Today it has been one month, one week, and four days since my last brush with nicotine. It has been one month, one week, and six days since my last cigarette. This latter one might have been my quit date, but I found my electronic cigarette in the house. I sucked that thing like a hungry baby with a pacifier. I held the smoke like an 10th grade stoner, blowing out a whole lotta nothin’.
It reminded me of my last drink. It was an urge paired with easy access and anonymity. Anonymity meaning I did not have to emerge from my dungeon and move through the world and risk being seen in a package store (or in this case a convenience store with a 10-spot and asking for a pack of cigarettes). Yes. No one had to know. It was private. It was between me and my fix.
But when people asked how I was doing? I told them. I ‘fessed up. A co-worker laughed and asked, “Does that [vaping] even count?”
These are the thoughts that sometimes go through my head, justifying bad behavior.
But yes, I feel like a newbie again. A recurring newbie. This is not my first stint quitting smoking. I can’t help but wonder, “Is this IT?” and “Is this REALLY IT?”
My family has smiled approvingly. But there’s no air-horns and confetti like the first time. Or even the second time. I can’t blame them. It’s getting to be old hat. And this one-month+ milestone doesn’t hold a candle to the time I made 7 months or the time I made 19 months. That 1 year + was my record.
I don’t mind there being no tickertape parade. I get a bit of that from my coworkers, and honestly I feel a little embarrassed by it. My straight posture slouches and I smile sheepishly. I guess I’m not so sure myself that this “is it.”
My son asked me if this is it. He has seen me quit before. He caught me when I was a closet smoker, trying to keep it from him.
Ouch. Why had I done that? What motivated this – and it’s probably the same with closet drinkers – is that I planned to just quit again. He’d never be the wiser. It was also fear: fear of disappointing him, fear of the uncomfortable conversation “why did you start again?”, fear of disapproval, fear of his losing respect for me, fear of getting comfortable with it once he knew and not wanting to stop ……….
So why did I start again? I’m reviewing this because I need to know. I need to remember. This is the same thing that happens to drinkers before they relapse.
My Nicotine Relapse
My brother died. He was 24 and it was unexpected.
Did 20 cigarettes daily for the past 3 1/2 years bring him back? Of course not. And my relapse with nicotine didn’t coincide that neatly with his death. The days following his death were painful. Shock is a pretty good anesthetic, lulling me into comparably blissful states of numbness. When I’d feel the most acute levels of grief, I would hold on knowing that an island oasis of shock and disbelief was ahead of me. That was the best I could do. But after the funeral, reality set in. And it became more horribly and painfully real in the days leading up to his birthday. His birthday is the same day as my sister’s. They’re not twins, just a coincidence. Buying one card crushed me. The pain was agonizingly heavy, sitting on my chest like an immovable entity. I would spontaneously burst into tears. Perhaps in the grocery store reaching for a red pepper. Sometimes driving. There wasn’t always a trigger. It wasn’t always Free Bird blaring on a radio or seeing an American Flag folded into a triangle in one of those boxes for the surviving family members – but those have done me in as well.
I bought cigarettes. I asked someone to watch my son while I went for a drive. I smoked. It was nauseating and it made me lightheaded, but it was what I thought was best. I felt no regrets afterward, not even when I chewed gum and sprayed myself with perfume. I snuck an occasional cigarette nearly every day. One pack lasted for two weeks. This was under control. This was what I always wanted: to be able to take it or leave it. This went on for two months. For the first month I wondered if the other shoe would drop. Into the second month, it never occurred to me that it would. But it did. It did. Suddenly I was a pack-a-day smoker. And I finally confessed, not because it was the right thing to do. I confessed because of the sheer inconvenience of covering up 20 cigarettes per day and the dishonesty involved with accounting for that many minutes of my time.
Reading this back, it seems inevitable that I would smoke. I could tell myself, “Who wouldn’t?”
The days leading up to that fateful drive, that fateful first cigarette, were a lot of unhealthy attitudes about smoking that I didn’t tell anyone about. My sponsor quit smoking. I certainly had someone to talk to. Both of my parents quit smoking. I could have told them. But I didn’t. And I didn’t because I wanted to smoke. I didn’t want to be talked out of it. At work at that time, there were TONS of smokers. It didn’t bother me before then, but in the days leading up to my first cigarette I wished I could go outside with them. I loved the smell and missed the socializing. I started giving feigned pouty faces when my coworkers slid on their jackets and said they were heading outside; they laughed and encouraged me not to start up again. They encouraged me with a wag of a finger and “Don’t you dare.” I missed the “reset” button when I was having a bad day. When I had a lot of paperwork and stuff I did not like to do, I missed having something to look forward to at the end – or something to get me started or to get me over the hump in the middle so I could carry on ……… I missed a lot of things. And when you’re “missing” something, you often start feeling deprived.
