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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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Fitness: Quit Smoking
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rule

Puff the evil demon. Once addicted, always addicted. So you can't really beat the drug, for it changes your brain chemistry forever. Just accept that and get on with your life.

But you can just stop using tobacco. There are many ways to stop, and what works for one person might not work at all for another.

What worked for me, when I managed to quit for a while, was having four or five prior attempts as a base of experience and making a very thorough preparation for the current attempt. Lest the wording of this mislead anyone, I am still smoking. One always wants the next time to be the last time, but I think it's not productive to go past the famous "one day at a time" dictum. That's all I can say at this point.

I've had considerable response to this page. Encouragement, advice, fellow sufferers, and so forth. It turns out there are a lot of people wanting to quit using tobacco, which is a very good thing. Anything that helps is a good thing, too.

One thing I think is very important is not to give up. And don't curse yourself excessively if you try and fail; that just wastes a lot of psychic energy that could better go toward planning and carrying out your next attempt.

A former colleague of mine quit by using nicotine patches, a system that weans you from the habitual, ritual aspects of smoking while it also slowly reduces the daily dose of the drug. I went through a whole course of the Nicoderm patches, only to fail at the very end for reasons I won't recount here.

On earlier attempts to quit, weight gain was the killer problem for me. About five years ago, I succeeded in not smoking for four months, but I put on 20 pounds, looked terrible because of the extra weight, and was determined not to have to buy all new clothes.

Addiction takes over your brain and can affect everything going on there. Ignore the drug's imperatives and it will destroy your ability to concentrate; it will make your metabolism slow to a crawl; it will make even the nicest person into a short-tempered ogre. I think only a very deliberate, conscious and determined program of cognitive interventions can offset the drug's tendency to ruin your whole life if you don't get a fix.

Preparation
So to prepare for the possibility of weight gain, I first needed to lose weight, buying a little buffer space, so to speak. How I did that is described in the next link, but I took my weight from 170 to 140 (one morning the scale even said 139, which scared me) in the period from May to September, 1995. I expected it to rise a little (there seems to be a bounce-back effect), to about 145, by the time I quit smoking and started wearing the patches. I expected it to rise a little more, to 150, during the ten weeks of the patch regimen. And that's just what happened.

Patch systems
There are various nicotine patch systems, I guess. The one I used has you stop smoking on day one. My health insurance does not cover patches (how's that for a stupid policy?), so I shelled out $3.90 each for 70 of them. You use one each day for ten weeks. I had smoked unfiltered, high-nicotine cigarets, and as quitting day approached, my consumption rose from 25 cigarets a day to almost 50. Unfiltered Camels provide about 1 mg of nicotine per cigaret. The patches come in three dosage levels: 21 mg, 14 mg, and 7 mg. The regimen calls for six weeks at the 21 mg level, followed by two weeks at each of the 14 mg and 7 mg levels.

So on the first day, my drug dose was immediately cut to 40% of the previous day's. But I didn't really notice any other effects other than the change in rituals, that is, not lighting up whenever I left my office building, whenever I got into the car, whenever I was sitting in my study at home waiting for a file to transfer, etc. Those pangs were pretty intense, but nothing like so bad as they would have been if I were not getting any drug.

Side effects
The television ads for patches never mention side effects, and it may be that some people don't have any. But I did. There was a small rise in nervousness, but not enough to amount to a real disturbance of routine, and in particular, not enough to trigger eating more than I had eaten before. During the whole experience, I had really only two major side effects to cope with.

One was irregular sleep patterns. Some of this may stem from other stresses in my life or from the very high levels of caffeine I routinely consume (though that had not been a factor before I quit smoking). But I think it was mostly a manifestation of nervous energies that would have been consumed by smoking's rituals and habits, augmented by ongoing stresses in other sectors of my life.

The other side effect, and for me it was certainly not possible to ignore it, was itching, not just at the site of the patch, but all around it as well. For the first two or three weeks, this problem did not appear, and when I put on the fresh patch every day at my gym, the previous day's site was just a slightly reddish area.

But when the itching started, the previous patch sites began to appear more irritated, much redder, and slightly swollen. I'm sure this was an allergic reaction (probably to the adhesive or the transdermal agent), because ordinary OTC antihistamine quelled it quite quickly (within 20 minutes). The irritated areas (you put each patch at a new site on the upper body) slowly cleared up over the course of a couple weeks. So I cycled around four bands of sites running vertically on the sides of my upper trunk, and took the antihistamine as soon as I finished my workout, before going into the sauna or steamroom and taking my shower. Other patch users put them on the arms, but I didn't want to mark mine up, since that would show during workouts.

The strongest inducement not to smoke has been vanity: I could hardly believe the improvement in my appearance, especially the color and surface qualities of my skin. Older people like me are often pretty discouraged by what happens to their aging skin, especially if it's sun-damaged, which mine certainly is. This effect was noticeable to my close friends in less than two weeks, and continued to improve steadily. For me, the greatest visible reward was the look and feel of the back of my hands, believe it or not!

Where I am right now
As of now, I am (don't be disappointed, though I am) smoking. I can rationalize it dozens of ways. I think I can legitimately place some blame on my support strategy, which involved a friend who abandoned me at the crucial juncture, but ultimately of course it was my own doing. I should have had a better support plan in place, and/or I should have done it without more support.

The fact is, after the patches ran out, I never completely quit nicotine. I've been smoking far less than I did before -- about 20% of the old level -- but it's not zero, not yet. I had a visit with my doctor about it, and he says I can feel rewarded that I've done that well. I'm still planning to go to zero, but I seem to need the goads of a ceremonial occasion and some personal support. So it remains to be seen.

End of Page


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