Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Smoke Free (Again)

Okay - this is the last time for me.

I don't ever want to experience "quitting smoking" again.

It's sort-of like jamming a fork in your ear and twisting your brains into spaghetti. Except in this case, you don't get the satisfaction of dropping to the floor to finally die, no - you have to keep on twisting that fork, over and over, until you finally get all of the splinters out of your brain.

I had been smoke free for most of the summer, but one day I decided to cheat (inner voice: "c'mon, it's only one cigarette. It isn't going to hurt you. You have to live a little".)

 UGH. I hate the addict in me.

Anyway, one cigarette led to another, until I was back to my regular habit. (It doesn't take long, either. Less than a week to go from smoke free to totally addicted again.)

At first, I tried to hide it from people. After a while, it became apparent that I was back to my old ways. Some of my friends at work banded together and decided that they were going to try to help me. Fortunately for me, they were very clever about it. One morning, I came in to work and there was a little sign above my desk. It said, "Please be patient with me. I am quitting smoking, and I need your support." It offered several tips on the kinds of behavior that I might be displaying, and suggestions on things that a person could say that would be seen as supportive of my efforts to quit.

Strangely, I hadn't even decided to quit at that point. Still, I thought it might be a good source of motivation, so I left the note on display. A few days later, someone left a book on my desk, "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking" by Allen Carr. There was a handwritten note from one of my colleagues: "may this aide you in your quest to stop". That was it. No speeches about how it was unhealthy. No talk about how much money I would save. Just quiet support from some people that cared about me.

I was expecting a confrontation. I was waiting - just waiting - for someone to start nagging me about the smell of smoke or something else they could complain about. I was ready to defend myself. I had all of my regular excuses handy. "Look, I have only one vice in this world, and I shouldn't have to give it up." "Yes, I know you can smell smoke on people - but not me. I brush my teeth, wash my hands, and spray Febreeze on my clothes every time I take a smoke break. Most people can't even tell." "Yes, I know it will eventually kill me, but everybody dies anyway, so why fight it?"

The confrontation never came.

Nobody challenged me. Nobody nagged me. They just went about their business and left me to my own thoughts. This got me thinking too. "Why aren't they asking me about it? Do they really care about me? If they really cared, they would be willing to challenge me." "Why should I go through all of the hassle of quitting if nobody really cares?"

I know it sounds stupid, but these are the sorts of thoughts that go through the head of an addict like me. We'll make up all sorts of BS to justify continuing our habit. Smoking is such a flexible medication, too. You can justify almost any occasion as a reason to have a cigarette. "I'm bored." "I'm tired." "I just got off of work." "I'm too wound up." "I'm too this, too that, etc etc).

I guess all of the internal dialogue came down to this: "I don't like to smoke." "I don't even like the smell of smoke." "It makes me feel like sh*t." "It robs my energy." And in the end, it doesn't matter if someone else "cares enough" to challenge me on this issue. I need to challenge myself. I need to quit for myself.

And that is what I did.

I don't even remember the day, exactly. I think it was a few weeks ago. I just stopped.

And oh - I've paid the price since then. You don't just suddenly feel great when you quit smoking, no. You feel awful. Your energy levels are gone. You get a cold and a sore throat. Your sense of smell and taste is way out of whack. You become an emotional cesspool. Full of bile, full of anger, full of doubt, and yet empty and depressed.

I've heard it said somewhere that quitting heroin is easier than quitting tobacco. Although I wouldn't want to find out, I wouldn't doubt that statement either.

I've done this to myself several times now (started smoking, then quit). This is the last time for me. I don't ever want to feel that terrible ever again. I know this is a source of weakness for me. I have to be extra careful this time. I can't allow myself to "cheat", because one slip could lead me right back to where I started.

Last night, I experienced the first positive side-effect of quitting. I got some of my energy back. Actually, that's an understatement. I got A LOT of energy back. A power surge that kept me going through the night and all of the next day too. It turns out that forcing myself to work out (in this case, helping a couple of friends move their furniture and belongings to another house) triggered this response in me. I remember this feeling. It feels good. I want to feel this way more often. I don't want to go back to my old ways.

To all of my family and friends who have had to put up with me while I was breaking free of this monster (again!) - I just want to say thank you. I know that I've got some more work to do (and issues to resolve) before Iget through the rest of this, but I'm past the crisis point now. The worst of it is behind me. I'm on the road to recovery.

To anyone out there who is smoking from time to time, thinking that they won't get hooked like I did. please hear my warning: "stop smoking now, and don't look back". To anyone who is really hooked and doesn't think that they can ever quit, listen to me when I tell you: "you can do it. you can quit, and you will feel better. the pain of quitting is temporary; it will not kill you. and in the end, you will be free again. you will be yourself, all of the good parts of yourself, without the addiction. Despite what your mind might be telling you, you don't need chemicals to survive. You can quit and live better."

Please don't congratulate me. Your words might trigger a defensive response in me. If you want to help, do so silently. Encourage me with your mind. Hope for the best. Pray for me, if that is your way. That's the sort of energy that helps. And even though I don't like to admit it, I really need a little help from time to time. Just ... don't ... mention ... it.

And if you ever see me with a cigarette, please grab the nearest blunt object, reach your arm way back behind you, and then hit me, square on the head, with as much force as you can possibly deliver. Knock me out cold. Put me in a coma. Kill me if you must. Any way you look at it, you'd be doing me a favor.

I plan on never having to quit smoking again. This is it.

Thanks for listening.

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