I was hyper-focused on what I was missing out on and not what I actually earned.
Positive Mindset ? What Could Have Been……….. No. What Could Be Now!
I wasn’t thinking about how I could walk and converse without getting winded. I wasn’t thinking about how my colds no longer lingered, how a nagging cough would nag me for a good month after other people recovered from their colds. In fact? At this point I did not get too many colds.
I wasn’t thinking about the sheer expense. I wasn’t thinking about the slavery, and how I would have to power suck two of them right before going to the movies and sneaking out halfway through the movie to power suck half of one so I could get through the rest of it. I wasn’t thinking about how I felt as if I had been taken hostage when a staff meeting went over the hour, how my foot would get tapping and my eyes would steal glimpses of the clock. And OH that craving. Yes. The slavery. Cigarettes controlled my every move. A car trip required strategically timed stops. I mentioned the movies? 9 times out of 10, I would prefer to watch DVD’s so that I had a “pause” button and did not feel so trapped. You’ll notice there isn’t much in my list about cancer risk, heart disease and other things I had a close brush with and now have a much lessened chance of acquiring. Oh, that was so beyond my imagination. I just couldn’t fathom those things ever happening to me. I still can’t. I also conveniently forgot about the pressure in the back of one of my eyes that I had when I smoked. It had been happening for a long while. I never told anyone. I was pretty sure it WAS correlated and didn’t want anyone telling me I had to stop. Besides. Maybe it would go away.
Anatomy of a Post-Relapse
And yes, this is a blog about alcoholism. But this whole ordeal makes me think about my alcoholism, too. That was slavery. Relapse is not an act of spontaneity – there is a path leading to it, a path masoned of negative thoughts and false memories. And there are rationalities such as “I’ll quit again.” I did that with smoking. “I’ll quit again.” ‘Cause it had been so easy, right? [wink] . Here we are 3.5 years later. I’m just getting the gumption to quit again. I wholly did not WANT to this whole time.
They say when we pick up addictions again, we pick up where we left off. Well? That’s not always exactly true and that is what is so insidious about it. When I started smoking again, I wasn’t immediately out of breath doing everyday things. I didn’t immediately wake up every morning with that gross hacking cough. I didn’t immediately feel enslaved; I could wait out a movie. I could even work an entire workday! And I think that’s sometimes true of alcohol. It doesn’t always immediately bite us in the ass.
A friend of mine from the rooms confided in me that he relapsed – and this was a few years ago. He said he was going out to the bar with friends every weekend and that was it. He wasn’t even having very many! He informed me that this was going on for a few months and I wasn’t seeing him in meetings because he wasn’t an alcoholic anymore. I suppose I’m sharing it with you because this moderation did not last. He let me know it didn’t work out. Coming back after the first sign of trouble wasn’t how it ended for him. He lost a job, a wife, a place to live. Now he’s back in the rooms. He has a little bit of time together again and has worked out a new place to live and a new job. But it was hard.
So here I am feeling like a newbie again. An occasional craving will rumble in like a stark gray storm front. I practically start to salivate. I have to remember “this, too, shall pass.” A sponsee of mine told me that she quit years ago and someone told her that the craving goes away whether you smoke or not. I tell myself that over and over it seems.
I’m using the steps, yes. I prayed to my Higher Power to remove the compulsion and it worked. It did, it did! However, sometimes a switch is flipped when I’m walking on the sidewalk and find myself downwind from a smoker or when I smell it on someone when they come back inside or when I pass an ashtray near a store entrance and smell one smoldering there. So I have to repeat Step 2. I have to come to believe that a power greater than myself will restore me to sanity ……… and I pray again with that belief, with that conviction. And it passes. It does.
Weight gain ……….. that’s what diet, exercise and step 3 are for.
Hopefully this is “it.” Hopefully this time I will not only get farther than I had the other times, but hopefully I will never pick up again.
But all that aside: I’m not smoking today.