Tag Archives: addiction


My good friend B has been helping me with my memoir.  She was telling me that I need to make it more personal in places, and suggested there needs to be a section where I talk about myself and how I deal with the world: what my patterns are that help me cope with things.

Well, I have a pattern of retreating when things get too intense.  I had too much input when I was growing up, and now I just can’t tolerate too much of it.  I don’t do well in large crowds unless it’s something I’m really into, like a Rush show or a fireworks display.  Even then I might need pharmaceutical assistance to deal with the intensity of it all.  If life in general is stressing me out, bed is my retreat.  I’ll head there as soon as I can to read or watch television, and have a hard time getting out of it in the morning.

Another part of retreating is getting angry, because it pushes people away, increasing the space around me.  Sometimes that’s the only way to get the space I need.  I suffer from the strange dichotomy of being a lovable hermit, which means people like me and want to be around me a lot, but I don’t necessarily reciprocate the feeling.  Not as often as they do, anyway.  I can tell my nine-year-old daughter that I need space to myself, but since she’s nine, she’s self-centered and doesn’t always listen.  Sometimes the only way I can get what I need is to get angry with her when she’s not respecting my boundaries.

Another pattern I have is being controlling of my environment.  I need things to be particular ways in order to feel comfortable and happy.  Things need to be in certain places.  Things need to be organized in specific ways.  Calendars have to be kept certain ways.  I have my systems, and they must be followed.  It’s the only way I feel like I have some sort of control over my world, even if that control is an illusion.

That’s another coping pattern: I’m totally willing to submit to a fantasy or an illusion to maintain my sanity.  I may know intellectually that what I’m doing is ridiculous or pointless, but if it’s serving some purpose in the moment and isn’t hurting anyone, I’m down with it.

Perhaps my biggest coping pattern, or tool, is music.  I would have gone insane long ago without music.  I cannot work in silence, and if forced to do so will quickly get wired up into a ball so tense I can’t do anything.  Every tiny tic of noise will stand out in my ears, distracting me from my work.  Music can distract me from any mood I’m in except for the very darkest, which nothing will quell.

There are other patterns I would like to instill into my life that would make me a happier person.  Exercise is one.  Exercise and sleep are the two things a bipolar sufferer can do that will do the most to mitigate their illness without the use of medication.  I’ll always need the latter, but it won’t be as effective without the first two things.  Fortunately, better exercise leads to better sleep, so I really only need to work on one of those things.  Like most people, though, I find it extraordinarily difficult to get any kind of exercise routine going.  I enjoy it (mostly) while I’m doing it, but making the time to do it seems to be a huge problem I can never get around.  If I knew why, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it and would be making millions of dollars getting lazy Americans off their asses.

I have to figure out a way, though.  I’m at the end of where pharmaceuticals will help my disease.  If I want it to get any better, and it still needs help, I have to get it the rest of the way myself.

Meditation is another pattern that would do me a world of good, although the thought of sitting alone with my thoughts makes me want to crawl out of my skin.  That doesn’t sound peaceful or calming at all.  I keep getting it from all sides, though: meditate and you’ll feel better.  There must be some truth to it, too, because my mind resists meditating more than it resists exercising.  Anything I resist must be good for me, it seems.

The third pattern I’d like to instill is yoga.  It’s a combination of exercise and meditation, and I suppose if I were to pick just one thing to work on, it would be this since it encompasses everything.  Yoga doesn’t give me hard exercise, though, and that’s what I need: an hour or more of breathing hard and sweating hard.  There are types of yoga that will give me that, but I’m not balanced or coordinated enough for them yet.  Still, a good yoga practice would be awesome.  The times that I’ve managed to go to yoga even twice a week have been peaceful times in my life.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I went every day.

If I imagined my ideal life, it would be like this.  I’d get up at 6:30 every day with my family and get my daughter off to school, and then I’d spend the first part of the morning in meditation and enjoying tea.  Afterwards I’d either exercise or do yoga, then get myself cleaned up for the day.  The middle part of the day would be spent working, either at my job at the dojo, or at home on my book or other project.  In the afternoon, I’d pick up my daughter from school, then prep for dinner while she did her homework.

Here’s where the day gets tricky and always gets screwed up.  Both of our karate classes are in the late afternoon and early evening, but that’s smack in the middle of dinnertime.  The only way I can think of to work things is for me to prep dinner things, take us to class while my husband makes dinner, and then have him come to pick up our daughter from class so I can go to mine.  That means the two of us have to eat a snack or drink smoothies before our classes.  It also means they don’t eat until at least 7pm and I don’t eat until at least 8pm, which I suppose is fine as long as everyone has had a snack beforehand to prevent The Crankies, which will ruin a nice day faster than anything.

