Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another Take on Courage: Kicking my nicotine addiction

In retrospect, one of the greatest challenges I had dealt with in life was summoning the courage to fight my nicotine addiction.  

It was a long series of quitting and then picking  up the habit again.  But my inner desires of good prevailed. I eventually won.  

These days I can look back and thank the Universe for having given me the resources to win this battle.  Most useful of which were neverending prayers for God’s helping hand.

Here’s my story:

Ask me to talk to someone about kicking his smoking habit and I wouldn’t do it.

First of all, I was once in his position — the more people would tell me to stop smoking, the more I would light up a cigarette; not out of defiance, but because just the thought of how tough it is to quit would only make me light up another stick.

Actually, any form of challenge to any smoker, be it cerebral or physical, would be a good enough trigger to make him reach for a cigarette. When playing a pick-up game of basketball with a smoker, ever noticed the more exhausted he got, the more he craved for a cigarette? That’s the way it is with someone with a nicotine addiction.

Almost everyone knows nicotine does not stimulate relaxation; on the contrary it shocks the system. Why do you think smokers must have a cigarette when going to the bathroom in the morning? That is because nicotine jolts the system into inducing a bowel movement without resorting to the hemorrhoid-causing birthing push.

Neither does smoking make one look cool and unperturbed. Reaching for a cigarette is more often a dead giveaway that one is undergoing stress at that moment.

Nicotine addiction is not selective and would just as easily afflict anyone. I know a couple of successful doctors — one a pediatrician, the other a heart specialist — who, to this day, smoke more than a pack of cigarettes every day. Even our young people — despite of frequent public awareness campaigns about the perils of smoking and breathing second hand smoke — would still light up or hang out at crowded arenas filled with this lethal fumes.

For me, it all started back in high school when my friends and I would light up a cigarette as pang patapang or to embolden ourselves when about to meet with some girls from another school, or as a prop to our macho posturing — pang porma — at a school dance or private party. And before I knew it, 20 years later, I was seriously addicted to nicotine.

How bad was it? Well, immediately upon getting up from bed every morning, the very first thing I would do is reach for a cigarette. At work, there were times I would light up only to realize a couple of seconds later that I still have a half-smoked cigarette burning on the ashtray. I was to discover later on that this whole motion of reaching for a cigarette and lighting it are integral parts of the entire nicotine addiction process.

There was also the incident of once waking up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning only to realize I had already smoked my last cigarette earlier before I went to bed. What happened next, to this day, would embarrass me to share with anyone: I went through the butts that had collected on the ashtray, including the ones already dumped in the trash can, looking for maybe a half-smoked stick. 

When none was found, I hurriedly put on my sweater, pants, boots and overcoat to look for an open store in the neighborhood. It was in the midst of a dreadful New York winter with the howling wind dragging down the outside temperature way below zero. I must have walked an hour with about seven inches of snow and ice on the ground until I finally found a 24-hour deli.

Yet, going through that horrendous experience was not a good enough incentive for me to consider quitting; it only made me better prepared. That is, even with still half a pack of cigarettes in my pocket, I would now buy an extra pack before going home. I was, in effect, in the stocking up mode of my drug, or whatever it was that would get me through the night. In this particular case, cigarettes.

Be that as it may, like other heavy smokers, I had made a number of attempts to quit — from cold turkey to moderate cessation with the use of an electronic gadget — but to no avail. I even tried the nicotine patch but only to discover my skin was allergic to its adhesive. Eventually, I’ve become totally resigned to the idea that I would live the rest of my life as a nicotine addict — a life of incessant dry coughing, horrible skin, bad breath, smoker’s lines around my mouth and a severely cracked voice.

However, such dismal personal resolve came to a sudden end when one morning I woke up with a distinct sense that my body no longer wanted it. As if miraculously, that morning, I stopped just like that. Although every now and then, to this day, I would dream I was once again a heavy smoker and would wake up deeply troubled by it. Nonetheless, on that fateful morning, I never — not even once — craved again for a cigarette.

After about a year of being a non-smoker, while at a bar having a couple of rounds with co-workers to celebrate our bonus, I tested myself and lit up a cigarette. I immediately coughed after a subtle inhale. I held on to the stick anyway and after two minutes tried to inhale again. I coughed again in response. I realized that not only had I gotten over the psychological need for cigarettes, but my body was, in effect, rejecting nicotine altogether.

That night at the bar, I also noticed how awkward I’ve become when holding a cigarette — I was now waving it like a piece of French fry while engaged in some animated conversation; unlike in the past when I used to hold it the way Humphrey Bogart did — with an air of confidence, style and charm. At least, that was the image I thought I exuded.

It was a Friday night and before heading home from that bar, I stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue to light up a candle. It was my offering of sincere appreciation to the Higher Power that helped me lick my nicotine addiction. That was what it was — like someone ravaged by alcoholism, I needed help from a Higher Power to duke it out of my system. It was, in essence, a soul thing.

Unarguably, despite my having a history of intense addiction to nicotine, I feel it would be utterly presumptuous and condescending of me to suggest to a smoker to quit. And especially since not knowing an iota about his inner self, how dare I intrude and tell him how to deal with the vast emptiness that he feels inside of him?

It may just be a cigarette to anyone, but the grasp it has on a smoker’s life runs deep. I should know; I was once enslaved by it.

However, for those who may know someone struggling to kick his smoking habit, I suggest not to attack the cigarette itself at first, because smoking may be the symptom of the problem and not the problem itself. Instead, find a way to help the smoker sort out and resolve any deep-seated issues that may be underneath it all. And who knows? Just like what happened to me, this smoker you know might just suddenly stop one day and never crave for it ever again.

Photo courtesy of eHow

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article. Someone close to me is a smoker and it worries me tremendously. Cigarettes are so dangerous to one's health. I wish, I could do something.