Monday, January 19, 2009

On Being a Non-Smoker

So 60 hours ago I had my last cigarette. There's a trusty and (as far
as I can tell) almost completely ineffectual (but maybe that "almost"
is pretty important) 21 mg. patch slapped on my arm. One reason why
the measly 21 mg. delivered over 24 hours might still be leaving me
with skin crawling, excruciating nerve clanging withdrawals

When I started smoking again after nearly 9 months without a
cigarette, in July of 2004 (ironically, on Independence Day), I chose
Natural American Spirit cigarettes. Health smokes, don't you know. It
turns out these are stronger than Marlboro Reds, the smokes I had been
smoking. I also gravitated toward the second strongest cigarette American
Spirit makes: their pimped out super minty menthols. 2.17 mg. nicotine
per cancer stick. And promptly hit a pack a day. In other words, 43.4
mg. of glorious nicotine delivered over roughly 16 hours, usually in
great clumping gobs of heart stopping, lung crackling joy.

My legions of receptors are laughing maniacally at the puny patch.

The "simple spiritual tools" of AA have been helping me immeasurably
the past 2.5 days. Okay, maybe just uncommon sense: right now, I am a
non-smoker. I'm not in charge of quitting; all I have to do is show up
without smoke in my lungs. I can't figure out why or how I'm quitting
or even if I'm able to do it. In other words, I am powerless over
nicotine and my life has become unmanageable. My short form of the
Serenity Prayer: "Help me!" Just a great yelp to the universe.

Antheil's Ballet Mechanique or Varese's Ionisation or far, far worse, something like Neil Diamond's I Am...I Said playing at full volume in bad headphones pretty much 18 hours a day without interruption. Tiny little insectile devils jabbing happy tasers into my back and forearms, dancing and laughing like Daffy Duck. Pornographic images in my mind of the great allure of the crackle of the baccy as the flame from the lighter hits it. Fantasies of the utter repose and peace provided by just one cigarette. A James Brownian restlessness. Flashes of Olympian rage not triggered by anything in particular. A strange feeling that my soul is plunging feet first into a bottomless pit, surrounded by a howling maelstrom. Combined exhaustion and hypervigilance.

And now, for the second day in a row, I head into the desert to walk up hills.


Mixtape Jones said...

I am left wanting to attempt a "mash-up" of "Ionisation" and "I Am...I Said" just for you. That sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.

mht712 said...

You go, Peter. I found it helped to tell myself, "you don't want to go through this (withdrawal) again" when I was tempted to light up. It also helped to fully commit to identifying myself as a non-smoker. And to recognizing that I could want a cigarette, and not have one. For what it's worth.

farren said...

Weirdly, that internal montage you describe sounds a LOT like my own.


You are going to emerge from the mists of this and think of it, soon enough, as one surreal bad dream, one week-long ballet mecanique.

the unreliable narrator said...

Those dastardly puebloans, finally having their revenge on us—oh but wait, I completely forgot, they're owned by RJ Reynolds and have no tribal affiliation whatsoever! Crazy!

Anyway, I shake my ineffectual fist at them and their mentholated sneakiness. Them and their freebase/crack nicotine. "No additives in our tobacco does NOT mean a safer cigarette" ha ha ha! Ha.

Do you know why I love you? Yeah, I didn't think so. So here's a portion of the explanation (even as I hear you getting shakily into the Honda, hopefully having remembered to take a gallon of water and your hat and your homeopathy, which is probably doing absolutely nothing for you besides except offering you an object to put into your mouth every hour)—an explanation using numerous offensively unnecessary scare quotes:

Not because you're "quitting"; not because smoking is "bad"; not because by "quitting" you're therefore a "better" person; not because "good" people have "willpower" and addicts are not "working the program"; not because you are "trying to be good." But because you freely admit you can't figure any of it out. Because, unlike most other bipeds of my acquaintance, you're translucently willing to cop to the mystery, even though it drag us down with it.

Also because you can combine funk and particle theory in one fell swoop.

In the middle of the night, moaning in your patch-addled sleep, you said uncertainly, "I don't think I want to." And then, as if backing away from something, and refusing it definitely: "Nuh-UH!" So your sleeping psyche has spoken.

And this, via Miss Bovary: "William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, wrote that a condition of desperate mental flailing is often the prelude to spiritual renewal: 'Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! Help!' ”

To be said in the squashed voice of a little crab, enmired in a sand dune.

Anonymous said...

MLK day, aka national service day, ie NS day...and in your case, non-smoking day. Doesn't it feel nice to be on the right side of history? (Especially on eve of regime change?)

Mandarin said...

As I begin composing I wonder what I could possibly write that would be relevant and (dare I say) encouraging, without being infuriating and assumptive. Likely to be both, but here goes.

I'm astounded to discover the particular fiendishness of free-based Spirits. Those cynical corporate tobacco motherfuckers. Of course I didn't know that American Spirits are even more reinforcing than Marlboros. They were the monastery favorite and I bought bushels when I was sent to town for the sequestered practitioners of The Way. Organic cigarettes in their appealing pastel packages. Ggggrrr.

I don't know my Simple Tools very well, but the surrender in petitioning the everything and the unseen for help is the best thing I got. It's odd that I think to I employ it so infrequently. Will think to use it more, perhaps every moment.

When I was in period of rapid & painful change, the Un's Penny G. told me , 'Walk. Walk and drink lots of water.'

All good wishes, and large & small comforts, to you in your desert walking.

Anonymous said...

Harsh, man. I feel for you. I had a pipe-smoking phase, very brief, but I definitely understand the attractions of tobacco. They are significant. Commerce, unfortunately, has badly twisted, as it must, all the virtues into vices. When the market shifts, the marketeers get evermore diabolical. Your explication of American Spirit was eye-popping. I always wondered where the attraction to that particular brand came from, repelled as I am by the badly misused misnomer "American." Two possible responses to the screaming willies: scratching head to toe, firmly but not too firmly, with a good-quality hairbrush. Also:as you've obviously already decided, physical exertion. 30 minutes of aerobic work can burn a lot of the excess energy generated by the raging hunt for the missing addictive substances, and also (sometimes) give a little adrenaline boost, which can help overcome all sorts of unpleasant obstacles. Hang in there.

the unreliable narrator said...

I don't have another comment but the word verification word for this post right now, as in "type the characters you see in the picture above," is SUCKNOS. And I thought that was funny. Because I'm weird.

Jason said...

How are things now? Still an ex-smoker?

Gordon said...