Friday, December 11, 2009

The Smoke-Out / The Seventh Circle

When in doubt, write what you "know," isn't that what they always say? Well what I'm knowing these days isn't nothin' nice, let me tell you. But I've decided it might just be helpful to myself, and to others who read this as well, if I write it all down.

I've quit smoking. Yes, really. And yes, for good. I mean, let me just say - out of respect for reality and unpredictability in life - I never say Never, nor do I ever say Always. But just short of saying those words, I am done smoking. Not very many people know me well enough to understand; but the way that I work is this: I hem and haw and turn an idea over in my head for what might seem like forever. To others, it probably seems I've been smoking, and sort of flirting with and talking about quitting smoking, for a very long time ... so long, that most people who don't know me well (which is just about everyone) have probably given up on the idea of my quitting. But I have always known this day would come. I tend to get an idea of what I want to do, a goal. And I hold it, sit with it, sleep on it for many nights, write about it, talk to others about it, research it, try it out a few times using different methods ... all the while knowing inside that I will realize in my soul when the time is the Right Time. That's just something about me. It's just how I work.

I decided last week that it was the Right Time. I don't know how many of my readers are smokers or ex-smokers, and how many have never been addicted to the "habit." But those who have smoked might understand this love affair I had at first and for a long time with my cigarettes. Ohh yes, I loved to smoke for a long time, most of the time. If it wasn't an activity that was damaging to me, I might still do it. There were many occasions when smoking was fun, social, when it distilled some social awkwardness, and when it just helped with something that was going on, be it a big stress or a little annoyance. I don't know the statistics on how and why people of my generation got started. I don't know when. I have anecdotal evidence, but even in that case, not enough to draw any solid conclusions. Feel free to share with me: How / When / Why did you get started smoking? How long did your habit last? Or do you still smoke? Hey! Remember you won't get any judgment outta me. I'm not even one week into nicotine abstinence :)

I'm just writing about what I know, didn't do extra research into statistics or facts for this one; it's my own experience. I started smoking because of a guy. Yes, lovely readers. Yours truly, a woman who considers herself educated, enlightened in as many ways as possible, cultured, worldly, and definitely feminist ... nevertheless picked up a cigarette so she could sit on a bench, prolonging her lunch break one day and talk to a man, stars in her eyes and everything.

Oh, but I know there are very few among us who have not done a similar thing. Some of us have done things that we are so very ashamed to admit: be it sleeping with someone to gain status or professional gain, using sex or sexuality to score drugs or money, or using the same to make someone else jealous ... We do these things. Or some of us maybe haven't gone that far, but we have almost all done something we are not proud of, that we would not want our friends to know about, the motives for which we would never want to be made public. Maybe like me, some of you have drank or smoked or done drugs when you really didn't want that for yourself, because it helped you get close to someone you liked or close to a crowd you thought was important. Maybe you took risks sexually or physically to be "cool" in front of such people. Contrary to the way we all try to act on a daily basis in our peer groups and in our families and in our churches, almost every single human has made these types of mistakes, at least once. I don't say this to remove blame or judgment from myself; I know people who want to judge will do so, and I don't care. I'm just pointing out how, when it comes down to it, we are all so very much alike and together in our human struggle. I guess going through this journey and suffering through this withdrawal and the pain of it has forced me to think about these things.

Today was Day Six. In respect of full disclosure, I did utilize the nicotine patch. But I haven't wanted to do it the way they recommend. I know many people quit "cold-turkey," and I have found that isn't the way for me. Attempts to do so (remember I said I've tried a few things in the past, a few "dry runs" so to speak) have resulted in emotional break-downs, crying jags and damn near psychosis for me. So I knew that, while I am willing to take on the struggle and the pain of quitting, I am not willing to be driven to insanity; not when there is a safer way to do it. So I did four days of the Step 2 patch (there are 3 steps, meant to be done over the course of 12 weeks). That was, dare I say, pretty easy. I was moderately cranky, but it would come and go. I found that if I stayed busy working out and active in general, then I was basically fine. Being social was not fun for me, so I've been lying low until I'm through this first week or two. And fortunately for me (and a big reason I chose this particular time to embark on this Quitting Journey right now), my life and work right now allow for me to spend pretty much all my time alone if I choose to do so. Well, as I said, yesterday was Day Five, and on that day I started with the Step 3 patch, which delivers 7 mg of nicotine over the course of 24 hrs. This one hurts! No, it doesn't physically hurt, but it has been TOUGH. NOW I'm feelin' it, people. NOW it sucks.

I don't wear the patch for the full 24 hours, because (and this is mentioned in the patch literature) it gives me extremely vivid dreams and sometimes nightmares. It's all good if the dreams are vivid, but nightmares can be very upsetting when they are SO real and memorable. Plus, if I were smoking, I wouldn't be smoking all night, while I slept, so I think I should go patch-free during sleep. I made a deal with myself that if I wake up in the night, especially near dawn, and am extremely uncomfortable from withdrawal symptoms, I will put on a patch for the day at that time.

So here we are. I am not turning back. 7 mg is going to have to be alright, and if I'm uncomfortable and crabby and whatever until I get used to it, then I am. I mean, yes, they recommend doing it more slowly, but then again, people quit without any patches all the time. I want to do something in the middle. When I decide I'm done, I'm done. As I mentioned.

