Good morning rockstars of the Quit Palladium. Congratulations on another day of smobriety. Chiming in here after some time away to let you know I am still with you, though admittedly not great at continuous, regular participation in this online community and commentary. Apologies for that.
Not sure where each of you are at - some with a few days digging your claws into the steering wheel on the way to work committed and hoping you can make it a few more seconds or minutes. Others perhaps relishing in the sweeter trade winds of long-term smobriety, relishing each breath of summer in your garden or with your loved ones. I would hope this for you. And others, I know, continue on the path of not smoking but have encountered new challenges in life - perhaps changes in family, or health, money; maybe age or a departing pet has changed the dream view of what was or could've been, and through it all there are no burning embers dancing just off your lips; no heat-fired fracking-level chemicals driving deep into your lungs as an insane way of dealing with current feelings. No. You have persevered regardless because you see the lunacy of killing yourself to avoid the fears of life.
For me, I continue a journey of change and ruthless impermanence. I'm about 8 months from the breaking of my marriage and the dream we co-created, and still managing fallout from that in my life, money and community; still having dreams about her/us most nights, still grieving. I'm tired. But also accepting that that may go on for a while; it has its own life and path, I am bound to it (the grief), and it will pass in time. Patience. Self-kindness. These are keys. That I am not smoking to deal with the pain or the loss, or even to celebrate the few-and-far-between good days is a continuous victory.
My son has a car and a job, and is shifting his individuation into 5th gear. I rarely see him anymore as he prefers to stay with friends, and yet he is a kind and caring young man, always making a little time to have a meal with the "old man" or go for a walk or talk on the phone a little. My love for him is so tremendous and his claim to his own life occurring simultaneously with the end of my marriage has been hard and lonely. But no fault of his. He is beautiful and amazing. And since he was young he has long wanted me to stop smoking. I never promised I would for sure, because I didn't want to yield the devastation that even an innocent untruth or lie could have on a child. I only told him, "Thank you for caring for me.I love you, and I promise to keep trying to quit." And he saw me trying dozens-to-hundreds of times. This time, I'm at 142 days, and even though his communication skills have devolved into that monotone, grunty and all-to-brief teenage grumble, I suspect that in some way he is proud of me and a little satisfied this time around. We love each other, and even though our paths are parting in the most natural way, I'm sure he wants me around and living for a while longer - just to know I'm there, to talk to once in a while, to share a memory as he forges out his own life, and probably to ask for money once in a while .
So I have been riding the waves of quit and grief, life change and, quite frankly: survival. I am so so grateful to not be smoking today. It's like a dream or a magic spell. I know I went for it at the time, but now that I'm here, and compared to who I used to be, it's hard to understand how it actually happened. How did I stop? How did I make it this far? Here are some thoughts from my experience, for the newer-comers and just to share:
The first few days, I had to make not smoking the most f*&^ing important thing in my life. In other words my motto and mantra was: Today I am not going to smoke - NO MATTER WHAT! That meant, if I died, if I lost my job, no matter what happened I was going to get to the night time pillow without a puff. Those weren't the most productive days in my life - I had to step out and go for walks at work, and then go home and collapse and cry, mostly. And it was lonely. The truth is our society and culture largely condemns smoking, and few have access to understand the intensity and challenge of quitting, so it's an isolating experience and sharing with others tends to solicit indifference or a slightly judgmental, "It's about time." That's where this site, and maybe one or two trusted confidants are key. It's critical to have someplace to share and get support for the monster effort it takes to stub the butt!
As time went on, I kept waiting for it to get better, but the truth is, while the initial blood nicotine levels drop quickly in the first few days, the psychological cravings, disruption to brain chemistry (dopamine, acetylcholine, etc.) increase for a time. It's not the nicotine alone - he's the general, but that smoke also brings a whole army of other chemicals and stimulants, addictive co-factors and such. It's like we're shooting meth and coke at the same time chemically, we're just not wasted, and we can get away with it for a long time.
So I've concluded that in general, anyone who has smoked more that 5-10 years, and particularly those who started as teenagers, have been pickled. Our chemistry that manages our thoughts, emotions, biological functions, metabolism, diet, mood, ability to perform or cope, etc., has been hacked and is fully dependent on the substances we get through smoking. Meanwhile, we're paving our lungs with tar, filling our bloodstream with poisonous chemicals and oxidative compounds that lead to lung and heart disease, perhaps mouth and other cancers. Think oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico - IN YOUR LUNGS!
The good news is the body is resilient and a powerful self-healer. The second you stop, your internal FEMA workers come and start mopping up the oil, washing off the pelicans and turtles and cleaning up the beaches. Depending on how long or far it's gone for you, there may be irrevocable damage, but you WILL get some or all of your life back if you stop and stay stopped.
