There's an amusement park about 2 hours from my home. Dominating the skyline are the steel coils of Fury 325, one of the biggest and baddest roller coasters on the Atlantic Seaboard. Being an unrepentant daredevil, I had to go ride this monstrosity.
Upon passing through the gates of the park, Fury is the very first attraction you reach. So, feeling all sassy and bold, I marched right up to the most colossal behemoth on the property, and queued up to ride. From below, looking up at what I had volunteered to endure, my heart started pounding. Then, as a trainload of screaming passengers roared by overhead (in excess of 80 miles an hour!), I began to feel queasy with excitement - and dread!
Let's face it: Riding roller coasters isn't something most of us do on a weekly basis, and I hadn't been on such a gut-churning thrill ride since I quit smoking over 4 years ago. This was new territory, my friends! (And it proves that your quit will always face new tests, no matter how many years it's been.) Anyway, what I noticed before the ride was that I didn't feel the urge to "medicate my nerves" with a quick cigarette. My skin-tingling anticipation of the ride wasn't something that I felt I needed to "soothe" with nicotine. I felt no desire to "postpone the inevitable" by "lighting up". Four years now of discipline with (and acceptance of) my quit has me no longer even considering "doping" with nicotine in order to deal with situations I choose, or can see coming from a mile away - especially this situation, where I purposely paid cash to get scared out of my wits!
Okay, so once you're seated inside the car, they lower this harness contraption onto your lap, and you can hear the clank as they lock you down. Things just got real!
Then, the train leaves the station, and starts climbing.
And climbing and climbing and climbing.
Higher and higher.
So high that it seems utterly impossible!
You finally crest that hill, and the stark-raving madness of the inevitable plunge hits your brain like a bullet made of ice. The first plummet down is so tremendous that you cannot scream!
After you pull out of the dive, though, the rest of the ride is nothing but a blur of screaming and cussing, and hanging on for dear life!
Once I got off that roller coaster, I numbly staggered out into the crowds milling about, and made my way over to a group of benches under a shady tree.
For the first time since I quit in 2014, I experienced a phenomenon that I don't even think has a name. I'll do my best to describe it. Here goes...
In the past, I would have smoked three menthols in a row after such a heart-pounding experience. This day, though, I didn't feel as if I wanted to smoke a cigarette to calm my rattled nerves. Why? Well, in a way, I didn't need to smoke a cigarette...because my old addictive reflexes had already put a "phantom smoke" sensation in my mouth! I could - literally! - taste the tobacco in my throat! I stood there, gagging, over a cigarette I did...not...smoke! Weird! All that adrenaline had flipped the switch on a very deep psychological (and chemical?) reaction in a forgotten corner of my brain, and it triggered a "phantom smoke", which is the vivid recollection of a permanent memory of using cigarettes. So vivid, you can taste tobacco and smell smoke!
I think the intensity of the adrenaline rush must have been so chemically potent that it mimicked the old sensation of inhaling nicotine. So, perhaps the roller coaster ride produced such a massive squirt of dopamine and adrenaline that it acted as a "shot of drugs" on my old nicotine receptors?! Then, when I got off the ride, I was "coming down off the high", much as if a cigarette was just finished. And what was left was the taste and smell of smoke and tobacco and menthol and ash - as if I had already smoked a cigarette...that didn't exist!
Gosh, I hope this is making sense.
So, what did I do? I just sat down on a bench...and started chuckling. Like, mirthful chuckling. Only after that bone-shaking ride was I able to bask in the delicious frenzy of the thrill. (Yeah, we daredevils are kinda warped.) After the ride was over, I was able to embrace what I had experienced.
The same is true of our craves: When you're in the throes of a particularly vicious urge to smoke, just sit down. Go find yourself a cool spot that's quiet, and...just...sit...down. Everything you're feeling will swirl and surge through your brain...and then it will chill down and fade. That's a promise. You just have to sit down and cool it. Lean into the urge, and "surf" the wave. It will pass!
Being blindsided by a "phantom smoke" sensation can be a weird experience. Please, just remind yourself that it isn't real. That it's just a temporary short circuit in the wiring of the segment of your brain where those old smoking memories are buried.
Listen, I know it's not fair that these sensations can still be conjured up. It's not fair that some hardwired reflexes will never be fully erased. I know. It's not fair. But, this is why we say that you must always protect your quit. Why you must always guard against these hidden ghosts left over from our biggest mistake. Keeping your quit safe means understanding that some things aren't erasable, but that all things are manageable. That's what I did. I couldn't have anticipated the "phantom reaction" I had that day, but you know what? I accepted it. Gladly. Managing my quit means saying, "Thank you for the lesson! Didn't know I was going to learn something new today, but I'm grateful for the knowledge. Thanks!"
Oh, by the way, as I was sitting there catching my breath for several minutes, I used the break to whip out my phone and sent a few "OMG! GUESS WHAT?!" text messages to some close friends. One of those people was elvan She and I met here at EX, and we've become texting buddies for the past year or so. She is one of only 3 EXmates who has direct access to me. Because I've met her in person, I know her, and trust her. Had I actually been in any serious trouble after that roller coaster ride, I could have "pushed the panic button", and talked to a trusted Elder.
You have that option, too, you know? No one here ever has to let a chain reaction of mistakes get out of control, and lead to smoking a cigarette. Every person here can call a 1-800 support line, or call a quit buddy, or call a family/friend. Every person here can just...sit...down, hit their preferred access method for EX, and type HELP. Reaching out in a crisis is the first line of defense here, and some form of a lifeline is available to everyone here. Use it!
So, yeah, that's the story I wanted to share with the village today. Your quit will always be learning new lessons, no matter how many years it has matured. Be open to the lesson when it arises, okay? At the time it hits, it might feel more like a grenade going off between your ears, but it's really just another very sharp opportunity to get...it...right.
Stay strong and true out there!