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Sunday, April 9, 2006

My Smobriety: Three Months Out

Posted by on April 9 at 13:52 PM

It was three months ago yesterday that I quit smoking. I decided to write about the experience on the Slog, thinking it would be a nonstop thrill ride of pain, torment, and failure, and therefore sure to entertain the Shouldn’t-You-Be-Working Masses. Instead, the thing that I learned was that quitting smoking is a pretty dull experience, and that it’s been so easy that I felt vaguely tricked by all the non-smoking literature that I’ve read.
Two months have passed since my last entry, and…well…not much has changed, really. Even in my duties as Party Crasher, spending time drinking amongst smokers, I haven’t had a single moment where I considered smoking. I did gain about ten or fifteen pounds in the second month—yesterday, I was sitting in a bar with a friend of mine and I suddenly blurted: “I feel like a sausage!”
Come to think of it, the three months since quitting have been the least healthy months of my life…

I've had three colds since January, one of them so nasty that I spent three days in a sleeping-pill-induced haze, a kind of effort to hit the fast-forward button on my life.
I have allergies again, something that I haven't had since I was an eighteen-year-old kid in Maine, over a decade ago.
I still have a few dreams a week where I light a cigarette and then I look down and realize that I've smoked and I think, "Jesus Fucking Christ! Now I have to quit all over again!"
I weigh more than I have at any point in my life since I was an eighteen-year-old non-smoker. Back then--I used to eat two suppers a day: one at home and one at East Side Mario's, which sounds like a punchline to a "Yo mama's so fat..." joke, only lame--I was almost two hundred and fifty pounds. I'm at about one-eighty-five now, which is probably twenty pounds too much.
I never had a problem with lack of breath while I smoked, and now, probably because of the weight, I do.

For a little bit there, in mid-March, I realized that I was blaming these problems on the fact that I wasn't smoking. Not to get too self-help-y or anything, but I did have to make a conscious effort to remember that, if I didn't smoke, I wouldn't have these health problems to begin with.
So the question is: what to do about these various health problems? Well, there's not much to be done about the immune system stuff--I don't have the toxic cigarette smoke around to kill the viruses, and my throat and lungs are now kind of a festering, open-sore petri dish, just waiting to get infected while they heal. I've just started exercising again, which, hopefully, will deal with the weight. I'm not really looking forward to writing a series on the Slog called My Long Road Home From Obesity.
By and by, I'll start to feel better, and, hopefully by this time next year, I'll feel better than I did a year ago, which isn't supposed to happen in your late-twenties, early thirties.
To those who would like to quit: I cannot recommend this book enough (although you should buy it at your local independent bookstore, not at Amazon. And no, Barnes & Noble is not independent, no matter how much you make that cute pouty-face.)
To those who have tried the book and found that it didn't work for them: I'm obviously not an expert, I can only offer advice, and my advice is as follows: You need to really think about why you want to quit smoking, and you need to think about your smoking habits as much as you can, as observationally as you can. Consider yourself anthropologically. You have to acknowlege that the pangs you're feeling are an addiction, not a craving, and that you are, in fact, an addict. Set a date at least a month away and spend the month getting to be okay with the fact that you're going to smoke your last cigarette on that date. Try to get a friend in on the experience, or at the very least, tell all your friends that you're quitting on that date. Realize that, while quitting can be an easy experience, it's never what you'd call a sexy experience, and the payoff doesn't come immediately, or even within a few weeks. You can worry about the weight later. Seriously.
Both the friends who I quit with, "Tim" and "Dick" have had similar experiences with quitting, except "Tim" seems to have gained no weight and "Dick" gained a little more weight. But neither has fallen off the wagon, or even, really, considered it. Which has made all our asshole friends who secretly started betting on who would bitch out first really sad.
Three months out, I can say that it's not been pretty. But I can say that it's been tremendously rewarding to know that I can actually identify and arrest an addiction in myself. Stupidity in human beings can arguably be defined as the oblivious repetition of patterns that are detrimental to oneself, and the very least that I can say now is that I'm maybe five percent less stupid than I was at the beginning of the year. Which means that now I have the karmic leeway to start developing that gambling addiction that I've always wanted.

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You go, girl. I remember three months seemed pretty easy to me, too. It was always about seven months out when I faltered.

Ultimately it took me about ten years to quit. I first quit in 1988 when I was 21 (smoking since 14). I had done the self examination you recommend, and felt weak about my addiction. I was disgusted.

I was a non-smoker more often than a smoker for about the next 10 years, but I faltered. I usually succombed to a rationalization during a social outing that led to another pack. Then more disgust. Eventually.

I know a hardcore smoker, one of my favorite people in the world, who quit once and had a really tough few months. He said taking up smoking again was the best thing he'd done for his health. I'm cool with that.

I've been a non-smoker steadily for the last, what, seven or eight years, and it's the futhest I've ever gone, and I never crave a cigarette anymore. Free at last, free at last.

Hope you get there.

Hah, yes -- I too was almost disappointed by how easy it was to quit smoking when it came to. (And I'd been at it for 17 years!) I haven't had a drag for two years now, and I can honestly say I don't miss it one bit:)

Aerobic activities for you my friend. Use those pink-again lungs! No more sausage-sensations. May I be so bold as to suggest in-line skating? Low-impact, challenging around here because of hills, thrills and occassional spills.

I always seem to cave in and start smoking again when I go out drinking with my friends. My drink bone is connected to my smoke bone. Do I have to quit drinking if I want to quit smoking?

How do you handle that? Any advice, anyone?

That was always my Achilles' heel, too, Constantine.

There's nothing like resolve, but gum helped me, too. Not that nasty nicotine gum, just gum. I needed something to do with the nervous energy I had accumulated around the oral fixation of smoking. Also reaching for a pack of gum fit in with the habit of reaching for a pack of smokes.

If your friends are supportive, I'd suggest recuiting them to help you when you're out and about. Come up with a simple, declarative sentence that reminds you of the reason you want to quit, and ask them (beforehand) to recite it for you when you ask to bum a smoke. If you pester them long enough they will give you a cigarette, so it's still entirely up to you. But if you are resolved to quit you probably just need reminders.

Jesus! Quit drinking? Let's not be reactionary, here. There must be a way around this whole smoke/drink thing. When I was a kid, I read in a Dear Abby column about this guy who cured himself of his need to smoke by wearing a rubber band around his wrist. Every time he wanted a cigarette, he'd snap the rubber band really hard. I tried this with fingernail biting, and I wound up with a welt the size of a quarter on my wrist. So maybe not. Anyone else have any suggestions that are a little less...well, Skinner-ian?

You could try switching from your regular drink to something different so the association isn't there as much. That assumes you have a regular drink of choice, of course... i.e. if you're usually a beer drinker, have a cocktail instead, or switch from one type of cocktail to another that you don't usually have (but one that you like, of course! And now that you can't smoke in most bars, it won't be such an automatic impulse to light up while slurping 'em down. Good luck!

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