Over the last 1,000 days, I have learned a lot about myself as an addict. First of all, I have learned that I am an addict. My drug is nicotine. I did not have a bad habit, I have an addiction. I have not touched nicotine in 1,000 days but make no mistake, I am an addict. I did not write a “hall of fame” speech at 100 days because I felt no measure of success. I felt like I was barely hanging on. I did not write it at 200 or 300 days because I continued to feel the same. I thought maybe a year would be a good time to write and yet I still felt very little relief. The time and numbers vary from person to person but I finally feel a measure of success. While we still tend to follow the AA model of one day at a time (or hour or minute as needed) I know that I am quit today and I know I will make that same choice tomorrow. So what is the secret? Well, every cliché is true. They say childbirth is the most painful thing the human body can endure (and fortunately as a man I can take their word for it) and that quitting “smoking” (I read nicotine) is the hardest. It is a long endurance. Over time, I have conjured up a little analogy based on my rudimentary understanding of neurology. I think I may have shared this with some of you before, but bare with me.
My analogy is that of a mine shaft. Our neural pathways are channels through our brain. These channels light up when they are excited by their purpose. I call these pathways mineshafts. If you picture little workers in the mine you know how important their work is to them. When the mine is producing, all the little miners are happy. When demand drops and there are layoffs, the workers are unhappy. Let’s call that a craving. Cravings are really just early withdrawal. The moment we take in an addictive substance (like nicotine) it starts to metabolize. The half life of nicotine is extremely short so as soon as you are done your last dip, smoke OR PIECE OF GUM your body starts waiting for the next fix. The workers want more work. If the mine gets shut down completely and all the workers are sent home, that is full on withdrawal. I imagine them angry and rioting the first few days. Just like our body does when we withdraw from nicotine. It is angry and it feels like there is a riot inside us. After a few days, the carnage lets up a bit. There are still angry workers that slander as they drive by and union reps are still being a pain but the reality of the shutdown starts to sink in.
Then comes the tough part. The workers take a long time to give up hope. They sit by their phone and wait to be called to come back to work. There are constant reminders of this in the body as we continue to feel cravings long after the smallest amount of nicotine is metabolized out of our body. Over time, the workers re-train and move on. The entrance to the mine grows over with weeds and less and less people talk about what used to happen there. The thing is, the mine is laying in wait. It is ready to pop back to life at a moment’s notice. This is the danger of “just one”. If anyone stumbles across the shaft and decides to maybe pull a piece of coal out they disturb the hidden shaft. Soon someone realizes that it is still there and maybe decides to bring it back into production. Within a very short period of time all of the workers are back on site and the lights are on. It is like activity never stopped. That is what happens to so many who decide it is safe to have one because they are stressed, on vacation, drinking or a host of other reasons we dilute ourselves into believing it is safe.
Based on my analogy, I can also explain the dangers of NRT (nicotine replacement therapy). Believe me, the “therapy” part is a lose term. Essentially, keeping some nicotine in our body, it is like keeping a few minor’s on. The others all want to come back to work too. The shaft never grows over. It never gets forgotten about. Our bodies stay in a perpetual state of withdrawal. That is my best possible description. We are not weaning off, we are continuing to piss off our bodies because they always remember what they used to have. I tried the patch before I quit 1,000 days ago. After a month of no Copenhagen, I quit the patch. I had been in a horrible state of partial withdrawal for a month and when I kicked the patch it got worse. That made me feel a sense of complete hopelessness. This struggle would never end. Once I understood that, I made a clean break. After a few days of hell, a few months of being a miserable prick and a few years of regular cravings I am finally coming out on the other side. I tell you all, find support, kick it completely and hold on. You will come through it. Do not get caught comparing your quit to others. When at 100 or 200 days people told me they really were not struggling anymore I wanted to punch them in the face. For me, it did not let go quickly, but it is now. I have a dear friend on this site who past 1,000 days is still struggling like I was 200 days ago. I called her yesterday to tell her to have hope. We have lamented to each other so many times “why isn’t this easy yet?”. I hope the fact I am finally getting there can be an inspiration that hope springs eternal.
Another thing that hit me was anxiety and depression. Like a truck. When I quit, I hit a full on panic attack and then would not get out of bed. My wife graciously dragged me into the doctor. It is no wonder. Nicotine sinks so deeply into the brain that to remove it disturbs the neurology and bio-chemistry in the body. We would be naïve to think there would be no repercussions. I was prescribed Effexor, an addictive anti-depressant. Very recently, I realized I truly was no longer depressed but just scared of giving up another addiction – it’s just this one came from a prescription pad. It was amazing to go through the process again, but this time I had the tools. I literally read 100’s of forum posts from people “trying” to quit Effexor. Tales of people removing grains from their pills until they were taking 2 or 3 grains a day until they quit completely. While a lot felt this is what they needed, I saw the same addictive principles. People who quit 3 grains a day then went through the same withdrawal symptoms of those who had quit 300 mg/day cold turkey. Why? Well, it is just what I said above. The body never stopped believing “there’s more where that came from” and when the supply was completely cut off the rioting and protests began. I went through what I can only describe as a cross between a cold, the flu and a nasty hangover for about four days and then it got remarkably better. I love the term we use on the site: “embrace the suck”. I finally get that. Dig in, grit your teeth, ride it out and when you get through it you will have a story to tell. It sucks, deal with it, get on with life. While I felt a complete out of head experience, avoided driving and felt nauseous (and other GI unpleasantries) I knew it was my body healing. Less than two weeks later, I feel very close to 100% and I feel like myself again!
