A journey to the wisdom of holistic health of a health practitioner and teacher
The search for holistic health and well-being: and interview with Substack’s writer, Donna McArthur.
Welcome to a Mind Wise video podcast, presenting perspective and information about holistic mental health, health care, wellness, neuroscience, philosophy, and spirituality. I am your host, Ron Parks, M.P.H., M.D., writer, teacher, and consultant.
Ron: I want to welcome to MindWise, my Substack newsletter, blog, and podcast, Donna McArthur, who is a fellow writer on Substack called The Bright Life. Exploring the realm of middle age from the lens of growth, spirituality, and well-being. All of what Donna writes and teaches resonates with my life work in holistic medicine and mental health.
Her publication is called The Bright Life because she feels and believes with effort, that we can all find moments of illumination that will light the way forward. I fully ascribe to that. Donna has been in healthcare, a practicing chiropractor, together with her husband for three decades. Thanks for being here and your inspirational work to help others.
Please share with us a little about yourself and your journey.
Donna: Hi, Ron. Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat with you. Yeah, I've been I, I felt, I feel like I was called to some degree to become a chiropractor. It was super important to me. I really wanted to become a chiropractor and a mom, and I did both of those things.
So, I both live and practice in a rural community in British Columbia, Canada. And it's been a wonderful, wonderful experience, too, to be here for this long. And as you said, I’ve worked together with my husband, and we have a busy wellness-based clinic, but I've also been very interested in, I think I would say, human potential.
You know, and why what's always wiggled around in the back of my mind is why do we do the things that we do and, more importantly, why don't we do the things that we want to do or say we're going to do? So, I've been very fascinated over the last decade. You know, looking at the newest work on brain research and neuroplasticity and, and the stuff that science is uncovering about things that we can do in our daily life that will, you know, basically move the needle for us to create change.
I think, ultimately, that's what I'm about creating change to work to our greatest potential. And while... I'm a huge evidence-based practitioner, and I do look to science. I believe there are things that the science, science does not quite understand yet. There are things bigger than we are that cannot be explained with our current scientific method.
So, I am also very interested and value that as well. The great unknown, the mystery. So, I love to combine the science and the mystery in both the work that I do in my clinic and in my writing and in my coaching, you know, working with people to try to, you know, peel away the layers of daily life to get to what's, what else is going on there and to shift out of autopilot most importantly.
Ron: That sounds very good. Actually, I'm trying to write a piece about finding that balance in life, over trying to do too many things and getting out of balance, but I should really have you write the article.
Donna: We can guest, we can be guests on each other's Substack and, and write about it together.
Ron: Yeah. It's such an interesting subject, and it's been such an important part of my life, exploring not only a lot of Western, but a lot of Eastern type of things, but anyway, I’m just interested in yourself and the things you write about. Some of my work has been in the substance use area, and I was reading your blog on Substack. We have some really interesting, outstanding Substack writers. And, of course, I'm more interested in the ones involved in health, holistic health care, and mental health.
But she was writing about some of her early life experiences with alcohol. And if you would share a little bit of that, people can also read your excellent article. It was interesting because there are all these different levels. I've seen all levels and worked with them, even at the hospital level.
But it reminds me a lot of, maybe you could compare it with obesity and eating disorders because probably the inroads into my holistic health was really trying to figure that out because 80 percent of the people I was seeing as a holistic practitioner, as an internist, were overweight. And, of course, the problems with alcohol and so on were immense.
And it was hard for people to change or stop that, and I did all these courses and trains trying to figure it out.
Ron: Your article was excellent. I'd recommend that for anybody who's struggling with these issues. Would you elaborate a little bit? I thought that was very good. Okay.
Donna: Yeah. Thank you for that. I agree. I think it's a fascinating comparison that you just made about obesity, eating addiction, and alcohol addiction, especially in our current culture. Yeah, you know, and for sure, what you said about there are different degrees of, I don't know what we'd say. I mean, addiction's addiction, but there are different degrees, I think, of destruction accompanying the addiction.