After dinner would have to be kitchen cleanup, which is another area where we always fail.  We both detest washing dishes, and we don’t have a dishwasher so it all has to be done by hand.  No one wants to do chores after dinner, either, so it sits there until the next day, ruining the next day’s dinnertime because we can’t cook in our tiny, dirty kitchen.  So we eat out, which ruins the budget.  All of these little things connect to one another to either make a well-run machine, or a freaking mess.  So far, we’re a freaking mess, and I can’t seem to get the well-run machine going.

I worry about this not just because of my own life, but because we’re teaching our daughter to be an undisciplined slob.  She has no routines of her own and I know it’s our fault: she has none to emulate.

I’m worried I’m too old to instill new patterns into my life.  I’m worried I’ll be stuck in these unsatisfying patterns for the rest of my life, or that it will take something potentially life-threatening to make me change them.  Of course, I worry about a lot of things these days.  That would probably be the best pattern of all to instill into my life: stop worrying so much.

I Am Awake

As I detailed in my post “Avoidance and Acceptance”, one of the reasons I failed to get any real assistance for my mental health over the years was because of my parents.  I didn’t want to be like them.  However, in learning about my bipolar disorder, I’ve discovered that it very likely has a genetic component, and as such, I probably wouldn’t have been able to escape being bipolar, even if I led the most perfect and balanced of lives.

I was also led to curiosity by reading An Unquiet Mind, the bipolar memoir by Kay Redfield Jamison.  At one point she is sitting with a friend and colleague, putting together a mental health pedigree.  Circles for women, squares for men, and each blackened for those with bipolar disorder or some other kind of mental issue.  Suicides and attempts were also noted: asterisks and slashes.  In my head, I began to fill in my own pedigree.

My mother had mental troubles my entire life.  She was in and out of mental wards constantly, her worst episodes typically triggered by the holidays, by remembering old family hurts, and by her husband, my adoptive father.  Each time she would go on medication and try to get stable, my “father” would ruin it.  I’ve learned that it’s common for relationships to suffer a lot of misery when someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or any other mental trouble.  They’re formed under unhealthy circumstances, so once someone decides to get healthy, the entire dynamic is disrupted.  Often, the newly healthy person sees the other’s unhealthy behaviors more clearly and is unable to put up with them any longer.  Unless the other person gets on board, bad things happen.  Over time, he would wear her down back to the weakened state that served him better, and it would all begin again.

She was set up for failure nearly from birth, though.  Her own father was abusive.  Her mother divorced him after a few years for “cruelty”, and later when she would visit him or stay with him during visitation, he would beat her.  Her mother’s second husband wasn’t any better.  They divorced after only a few years when discovered that he was “getting after” my mother.  Which is 1950s parlance for discovering that he was molesting her.

Mom spent her entire adult life in a series of abusive relationships.  The last, her sixth, killed her, for all intents and purposes.  After finding herself in yet another abusive marriage and with no way to support herself should she choose to leave, she chose the final exit in the backyard with a gun.  She told me she wouldn’t come to stay with me.  Our relationship was too volatile.  One of the most horrifying things about mental illness is that it really isn’t the ill person’s fault, but their behavior is unacceptable to “normal” people, and compassion and understanding only go so far.  After a while, you just have to distance yourself from someone who is abusive and mean, even if it isn’t their fault.  So you feel guilty and the other person feels angry but you both know perfectly well there isn’t anything to be done except maintain the distance.  This is one of my biggest fears about having bipolar as it relates to my own family.  I think I would die on the spot if my daughter decided she didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Then there’s my father.  Dad was the last of seven children, and the only child from his particular parental combination.  I have no idea what life was like for him growing up, although I know he grew up in River Rouge, probably THE poorest, and certainly the dirtiest, part of Detroit.  River Rouge is where the steel mills are.  They turned the sky a devilish orange-red at night when they were firing the steel.  A drive through River Rouge is a drive through despair.  It’s no wonder that Dad’s first move upon turning 18 was to join the Marines.  He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California until he was shipped to Southeast Asia for a year from 1963-64.  He returned with a case of PTSD so bad that, once married, Mom only woke him up by shaking his foot at the end of the bed.  Standard methods of awakening resulted in his launching out of bed prepared to choke the Viet Cong.  Not a good way to start the day.

