Monday, September 28, 2009

My pain is infinitesimal

I have nothing wise to say today about hitting Day #28 smoke-free. The cravings are less frequent, but their intensity has not diminished. This past weekend I was at a workshop and instead of being in the company of friends who'd successfully quit, I was with those who enjoyed their cigarettes. I could have had a puff. I could have stood outside the doors with them instead of being stuck at a table with ladies I didn't know.

I want to join my buddies for just one cigarette. No one would find out. The woman across from me asks what I do for a living. I begin telling her about my website, my blog, and my dream of becoming a published novelist. She tells me about a poem her young niece wrote as a tribute to our soldiers in Afghanistan. An announcement that the next sessions start in 3 minutes cuts short a very interesting conversation.

I'm caught up in the presentation on covert surveillance techniques and don't entertain a single thought about smoking until the next break. I longingly watch my buddies slip outside. I follow them, watch them through the glass doors, turn away and finger a red MADD ribbon on a display table. A framed photo of a smiling toddler catches my eye. The baby looks so much like my grandson.

"My daughter's boy," the woman behind the table says. "He was killed by a drunk driver." My heart leaps, my eyes moisten.

"I've been volunteering for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for the last 11 years--since it happened. I talk at schools. I talk to prisoners."

I stare at her, wondering from where she gets her courage.

"He lived with my daughter in our basement. I remember him calling up the stairs in the morning, 'Grandma, are you awake, yet?'"

A nicotine fix is the farthest thing from my mind.

"I remember tiptoeing in to see him as he slept. I remember thinking, 'I love you so much, I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you.'"

The workshop ends and I pull up to our cabin. My grandson greets me with a gurgle and a 5-toothed smile. I think of the stories that I would not have heard had I been on the other side of those glass doors.

I have nothing wise to say about being smoke-free. There's nothing I want to complain about. On a scale of 1 to 10, my pain is infinitesimal.

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pangs, Pains, & Panic

Twenty-two smoke-free days and it strikes me that if smoking is like Twittering, quitting is like being in labour. The cravings--intense, painful, and raw--like contractions, come and go. Quitting smoking, like labouring, has positive results--that reportedly are well-worth the agony. However, that's about where the similarities end.

There's no one here to give me demerol, morphine, or a spinal to ease the pain when I'm in the throws of a craving. There's no one to assure me that the doctor won't let the cravings continue for more than 18 hours. There's no one rubbing my back, telling me that I'm half-way through my craving, and begging me to hang in there.

No one saying, "Breath deep. Keep breathing."

Two things kept me from panicking in the labour room. One was timing my contractions and knowing when I was half-way through them. The other was realizing that women for eons had being doing this and, therefore, I would too.

Knowing that the cravings will pass, provides a bit of comfort, but knowing others have successfully quit smoking doesn't help me much--because I also know that unlike labour, many have tried and failed. If three hours into labour a woman could change her mind and opt out of the pregnancy plan, we likely wouldn't have an over-population problem. However, in the quest to quit smoking, there is a choice. And everyone who tries to quit knows there is. That choice results in a hell of a lot more people failing in their attempt to quit than succeeding. I cannot comfort myself with the knowledge that all this pain is guaranteed to result in success.

I'm panicking. For over three weeks I've engaged in a distracting, agonizing, personal, and lonely battle with the nicotine demons. It's a battle I'm imagining will last forever. Again and again my soul will scream out for comfort. For years, I'll be restlessly wandering the house, empty and dark inside. Forever, I'll hear demonic voices whispering tales about the pleasures of 'Players.'

An endless battle I'm not assured of winning. The enticing option to retreat always there. No ointment to soothe my wounds. No deadline to win the war. Pangs, pain, and panic.


Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can Twitter help the Quitter?

Can Twitter help the Quitter? It's a question posed to me by Steve Ondersma, scientist at WSU Med School in Detroit, as I head into my third smoke-free week. "Wld lov yr thoughts!" he tweeted. It wasn't a question I'd considered before.

I hadn't joined Twitter to aid my quest to quit-smoking; I'd joined to promote myself as a Canadian author, 'get my name out there in cyberspace', curry friendships and potential readership, reach my goal of becoming a published novelist. By tweeting about my real-life quit-smoking efforts, I hoped to entice people to read my 'important' website stuff. Until Steve tweeted me, I hadn't thought that perhaps Twitter was also helping me reach my smoking-cessation goal.

"What has the world come to?" I lamented to my publicist. "Are people really relying on faceless friends and electronic messages of 140 characters or less for moral support? What happened to family and friends? Phone calls and hugs?"

One of the hardest parts of my stop-smoking strategy was announcing my intentions to family and friends--a necessary step in order to increase one's chance of success, according to smoking-cessation specialists. It was difficult to do, not only because I was scared that I was setting myself up for a very public failure, but because people's reactions are not always helpful. Comments like "It's about time!" or "Now you won't stink!" are a little tough on a fragile ego, especially when delivered by people you love.

On the other hand, announcing my decision to the entire world via Twitter was surprisingly easy, perhaps because I was masked in anonymity. Perhaps because with Twitter, escaping judgement was simply a keystroke away. Unlike my announcement to family and friends, my Twitter announcement had to be succint--less than 140 characters. There was no room for parlaying reasons, excuses, history, and blame. All I had to say was, "Hey, World. I'm gonna quit smoking."

Come to think of it, I have found Tweeting to be a lot like cigarette smoking. It takes less than five minutes. It provides short, intermittant breaks from the daily grind. It's readily available at all hours of the day and night. It provides a small burst of pleasure. It's addictive--the more you do the more you want to do.