Finally, I wanted to mention how I went from loving my social, stress-reducing, sometimes-even-fun smoking to loathing it and wanting to quit this instant. I imagine that each of us has a different experience and yet, similarities must exist. For me, a lot of negative things started to occur and outweigh any perceived positives that I thought I was experiencing from smoking. First of all, smoking had obviously become this proverbial monkey on my back, an addiction, something that I had to do to feel okay, to keep from getting crabby, irrational, and weepy. I mean, hey: that is the epitome and definition of a drug addiction. I don't know why it hit me when it did, but is just did: I grew tired of being addicted. I grew tired of dragging the monkey around on my back.

There were many occasions when it became difficult to manage my "habit." One of these was any time we went to visit and spend time with my dad. He is adamantly opposed to smoking and furthermore claims that it unbearably irritates his allergies or lungs or sinuses or something. To give you an example, he began refusing to set foot inside my mother's house this past summer, because he claimed he could smell the remnant smoke from her letting my brother and I smoke occasionally in her house. I personally think this is just his way of making a point in his melodramatic fashion, but that's another story altogether. Let me just add that my father is far, far, far from having his own extremely destructive (to the self and everyone around him) habits and addictions; this fact renders him ineligible to take such an ostentatious stand against the activities of smokers. And might I add that the man is certainly no stranger to a bar, where until a couple years ago (in our state), smokers were welcome and ubiquitous. But enough on that. The rule at his house is no smoking, so there's no smoking there. Fine. I've always been one to respect the rules of someone else's place, someone else's car, someone else's belongings, etc. But it made it damn hard to sit calmly and focus on all the "fun" we were having at family events when I was counting the minutes until I could politely get the fuck outta there and have a smoke for God's sake. I used nicotine patches sometimes to quell the cravings, but I don't know ... something about being there just made me want to smoke, dammit. So it was always a problem.

Then, as mentioned, Illinois enacted a law stating that smoking indoors, anywhere, would no longer be tolerated. The rule is that a person smoking must remain 15 feet from any doorway, window or air intake vent. This translated to a whole lot of smokers freezing their asses off for about half the year; these winters are brutal, in case you haven't been! At my various workplaces, at bars, and at other various locales, I joined the other addicts wedging footholds in the frozen snow, puffing away, switching smoking hands every few seconds to save ourselves from frostbite. The truly dedicated learned to smoke with no hands at all. Perhaps the worst humiliation was the looks and comments we would get about how stupid and asinine we were. And you know what? Yeah, it's dumb to stand outside in the freezing cold for no reason. But we have an addiction to a drug, and the fact of the matter is, if we don't get that drug, we will get sick in a manner of speaking. That sickness reveals itself in different ways in different people, but it's withdrawal all the same. And frankly, I've seen many people do dumber things out in the cold for far dumber reasons. No matter that I've quit and don't intend to smoke anymore, I do not intend to be one of those who judge and mock what I do not understand and have not lived.

A lot of other annoyances piled on. Cigarettes cost plenty; although I found the gas stations and other vendors quite willing to do just about anything to create discounts, make use of coupons and anything else they could think of to bring the price down. In the 6 years I have been a smoker, the actual price paid did not fluctuate much. But c'mon, it's a waste of my money anyway. I know that, and this weighed on me as the years went on and as I fell on some difficult financial times as well. What else? It just is a pain in the ass after awhile. What was once a fun and sociable hobby became a ... well, a pain in the ass, yes. Needing that smoke is a - pardon the pun - real drag. Everyone's a little different, but I was someone who would wake up needing nicotine. I was rolling out of bed lighting a cigarette. The drug having control over me like that began to piss me off. I want control over me; no one and nothing else should have that power. And then there was the rationing and the constant maintenance of The Supply. Ugh. SO MANY times I underestimated how much I would smoke on a given night or weekend or whatever; and you better believe I have left my warm, cozy home at all hours, any hour you can name, to go get cigarettes, because I was out ... or was going to wake up and be out ... or was going to be out halfway through my workday ... on and on, the monkey on my back.

So for the past year or so, I've been preparing mentally. I've researched the methods, I've tried a few things as I mentioned, and I've just plain thought about it and tried to get myself ready. I tried to imagine what the perfect conditions for my quitting would be and whether they could be attained. And last week, while I sat here having my billionth cigarette, I thought: It's Time. It ain't gonna get better or more ideal than Now. And so I embarked on this journey.

I'd greatly appreciate any stories or experiences or knowledge that my readers have to share about this topic! I am getting close to letting go of my last crutch, that 7 mg patch. I have 5 days left on that, and then I'm on my own. I'm really focused and excited about the benefits, truly. According to everything I've read, my skin should get better, of course my cardiovascular system should reap wonderful benefits, and everyone I've ever heard from or spoken to about quitting has said they actually FEEL healthier and just good. To me, it's a no-brainer. Smoking was not the least bit enjoyable anymore. It was all negative, save for that small relief of having a puff when I was "needing" one. And now I can look forward literally to a better life. That's awesome, isn't it!

A loved one recently lamented to me that he just "hates to see [me] suffering like this" in reference to my withdrawal and all of the different symptoms that are accompanying it for me; I have not had an easy road, to say the least. But I told him this, and I truly believe it: This is not suffering like my migraines or my ADD issues or any of the life challenges that I have faced in the past several years. This, to me, is more like fasting for religious faith or dealing with aching body and muscles because you're training for a triathlon. It's for a much higher purpose and not very big at all in the grand scheme. I am having some bad days and expect at least a few more, but I fear not.

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