In an effort to deal with his shellshock, he started drinking.  After a while he joined a rehab cult called Synanon, which is where he met my mother, who had her own substance abuse problems.  They left after a couple of years, got married, and had me.  Things were great for a while but then he began to drink again and abuse my mother.  Things grew worse after my brother was born in July of 1974.  After a particularly bad beating in October, Mom packed up us kids and left.  Two days later, during a fireworks show at the nearby high school, Dad shot himself with his service rifle, two weeks before my third birthday.  I sometimes wish he had at the very least waited a few years so that I could have some memories of him.  As it is, the only thing of my father’s that I possess, is my name.

I wish I could say it was just them, but there don’t appear to be any healthy people in the family, whether current or past.  Of them, I seem to be the healthiest, which makes me break out in great guffaws of laughter.  My grandmother’s father was extraordinarily physically abusive.  After beating all of his children with the cord of an iron (mind you, this is the 1920s, electrical cords were big and thick) for a few years, he left in 1929.  He left a legacy of sadness and gave his descendants a forehead crease that you can see in my brother and I when we’re focused or angry.

Gram lived longer than anyone in her family, mostly because she did not commit suicide.  She hardened her heart, though.  She and my mother did not speak, ever.  I think that was her way of not succumbing to the mental demons that plagued both of her siblings, apparently, and certainly her daughter.  It was her opinion that they had both killed themselves; her sister in a “traffic accident” involving a tree and no other cars, and her brother by “accidentally” overdosing on his heart medication.

I know little else about the family history other than what I’ve been able to glean from Ancestry.com.  There is so much hurt and fracture in my family’s history that I am occasionally amazed that people managed to have children together.  I’ve counted two definite (four possible) suicides, literally dozens of suicide attempts between my mother and brother, several cases of physical abuse, at least two of sexual abuse (bet there’s more), not to mention rampant drug abuse and alcoholism going back at least a century.

I think it’s a fucking miracle I’ve reached the age of 39 and don’t seem to have some of the worst problems in the family history.  I’ve never been a drug addict or an alcoholic, I’ve never been beaten by a man (by Mom though, that’s another story), I’ve been in the same healthy relationship for 15 years, and I don’t have any of the health problems that have plagued the family due to their inability to take care of themselves (bad teeth, bad joints, bad hearts).  I should probably get my cholesterol checked, but that’s about it.  Yes, I’m bipolar, but I seem to be a more pastel shade of crazy, while others in the family have been brightly technicolor crazy.  Brightly technicolor drunk crazy wielding dishes and flying fists.

Of course, there is the long-standing psychiatric question of nature vs. nurture.  Are people born mentally ill, or are they made that way?  I think it’s both.  I think our genetics make us more likely to be certain ways, and if our environments growing up push us in those directions, then we wind up with some headmeat issues.  Even if we grow up in environments that push us in healthy directions, we may wind up with headmeat issues, but perhaps not as severely.  Or it’s easier to work on them because you don’t have to worry about all the extraneous bullshit of life.

It must be horrifying to be diagnosed with a disease that alters your thinking and then realize, once you’re healthier, that you’ve built your life on things that are unhealthy.  My mother made this realization several times but was too damaged to try to live on her own, so she always wound up sabotaging her health for the sake of her husband and marriage.  Kind of like an alcoholic who’s trying to stop who has people tell them, “You know, I liked you better when you drank.”  Wow, what a confidence booster.  In fact, I believe my “father” told her that a few times.  I won’t lie: I rejoiced when he died last year.

I have had a very long-standing goal to act as the chain breaker in the family.  For whatever reason, I’ve been given the life-long ability to look at other people’s behavior and say to myself, “That’s fucked up, I’m not going to do things that way.”  I’m not always successful, because like it or not, I was raised in a fucked up place, and it left its marks here and there.  But I have awareness, and I am able to identify those places in myself and say, “You need to work on that.”  In that way, I’m my own Buddha, because that’s what Buddha’s all about: being aware.  When a passerby saw the Buddha sitting beneath the Bodhi tree, he asked him a series of questions trying to figure out who and what he was.  After a series of “no”s, he finally asked, “Well what are you?”  To which the Buddha replied, “I am awake.”