The bad news is there's no returning to normal. Because.... we never were normal. Maybe when we were kids, but those of use who started young and smoked most of our lives have become human-tobacco hybrids. Stopping smoking is a journey of learning how to live life from a new basis: learning to feel feelings differently, learning to source and manage energy differently, learning to think and deal with thoughts differently, learning to eat and metabolize food differently, and so on. Most of this process, in my opinion, is neurochemical. There's a reprogramming, a time of turmoil and confusion, followed by a time of growth and adaptation as we create a new normal that is smoke free. Just like the Gulf, there's a lot of damage that needs clean up. For a time, some of the shores and currents may be lifeless as the ocean's efforts to clear the toxins and poisons to make room for growth again. Same in our brains. We have up to 10 times the normal amount of nicotine receptors that are like screaming baby Robins begging for worms, severely depleted dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin - the neurochemicals that make us feel good or happy - and higher-than-normal levels of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme that will catalyze or neutralize (deplete) dopamine and other neurotransmitters.
It takes time for that neuro-messiness to settle, and then more time for it to adjust to the current smoke-free environment. During that time, we will feel the strong desire - either psychologically or physically - to smoke or do something to relieve the pressure of a bruised brain system. We might switch to overeating, watching TV, using other substances, or doing whatever we can to deal with the discomfort. This discomfort can feel like anger, depression, hopelessness and all kinds of intense emotions. The stories that the addicted brain offers to accompany these feelings often sound like: "What's the use, if I feel like this I might as well smoke,"...and so forth. You know them, you've heard them. "I'll just smoke tonight/this weekend/on this trip/at this concert/blah blah and stop tomorrow." They are all lies. Odds are, a couple puffs or a couple smokes and you're in the return to airport lane and, if you're lucky, starting your quit over at some point in the near future to go through all the madness again. If you're unlucky, your next quit will be when you're in the hospital for a serious smoking-related condition.
Take refuge in whatever community and support is available - be that here on this site, with a couple close friends or even a pet. Understanding and allowing by others are important medicines that are needed at this time.
And then there's our part of this work, which essentially comes down to commitment. No one else can make the commitment to not smoke for us. That's the hard part - and even harder if you struggle to commit to things in general in your life. We have to find the courage and bravery to embrace our own commitment to commitment. It's lonely. It's you vs you. One perspective that may help is to set reasonable expectations: know that there will be ups and downs, that just quitting smoking Sunday morning after a big night Saturday doesn't mean your life will be peachy and perfect by Thursday.
But in all that rollercoaster ride, to try to celebrate and exaggerate the wins, and minimize the challenges. "I went to that party, ceremony, family reunion, job interview and didn't smoke - Heck yeah! That's awesome! Let me take a few big breaths to feel the life and the healing that is coming back to me!"
Conversely, maybe it's like this: "Today sucked - that car accident, bad medical report, financial or relational challenge, my latte was cold, the a-hole driving in front of me, whatever... That was rough - I really wanted to smoke but I didn't. I told someone or posted here, and that sh*&t happens, it will pass. I'll make it through and hopefully tomorrow will be an easier day. I might not have my whole life figured out, but I'm on my way to freedom from tobacco slavery, and I can be proud of that!"
I share all this as part of my experience to date. One of the key concepts in Buddhism is impermanence. Everything changes and will. The sad part is things we love and trust will change or leave, the good part is the hard times won't last forever. I believe we never were "normal;" we were always inextricably woven with tobacco and smoke and nicotine, and now, we are reaching for freedom by trying to be born into something new. That's a form of impermanence, and it's not an easy journey for many, no matter what the health sites and non- or (some) ex-smokers say.
If you're here today, whether you have an hour or a decade of smobriety, you are a rockstar! That's because you are willing to champion your own life, say no to that addiction which was part of your operating system, face the journey and challenges that the transformation requires, and set your sight on a freedom and new way of being that is your breath of life.
And as our many elders here tell us time and again, there is a new freedom that comes after all the striving and struggle. It's hard-won but worth it. You are no longer helplessly throwing your life away to an addiction, and you have greater choice in your health and actions. You're not the odd smoker, flying on an airplane isn't an issue of nicotine management, exercise, lovers, kids and grandkids, nature, food, and the many many good things in life can be savored more fully. It's worth it. It's hard. But it's worth it.
Thank you for doing this, and for being here so I, too, have a place to come and share and be understood and allowed. Thank you for supporting me through your stories and encouragements, your comments and suggestions.
Grateful for you. Love you.