Category Archives: Quit Smoking

Oh, Christmas Tree

Christmas tree

I’m trying to get rid of my Christmas tree. I haven’t used her in the past few years and don’t want to haul her across the Pacific Ocean. Plus, she doesn’t stand a chance with Monkey Boy and George in the house. But I’ve had her for more than twenty years; I know this because every year after Christmas I wrap her in the same tattered sheet of newspaper.

tattered newspaper

Three times I’ve taken her downstairs and three times I’ve brought her back up. I guess I feel an affinity for the old girl. She’s seen a few holidays, waited patiently for the seasons to change, allowed two generations of cats to toss her on the floor and never lost her temper. Maybe she has a few kinks in her spine and her branches are a little off-kilter but I think she might not be ready for the trash heap. Not yet.

It’s funny which things are easy to let go of and which things attach themselves to us, snapping turtles of the psyche.

When I was a little girl, I had an old flannel nightgown I carried around with me. I would rub it against my nose while I sucked my thumb. I called it my “smoker”. I don’t know why; maybe sucking my thumb reminded me of my grandfather sucking on cigarettes. Around age seven, I gave my smoker to my parents and told them not to give it back. And then I asked them to give it back. And then I put it in a drawer myself, vowing to stop sucking my thumb. And I did stop.

Not so many years after that, I started sucking on cigarettes. It took me 35 years to stop, but I did.

I think if I can mentally tuck my Christmas tree into a drawer with both my smoker and my smokes, I might be able to let her go.

If I can’t, does anybody want a used Christmas tree?

Advertisements

Two Years, Baby

It was exactly two years ago today that the last wisp of smoke sailed past my lips and snaked its poisonous path down my throat and into my undeserving lungs. Two years since I finally admitted what a dope I was being. Two years since I found the wisdom to forgive myself and start to move on.

The path to recovery has been long and difficult. Maybe the hardest part, but also the most fulfilling, was discovering that I wasn’t giving anything up. Instead I was finally earning my freedom, taking control of my life, finding strength I wasn’t sure I had.

Now the Nicodemon only rarely appears. When he does I quickly toss a muddy boot at his evil head. I can get through my work without getting twitchy. I wash my hair less often. Food is starting to taste better. I walk past designated smoking areas and see lost souls hunched over filthy ashtrays and almost feel sorry for them.

At long last, I am no longer a smoker who isn’t smoking. I am a non-smoker. I am free.

lady tree

One Year Smoke Free

key dateMy Korean Air flight from Seoul was about to land at Denpasar in Bali when the clock ticked over to midnight and April 19 began, and thus I achieved my one year of smobriety. (The term “smobriety” is one of many helpful tools hopeful quitters will find on About.com’s smoking cessation forum. I’ve never been a bumper sticker kind of person, but quitting is hard, and sharing it with others helps a lot. If you’re ready to try, that’s good place to start.)

So we had done it. After a lifetime of poisoning ourselves, one year had passed without me inhaling a single puff of expensive, stinky, life destroying tobacco. According to the forum, only 7% of quitters make it through the first year, so I figure that’s something to be pretty proud of. (See what I did there? That’s called an “understatement”.)

I could go into all the stages of pain it cost but instead I will share two pearls of wisdom I learned the hard way that might help people who want to quit.

Pearl 1: I used to get annoyed at people who referred to smoking as a “dirty habit”. As a smoker, it doesn’t seem all that dirty, but for months after quitting, I would sometimes grab a sweater I hadn’t worn in a long time, pull it over my head, gag, and toss it into the wash.

And habit? Nah. It’s an addiction. People who haven’t experienced addiction can’t begin to understand what it is. But then I quit and realized how right they were. The addiction is hard, but the habit is so much worse. Smoking becomes not just something you do; it becomes something you are. You spend all day every day thinking about when and where you can have your next smoke, and it only got worse as the world became more and more anti-smoking. Plus, no matter what the world throws at you, your dear friend Mr Cigarette is always there, happy to provide a screen for you to hide behind. But take away that screen and the world is still what it is. The smoke doesn’t change anything. It all comes down to learning the difference between needing and wanting. Once the need is gone, the want can be dealt with.