And so that is my job, my dharma, in my family, what little of it is left.  To be awake.  To be aware.  To not be so wrapped in my ego that I cannot see my own mistakes, particularly if I am repeating any of the big, old ones.  To begin the family threads anew with my own family.  To dismantle and rebuild the foundation from which my own daughter will build her own life.  I pray that she escapes this illness, but if she doesn’t, she will have a much softer landing pad than I did, and she will have someone to gently point out, “Hey, have you considered things this way?” without making her feel bad about herself.  And hopefully in a couple of generations when my great-grandchildren, should I have any, are thinking of their own pedigrees, hopefully there will be fewer blackened squares and circles, and few if any asterisks and slashes.

Avoidance and Acceptance

I took care of a very, very old problem last week.  One that I had been avoiding for about 15 years.  I finally went to a psychiatrist after spending what must have been nearly two months trying to keep a lid on rising, chronic anxiety and agitation that I am fully convinced is related to having quit smoking (nicotine is a seriously deviant neurochemical).  Really, it’s been years that I’ve kept a lid on those things, but this time they were lasting longer than they had before and I was starting to frighten myself a bit, so I went to get some help.

I had avoided doing so for so long for a lot of reasons.  I had a fear and distrust of the psychiatric community in general after spending the first seventeen years of my life watching my mother go in and out of hospitals and take virtually every type of medication available, to no avail.  That probably wasn’t psychiatry’s fault, it was probably Mom’s.  Drugs don’t make psychiatric disorders disappear, they just make them easier to manage and if someone wants to be truly better, they still have to do a lot of personal work.  Personal work that Mom was never willing to do.  She was just too selfish, or too deep in her own denial, or something.

I also had a fear of the medication dance that so many who suffer from psychiatric disorders seem to have to do, as well as the myriad side effects that those medications often saddle their takers with.  Weight gain is often a primary side effect of many psychiatric drugs for some reason, and as someone who has always struggled with their weight, I was reluctant to even entertain taking something that would make me even heavier potentially.  Also, for many years I feared the sexual side effects that often come with psychiatric medications, but over the years, my illness itself along with leftover trauma from childhood sexual abuse has conspired to essentially make me mostly dead from the waist down anyway, so I didn’t really have anything to lose in that department.

Perhaps most importantly, I had to get over my own pride and individuality.  Everyone tells themselves they want to be different from their parents.  It’s how progress is made over the generations.  In a healthy family, people are different in action but not in fundamentals, because they had loving families that bonded together.  Unhealthy families don’t bond like that because there’s nothing desirable to mimic.  Over the years, in my efforts to be different from people who were unhealthy, I set myself up for a game of denial when it came to my own mental health.  Sure, there are some aspects of it that are the result of the environment that I grew up in and can be corrected with therapy.  The rest, though, that’s all genetics.  I can escape that no more than I can escape my family’s cardiovascular health history.

Hopefully it’s easy to see how something no less medical in nature than, say, diabetes can easily become horribly stigmatized if you’ve made a lifelong effort not to be that way.  I told myself that it was something I could deal with on my own.  That combined with my distrust of Western medicine in general led to fifteen years of essentially self-treatment using herbs, meditation, yoga, exercise, and karate.  Which actually are fairly effective, but they require hypermanagement of one’s lifestyle that is nearly untenable in modern society if you’re doing anything more than going to school or holding down a stress-free job (is there any such thing?).

Fortunately, I was going to school for a while, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t have to work, so it was easy for me to live a life that avoided triggering unpleasant episodes or allowed me to hermit when they did.  Then I had a baby and whatever control I had over my life disappeared.  I hadn’t realized how carefully managed my life was until my daughter was born and I could no longer do things the way I had been.  I quickly slipped into a deep postpartum depression, one that was practically prepared for me by a nearly 48-hour labor and delivery that ended in a C-section and failed anesthesia.

About a year and a half after Zoe was born, I had a serious mental crash when we had too many stressors all at once in the form of unrelated medical issues and a car wreck that very easily could have killed both my husband as well as Zoe.  At that point I was put on Zoloft, Buspar, and Ambien.  I was in a depressed state so it was assumed antidepressants would help me.  They didn’t and I wound up on two more drugs, Seroquel and Valium, to try and address untreated symptoms.  I did that for about a year and a half and then stopped.  I’m glad I have pictures of that period of time or else I wouldn’t really remember it.

Finally, I stopped breastfeeding Zoe when she was about 3 and miraculously my mental health as well as my metabolism improved greatly.  I felt better and started losing that baby weight, finally!  I hear that breastfeeding is supposed to make mothers feel happy and help them lose weight, but in retrospect, for my own health, I should have stopped nursing Zoe when she was no more than a year old.  It obviously did bad things for my neurochemistry, for whatever reason.