And the kind that I had was, I don't know what I would call it, with no disrespect to anyone else suffering from any other kind of addiction, I had your basic soccer mom, run-of-the-mill, wine-drinking situation going on. And you know, I, I didn't run into any trouble. So, I say I had, I don't believe this exists, but I say I had a good relationship with alcohol.
In that, I never lost my driver's license because I wouldn't drive when I was drinking. I never went to jail. I never would get very, very drunk, you know, as I became an adult, but it just got to where it was taking more out of my life than it was giving. And I knew I needed to look at that partly because I come from a culture of alcohol.
I come from a family of alcohol. You know, I learned to drink at a very young age and treated it like an Olympic sport, and I was a gold champion, and it just went on from there to as a young professional, you know, in a small town, I'd get together with the other moms, and of course, we'd have a glass of wine or two.
And, and, you know, it just went on and on. And, but what, what ultimately drove me was I, I just found myself getting more and more tired and run down, and I kept looking at everything, you know, nutrition and exercise and lifestyle, but that was the piece I didn't address because I didn't want to, I kept sweeping it under the carpet, you know, denying that there was a problem there and finally, then, I realized that I, you know, I, if I kept going down that road, I was not, I was just going to be a shell of my former self, really.
So, I decided to make a big change with that. And yeah, so, you know, I think that culturally you know, we're inundated with messages and the, the alcohol drinking culture right now is just like the eating and, and obesity, it's peaking. And thankfully, more and more people are looking at the role of alcohol and food in their life to try to make some change.
Ron: In one of my articles. We're doing a little memoir kind of stuff. I mentioned that my father always told me how he was kind of abandoned by his father, possibly, you know, due to alcohol and so on. He never talked very much about it, it was a very painful thing, but I was at the cemetery when a family member died. My uncle put his arm around my shoulder and took me to my grandfather's grave, and so helped me. The tombstone was tilted about 45 degrees, and he said there's a reason for that. He said, “Your grandfather was a drunk,” he said, and he abandoned us and so on.
And of course, I grew up with how that affected the family and the extended family, but it's like, talking about addiction, like eating disorder, I mean, it, it's a thing difficult to break. And in this country, or I guess around the world, they were promoting, the wine industry was promoting studies that wine was good in preventing all kinds of things.
And more recently, they've come out with even one glass. You could have two or three or four or five if you're a man. But now it's zero. At least, that's my understanding. The amazing thing that you put in your writing and your work is the potential and how people can break addictions.
As a practitioner for so many years, you would see that, you know, that the chances of breaking free from it, or even that they were hearing you, it's almost like they tune you out there's a lot of programs trying to address that.
The STEP programs were the ones that were having the most success, but you mentioned some of the things because you really researched it and really had some good stuff there.
Donna: Yeah. I, I didn't choose to go with a 12-step program, although I have the utmost respect for them, and they've saved millions of lives around the world for sure.
It just wasn't the right fit for me. And what I did was I. While I was still drinking, I chose to research it, and that's what I did. I read and read and looked at the science of what alcohol would do to my physiology and my brain; for example, I realized and learned that it destroys your brain’s ability to feel joy Over time, and there are lots of reasons for that the dopamine hits and but there are other things as well That was that ended up to be one of the biggest drivers for me was realizing that I was affecting my ability to actually feel happy By continuing to drink, but so I, I looked at the research and I, I looked at I listened to many, many podcasts of people who had, you know, overcome various levels of, of alcohol addiction.
What I was focusing on was, of course, purely alcohol and learning by hearing their stories and learning what they did. And then what I also did was I. I developed a toolbox, a very tangible toolbox of what I will do when I'm craving alcohol. What will I actually physically do in my daily life instead of drinking?
How is that going to look? So, I went in armed with a very solid plan. And, ultimately what I feel I did is use my conscious thinking brain to learn and to really think about what it would be like to be a nondrinker. And I put myself in those situations and visualized it and did a lot of work like that.
So that when the time came, yes, it was difficult, but my brain was already you. on track for not drinking. So, I chose a day, and that was the day I became a nondrinker. And I, I had the tools already ready, already laid out. As opposed to just diving in with no preparation, which I also have done.
