08 July, 2006

On a More Serious Note

I’m starting to work on quitting smoking. There are many good reasons to do this: the cost of smoking, the danger to my health, the fact that W and I would like to start trying to get pregnant (and both of our unwillingness to subject a baby or child to cigarette smoke), and, of course, the fact that my smoking is a definite source of tension in our relationship.

It’s a difficult thing for me. Arguments about the dangers of smoking aren’t helpful for me in quitting, because, honestly, they are precisely why I started smoking. Five or six years ago, I was becoming more and more violently depressed. When I’m that severely depressed, the urge to hurt myself is nearly insurmountable. I finally decided that, if I was feeling suicidal, it was better to smoke—something that I knew could kill me, but not in an immediate way—than to stop eating, or to start cutting. So that’s where the smoking started, as something to do that would hurt me less in the short run than the other things I wanted to do at the time.

The problem is, smoking had sides I hadn’t planned on.
They never bothered to mention in all of those anti-smoking lectures in high school that nicotine actually makes you feel better. And the way I smoke adds to that: I go outside, I separate myself from the source of tension, I don’t try to do anything else right then, for a nice, concrete stretch of time. And I breathe deeply—in, hold, out… in, hold, out. I’m often not good at remembering to breathe, so this is a good thing.

I had started this week by trying to quit smoking cold turkey. And then the stress kept piling up. For one thing, withdrawal from nicotine, for me, seems to induce severe depression (um, yeah, because smoking suppresses many of those depressed feelings on a regular basis, so it makes sense that those feelings would emerge when I stop). And then things kept happening that really challenged my commitment to quitting immediately. I finally decided that perhaps cold turkey wasn’t the way to go. So I’m working on, I don’t know, slightly microwaved turkey. Room temperature turkey, perhaps.

As I see it, I have three types of issues to contend with in quitting. The first is the sheer physical addiction. My body wants the nicotine. The other times I’ve tried to quit (or not been able to smoke), this has cleared up in about two or three days. I don’t smoke all that much, so I think it’s perhaps a bit easier for my body to cope with not getting the drug.

The second issue is dealing with the habit of smoking. I tend to smoke while on the phone, at least for the first several minutes of a conversation; or I smoke while walking alone; or I smoke when I feel particularly tense or agitated or anxious. Not all of that is about addiction: much of it is simply that I’ve gotten used to doing it. Smoke breaks punctuate my day, and I’m soothed by the routine of them.

The last type of issue is the hardest to cope with: smoking serves a lot of purposes, and I need to be able to figure out ways to get those needs met without smoking. In some ways, I can deal with the addiction by just working through it, and with the habit by blowing bubbles (also something I do outside, also something that can represent a break in my routine).

But it’s hard for me to find a substitute for the desire to hurt myself. I have difficulty acknowledging the reasons I want to hurt myself, and while so many people blithely suggest that I do something self-nurturing to replace it, well, that was the problem in the first place. I’m not so good at that self-nurturing stuff.

And, as time has gone by, smoking has become helpful in more areas. It gives me a way to mentally separate from situations that I have trouble coping with. And that whole drug thing has a role, and helps to push away those emotions I’m having trouble dealing with. Smoking helps me to suppress anger, fear, sadness… I can numb those feelings to the point where I’m able to deal with them. And unlike cutting or not eating, smoking doesn’t seem to actually make those feelings more entrenched; it just suppresses them for the moment.

Smoking also gives me something I don’t have to share. I hate to acknowledge this one, because, well, it’s so selfish. But as I’ve moved into the reality of a full-time living-together being-married kind of relationship, I’ve had a harder time being able to manage that whole “sharing” thing. Growing up, despite having a ton of siblings, I mostly had a room of my own. I have almost always had a lot of personal space, and had to share surprisingly few things for someone from a large family. And, I hate to admit it, but I am sometimes desperate for something that is all mine, that I don’t have to share with anyone.

And as I examine the reasons I keep on smoking, I’ve also realized that some of it is a fear of moving on to the next stage in my life. Remember how I mentioned that I have to stop smoking before W and I can have a kid? Well, even though I mostly am desperate to start that process, there’s a big part of my less-surface brain that would rather put it off, just a little longer. It’s a scary move, and there are a lot of parts inside of me that would rather not make it. I’m trying to work out a deal with those parts, but it’s still something of a challenge.