So did bad life stressors.  That year I let my brother and his wife stay here while they had their baby and found a place to live.  I’ll spare you the gory details, but it turned out very badly.  What was supposed to be three months turned into eight.  It was miserably hot that summer, everyone was out of work, and there were four adults and two children living in a house of less than a thousand square feet.  In a strange quirk of fate, my brother and his family moved out and my husband got a job all within five days of each other.  Suddenly, for the first time since my daughter had been born, it was just the two of us.  My husband had worked from home for her entire life to date, and now he had to take a job out of the house.  Not long after everyone left the house, I had myself a little breakdown.

I tried to get help, but by then the health insurance industry had made it nearly impossible to get treated for anything mental unless you were actively suicidal, and then they would only pay for whatever the bare minimum was to get you back at home.  So unless I wanted to kill myself, my insurance wouldn’t cover a psychiatrist or even a GP visit if it was mentally related.  It was going to be cheaper to make the four hour drive to Mexico and buy drugs there than it was going to be to actually get the help that I needed.  I decided it was easier to just hunker down and wait until the mental storm had passed.  It was a crime that I had to do that.  I and my entire family suffered needlessly because of it.

It was then that I decided that I was probably bipolar and not just depressive.  I had checked out some books from the library about women, anger, mental illness, and other topics, including a couple of books by Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind.  She’s a psychologist and she details her own experiences with bipolar illness.  Her descriptions of her own mental states resonated strongly with me.  Still, I was too traumatized by trying to get help and by the possibility of it taking a long time to figure out what was wrong and how to treat it, so I continued to just wait.

I got better, that time anyway, and tried to manage my moods as best as I could.  Yoga helped in that regard immensely, and yoga will remain a part of what I do to make myself feel better, even if I do require medication for the rest of my life.  Karate also helped a great deal.  It requires a focus that is soothing, calming, and quieting to my mind.  I tried meditation, but I found it to be even more agitating than just my normal mindset.  I would figure out why later.

Last year I had to go mucking with my hormones, and I immediately began to feel worse than I had in several years.  I had always had trouble with bad PMS, and it was returning, despite my doctor’s insistence that the pills I was on were essentially identical to what I had been doing.  A couple of months after that, I quit smoking, which meant that I could try other kinds of pills (birth control pills are dangerous for smokers over thirty-five) to try and alleviate the PMS and other symptoms I was experiencing.

That was three weeks ago.  Over the next two weeks, while I felt better in some ways, I felt much, much worse in others.  I hadn’t felt this unstable since I found myself with an empty house save for a 3-year-old a few years before.  A week and a half ago, I tried to get a doctor’s appointment because I was feeling dangerously agitated, but the office I had gotten my new pills from wouldn’t let me speak to the doctor: they just made an appointment for the following Monday, four days later.  O_o  I was too agitated to sit in an ER: that would have made me worse.  So I called upon the people who never fail to come to my aid: my friends.  They brought me what I needed to get through the weekend, which included a summer camp fair for work which I doubt I could have tolerated, given the size and noise level of the room I was in.

I avoided as much stimulus as possible over the weekend, and stopped taking the offending pills.  On Monday, after taking my aging cat to the vet, I went back to the doctor and began a day that involved a lot of kleenex, two doctor’s offices, and at least four different healthcare workers of varying flavors.  Not to mention a busted car fender due to an elderly neighbor who shouldn’t be driving anymore.  I will spare you the day’s details, but suffice it to say that the fine people at Austin’s emergency psychiatric office must have agreed that I needed assistance because I made it through all of their hurdles in less than four hours.  In case you didn’t know, that’s nearly unheard of.

To make an already long story a little shorter, I have been indeed diagnosed as bipolar, type I.  The nice Indian doctor prescribed me some lithium to stabilize my moods and some trazodone so I can sleep.  He told me to read up about bipolar disorder, which I didn’t really have to after so long of trying to convince myself I didn’t have it.

“I’m not listening, I’m not listening!” – Gollum, The Two Towers

Near as I can tell, I’m one of those unlucky people who gets to enjoy mixed episodes: up and down at the same time.  It’s about as crazy as it sounds and feels worse.  I also suspect I’m a rapid cycler, or even ultra-rapid: more than one cycle a year, perhaps more than one in a day.  I try to avoid contact with humans on those days.  Not much has really changed.  I just have names and labels for what’s wrong sometimes, and I don’t have to beat myself up over feeling or behaving a certain way.  I can just identify it, remedy it, and move on, or stay in my room if that’s necessary.  I’m sure I have more than a few friends whom upon hearing my diagnosis have gone, “Aaahh, so that’s what’s wrong with her sometimes.”