I have regrets. I have abused relationships through this process, I dragged my wife through hell and so on. By the grace of God she stuck with me. Quitting is my choice, it has to be, but I felt like I blamed her for my quit for a long time. Yes, it is my choice and as much as going back to nic would be a choice it would be a foolish one holding dire consequences. I resented that a lot of those consequences would come from her. I had to stop blaming her before I could really heal and move on. I am humbled and blessed she waited for me to get to that point. To quote Garth Brooks, “I have never let anything have this much control over me, I’ve worked too hard to call my life my own”. Even more, I want to give that control to God.
Quitting has been a spiritual process. I have learned the meaning of grace, hope, healing, reconciliation and so many other things in ways I could not conceived before. While I did not feel nicotine use was inherently sinful, I felt embarrassed by it. I wanted to hide it from my family and friends and I wanted to hide from God. This inner shame was because I knew how foolish it was to give a substance this much control. It was a monumental waste of time and money and of a perfectly good body given to me by God. I ducked around corners, made excuses to go out and shoved it down deep in my lip to not be noticed. I used to wonder what I was hiding. I did not understand why I was not just up front about it. I finally realized that it was not a fear of consequences (my original thought) but rather complete and utter shame at being so foolish.
Self-loathing got me nowhere. It was so easy to just sit and beat myself up emotionally for being weak. It helped me to convince myself I was too weak to quit. I had to stand up, name it and claim it, but there has been a lot more than just I in this process. The fear of naming names is always missing one or 20 but there are a few that have to be named.
TJHook – Many of you have likely forgotten Todd. He caved somewhere between first and second floor and never came back. He had other addiction issues but he was also my first main support. His quit was not mine so even after his cave I knew that could not be an excuse for me to. As a matter of fact, it inspired me to want to stay quit so that if the day ever comes that he comes back to the site he will see that he made a difference to one person. Todd, if you ever read this, I hope you are doing well. You write or call me anytime and my response will be immediate.
KillerAttorney – Jim took over where TJ left off. He has put up with crying phone calls late at night and early in the morning. He has dropped what he is doing to talk me through a crave or just be a friend. I can never re-pay you but I can tell you how thankful I am.
FranPro – Russ, you were one stubborn SOB that took no bullshit excuses. When I needed an ass kicking, I could usually count on you. We all need pillars of strength. A north star to always be there so when we are lost we need only look to them to find a reference point. It was also incredibly helpful to have another IT professional at the other end of a chat screen eight hours a day so I knew I had this connection while I was working. My chat screen sat open for days on end and just seeing “FranPro” on the screen was an inspiration to stay quit.
MLS – Nickie, we have had some ups and downs. I think we struggled with some mental health issues around the same time so I know I have said regrettable things to you but I want you to know that you continue to inspire me. I often read what you write on the site and am thankful for your ability to articulate with the written word and your honesty while you do so.
Kyle Lyons – A man from my community. He told me when I quit I would be back using soon. I indignantly asked “pardon me”? He went on to explain that in his years of oilfield work he has seen thousands of people quit and they always go back to it. I stayed silent but in my head I thought “you son of a bitch, I’ll show you”. Well Kyle, I hope I have shown you.
5 lbs bass – A mainstay in my September 2007 quit group. 1,000 days in and you seldom miss a day of posting roll. Another one of those cornerstones. Thanks brother.
Moody – Another give you a kick in the ass friend. I called you once with a tin in my hand, you called me a f*&%ing moron. You pissed me off, I don’t think I spoke with you for a few months. You gave what you had and what you felt I needed. Thanks for your honesty. Thanks for your willingness to reconcile after that.
DNM – One of the most interesting quitters I’ve dealt with on the site. You decided to make quitting fun. You trophy hunted in quit groups and formed a goofy fake corporation. Sometimes I logged on to the site just to see the goofy shit you would write. That made me post some days and I know for a fact you talking about polishing your sword probably kept me quit on more than one occasion.
IUChewie – When I first started hearing about the initial split of the two sites it was Chewie that explained it with honesty, but truly tried to understand both sides. You have not let petty differences get in the way of your “ministry”. You truly have one, thanks.
Bowhunt – Another mainstay in my Sept 2007 quit group. A long endurance. You embody that.
Lawen4cer/Rose/Larry/Kid and who knows what else – You are the addict that inspires. 98% of people with addiction as deep as yours say “it’s too hard”. You don’t, you stay quit. It took you a lot of tries and you never gave up. I know your struggle continues and I hope we help shoulder the load. You know you can call me anytime day or night. I will never give up on you and thank you for understanding me when no one else got why I was still struggling after one and two years. I pray for you, blessings to you.
Tammy (my wife) – As I stated above, no words can describe your support. Everyone else here gets addiction to this crap because they are going through it too. You do not understand, you just support me anyway.