, I move every day, often several times a day. It is always worth it.
What you fuel your body with is really important. Over the years, I have given up caffeine, as it makes my heart race and anxiety soar. Sugar is another ingredient to be avoided. Many major diseases that plague us—including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, anxiety and Alzheimer’s—are linked to chronic inflammation. My naturopath recommends following a low-inflammation diet as a preventative measure and I have found it to be a very useful approach.
Creating a daily routine is a way to keep small promises to yourself. When you consistently show up, and follow through on your commitments, you provide yourself with a steady and reliable source of internal support. For some strange reason, I often experience resistance to doing the things that I love the most (exercise, meditation, writing, practising French) but if I scheduled time for the activity, and I follow through, I never ever regret it. Even if it is only for five minutes, it still counts, and it fills me up. The important thing is to be consistent.
Anxiety wants to be in charge. It tries to protect you by imagining every possible scenario: often the most negative and scary. This is futile. The reality is no one knows what is going to happen and it almost never unfolds in the way we think it will. It is important, instead, to sit with the discomfort caused by the unknown and create space for it to just be. Anxiety needs to be thanked for its service and offered appreciation for what it is trying to do, which is keep you safe; but it also needs to be taken out of the driver’s seat, and moved into the back of the bus, where it can relax, look out the window, and enjoy the view.
Aside from all of the personal practices that I have put into place, I am also fortunate enough to have the support of medical professionals. I have access to a skilled therapist. The amount of time that I spend with her varies, depending on what is going on in my life, but I am grateful to have her there as a reliable resource. Having a someone to talk to about my anxiety, and a safe place to share, is incredibly helpful. In addition, I take a low daily dose of anxiety medication, under the guidance of my doctor. Although it does not remove the anxiety, it provides me with a stable internal base, and it supports my overall capacity to cope and take care of myself.
This discussion would not be complete without acknowledging the incredible privilege that I possess to make these choices for myself, and access these resources, as a white middle-class woman. I do not face the trauma, systemic racism, poverty and abuse that many Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) do each and every day. The anxiety that they experience is not even comparable.
Here are a few resources that I came across and thought worth sharing. The first is a short Instagram video from Mel Robbins. The second is a podcast from Rob Bell, with his wife Kristen, who experiences anxiety. Both women share a thoughtful perspective and some tangible tactics.