And that, that, I was successful, but it's very different. It's a very different mindset. And yeah, so that was what I did. Researched, learned. started to really use my conscious thinking mind to question my thoughts around alcohol and look at the stories that I was telling myself, like that, I would need a glass of wine to relax or to have fun.
I would question the validity and truth of that and start to shift my way of thinking so that when the time came, I no longer believed those things.
Ron: You also made some very astute comments; you talk a lot about mindset; I actually use that term, so I thought I was the only one.
It's how we get cognitively our thinking fixed, with some inner narrative or belief or, you talk, have some good points about who's influencing what influences you, and you can make choices. There are areas where you can make choices; can I just interject on that point? Oh yes, go ahead.
Donna: Yeah, I, that's very valid. point about the influences, and that was something I paid very close attention to when I was getting ready to quit drinking; we are influenced by our culture much more than we are aware.
Of course, we're influenced by our family of upbringing, our community of upbringing, our community where we live at the current time, but of course, we are influenced by the internet and what we read. and what we allow in. And so, I started to pay close attention to the messages I was getting sent on a daily basis around alcohol consumption, whether it was through what I was viewing, online or on TV, or just all those messages like mom's wine time, or I can't survive, you know, parenting without alcohol or whatever.
And I started to question those. So, our influences, you know, I talk about it being like the ocean we're swimming in that we don't know we're swimming in, and it's, it's very important to start to notice. What we're swimming in so that you can question if that's where you want to be if that's what you want to be doing.
So, yeah, the influences have a, have a very big effect on anything. Whether it's, you know, our, our desire to go back to school, our desire to eat too much, our desire to exercise, you know, All of that, it's a huge deal.
Ron: A very dramatic example of that is when my wife and I were early in our marriage. We had gone to some yoga classes or something. And they were having a yoga retreat up in the mountains for a week. So, we said, oh my goodness, that would be fun to do. And actually, my wife was resistant to going, so I talked to my mother-in-law and got her to go. So, we all ended up there, but in my experience, it was totally mind-blowing to use that experience.
I never felt so relaxed with the movements, and the exercise, it was all whole foods, a vegetarian diet, and people were having fun. I mean, we were walking, and we were in nature and all those things. So, when we left, it left an imprint. Not only with the choices you have in lifestyle, but you can choose to be in some of those surroundings and influence; just years later, I took a job, one of the most stressful jobs, as an admitting physician; I think I was a psychiatrist then, to a, very active hospital unit.
I would come back in the evenings, and I'd say, my stress level is, I, this is going to kill me if I can't rebalance things. I think back then I was into running and things like that, but, so I said, well, you know yoga, so I'm going to start doing that once a day. Oh my God, I need to do it twice a day.
And this was like, maybe. 20 years ago, and I pretty much have continued that, and it's, it's been a great, wow. That is wonderful. It's something I chose to do. Yeah. So, that kind of experience got me interested in holistic medicine, mind, body, spirit, spiritual aspects, cause, that ancient systems sort of encompass those things.
And I'm not, you know. Overpromoting yoga and things like that. I mean, there are so many other things out there where you can, you know, take a risk or, you know, try things if, but you must be motivated to do so.
Donna: And sometimes it's that, that, that's, that's a good point. And that, that's a, that, you know, that brings us to where, where does that come from?
That motivation, where's that driver? And, and it. I believe it ultimately comes to asking ourselves the deeper questions, like how you asked yourself, you know, what do I need to do to get through this job, this very stressful job? What do I need? Yeah, to survive, to bring to the table. And if we simply, if we're not motivated, we simply start asking ourselves the questions and paying attention to the answers.
It will shift. Well, lots of things, our motivation, our inner way of being, our inner way of thinking, and we'll be led to the answers. You know, I certainly wasn't motivated to quit drinking. I loved it. I loved having a glass of wine.
Ron: But what's interesting to your story is all the things that were happening then and how you came to make your decision.
And I must admit my work in the hospital and addiction work was pretty frustrating. I mean, because, It would seem like the person would almost have to die or, with the expression, hit the wall or something very traumatic, that they would say, well, or just say this, I can't do this anymore, you know, and then, start to, to take steps.
