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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Smoking Ban

One year, 9 months and 11 days. That's how long it had been since I'd smoked a cigarette when, on last Sunday evening, I broke my abstinence. An old friend (and one of the only smokers I know these days) was in town just for that night. I had tossed back several beers, and while we strolled the scenic sidewalks of crepuscular Capitol Hill, I asked him to toss me a butt from his pack. It was a Marlboro Light I believe.

I have two reactions to this surprising turn of events. First, I don't have any intention to start smoking again. I didn't really enjoy it much. Second, I do not regret my decision to have a cigarette with an old friend. I didn't do it because I was trashed. I did it because I was sick of feeling like an addict.

I was tired of counting the months and days since I quit. I was tired of feeling them mount up like straws on a camel's back. I was tired of conceiving of myself as an addict in recovery. And I think many people have trouble with this. We don't really like to think of ourselves as damaged, vulnerable or flawed. Just ask anyone on antidepressants. People can't wait to get off those things once they feel stabilized. Somehow, in my mind at least, smoking a single cigarette transformed me from a fragile person attempting to stay in "recovery" to a healthy, strong-willed person capable of having a cigarette without giving the tobacco any power over me. Though it may seem counterintuitive, not smoking actually made me feel more like a tobacco addict than smoking that cigarette did.

Is this delusional? Well, probably. And perhaps someday I will regret my actions of last Sunday. But for now I'm more curious about this phenomenon I experienced. Do people often suffer this kind of "weighted-downed-ness" when they deal with old demons? And do they sometimes feel empowered by giving up the absolutism that goes hand-in-hand with addiction treatment (or other treatments for that matter?)

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At 7/27/2006 02:49:00 PM, Blogger walaka said...

I'll speak to the specifics without addressing the theory:

I "quit" smoking sometime around May 1998. I put quit in quotes for the very reason you allude to: I don't necessarily believe in absolutes and I didn't want to define myself in such a way. From time to time I would have a cigarette; maybe two, maybe three times a year. Eventually I just stopped caring to, and I'm sure I haven't had a smoke for three years now. But it hasn't been from any force of will: it's just not something I do anymore.

On the other hand, I know drunks who will not touch a drop of liquor, even though they'd like to, because they believe it will inevitably lead to bad things, and I'm not about to tell them to do any differently.

At 7/27/2006 03:34:00 PM, Blogger Diane said...

Although I can't generalize over all addictions, my personal experience is that to quit smoking is easy. To not start again (after a week, a month, a year)is the difficult bit. You smoked a butt or two on the occasion but didn't succumb to a resumption of the habitual use, and therefore proved to yourself that tobacco has no power over you.
Yes, we don't like to think of ourselves as damaged, vulnerable or flawed but in truth we are, every one of us in some way. The process of facing ones' demons in the course of eradicating them does not mean denial (which is fruitless) but meeting them head on and leave feeling a bit more in control of your life, however fragile that may seem. It's all we've got.

At 7/27/2006 10:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The process of facing ones' demons in the course of eradicating them does not mean denial (which is fruitless) but meeting them head on and leave feeling a bit more in control of your life."

Hence Tormented By Demons - come one come all, childhood demons, firebreathing demons, demons with faggy things in their pointy ears! You want to be in my nightmares? Yeah? I'll BLOG your ass! :) And boy do I feel better now than I did a few months ago.

Coming down from SSRIs means shocks. Random, sleep-countering, electrical shocks inside your brain. I'm dreading it, but I know what it feels like and will gladly go through the zappage if it means my work is done.

In my experience, SSRIs create a temporary plateau of solid ground from which you can mix cement into the quicksand all around you. You turn the swamp that is your life into a paved sidewalk, so you can walk away from pain with your head high rather than spend all your energy trudging through the Swamps of Sadness with the Gmork at your heels.

The whole point of being on these stabilizers (in my opinion) is to stabilize the rest of your life from your newfound solid ground so that you can one day kiss them goodbye and enjoy life medication-free, and hopefully depression-free.

Much like your mom, the point of getting on is to get off.


At 7/30/2006 01:38:00 PM, Blogger Origami Nightingale said...

Thought-provoking post, John. Your post reminds me of a snippet from some Ani Difranco lyrics. The following is from her song, "Fuel":

"...and they say that alcoholics are always alcoholics

even when they're as dry as my lips for years

even when they're stranded on a small desert island

with no place in 2,000 miles to buy beer

and i wonder
is he different?
is he different?
has he changed what's he about?...

or is he just a liar with nothing to lie about?"


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