Pearl 2: Denial. I used to say, “I like smoking. I know that I’ll never be able to quit because I like it.” That was complete and utter bullshit. I hated it, but to admit that I hated it was to admit that I’d been a smelly dope for longer than I could face. The longer I stayed quit, the more I realized there is absolutely nothing, not one good thing, about smoking. Even this: Smoking is a great excuse to go outside and get away from the people at work for a few minutes. But you know what? You can do that anyway, and people are a lot more sympathetic when you tell them you need a breath of fresh air than a lungful of poison.

So there it is. We did it, and as long as we don’t let ourselves romance the smoke, I think we can stay quit. Cheers and gratitude to all those who have been so supportive and special thanks to Rumiko for this, a happiness tree that symbolizes two burning cigarettes, yet costs only water and produces only oxygen.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Gratitude 2015

I'm the one in the orange sheet.
I’m the one in the orange sheet.

We made it through our first smoke free holiday season, and I find myself profoundly grateful for a lot of things.

I’m grateful for the wonderful new people who have come into my life. I’m grateful for Kelly, who is not only teaching me to trust my body but also to look inside myself to try to understand my place in this universe and my attitude toward it.  I’m grateful for Rob, who can keep me both thoughtful and laughing for hours on end.  I’m grateful for all my quit sisters, particularly Jan, Leanne and Susan. Our cyber-hand holds and hugs have helped to make this journey bearable in ways I can’t begin to explain.

I’m grateful for Twitchy, for the irony of being given a chance to share my home with something more beautiful than the greatest masterpiece of classical art yet more evil than the darkest specter of hell. I’m grateful for understanding that the world is often as out of focus as she is.

I’m grateful for whatever it was that at long last helped us find the strength we needed to stop smoking. Working through the whys and wherefores of all that continues to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, and the most fulfilling.

I’m grateful to the Dalai Lama for helping me understand what happiness really is. I’m grateful for the Christmas dinner we finally had time for last night. I’m grateful for the people who shared it with us. I’m grateful for being able to care about people. I’m grateful for the interwebs and the air in my lungs and sunlight and kerosene and smiles from strangers and oatmeal cookies and shoelaces.

dessertI’m grateful for being given another year to stumble through. I’m grateful for whatever gifts and challenges it will present. I’m grateful for knowing I have the strength to handle whatever those things will be, and for having the sense to know just how great a gift that is.

Drawing by Renaissance Man Rodger Sono. Used with permission.
Drawing by Renaissance Man Rodger Sono. Used with permission.

Mouse in the House

stirring mouseNo stockings are hung by the chimney with care
Twitchy would have made short work of them anyway
I’ve never once slept in a ‘kerchief, nor he in a cap
And the construction clatter has gone on for so long
We hardly even notice it anymore
I’ve always wondered–
If the sleigh is so miniature
And the eight rein-deer so tiny
Why aren’t the presents tiny, too?
It would be a neat trick if St. Nick could appear
Tarnished with ashes and soot
Since we don’t have a chimney
Another reason why no stockings
And after eight months smoke free
We would pummel the jolly old elf
For smoking in our living room
Where, again, there are no stockings to stuff
This year the tree and the wreath
And the candy canes and gingerbread and eggnog
And ribbons and baubles and carols
And thistles and mistletoe and twinkling tinsel
Are all in my head
“Happy Christmas to all, I’m going to bed!”

Seven Months, Baby!

As of today, it’s seven full months since I’ve had a puff on a cigarette and I’ve had a few thoughts on that matter.