And then there are often many relapses until they really got it. In this day and age of Fentanyl, we're, you know, involved in doing what they call harm reduction. We use a less dangerous opioid, but it's always linked with treatment and therapy, and it's very well monitored. So, so the addiction, anything that you can learn about addictions, I mean, is helpful.
So many things we do are addictions; I'm becoming aware of how I, you know, go on the internet too much. Research, you know, is part of it. I get carried away with it sometimes. You can ask me anything, you know, I can come up with an article or something. But that's remarkable. And I know you're early in your blog and newsletter, but you have a lot of good material there so far.
So, people can sign in and take a look at that. I got one last thing. What, you and your husband in practice, what is your go-to holistic health program? And we only have a couple of minutes, but what, what, what do you want to leave people with if they want to be healthy? And if you were interviewing me, I could tell you what I do, but I don't know if we have enough time for that.
Donna: Yeah, it can be a long list for sure. But I believe that the thing I have seen over 30 years in practice that has, been the biggest game changer is when people start exercising, if they have not done that before. And if I had to choose an exercise, it would be strength training. And I've seen people, including myself, start a pretty serious, well, it doesn't have to, sorry, it doesn't have to be serious, but a committed exercise program.
And what that does is it shifts everything. It shifts their physiology, but it shifts their mindset. And it opens; it opens things up from inside your body to outside. So there, there can even be a bigger piece because it's very, very empowering. If you take someone who can't walk very far for many different reasons, they get to where they can walk half a block and then a block.
And then, you know, half a kilometer brings back their empowerment and their self-respect. So, I think if I had to choose one gateway to health, I mean, sleep is right up there as well, but I think if the biggest mover of the needle of our life would be movement.
Ron: Yes, exercise. Well, I don't mean to brag, but I'm 80, and I'm a big fan of swimming. I do strength work, but I just competed in senior games. I swam this morning for almost an hour, but I started with just one length when I decided, you know, whatever I was doing just wasn't cutting it. It puts my brain back on a good functioning exactly. But I do.
Donna: Yeah, it's like a massage for your mind.
Ron: Getting in the water. It's seven in the morning, and you know, in the cold, I, the benefit is so immense. And I know you work a lot with nutrition as well. It sounds like you and your husband are doing a great job. Putting together your programs.
Donna: Yeah, we try, we try to bring, you know, bring all of that together. The nutrition, the movement, and the actual neuromusculoskeletal treatment. You know, bringing it all to the table.
Ron: It's wonderful work. Well, we're going to. This has been great; if I do get in that article, maybe I'll get you to write a piece about how, you know, just what you all do to create, and your husband, what you all do to create balance in life, you know the balance between being two. You know, wanting, selfish, taking and giving, you know, and sometimes you need to be more taking in when you're at a low ebb or stressed or with disease or illness.
Donna: Yeah, and I don't know if I have it all figured out, but I'm just writing a piece right now about all the different things I've tried. And I'm giving myself a report card about if they're effective, if I found them effective or not. Oh,
Ron: that's great. I know I've seen that in people's newsletters; you know it's great. Anyway so. Any last thoughts or any questions you want to ask me? I don't have any answers, but I can always make up one.
Donna: Well, well, my, my question would be kind of back to you of, of what, what would, if you could choose one thing for yourself or your patients if you were interviewing you, what would your cornerstone of, of health be?
Ron: Probably awareness, which is part of spirituality and moving, and not only moving your body but your mind and you know, taking care of the, as they said, the temple, they say in yoga, you know, with the same thing with exercise, nutrition, good relationships of, you know, the supportive nurturing type of, of folks To anything that supports your mental health. So, did I leave anything out now?
Donna: That was pretty good, pretty all-encompassing.
Ron: Thank you.
For a consultation with Dr. Parks, for help in gaining clarity and perspective, go to parksmd.com/scheduling/
I appreciate your interest. Please share with others. Subscribe to my Substack newsletter and podcast at www.inmindwise.com. All content is created and published for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice or to be relied on for medical decisions. Always seek your healthcare provider's guidance regarding medical or mental health conditions. Thank you.