Tweeting has soothed me when I was uneasy, energized me when I was tired, lifted my depression, and offer a me a social connection that rivals that of the smokers' circle. It's something I look forward to doing--something that gets me out of bed in the mornings.

Twitter's simularities to smoking, especially when coupled with its differences (such as much lower cost and no proven ill side-effects), may indeed prove Twittering to be a valuable alternative to smoking--just not when one is driving. Please.

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Quest to Quit Smoking

My pre-planned quit date was September 1st.

I was on a road trip to Alaska with two friends and my husband as the days ground toward that dreaded last cigarette. Champix, the smoking cessation drug, built up in my system as the miles slipped behind us. I struggled to cut back on the amount I smoked and ended up smoking more as I desperately sought comfort from cigarettes which were no longer offering that pleasure. I crocheted, I laughed, I drank wine, watched grizzlies, and took photos of glaciers.

On the fifth day of taking Champix, 22 August 2009, I wrote in my diary. "Concentrated on pleasures from other sources: the kiss of my puppy, beautiful scenery, laughter of friends, beautiful flower baskets, the crunch of a Smarties' candy shell and the smooth chocolate beneath. The bite of dark roasted Arabic coffee. I feel better to have taken some conscious and deliberate steps to wean myself, rather than passively waiting for the pills to 'cure' me. Gives me a sense of control participation and counters the panic I feel when I contemplate life without cigarettes. If I quit Champix, cigarettes would again give me pleasure. However, the nicotine demons would demand my health and dollars in exchange for their service. I don't want that.

I realize the instant, on-demand spurts of nicotine pleasure have dulled many legitimate opportunities to experience positive emotions. Not only through the addiction aspect, ("Here, take the grandson. I need a smoke!") but also by dulling the senses of smell and taste. These two senses are closely linked to memory. I think of being a child and inhaling the smell of rain, dew on roses, frogs. Sharp cheese, fresh mown hay...spontaneous pleasures. Gifts: no sacrifices needed."

Day 11, 28 August 2009: "Have done well cutting back. Had 5 cigarettes all day. Cravings, if resisted, vanish in 5-10 seconds. Cravings only happen every 3-4 hours."

Day 14, 31 August 2009: "Felt depressed, as if saying farewell to a friend who for years has been there to comfort me. Have difficulty concentrating on good things about not smoking. Had about 4 cigarettes today. In the evening, I throw my last one into the campfire embers. I contemplate how one simple decision (to quit Champix) could bring back my friend. I do not feel at all like celebrating. I mention it to no one."

September 1st: Quit Day: "Over-riding feeling of depression throughout the day. Past traumas and tragedies mull around in my brain. Can I live with bad memories and current stresses without nicotine?"

September 2nd: "Awake to rain and puppy piddle on the mattress at my feet. No showers in this campground. Remnants of weird, busy dreams. It's so cold. Cravings are frequent and intense--but short-lived. I'm prickly with my friends. Moody. Quiet. Depressed."

September 3rd: "Wake in a more cheery mood. Today I feel better, stronger, more committed. This morning my mouth felt cleaner--the first advantage of non-smoking I've experienced. I wish I wasn't travelling so that I could engage in more exercise and have easier access to healthy snacks. Bought a 4-pound sack of Rockets candies. I don't fit any of the jeans I've packed."

September 4th: "Dark, bottomless emptiness into which 100 sour candies, a steak supper and two pieces of apple pie fall. Coffee and Irish Cream. I'm never sated, never full. I could eat forever. Sugar, caffeine, alcohol. Deep breaths of mountain air, long hikes. Four pounds of Rockets. Half a jug of white wine. 14 hours of sleep. Nothing is ever enough. Nothing fills the emptiness."

September 5th: "Coffee and cream liqueur. Two-hour hike through mountain muskeg. Fall colours, red berries, green moss, blue lakes, quiet. Friends. Hot sun. Slow nagging headache. An afternoon nap turns bad. I can't wake up for supper. Tired. So tired. Tummy stirs. Eyes close. Day 5. Yes. I can do it."

September 6th: "If I knew cigarettes would give me pleasure, I'd fall for the temptation. It's the bane of the addict--the drug always calls..."

Today, 12 September 2009, is my 12th smoke-free day. It has not been easy. It is not getting any easier. I feel like a baby that's lost its soother, a toddler bereft of her teddy bear, a child letting go her mother's hand to step into the classroom on her very first day of school.

Friends, I've been there, done all that, grew through it all and survived. We all know that this time will be no different.

Check out some tobacco trivia at

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another giggle...

I'll give you another giggle to help me deal with the pangs of withdrawal.

A string slithered down the street, under the door of a tavern, and onto a bar stool. The bartender leaned over and stared at the string.

"You're a string!" he finally growled. "We don't serve your kind."

Disappointed, and very thirsty, the string slithered out of the tavern and continued down the street to the next bar. He crept in and wiggled up onto a chair at a table. The bouncer came over, crossed his mighty tattooed arms, and scowled down. "String," he said. "We don't serve your kind."

The string sadly crawled back out to the street. There was one more bar at the far end of the block and he slowly made his way toward it. As he passed a shop window, he caught sight of his reflection. He was embarrassed to see his tail end was unravelling. "I'm so dishevelled, it's no wonder they won't serve me," he muttered as he tied a knot in his end, hoping to stop the threads from loosening further.

He crept into the last bar on the street and snuggled up into a booth. A waitress came over, put her hands on her hips, chomped on her gum, and stared at him. "Didn't you read the sign?" she asked haughtily. "We don't serve strings and you are a string, aren't you?"

"No," the string meekly replied. "I'm a frayed knot."

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer