Pains of withdrawal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas! Merry XXXing Xmas! Ho. Ho. Hohhhhhh! Nooooooo!

Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see here. Move along now.

Whew. Excuse me for channeling Frank Drebin. That was a bad one.

On Monday, you see, I quit smoking. As I write this, it’s my third day without a cigarette. Prior to Monday, I smoked three packs a day of Wintson (&uot;full flavor&uot;) 100s. Basically, I was just shy of being a chain smoker, but I would have been a chain smoker if not for no smoking areas, etc.

None of that matters right now. What does matter is to not smoke and not lash out at anybody. It’s been kinda hard, but even though I’m just about through the physical withdrawal stage of the process, I know from experience that I’ve got to be forever vigilant.

I quit once before and thought I had cigarettes kicked. On my birthday in 1980 I quit smoking cold turkey. I did it mostly for my Dad, Vernon Hoggard, because he was suffering the ravages of emphysema and he really wanted me to quit. There were other factors involved, but I was inspired to quit. It was an emotional thing, I guess you could say.

My Dad died in late December of 1982. No, I didn’t start smoking right away. It was late summer of 1983 before I started back. Why’d I start smoking again? I don’t know. There is no reason. I’m a nicotine addict and the nicotine addiction finally battered my mental and emotional defenses until it breached the wall and took the city once again.

Since then, I’ve made half-hearted attempts to quit smoking. Basically, I knew I should quit for my health or because the people who love me wanted me to, so I would set a date and say I would quit.

Those attempts didn’t work because I was committed to the notion that I had to quit. The longest I quit smoking between ’83 and the present was for two days a couple of years ago during a religious retreat. I was quitting for my wife, Kim, and thought the retreat atmosphere would help me do something I wasn’t convinced I could do.

That doubt did me in. Halfway home from the retreat I stopped and got a pack of cigarettes. Not for relief of the overwhelming urge to smoke, but completely giving up on the notion that I could quit.

I’m rambling. I know it. I’m sorry. Maybe I’ll be able to write coherently by next week.

I know that I can’t give in to the notion that I can take a puff from a cigarette. I understand why hard-core drinkers have to swear off of anything alcoholic. All it takes is giving in to the urge and the entire edifice crumbles.

I’ve also discovered that most people – those without serious addictions – have no concept of what it means to kick an addiction. I didn’t want to say &uot;habit&uot; because that just doesn’t convey the weight of the thing.

The other day as I was discussing my impending plan to quit smoking, somebody at work (a non-smoker) remarked, &uot;I know how hard it will be. As much as I love chocolate, I quit eating it.&uot;

Luckily, I hadn’t already quit smoking or I might be writing this from jail. Look, giving up something you like might be tough, but it’s not the same. Let’s look for an analogy…standing firm upon the shore as a small wave washes the sand from beneath your feet as it returns to the sea. You feel the tug and you might even have to adjust your balance to keep from having to take an unwanted step toward the sea, but it’s just a minor thing that you won’t even remember an hour from now.

Compare that gentle tug (toward chocolate or whatever) to what it would be like if you were chained to a speedboat. You’re standing there and you don’t want to go into the water, but you can see the boat speeding toward the horizon. You don’t know how long the chain is. You don’t know if you have seconds or minutes before it goes taut and yanks you into the sea. Here it comes. There’s no resisting it.

That’s the difference between not eating chocolate and not smoking. Eating chocolate – and, yes, I’m also a chocoholic – is not really an addiction. It’s a pleasant thing you enjoy. It may even get to the minor habit stage and it may be that without chocolate you feel a craving for a piece. But it’s nothing compared to the pull of this cigarette addiction.

Maybe it’s easier for some smokers than others. Maybe for some people cigarettes are little more than a minor habit, like chocolate. Some people, after all, only smoke five or six cigarettes a day.

Some, like me, smoke as many as society and propriety allow. Comparing smokers to drinkers, I’m the skid row bum of smokers.

But I’ve given all that up. It’s been 60 hours now. Two and a half days and counting. I’m glad Kim is here to inspire me. It helps to have her here, but even she doesn’t quite get it. Addiction. Gee whiz, it’s tough. (If you think that was what I was actually thinking, I know of some bridges in New York you might be interested in.)

Why did I quit before on Dec. 20 rather than the New Year? Simple. Because I need all this time off to get over the physical addiction and to start getting used to the psychological phase. That one, I know from my previous effort at quitting, never goes away. During the 3.5 years I was quit, I never did not want a cigarette. As time wore on the urge to smoke became more tolerable, but since it eventually defeated me it became more insidious.


Hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Be happy, be healthy, and be loved. It helps.