In the end, I know it’s something I need to do. There are parts of me that wish W were willing to punish me for smoking, to help me quit. The problem is, I’m not sure it could work. I know how very much W hates smoking, and I think the punishments would feel very wrong, were they to happen; we’ve been reluctant to use spanking for things that are issues between the two of us, in large part because we don’t want to cross a line into abuse. Beyond that, I don’t know that punishment is the right approach in this case. On the one hand, I do feel fiercely guilty; but on the other hand, I really do need to learn about being more gentle and supportive for myself, and quitting smoking may well be a place to practice those skills.

So I’m not going to get a light-hearted (yet painful) spanking for smoking; but I’m going to figure out how to quit anyhow.


Copper said...

I have been struggling with this problem ever since V. quit smoking last December - with many of the same issues you are daeling with, though not all. Children are, sadly, no longer an issue with us, but the stuff about isolating, and dealing with emotions, and self-harm, are all there (along with bad punctuation, sorry, ergh). I keep remembering, when in the depths, that V. quit when he was ready. Having dealt with "addictions" previously (scare quotes because I'm ambivalent about the whole concept of addiction) I know that you deal with it when you want to. And as close as I am to wanting to, I'm not there... yet.

Haron said...

I have no advice, having never smoked, but I wish you luck, and if you feel like sharing how you're getting on, I'll cheer you on, too. {{{HUGS}}}

Adrian said...

It looks like you're trying something difficult. I admire your courage. As you point out, nicotine has physical effects, and part of addiction can be an ongoing need to self-medicate. If smoking didn't cause so much lung damage, it would be a *wonderful* delivery mechanism for anti-anxiety meds, because it's so easy to control the dose (people reach for a cigarette when they feel the need, and smoke until they feel better), and it's a built-in fidget mechanism. But the lung damage is catastrophic, as you know.

Have you tried stuff like nicotine gum? It tastes awful, but it provides the stuff some people need to settle the mental jitters. Sure, it's a crutch, but crutches are awfully useful.

If you're looking for a replacement for the go-outside-and-breathe-deeply in stressful situations without a cigarette, have you considered meditative exercises like yoga?

Katie_Spades said...

I can so feel your pain because I am in the same boat and it is not a fun one. Everytime I seem to get so far I relapse and have had a few medical scares where the quitting of smoking has become rather imminent for me and I hate it... try the gum and exercise. It helps to take the edge off but one thing I find the hardest is being on the net because sitting here, reading and typing or even doing homework and writing papers, I am so used to smoking and it is so difficult. My thoughts are with you.


Dyke Grrl said...

Copper: I'm working through the internal negotiations on smoking, and it's getting easier to go without the cigarettes (note: not easy, just easier).

Haron: Thanks! {G}

Adrian: I totally agree with you on the wonderfulness of cigarettes as a medication delivery system; and, yeah, they're lethal (which was the reason I started smoking in the first place, so it becomes complicated to convince my darker side to let them go).

Katie: I do have the advantage, so far as quitting goes, of having smoking be something I *only* do outside, so I don't have to try to learn how to do things like watch TV or surf the web or write or whatever without cigarettes. Now, if only I could come up with a time-limited "time out" for myself that doesn't involve nicotine.

As for the gum, well... for a variety of reasons, I don't really chew gum, so that's not a great option. I'm slightly considering talking to my doctor about a prescription for one of those nicotine inhalers, but I'm not sure it's right for me at this point.

Right now, when I want the breathing, I've found blowing bubbles gives me some of the same physical benefits; plus which, I mostly don't blow bubbles indoors (too messy), so it gets me outside. We'll see whether I can convince my body to switch plans.

Katie_Spades said...

Wishing you the best of luck!


Bonnie said...

Dyke Grrl,

If spankings won't work as punishment (and they wouldn't for me either), how about extra special spankings as an incentive?

In any case, I wish you well in your quest. It's worth it, and so are you!


Tigger said...

Hi Sweetie,

Sorry I'm just now catching up on your blog... got used to not checking in every day for a while. But I am glad that you're back! As to the smoking, I've had my own addictions and spanking for punishment would never help for long, if at all. But what about Bonnie's idea? A good girl spanking as incentive... you could taper off the number of smokes per day that are allowed and ask W for a gg spanking if you are within the limits... could be fun for you both.

As to the need to hurt yourself, I do understand. That's an issue that I still struggle with and it never works to substitute self-nurturing... wish I had more original advice but I'm here for ya.

Big hugs,