It does mean that I now have the label of “chronic illness”.  I must take my medication: there is no alternative, just as a diabetic has to take their insulin or they can die.  Diabetes is actually my favorite non-mental chronic illness to compare to, because diabetics can exhibit some seriously aberrant and even violent behavior if their insulin and blood sugar levels get too wonky.  No one thinks diabetics are “crazy”: they just have to maintain their blood sugar properly.  I feel the same way about most mental illness that can be treated with medication.  Mother Nature forgot to wire our brains quite right so humankind has to fill in.  The only thing to be ashamed about is when I fail to do what I need to do to stay healthy, which is a lot.

It is now super-important for me to keep regular, healthy routines.  Now is the time that I should make a super effort to get that meditation practice going, especially now that I’m taking something that will shut off the hamsterwheel in my head that has always made meditation so frustrating for me.  Everyone gets the hamsterwheel when they meditate, but mine never, ever goes away.  Consequently, I just don’t meditate, or I haven’t been anyway.  Now it will be easier and that will help more than anything else in alleviating what is still an ongoing anxiety and inability to truly relax.  It’s getting better, I can tell, even after only a week on a relatively low dose of lithium.  I hope it continues to improve, because I would give anything to just be able to sit and relax and not feel like I have to get up and do something.  Yay, mania.  *sigh*  I also have to make sure I eat and not let my blood sugar get too low, which will also disaffect my mood.  Same with sleep.  Everything has to be kept in equilibrium, an ironic task for someone medically diagnosed as being out of equilibrium.

I’m trying to take an attitude of permissiveness rather than dictatorship.  After all, I’ve essentially been given permission to do as much yoga, karate, and meditation and communing with nature as I can possibly get.  Doctor’s orders!  😀  This is also a huge red flag for me to really work on incorporating Buddhism into as much of my life as possible.  Only a whole lot of acceptance, love, compassion, understanding, and metta is going to get me through the rest of my life.  I do admit, and had to admit to the doctors, that while I am not actively suicidal, I am sometimes filled with the sense that I shouldn’t be here, that I’m a mistake, that I shouldn’t have been born, and I don’t know if that’s the result of my disease or the result of the terrible environment that I had to grow up in.  Whatever the case, I’m going to have to make friends with those thoughts and figure out how to banish them, or make them ineffective, because they get worse the older I get.  Seems like a lot of love is the way to go on that one, and the only place I feel that love from is my family, and my friends, and the Buddha.

I was so grateful for my friends and family the day I was at the doctor all day.  Thanks to modern technology, I had my Android phone with me so I was able to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter and email all day long, which was incredibly helpful to me.  All day long, I had little messages of love and support from everyone and it meant so much to me.  I have something that my mother never had, which is unconditional acceptance and support from a fairly large circle of friends and a husband who really loves and cares about me.  I would be just as lost and crazy as she was without these people in my life.  That’s far more powerful than any bottle of medication.

Credit Where It’s Due

Around 1am on Sunday morning, I marked four weeks since I had my last cigarette.  While this is not the first time I have quit smoking, it’s the first time I quit just for me.  The last time I quit, it was for my unborn daughter.  Other times I’ve quit, it’s been for boyfriends, or because “I’m supposed to”.  This time was different, though I haven’t quite put my finger on all of the different ways that it’s not the same.

I suppose the most important way that it was different was that it really was mostly for me.  Sure, I was also quitting because I knew it would make my family and friends really happy that I had finally quit, but as any addiction counselor will tell you, the addict has to want to quit, way deep down.  They may be able to go through the initial stages of quitting a bad behavior for other people, but it won’t stick.  They have to want it badly enough and think they’re worthy enough of the effort.  It also helps to have actual evidence for how things will be better afterwards.  I had that in the form of knowing how much better I would be able to do karate and other exercise after I quit.  At least, that was the most tangible reason.  Others made themselves known over the next few weeks.

Like not being stinky, though my friends tell me I was unusually conscientious in that regard.  I could tell the difference in my vehicle, mostly.  I also noticed I needed less sinus medicine and had less frequent headaches.  Food did indeed taste a bit better.  My sense of smell improved, which was good and bad.  Good when I wanted to catch a whiff of a bowl of potpourri, bad when one of my aging cats laid a stinkbomb in the catbox (which was almost enough to make me want to smoke again just to dull my senses again!).

