Post #22 02022020

Since quitting smoking on 12/2/2019, my approach is to take it one day at a time, recognizing that each day I can find a different way to respond to life events (a phone call, capping off dinner, having a beer, etc…) that used to trigger a cigarette I am re-wiring my brain for living life without tobacco.

Summarizing some sage advice from others who have traveled this road already:

Every smoke-free day I complete I am teaching myself how to live my life without cigarettes. Bit by bit, I’m re-wiring my brain, reprogramming my responses to daily events that trigger the urge to smoke by choosing something other than smoking when the urge surfaces.

Over the course of my first smoke-free year, I’ll encounter – and have a chance to clear – most of the events and situations (triggers) in my daily life that I have associated with smoking.

Practice is a necessary part of recovery from nicotine addiction. There is no getting around it, so try to relax and let time help me. I built my smoking habit through years of practice, and now I must build the nonsmoking me in the same way. The more practice I put between myself and that last cigarette I smoked, the stronger I’ll become.

Nobody said it would be easy.

On the other hand, when I look around the world and see what others are enduring, it puts my petty whining in perspective.

Time for me to Buck Up (practice #10 in my book), Lighten Up (practice #11)

Then, on 1/17/2020, a shocking turn of events.

While in a CVS pharmacy to get a shingles vaccine, I checked out my blood pressure on their store BP monitor. My blood pressure has always been normal and the last check up at my doctor’s office on 10/29/2019 was 117/74. I expected about the same this time so I could not believe my eyes when all three times I checked it, that CVS machine gave readings in the 190+/160+ range!!!!!

A couple of days later, I had my BP checked at my doctor’s office: 168/100!!! Still ridiculously high. The next day, for the first time in my life, I started taking a high blood pressure medication (losartan, 50 mg/day).

I also immediately purchased a home BP monitor on Amazon (Omron, recommended by my doctor, cost $50, and so far, am very happy with how it works, ease of use, though have yet to compare the results to the doctor’s machine, and durability is unknown.)

Unfortunately, during the two weeks since taking the medication, my blood pressure has stayed in an unacceptably high range – 145-180/90-100 – and the readings are erratic (the machine or reality – have no way of knowing yet anyway) so will be seeing the doctor again in a couple of days.

Besides, one’s blood pressure should go down when one quits smoking (smoking constricts blood vessels), not up.

So, what is going on?

Post #21 01152020

In my last post, I brought up the emotional turmoil I was feeling since I quit smoking on 12/2/2019.

How to describe it?

Periodic, almost daily, headaches (before this, I have had probably 5 headaches in my entire life), a discouraging absence of passion to do anything. No motivation, no focus, no enthusiasm. The opposite of how I usually feel about life, how I greet each day.  Worst of all, the quality of my sleep, which has almost always been excellent, has fallen off a cliff. Drifting in and out, most of the night, waking up still tired.

This all came as a complete surprise to me. I had no plan whatsoever for dealing with it.

On top of the emotional disorientation, which persisted through December, I hosted a family gathering for the holidays. About 2-3 days later, I began experiencing chills, lack of energy, headaches. The flu coming on? I immediately fell into taking long naps (2-3 hours), mega doses of vitamin C (3000 mg at a time, 2-3 times per day) and Echinacea 6-8 capsules/day). After 3-4 days, I began feeling better. So I have apparently dodged that bullet, whatever it was.

While physically OK again, I am still dealing with the same emotional funk.

I found the following comments while doing research into the characteristics of nicotine withdrawal:

People who have successfully quit the habit often talk about the “icky threes” of quitting. These include:

  • 3 days. The worst period of physical withdrawal. (not really that bad for me – I had spent months re-wiring my brain to not smoking prior to my quit day.)
  • 3 weeks. The time when physical withdrawal is waning and the psychological withdrawal takes over. (Oh yeah!)
  • 3 months. Sometimes referred to as “the blahs,” at 3 months post-quit-date some of the newness of quitting wears off, and some people wonder, “Is that all there is?” This is a common time for relapse to occur. (hmmmmm)

I am definitely in the last phase, an emotional state aptly named, “the blahs.”

