I can’t believe that I have gone 116 days without nicotine. I also can’t believe that I have gone 3,611 days without alcohol. My nicotine story is very much intertwined with my alcohol story. Maybe alcohol initially reduced my inhibitions regarding nicotine or maybe the two went hand in hand. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am clearly an addict and my drugs of choice are nicotine and alcohol and I am powerless over both.
I’m a 39-year-old female and I grew up on a 40-acre farm in Central Oregon. I was involved in 4-H and FFA and was around a lot of cowboys types growing up. It seemed like they all dipped, even the women. At first, I think I was shocked when I would find out that some of the women dipped. My mom was a smoker and that seemed like the more “womanly” way to consume nicotine. I do remember sneaking cigarettes from my mom and smoking them to feel cool. It was horrible as I recall. I do remember buying the jerky chew and putting it between my teeth and bottom lip. For no particular reason, just wanting to feel a part of I suppose. I was always a “good kid” and never really got into trouble through high school. We lived too far away from town for me to sneak out and go to parties and I really just wasn’t interested anyway. The few parties I did go to, I would drink and smoke cigarettes and on occasion try some Rooster chew if offered. It was always “OK” to be a female and chew if we were all drinking.
I went away to college and my drinking intensified 100-fold. As did my nicotine consumption. I was now part of the crowd that took smoke breaks outside the library while I was studying. I was hanging around with people who wouldn’t ever have thought of dipping, so I didn’t either. Oh actually, there was one baseball player who dipped and I probably bummed a few pinches from him if we were drunk. College went really well for me. I was in the Honors Program, wrote and presented a senior thesis, was very active in educational activity groups, and received my school’s Distinguished Student Leader award. Everything looked great on the outside, but I was dying on the inside. The summer before I was to return to college, when I was 22, I got a DUI. It was, I thought, so out of character for me. I was court ordered to do diversion but chose to do outpatient treatment instead. I was done drinking—scared straight.
Instead of going back to college, I moved back home and got a job working at a friend’s convenience store. One of those one-stop places with fuel, store, espresso hut, and fast food place all in one. I can vividly remember being out on a smoke break and my boss, saying “why don’t you just chew? Then you don’t have to come out here in the cold to smoke.” It seemed perfectly logical. He was a huge chewer and his wife was actually a Copenhagen rep. And she dipped too! I started with Rooster and then moved to Copenhagen Longcut. I remember always feeling a special bond with any of the women who came into buy chew for themselves. I also was happy to have something, anything, if I wasn’t going to have alcohol anymore. I needed some kind of crutch to lean on for stress or depression or anger or, or, or.
I made it two years without drinking and then a customer from the convenience store asked me out on a date. He was always stopping in and buying 1 single cigar. We went for pizza and he suggested a pitcher of beer and it seemed like a great idea. We got married about 10 months after that first date. I hid my dip usage from him, but I can remember when we were driving to Reno to get married, I suggested we buy some Copenhagen pouches. I was really jones-ing on that 8-hour drive. I think both of us were to be honest. We did buy some and I made it through the trip. My new husband was in the USMC and after we were married, he returned to Okinawa and I stayed behind so that he could finish at that duty station without having time added on. I can’t recall why, maybe it was difficult to obtain chew or it was really expensive, but I remember sending care packages full of dip to my husband. I also can’t remember when I actually came clean with him or he figured out that I was a full-time dipper. I know it wasn’t on the top of his list for a life partner, but he accepted it for better or worse. During these 18 months we were apart, my drinking escalated and so did my nicotine intake. I would get drunk all by myself and take huge pinches of dip and then pass out. Somehow, I didn’t seem to swallow too much of it, but I did occasionally have it dribbling down my face and clothes. Pretty picture for sure.
Somehow, I was able to finish college by the time my husband completed his duty in Okinawa. We were then sent to North Carolina for 3 years. Those years were some of the lowest in my life. I was a full-blown alcoholic and nicotine addict and my poor husband just tried to keep up. Eventually, it got so bad that he put me on a plane back to Oregon about 2 months before we were due to be transferred. My sister picked me up from the airport and I could see in her eyes how disappointed and shocked she was to see me. I recall swearing to her that I wasn’t going to drink anymore and that I was swearing off chewing too. We stopped to get gas and I threw all my chew away. I think that lasted for about a day until I could get a vehicle and take off to buy some more cans.
After the three months apart, my husband and I decided to give it another go. We were sent to San Diego and I thought everything was going to be different. The problem was, it didn’t matter if there were palm trees and sunshine, there was still a convenience store on every corner. And I was still an addict. For some reason, call it divine intervention, or whatever, I realized that I could not continue on the way I was with my drinking. I quit that day and have not drank since. Some days are a struggle and some days are great and some days are somewhere between. All I have is a daily reprieve. I work closely with other alcoholics to keep it green and to support and be supported.
