I haven't been writing much here or anywhere else for that matter lately because I am in process of quitting smoking. Writing is a trigger for me and I find it EXCEEDINGLY difficult to sit at the computer typing away without also puffing away. So, I've been trying to avoid it as much as possible. Avoiding triggers during at least the first four weeks of the quit is critical. So I've been declining invitations where I know people might be smoking, avoiding situations that would normally make me "tense" and I've warned most friends and colleagues that I am quitting therefore I could blow at any moment.
I began trying to quit this year (again) in February and have been struggling with this damn addiction ever since. February & March were ridiculous but in April I joined a Smoke-Free Project group which prepares one to quit, establishes a plan for doing so and provides an enormous amount of much needed encouragement and support. This is all fine and worked well pretty much until this morning when I just had a lapse.
I had to go to the market to pick up some supplies and on my way there I noticed a good many smells. The wooden water tank company on the next block was sawing wood and it had the most marvelous bitter scent of galbanum. A little further on, I was struck by the odor of new oak leaves and the difference between their scent and those of other trees. Once I hit Bedford Avenue, I began picking up food smells from the cafés & restaurants I was passing and it was all good - especially the smell of fresh brewing coffee which I don't really drink anymore. Noticing these marvelous smells was a big change for me from recent outings when I was pretty much only aware of the horrible smells one encounters daily in New York. I have a terrifically sensitive nose and even when I am smoking I can smell a lot of things that others can't. When I am not smoking however, I swear I can smell EVERYTHING - especially odors that are frankly appalling. I don't know what the olfactory version of "blinding" is but that's what it's like.
Now when I left the studio to go to the market, I was on the point of exploding. Since I am basically two weeks into my quit, I am still very much in the middle of the stage where the subject experiences intense mood swings and can be meek & mild one minute and raging like Godzilla on a visit to Tokyo the next. This is not pretty to watch and certainly most unpleasant to experience first hand. While the group has been very helpful in providing tips to deal with these wildly changing moods, the addiction very cleverly makes the subject feel that the ONLY thing that is going to prevent the head from going Super Nova thus laying waste to the Tri-State Area is a cigarette...
Thanks to the group and the wonders of modern psychotherapy, I've managed to identify my triggers and I know precisely what I expect cigarettes to do for me. Since I formally quit two weeks ago, I have had very little trouble in not responding automatically to triggers and no longer feel the necessity to light up after meals, when I'm bored, having drinks with friends or simply lying around in the evening.
Mornings on the other hand are an entirely different matter - ESPECIALLY work day mornings like today. I've long known that I smoke far more in the morning than at any other time of the day. This was confirmed by a group exercise where we listed every single cigarette we puffed during a 24 hour period from the very first upon waking to the very last before bed. On the average work day, I had four within half an hour of waking - one while waiting for the water for tea to boil, one while the tea was steeping and then two with the first actual cup. On higher stress days (and who doesn't have those on a regular basis in this town?) I could get through an entire pack before the clock struck noon.
Since I quit, the morning hours have seemed frequently impossible to get through. I've found myself either hyper-actively bouncing off the walls while raging over nonsense or feeling completely lethargic and unable to concentrate on anything. During the latter periods, I can wander around here like a character out of Edward Gorey misplacing small but important objects that I will most certainly need in future but will no longer remember where I'd put them and then staring out the window at absolutely nothing while the tea from my cup dribbles on the floor. This can go on for hours.
The really annoying thing for the subject who is now "smoke-free" is that the emotional swings are unpredictable. One never knows when the volcano might blow. Also it frequently seems that the urges grow weaker & weaker but then suddenly for no real reason the subject is again on the verge of insanity. This is all EXTREMELY irritating.
Of course I've been using nicotine patches & have also been sucking nicotine lozenges like crazy. While these definitely help, unfortunately they do not completely silence that insidious voice in the head that constantly says "the only thing that's going to make you feel better is a cigarette so go ahead". That voice must be dealt with in a different fashion and yelling "SHUT THE FUCK UP" at the top of the voice does little but cause looks and get certain pedestrians the hell out of your way.
I've found that when the lozenges aren't enough that simply doing something completely different in those moments is extremely effective at calming the "overwhelming" urge to light up. I take a walk with or without dog, go to the gym, or simply get the hell away from the computer. I've also developed a sort of "art therapy" approach where I simply change my seat in the studio, pick up a sketch book and doodle for a bit. And with all these techniques, I've found the urge generally passes pretty quickly.
Still there are mornings like this one. I try that stuff & still I'm raging around like something out of the Book of Revelations. So when I decided to take a walk to the market to pick up the stuff, I did so thinking that getting out & having a walk might do the trick. Well today, it didn't. As I was checking out, the clerk (who knows me) asked if I wanted a pack of cigs & without really thinking I automatically said "Yes."
So I smoked one on the walk back and another when I got back to my computer to try to finish today's email. As I was pulling out a third, I suddenly wondered what the hell I was doing and yelled for my assistant. I told him to take the rest of the pack, rip it up into tiny little pieces and then take it out & dump it in the nearest public trash bin. Which is what he did.
I am not terribly happy about this. However, I now know full well that guilt or self-blame aren't going to do a damn thing. So I'm going to fall back on the relapse plan & spend the rest of the day taking care of me. "Taking Care Of Me" is I am told one of the key components in dealing with nicotine addiction. It is however for a great many people (including me) not the easiest thing to do. It takes a large sized attitude adjustment & quite a lot of practice. And it can be especially difficult to do if one has a lot of others things that "must" be done "right this minute" as well like running a business.
Still it is vitally important and that's why I haven't been writing so much the past few weeks and it's also why the spring perfumes are slightly behind schedule. They'll all get done at some point when I've gotten through this stage and am feeling reasonably stable again. In the meantime, the main priority is to make sure I'm well. So, as soon as I've clicked "save" here, I'm going to pack up & head to the gym. After that, I may well take myself out to lunch & a movie. I hear the new Star Trek is very entertaining.