My approach for now:

  1. So be it. This is how I feel. Be fully present to it (practice #1/ A Beginner’s Mind). In other words, do not put a happy face on it, or grin and bear it. Rather, acknowledge how I really feel, be willing to fully experience it and see if whether Werner Erhard nailed it when he said, “Whatever we are willing to fully experience disappears.” Has been true for me in the past. Will see how it goes now.
  2. Choose a more useful attitude about it all. (Practice #7, Choosing Our Attitude, in my book). Yes, the feelings I am having suck. However, each day is another day I have not responded to the million cues a smoker gets to have a cigarette by having a cigarette. Each day I am re- wiring my brain to behave as a non smoker. Each day without smoking is another success. Each day, my body, especially my lungs, are gaining time to heal, another day it is no longer under siege. Another day gifted to my body.

It is a beginning.

Post #20 01022020

Post #20 is my first post for 2020; nice symmetry.

This post also marks a shift from a 100% focus on just my dog, Spirit, to exploring other facets of my life.

 

On 12/2/2019, I smoked my last cigarette.

I smoked my first one when I was 13 years old on a cold, clear winter night in 1951. It was a Lucky Strike, snitched from the poker table where my dad and his friends were taking a break from their annual New Year holiday marathon poker session in Dearborn, Michigan.

I slipped out of the house with my single cigarette and a book of matches in my coat pocket. I can still feel that snow squeaking under my feet; see the cyclone wire fence paralleling the sidewalk, my breath puffing out into the black night air. I stopped under a street lamp to light up, then took my first ever drag.

Oooooh. Suddenly I tumbled into a wonder world. Bliss. Safer, more secure somehow, a space without sharp edges. This felt familiar to me in some diffuse, blurred way. Did I smoke in other incarnations? Did I know then what I was feeling now? That I had a new friend I could always count on to deliver, calm, peace, joy, relief, comfort, even a keener insight into life?

I never looked back.

Some 400,000 cigarettes later, I smoked my last one a month ago in a cold garage, snuggled up in my winter coat. I liked that one too. I remember liking them all save those few I smoked while suffering from one illness or another.

Why quit now, at age 81?

I have been pleasing my brain for my entire life but at the cost of abusing my body, especially my lungs. I could see the possibility of one day having to choose between breathing and smoking. I already have COPD. Not going to live my life dragging around an oxygen tank, which is why I bought a .38 last summer, paying $700 for my long term health care plan. A bargain I would say.

Still, why not do an experiment? Give my lungs a chance to some healing. See what life is like without smoking. If I don’t like it, I can always go back to it.

My process for quitting was/is elegant and simple: Pick out a date a few months away, occasionally remind myself I am quitting, and when exactly, and why exactly. I was giving myself plenty of time to practice re-wiring my brain so on “that day” I would already see myself as a non smoker. There were times during these months I was anxious for the day to come. I was already feeling like a non smoker.

When “that day” arrived, I quit cold turkey. It was easy. Since then, I hardly think about smoking – to be generous, maybe it has surfaced as a momentary desire a half dozen times during the past month.

I did buy some licorice candy and licorice root (to chew on) because I had heard it helps with cravings. Maybe it does. I like the root best, no sugar plus it provides oral satisfaction while chewing on the root. Nice.

What has not been easy at all, however, is the emotional turmoil I have been experiencing ever since. Ouch!

No energy, no motivation, no focus, no desire. Lousy sleep during the night so wind up taking long naps during the day too. And in the past couple of days, coming down with …. something. Chills, coughing, feeling delicate, vulnerable. I am devouring thousands of milligrams of Vitamin C, Echinacea.

So this is where I am at today.

There is always tomorrow.

Well, usually.