(NOTE: THIS IS THE ENTIRE DIALOGUE FROM THE ORIGINAL EX SITE ON THE NING PLATFORM.)
Random Thoughts Nov. 13, 2008
Is this site helping me or hurting me? Am I too connected to my junkie self? Sometimes I wonder.
I’m out raking leaves yesterday, and my neighbor drives by toward his abode and as usual stops. And he says, “Hi,” and I say “Hi,” and I say, “How are ya?” And he says, “Ok.” And he says, “How come every time I see you you’ve got a load of leaves on your back?” (I use a king sized sheet to haul them in.) And I say, “Because I’m rehearsing for playing Santa Claus! No, because it’s that time of year and I don’t wanna wait for the rain because then they become impossibly heavy....”
And as I’m talking I’m looking in his truck and he’s smoking. And sense memory kicked in. (He used to stop by while I was in the garden and we’d sit with cigarettes and chat. And a couple of times he invited me up to take a look at his house after he first moved in, and he’d offer me a cigarette, which I’d happily take.) I see he’s got a separate ashtray sitting there. His truck must not have come with one? And the smoke is filling the cab and he’s exhaling and it all smells great, like everything I want.
I never wanted to stop smoking. I never had any particularly bad side effects. And I just plain liked it. It didn’t solve my problems and I never needed it for stress. I just liked the taste of it. Especially after meals or booze. And first thing in the morning - five in a row as I drank my cup of coffee. That was breakfast.
The scent of that cigarette was overwhelming to me. It smelled SO GOOD. And that’s the way my quit goes. It’s not necessarily the way yours goes. Not the same as those who have acquired what I wish I could - the disgust for the smell. Just ain’t true for me.
So maybe what I have to offer is for those of my ilk - who would love to have second hand fresh smoke blown in their faces. I don’t know - it’s odd. There are times when stale cigarette smoke smells disgusting to me. Like on someone’s breath at the end of a day of smoking. Or a bar at closing time. But most of the time a freshly lit cigarette smells divine.
So, continuing on this long stream of consciousness (hey it may get someone through not just one but several three minute cravings!): Did I then dump my leaves and go get in my car and buy a pack? No. Did I even consider it? No. Did I think how much I would enjoy a puff? Yes. But that didn’t mean I had to fulfill that desire.
So how did I keep my quit? After over 2 years 8 months with a very strong visceral wanting? I just went on raking leaves. I guess that’s the best way I can say it. And after a leaf load or two, it was out of my head entirely. Until now where I am recalling it.
So obviously that moment had a great impact. Because I can still smell that wonderful smell. But I’m not giving up all that I’ve worked so hard for. There are many things that we work for that we have no control over that we lose. But our quits are totally under our own control. (Aren’t they?) Well, with a little help from above and from a lot of friends on a support group.
What kept me from going to the store is what I want to know. And I want to know it for you, Polly, and you, Cliff, and you..... and you... and you...
I just paid it no never mind. Sounds stupid, but it’s true. I just paid that craving no never mind. We all want things we cannot have. In this case we must deny ourselves the thing we CAN have but have chosen not to, because we know better. This for me has become a cannot have.
But I suddenly got a clue as to the mindset that gets you to the store to buy a pack. Because there WAS no mindset during that time. There was simply instinct and brain memory and desire and utter lack of control and discipline in that instant.
As an actress I have studied sense memory. It can enable you to feel an emotion from the past. So I really "get" that part of the addiction. I’ve occasionally used sense memory to re-connect to strong emotions in my life in order to replay them for a character I’m portraying. There are many things that can trigger sense memory. Perhaps one of the strongest is scent. You’ll smell the perfume your mother wore and she comes alive again. Music is another strong one - a song will bring back incredible memories. I don’t know (since I never smoked to alleviate stress), but I would guess that those of you who reach for a cigarette during stressful times - stress becomes a sense memory for you.
So, rambling out loud and trying to figure out why I didn’t relapse and why others do...
I had the sense memory, but I ignored it. I just went on raking the leaves. But I understand now how there is no cognitive recognition of any temperance device. No check. Because when I smelled that smell I was totally overwhelmed. There was no thought of running in and getting on the computer and signing into Ex and all of you. None whatsoever.
When we want it badly enough, we just go get it. Is that it? When that WANT supersedes the desire to quit, are we then lost? Or do we indeed have control?
For all of you relapsers (who've waded all the way to the bottom of this) - I’d like you to weigh in. Is this a conscious decision? To stay quit? Or one we are incapable of having control over when that sense memory washes over us?
What keeps a quitter quit? And I don't wanna hear the same old - no option stuff, because as Polly said to me at one point somewhere, the no option became an option.
Jan. 15th '09 addendum to this. Once again I'm out raking leaves. And once again my smoking neighbor comes by in his truck. We get to gabbing and he spends the ENTIRE time trying to find something to light his cigarette. (The truck doesn't have a lighter or ash tray). First his shirt pocket, then his right pants pocket. Then his left. Then he searches on the passenger seat. Then looks on the floor, back seat, checks all pockets again. It was hilarious and pathetic to me. I remember doing the same thing back when I was a smoker, going NUTS trying to find a pack of matches that I KNEW I had in my car SOMEWHERE. Another Uta Hagen acting class lesson - replicating what happens when you lose something and try to find it. I told him if he just gave the damn things up he wouldn't need a match. He agreed, grinning, and kept searching. What's more frustrating - not being able to find a cigarette, or the match? One without the other and you can't relapse. HA!