Thought #1: I wonder if the fact that we are told that quitters are losers and instructed, “Don’t be a quitter” has anything to do with why it’s so hard to quit smoking. I kinda doubt it.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThought #2: There was an ad for cigarettes included with the newspaper the other day. It was printed on fancy paper and looked expensive. The funny thing is I don’t think we’ve ever gotten an ad from a tobacco company with the newspaper. I wonder if they’ve been forced to advertise because our quit is putting them out of business. I kinda doubt that, too, but it would be nice all the same.

Thought #3: For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been having smoking dreams. Apparently this is common. Usually, I don’t actually smoke, but smoking is involved. This morning I dreamed that I was talking to some people and one said casually, “Oh, you’ve started smoking again.” I looked down at my hand and there was a burning cigarette between my fingers. I had no idea where it had come from. I tossed it away, appalled, and then frantically searched my pockets and purse but couldn’t find a clue. I think maybe my conscious mind has accepted me as a non-smoker but the Nicodemon is still pulling his evil tricks in my unconscious mind. “Old habits die hard” has never seemed so true.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Thought #4: We passed a No Smoking sign in the park today in a place where there never used to be one. I wondered when I would stop noticing things like that.

Thought #5: Seven months seems much more significant to me than six did. According to my quit smoking forum, only 7% of quitters make it a full year, but the statistics improve greatly after that. So maybe seven matters more than six because six was only half way. I’m a glass half full kind of person, but a year seemed such a long time, and now it doesn’t anymore. We’ve reached the crest of the mountain and now we can make our way down the other side, our baggage lighter, our heads clearer, a feeling of accomplishment swelling in our chests.

PT360001

To celebrate this momentous occasion, The Twitch wandered onto my lap this morning for the first time and then let me pet her all over, but only with my right hand. When I tried to touch her with my left, she bit me.

She’s a weird little beastie.

The Mighty Colon: A Tale of Trauma

I told my doctor that I was having some belly pain, which I thought was probably just constipation.

Fun fact: When you quit smoking, it takes at least a year for your metabolism to get back to normal. That’s why almost everyone who quits gains weight, not because food tastes better.

“You should have a colonoscopy,” says the doc.

“For constipation? Isn’t that a tad drastic?”

“It’s best to be sure. I can recommend a specialist. He’s a good doctor. He studied at Harvard and speaks English.”

Well, OK. I met with him and he explained the procedure. I made an appointment.

The next time I saw my doctor, she said she’d seen him and they’d discussed my case. (Gee, could we get some more people involved in this?) I told her that the problem had resolved itself and I was probably going to cancel the appointment.

She laughed and said, “You just don’t want to do the test.”

“Of course I don’t want to do the test.”

Big, innocent eyes. “Why not?”

Why not? WHY NOT??? If that wasn’t the most dumbass of the dumbass questions I’ve ever heard. For one thing, I don’t think it’s necessary. For another, I will have to purge myself and that can’t possibly be pleasant. Then, I have to get half naked so some guy I’ve met once can stick things in my butt. Who in their right mind would want to do that kind of test, much less specialize in that kind of medicine…is what I wanted to say, but instead I said, “Yada. (Yuck.)”

At which point I was given a lecture about how women of my age commonly develop polyps and such and it’s best to have them taken care of.

So I did the purge, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was twice as bad. You try pooping stomach acid for a couple of hours and let me know how you feel.

My heart rate was off the scale as the nurse did the prep work. Yoga breathing didn’t help. She said, “Relax. I’ve done a thousand of these. It will be fine.”  And she was right; it was fine. Turns out I had a tiny polyp which was duly removed and am otherwise pink and healthy.

The thing is, you can tell your brain it’s a medical procedure that is done by professionals on a daily basis, but that doesn’t stop your heart from feeling humiliated and your body violated. It’s how we are socialized: those are private parts that are meant to be kept covered and out of polite conversation. I even used the word “ass” above to imply stupidity and ignorance.

I came home, slept twelve hours and woke up with swollen hands and feet and joints so stiff I could barely move. I must have been wound tighter than a spool of coaxial cable.

