A Mouthful of Cigarettes
The sun went down on my second full day as a non smoker. I crawled into bed, shivering, at 2 a.m. and lay my hands over my chest and crossed my feet. Tonal chants wove into my brain, and I settled under the covers for guided meditation.
I am supposed to ‘notice’ my breathing, so I drew in a long breath through the bottoms of my feet. The air was supposed to exit out of the top of my head. My bronchi spasmed midway, and I begin to cough. At this point, I realized I was boiling hot and threw off the blankets. I stared at the mean ceiling with tears globbed in the corners of my eyes.
“You are loved,” said the voice through my ear buds.
I drew my knees up and covered my face.
The Fagerstrom test is only a number
According to the Fagerstrom test, I am a number 4 - moderately addicted to nicotine. On a scale from 0 to 10, Fagerstrom gauges the intensity of nicotine addiction using a short series of questions. Some of them are simple to answer:
☝ Do you smoke within six to thirty minutes of waking? Yes (2 points)
☝ How many cigarettes a day do you smoke? 11–20 (1 point)
☝ Do you smoke even if you are sick in bed? No (0 points)
Other questions; however, forced me to consider the calibration of the measuring tool.
≇ Is it difficult for you not to smoke when it is forbidden? (Church, Library, etc.)
Etc? I don’t need to smoke on airplanes, nor do I mind going outside the pub to smoke. Should I be labeled as moderately addicted just because I don’t need to smoke during the Eucharist at midnight mass on Christmas Eve?
≇ Which cigarette would you hate to give up?
First in the morning ⚪
Any other ⚪
According to the scale, if I can’t fathom giving up the morning cigarette, then I am slapped with a score of two (2 points), but if I am fine giving up the morning cigarette so I can have the nineteen others, this affords me a score of zero (0 points).
The Fagerstrom test is lacking in many of the finer points of addiction. I am now in the middle of my third day smoke free, and I am consumed by thoughts of smoking. Further, I cannot reconcile my difficulty breathing with a scale that says a pack-a-day habit isn’t considered ‘heavy’.
It’s heavy enough to have made even my somnambulent sense of self-preservation sound several loud alarms over the last year: wheezing, heart palpitations, breathlessness, choking on my own mucus in the middle of the night, chronic cough. As an attestment to severe addiction, I chose smoking for months over the notion of confronting these symptoms.
Nicotine leaves the body in four days — piece of cake
I am a newly minted non-smoker, which means I clamor for logic which can explain why I want to ride a unicycle into a brick wall.
“After the nicotine is gone, it’s all in your head,” touts my husband, who quit in 2017 after days of chest pain revealed he needed four stents.
I have revealed the neurosis behind the curtain, a hapless octo-sapien frantically pulling levers against fear, depression, cynicism, anger and impatience.
I brushed my teeth and washed my hands to the elbow during post-op so that he wouldn’t be disturbed by the smell of smoke, but I didn’t quit. I never considered it. I held a heart-attack patient in my arms and took breaks to go outside and light up.
After some reading, I’ve learned there are two types of smokers. Since this narrowing is of my own doing, I have named the categories myself. The first type is the recreational addict — a person of positive affectations with no outstanding trauma who likely picked up smoking as rebellious teenager. Smoking cessation for this type may require nicotine support through lozenges or gum and a group hug.
The second type is the neurotic addict — a person of negative affectations with a history of trauma, anxiety and/or depression who picked up smoking as a rebellious teenager. Smoking cessation in this type may never be permanent, as nicotine has filled a deep void where serotonin, dopamine and other hormones have never been present at normal levels.
For the neurotic addict, it wouldn’t matter if nicotine left the system in ten minutes because the drug’s interaction with the brain’s (already malfunctioning) neurotransmitters is so intertwined that the physical reaction to the absence of the drug will be protracted and, as far as I can tell, indefinite.
This isn’t about nicotine so much as it is about overhauling coping mechanisms. For thirty-eight years, my brain has associated nicotine with calm, rationale, relaxation, freedom and courage. In pulling the plug, I have revealed the neurosis behind the curtain, a hapless octo-sapien frantically pulling levers against fear, depression, cynicism, anger and impatience. Everything is misfiring. I am cast into outer space and cannot land anywhere.
I always thought I enjoyed smoking with drinking
I am not pining for alcohol to calm my nerves, but I have lost my composure of late from wanting to smoke.
Pour a drink. Light a cigarette. This is the natural order of things. I craft a martini; I go to the porch to have a smoke. If I pour a glass of wine, I cannot imagine having it without a cigarette.
But I can smoke without alcohol.
In an unprecedented upheaval of logic, I have come to realize that drinking is not my vehicle of smoking. It’s the other way around.
For years, I have been willing to ignore my body’s messages in order to keep the status quo. It’s the ultimate hijacking.
In three days of not smoking, I have not craved alcohol at all. No, really, smoking me would never have left a fresh beer in the fridge for three days. I just don’t want to drink it, nor do I want the scotch on the counter. Of the thousands of times I have cracked open a beer to unwind, I was really doing it, at least partially, to facilitate step two — lighting a cigarette.
Where is the miracle?
This morning, I dreamt I had piles of cigarettes in front of me. With both hands, I was shoving them between my lips in stacks three and four deep. With a lighter I was lighting them all up. I couldn’t control my hands. They operated like imposters, like muppet hands. My mouth was jacked open, and I couldn’t stop the smoke from going into my lungs. I was filled with shame and despondence.
I woke as I do everyday. The first thought to cross my mind is that I can’t have my coffee with a cigarette. I feel imprisoned by such pathetic notions throughout the day. I am coughing all the time, I am mad all the time, I am snippy and teary-eyed and annoyed.
All the time.
I am taken aback by my own proclivity to choose chronic illness over confronting an addiction to cigarettes. For years, I have been willing to ignore my body’s messages in order to keep the status quo. It’s the ultimate hijacking.
The science tells me my body’s healing powers are miraculous, that blackened tissue will turn pink and vibrant, that my brain will find homeostasis without nicotine, that I’ll be a happy non-smoker in ten years when I approach sixty.
I don’t feel I have that long to wait. I still want to smoke while I have time. My whole family is tip-toeing around me, watching me suffer, and I am still willing to drive this car back to the lot and go back to my normal life.
I am still willing to return their investment. I am oh-so willing to reneg.