Then I went to the gym, where the difference was showed to me in red numbers across the stationary bike readout.  I had to work much harder to get my heart rate to its target zone and keep it there, whereas before I had to struggle to keep my heart rate under my target zone.  This meant I wasn’t heaving for breath anymore, but my legs were on FIRE.  Consequently I’m getting a much better workout than I was before and I suspect I’m incredibly healthy for my age, all things considered.  At least that’s what the longevity calculator said in my fitness book, which told me my life expectancy has gone from a frightening 59 to a more reasonable 72.  A few more adjustments and I’ll have that puppy up in the 80s.

The first two to three weeks were undoubtedly the worst.  And I’m here to tell you that whoever came up with that bullshit about cigarette cravings only lasting 3-5 minutes needs a swift kick in the ass.  Sometimes that shit goes on for hours, and there’s fuck-all you can do about it except keep busy and wait for it to pass.  Indeed, many cravings are brief, but not all.  Telling quitters otherwise is doing them a disservice.  I’ve become quite opinionated over the last four weeks about the phenomenon of cigarette addiction in America, and without going into too much detail just yet, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that if we really want to get that last 20% of the country off the smokes, we need to treat it much more seriously than we have.  Quitting smoking is just as important and as difficult as quitting alcohol, heroin, cocaine, or any other addictive substance or behavior.  It’s not a weekend activity or something to be taken lightly.  If I ran things, everyone who wanted to quit smoking would get a paid month off work and a voucher to go somewhere nice for a week while they detoxed.  It’s that big of a deal.  I’m sure some of my friends who have met quitting with less success than I have might agree.

Indeed, if we treated things like smoking and food addiction with the urgency that we treat something like heroin or cocaine addiction, I don’t believe those problems would be as prevalent.  Of course, addiction treatment in general needs a serious overhaul in our country.  Namely, we need to ditch our Puritanical roots that make us think that someone who has trouble kicking something just isn’t trying hard enough or somehow deserves their fate.  Really?  Why not just shoot them in the head if that’s how you feel?  Or do they deserve to spend the rest of their lives in unhealthy misery as punishment for their inability to kick said habit?  Health begins with love, not punishment.

And that is perhaps the biggest difference between this attempt to quit and my others.  I wanted to do something good for myself, not punish myself by taking something away that made me happy.  And smoking did fill a pleasant niche in my life.  If it didn’t, I would have stopped long ago.  I had to give myself something bigger and more important to fill that gap, and I did.  I filled that gap with the love and support of my friends and family, and in doing so knocked yet another light-filled chink in my stalwart wall of self-loathing that I’d built for the last three decades out of fat, sugar, and cigarettes.  Now I’m building ladders out of karate, yoga, and community.

So, credit where it’s due.  It’s been four weeks since my last cigarette, and I miss them less and less every day.  I’m sure some gut-wrenching stressor will come up at some point in my future, during which I will have to resist the temptation to drive to any one of the four convenience stores within less than a mile of my house that sell my favorite brand and style, but I’ll just have to deal with that when it comes along.  So far a healthy dose of “be here now” has helped a great deal and I hope it continues to do so.  Not being afraid to have a good cry every now and then also helps a lot, something else our culture seems to have a lot of trouble with.  Mostly, though, I had to think I was worth the effort and give myself enough carrots to keep me going on the path.  And even if I had NOT successfully quit these last few weeks, telling myself I was worth the effort was a remarkable exercise in and of itself, because I still have trouble believing I’m as awesome as people tell me I am.

A Difficult Morning

I was asleep surprisingly early last night.  Usually I’m up until at least midnight or after, but I was asleep by 11:15.  I drifted off happy with the knowledge I’d get nearly seven hours of sleep.

Mother Nature had other things in mind around 4:30, of course, as did my daughter, who came padding into the bedroom not long after I laid back down.  She’s been having some bad dreams lately, so she comes to get in bed with us.  Unfortunately she’s still extremely wiggly, as are many child sleepers.  So that means one or both of us don’t rest very well after she gets in bed.  Today that was me.  It wasn’t entirely her fault.  I’ve always had a bad case of hamster wheel brain, and it likes to get going as soon as I wake up some days, despite my best efforts.