Although I had quit drinking, I still continued to dip. I didn’t have to hide it from my husband, but I did have to listen to him bitch about it which he did often when we were together. He deployed to Afghanistan twice during our time in San Diego and I would send him rolls of dip in care packages. Every time he returned from being away for 7 months, he was able to quit dipping cold turkey. I never could understand how he did that. After the second deployment, I decided that I was going to try to quit. I was tired of hiding it from my friends, I was tired of the cost, and I was concerned about my health. I searched the Internet for the fake chew and stumbled upon KTC. I didn’t ever register on the site but I did read a couple of the articles and I ended up ordering a whole bunch of fake chew which tasted horrible. I was able to quit cold turkey and I made it about 2 years all on my own. The first week was absolute hell. I was emotional, weepy, bitchy, clingy, etc. But I made it. I had kicked the habit!
We were sent to Oregon for my husband’s recruiting duty and I was still a non-dipper. I got plugged in with other sober alcoholics and everything was going really well. One day, I stopped for gas at a convenience store and went inside to get a soda. I was paying at the register and they had those double packs of Copenhagen. You know the ones, where you save a whole dollar. The next thing I know, I’ve purchased one and I’m out the door, in my car, putting in a pinch. I tried to hide it from my husband this time. I would only dip when I was by myself but eventually, I didn’t want to hide it and he found out. He was upset but that wasn’t my problem. I was completely self-centered when It came to dip. I did hide it from my friends and none of them ever knew that I partook in smokeless tobacco.
Fast forward to 2019. I haven’t been going to the dentist because I don’t want to hear what they have to say. But I have a really sensitive spot on one tooth where I usually hold my dip in my cheek. I decide I’m going to go to the dentist, and we’ll see what’s going on. She asks me if I chew and I lie and say no. She asks if I bite my cheeks and I say yes that’s what I do when I’m stressed. Another lie. She recommends some sensitivity toothpaste and we make another appointment for 6 months later. Secretly I promise myself that by the next time I see her I won’t be dipping.
I’m still dipping, nothing has changed, although I have been thinking about quitting and I even ordered some Nicorette gum from Amazon that arrived. I haven’t tried it or anything but I’m thinking about quitting. August 21, 2019. It’s our 14th wedding anniversary. And I’m due to go to the dentist the next day. I’m not going to meet the promise that I made to myself about being dip free the next time I go. I decide that morning to throw out my dip and I put some of the Nicorette gum in my purse. I remember how bad it was the first time I quit, so I stop and get some sunflower seeds, gum and candy to suck on. I make it to work and start thinking about what I’m doing, and I remember KTC. I know I need the support like I have with my alcohol. I can’t remember exactly what the website was called, and I wonder if it is still operating. I do a quick search and find it and it’s still going! I first read about nicotine substitutes and how these guys go cold turkey. I decide that is what I’ve got to do, and I will just return the Nicorette to Amazon. I register on the website and try to figure out how to post roll. Immediately, other quitters reached out to me with words of support, their phone numbers and I’m just blown away. I start texting with a couple of them and even talk on the phone with one guy who was a great help in navigating the website and navigating this new quit life. Initially, my screen name didn’t let on that I’m a female quitter, but a couple of the guys clued in some of the other female quitters and they started reaching out. The gentleman that I spoke with on the phone first and the other female quitters have been instrumental in my quit. They each hold a special place in my heart. I make a promise to them each day via text and they do the same with me. I make a promise every day that I post roll. A promise to myself, to my quit group, and to all of KTC. A promise that I will not have nicotine in any form for today.
I took the suggestions offered by people who came before me. I knew that particularly that first week was going to be bad and it was. Just like before, I was emotional, weepy, bitchy, clingy, etc. But I made it through. I remembered that each of these emotions would pass. I tried to think of other things and to stay busy mentally and physically. The first few weeks, I couldn’t sit on the couch and watch TV, it was too tempting to want to throw a dip in. So, I went hiking or I did housework. I also always make sure to have seeds, gum, hard candy or something on hand just in case I need to satisfy that oral fixation. I also keep a bag of cut up veggies at my work as a healthier alternative that keeps my mouth busy. Every time I made it through something without dipping, I took the time to acknowledge it and celebrate it and share it with other KTC members. And if there is something that I’m worried about, like taking my first long car drive or my first airplane trip without nicotine, I can ask my KTC brothers and sisters for their experience and suggestions. They have saved me more than once.
For me, it has been important to plug in, get involved within my group and with some of the other female quitters. It’s equally important that I keep it “green”. I need to remember what that first week was like and how badly I would not want to repeat that. I get to keep it fresh by reaching out to newer KTC members and posting my support on their roll pages. I can read how they are navigating their quits and offer my experience, strength, and hope.
This sure got a lot longer than I intended. I guess I had a lot to say. Thank you for reading and thank you for my quit. I am proud to quit with you one day at a time. Memento vivere–remember to live.