I suppose it’s a comfort to know that nothing is wrong, but I take very little pleasure in being right this time.

On a lighter note, this is a real thing.

CollonSomebody must have wised up. They don’t make the chocolate ones anymore.

The Halfway House

halfway houseAs part of the quit smoking odyssey, I joined an online support forum. It offers tons of information, but most importantly, you can join a group of others who quit around the same time as you. Through it, I have “met” some wonderful people who I believe will remain my friends for years to come.

One of the features of the site is a quit meter. You input your quit date down to the hour, the number of cigs you used to smoke every day and the cost of those cigs. When I checked my quit meter this morning, it said 6 months, 5 hours and 14 minutes, which means I have reached the Halfway House. At one year, we enter the Clubhouse.

I will not reveal the humiliating number of cigs I have not smoked, nor the exorbitant amount of money I’ve saved. Let’s just say that between the two of us, two months’ rent have not gone up in smoke. Literally.

I should be turning handsprings and chanting ditties about rainbow-colored lollipops. They say, “You did it! You quit smoking! Now you feel so much better and have so much more energy!”

Unfortunately, it turns out that is poppycock. It’s absolute, utter nonsense. It belongs with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It’s the kind of stories people tell small children to make them behave. I feel horrible most of the time. I am moody and cannot trust my emotions. The problem is that only now, finally, my brain is getting adjusted to normal dopamine levels. It will be another six months before my metabolism returns to normal.

The glimmer of hope is talking to people who have been quit longer than me who assure me it will get better. At this point, I honestly only rarely want to smoke. My triggers seem to be limited to anger and frustration and if I can take a moment to close my eyes and breathe deeply, the urge passes. The thing is, once an addict, always an addict. I will have to remain vigilant for the rest of my life. But from the top of my head to the soles of my feet and deep inside my heart and soul, I know it is worth the battle.

I read a wonderful quote on the quit smoking site:

I’d rather be a non-smoker who has an occasional desire to smoke than a smoker who has a constant desire to quit.

*Twitchy sat on my lap for a few minutes this morning, another first. I think it was her halfway gift to me.

Baby Steps

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA As of yesterday, I am five months smoke free. (Pause for applause. “Thank you, thank you very much,” she says in her best Elvis voice.) And I’ve finally got some time off from work, so I have devoted this week to exercise. On Monday, I did Pilates and a step class at the gym. On Tuesday, I started a 30 day squat challenge. On Wednesday, I had my first yoga lesson with Kelly, who is a wonderful person, teacher and addition to my life. On Thursday, I did boxing and kicking classes at the dojo.

When I woke up this morning, I could barely move. My sore muscles have sore muscles, but I feel wonderful. One of the side effects of detox is sometimes crippling depression. This is normal and people quit longer than me keep saying it will pass in time, I just need to stay strong, take deep breaths, wait it out.

I hadn’t been to kicking class, and consequently hadn’t seen Sensei, for a couple of months. Part way through class, he looked at me and said, “Eda-san, you’re different. You’ve changed, and not in a bad way.” I just smiled, but I knew what he meant. As I work my way out of my nicotine-addled funk, I am discovering a whole other Eda I had forgotten about. She’s smarter, funnier, prettier because she smiles more. She’s gentler, kinder, more at peace.

The battle isn’t over yet, probably never will be. The nicodemon still lurks in dark corners and leaps out at me, much the way Twitchy attacks my toes at unexpected moments, but I can swat him away the same way I do her. The depression monster still wraps himself around my throat and squeezes, but it’s happening less often. Instead, in recent days, I have unexpected moments of happiness. I can’t think of anything to call it besides joy. I am finally free of that wretched addiction and can start to make my way down the path toward discovering myself and who I am without the chemicals.

It’s a journey that requires no suitcases, taxis, passports, visas, or plane tickets and all of the travel takes place inside my own head, but the destination is worth every iota of effort and pain it takes to get there.