Dude, you’re awake!  Sweet!  So what was I saying when you so rudely started watching Doctor Who last night?  How many times can you watch that show?  Anyway, there’s a bunch of stuff bothering me I want to talk to you about, and there’s so much to do, and FUCK it’s almost Christmas! And…..

Dude.  We should go back to sleep now.  There’s lots more snoozing time.  We can deal with this shit in a few hours.

But, I’m busy thinking about everything I didn’t think about yesterday and everything I’m supposed to think about today and how can you sleep when there’s so much to be worried about anyway?!

I can’t deal with that crap until I get enough sleep.  Shutup and go to sleep.  Pretty please.  With a fucking cherry on top.

But…but….and don’t you really want a cigarette now?  It’s morning!  You’re supposed to get up and make coffee and smoke now!

*sigh*  We don’t DO that anymore.  We’ve had this discussion.  We’ll keep having it until you get it.  We.do.not.smoke.any.more.

On and on ad nauseum, until I finally got up in frustration, as well as hunger, since my stomach had also woken up and was chiming in by that point.

Dude, you’re up!  Awesome.  Let’s eat!

I’m going to kill both of you.  Wait, that’s me.  Gah!  *tries not to break things*

Welcome to my brain.  This is how I start many days.  Especially since I stopped smoking.  My resilience against irritation is extremely low at the moment, which itself annoys me.  So I’m always annoyed right now.  I bet it’s lots of fun for my family.  Not.  Today, though, I did try to just be accepting of the circumstance, be here now dude, don’t be attached.  My inner Buddhist tries hard to console me in the morning when I am undoubtedly at my worst.  Get up, make tea, begin reading email, Facebook, and so on as I wait for everyone else to wake up.  I probably should have gone to sit on a pillow and stare at a candle instead of a flatscreen monitor, and I’ll try to remember the lesson from the rest of the morning and do that next time I’m up early.  I didn’t, though.

I thought I was in a fine mood until I actually started interacting with my family, when I became incredibly irritated and angry about very small, silly things almost without warning.  Just, BAM!  Then everyone felt bad and I felt stupid and just wanted to smoke even more.  I hate having to apologize to people before 7am, it’s just a bad setup for the rest of the day (though it’s better than just not apologizing at all).  Of course, then I had to figure out why and how the morning took a wrong turn, because I hate starting the day that way and would like to avoid it whenever possible (understanding that everyone has a shitty morning every now and then).

I never classified the addiction of smoking the same way I classified other addictions, like alcoholism.  That is, I never viewed smoking as the kind of “covering up other things” addiction the way drinking or other drug abuse often indicates.  I was quite incorrect.  I’ve discovered a myriad of ways that I was using cigarettes to cope with, avoid, or outright ignore a variety of annoying aspects of my life.  Including not thinking about things that bother me, and not coming up with better ways of dealing with those things.  It also means discovering precisely what annoys me, because every time something annoys me, I want a cigarette.  Sometimes I don’t know I’m annoyed until I discover I’m having a craving.

Fuck, I really want to smoke.  Why?  Because I’m really annoyed.  What’s annoying me?  That doesn’t usually annoy me.

Yes it does. You just usually go smoke instead of dealing with it.

*opens mouth to retort and then shuts it*

This has been an extremely humbling experience, needless to say.  I’m having to STFU an awful lot as I discover new things about myself that somehow got wrapped up in my smoking habit.  I suppose it’s much the same way when any ingrained habit is discarded, whether it’s shopping, smoking, or playing too many video games.  They’re all avoidance techniques to cope with life’s stressors.  Which makes me sound like a fucking rehab manual, I know, but I see that now.  It is what it is.

In this morning’s case, I was having a bad time coping with a chronic lack of sleep, blood sugar that probably hadn’t yet recovered despite eating breakfast, some underlying stress regarding the holidays, money, and family, and only being on day ten of not smoking after having been so on and off for the last 25 years or so.  I should really treat everyone, particularly myself, with a lot more kindness and patience.  That’s a lot to deal with and I forget that because of how I grew up.  I’m used to chronically having too much to deal with all at once and am conditioned to do so without realizing it until I’m cracking at the edges.  Like this morning.

This post probably makes a lot of sense to some people, and absolutely none to others.  However, I’m really tired after only five hours of sleep instead of closer to seven.  I just know I’m really determined to figure out all of my feelings that relate to smoking so that I don’t go back to doing it, so I pretty much just follow my brain around and document what it’s doing.  This was the path it took this morning.  I think it needs more rest, so I think I’ll do that for it.  Then it’s time to plan for Christmas cookies.  🙂