Here’s my story and what I’ve learned…
I started my relationship with tobacco shortly after I turned 18. Pipes were a lot of fun back then. I started with some cheap department store pipes, and then upgraded to buying billets of briar and making some really beautiful pipes. I would smoke for hours while admiring the grain of the briar. I smoked a few cigars too, but not too often because the good ones were expensive and I didn’t have much money. I told myself I was just having fun; I would never become an addict.
Then I started working the night shift at Wal-Mart while going to college full time. I kicked my relationship with nicotine up a notch by switching to cigarettes; they got me through three months of 1-2 hours of sleep per 24-hour period (“day” and “night” had lost all meaning). After I realized that schedule was making me psychotic and physically ill, I quit the night shift and the $1.25 raise that went along with it. What a joke… I traded a shitty little raise like that for my health and sanity, and a heavy-duty nicotine addiction.
After a year of enthusiastic cigarette smoking, my lungs were trashed. I had been smoking non-filters and hand-rolls like my cool punk friends. I needed to quit. Quitting smoking was REALLY easy once I discovered copenhagen. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit… let’s jump back a couple of years.
Another group of friends (not the punks) was really into shooting, hunting, and combat training. They introduced me to a private martial-arts team at the age of 17. After I was admitted through a rigorous interview process, we trained as a 5-man team in the art of Togakure Ryu Ninjutsu, fighting, bleeding, and meditating in the snow, mud, and dust. Our sensei was a tough, aggressive, ruthless, intelligent, former-rodeo-riding, current harley-riding, cope-chewing motherfucker. My fling with sleep-deprivation and smoking was thrown into the middle of this training period, and I needed to quit to avoid further damaging my physical performance. I had always seen chewing as a sick habit of ignorant redneck hicks, but I needed to quit smoking, and if sensei did it, it might not be that bad, so I gave it a shot. Quitting smoking was REALLY easy when I replaced it with copenhagen.
So… I was trained by a real motherfucking ninja-dipper, and once I made it through the training and earned my black belt, I was also a ninja dipper. Both literally and figuratively as the term is used on this site. I hid it from everyone. My girlfriend (who somehow miraculously made it through all of that shit to became my wife and mother of my daughter), parents, and friends pretty much had no idea that I was a raging nicotine addict. The dipping stayed with me as a constant companion when I went away to college. It got me through seemingly endless late nights of studying and was with me when I earned my Civil Engineering degree. It was with me through everything. When I went back home one summer to continue training, I discovered that my sensei had quit, but I carried on. I walked out of the Professional Engineer’s exam one hour early to go have a dip (still passed easily). I found times to ninja dip on my wedding day, and when my daughter was born. I never went more than 8 hours without a dip – not once in roughly 12 years. Fortunately I was able to keep the habit hidden from my students when I started training my own class, so that habit has been weeded out of my particular branch of the art. Somewhere along the way it stopped being fun and started being an obligation; probably a lot earlier than I cared to admit. I think I was really hooked within a couple of weeks of my first puff of the pipe.
The really strange thing was that the only time I really wanted the habit was way back when I was delusional and psychotic from sleep deprivation. After that it was in conflict with everything that I valued and wanted to do with my life. I had been obsessed with improving my physical condition and skills since before high school, and I knew it hurt me each time I took a dip. But I could never actually bring myself to make THE decision to quit. I would frequently get fired up to quit, but it would quickly fade in the face of withdrawals.
So what made this time different? I honestly don’t know what I did differently to get started. I had bought nicotine patches before but they went unused until they expired because I couldn’t bring myself to commit to a full day without dip. This time I bought some patches with the half-assed intent of quitting on new-years day. 12:00AM rolled around and I was watching myself throw in another big quarter-can dip and tell myself “now isn’t a good time to quit, I’ll wait until after vacation”. I had seen this same thought pattern countless times before, but this time it scared the shit out of me to watch myself rationalize continuing my addiction. I spit out the dip, slapped a patch on my arm, and started a stopwatch. I planned to follow a very abbreviated patch program, with about one week on each “step”. That’s when I had my next scare: I watched my scheduled step-down slipping past and saw myself rationalizing why I should put it off for a while. My wife was leaving town for 6 days and it would be much easier to step down once she got back. Or maybe I should start dipping again and quit when she gets back. Shit. I had joined this site a few days earlier looking for information on quitting, so I posted an intro asking for help and opinions. All it took was several friendly kicks in the ass from some quitters on this site to start me in the right direction. After seeing their posts, I ripped off the patch, restarted my stopwatch, went to bed, and posted a day-1 first thing in the morning. The stopwatch helped me through the first few days, each time I was experiencing withdrawals, I looked at the watch and promised myself that I would not go through those hours again.
What have I learned?
I paid very close attention to my experience over the past 112 days, like I was observing a scientific experiment. I didn’t have any real control subjects, but I compared as well as I could against my memories of before the quit and compared my experiences against the posts of other quitters on this site.
I watched myself try to rationalize continuing my addiction. I watched myself feel like I was being cheated out of my nicotine buzz. I watched my mind screaming for a nic-fix. I watched myself saying no.
I saw that nicotine had long since stopped being fun, and was simply a way to stop the withdrawals that had set in since I spit out the last dip. It didn’t make me feel good, it made me feel less bad. I had been self-medicating with nicotine to maintain an even keel, but I hadn’t realized that I was sailing through a lake of shit.
I observed that nicotine had taken over the reward system of my brain. I no longer felt a sense of pleasure from meaningful accomplishments and good relationships. It cheapened everything that should bring pleasure; everything that should be meaningful was diminished. It damaged my relationships and possible accomplishments. This realization was completely formed a couple of weeks in, and at that point I realized I could never touch nicotine again. One more dip will destroy me, even if it doesn’t kill me.
An essential part of my recovery has been learning how to function without nicotine. If I just tried to suffer my way through it, I would have been taking a vacation rather than quitting. I had to relearn how to enjoy an activity for its own sake. I had to learn how to motivate myself without the artificial reward of nicotine. I had to learn how to be happy again.
Nicotine rewired the decision-making abilities of my brain. As an active addict I was unable to make the decision to quit. Even though I desperately wanted to make that decision for years, it took a few complete strangers on this site to make the decision for me.
When I suddenly took nicotine away, it set my entire system oscillating between really good and really bad. As time went on, I noticed that the downs were getting to be not so bad, and the good times tended to last longer. I also noticed that the mood oscillations were centered on a state that was significantly better than the even keel I had been maintaining with nicotine.
I noticed that cravings were enhanced when I was trying to get away from them, but when I accepted that they were just going to happen and gave myself permission to experience them, they seemed to evaporate.
I learned that nicotine replacement therapy was worthless for me, except as a device to shake up my pattern and get me started. It kept me in a constant state of physical withdrawal for the 12 days I was on it. After ripping the last patch off, the physical withdrawals were gone in four days. Four horrible days were all that kept me on the wrong side of nicotine addiction for 12 years. Making it through the first four days felt like a miracle, the next 96 days felt like a choice.
SWJ and Moe Man – thank you for looking for me to post. Just knowing you would notice if I went missing motivated me to post first thing every single day, and after I’ve made the promise, it is impossible for me to fail.
April 2009 – Thanks to you all and the vets who supported us for keeping the site interesting and posting roll with me. It has made all the difference having you guys here.
Chewie, Ready, chewbaka, ksweeney, rooster, copefiend, and Smokeyg – you guys told me just what I needed to hear, just when I needed to hear it. Thank you.