The Last Visit

The Doc is inToday was my last visit with Lucy.

Today, it’s been a week since I last smoked …and I’m still going insane.

Also today has come to a head a colleague’s continuing behaviour that an expert like Lucy labelled “classic passive aggressive.”

All things considered, though, not a bad day.

Lucy didn’t seem convinced last week that the time to stop therapy had come, but she full-heartedly agreed by the end of today’s session. I reminded her of the guy who came to her in July and contrasted him with the guy in front of her today, which brought her to remark, “Sometimes we have to break down to put ourselves back together, but differently.”

I even referred to today’s incident at work: Before, I’d “own” the situation; now, I’m detached enough to recognize that there’s little I can do about someone else being passive-aggressive. It’s fundamentally HIS problem but he’s making it mine by trying to drag me into his crap. I’m only “involved” to the extent that he’s e-mailing CCs to our supervisor who thinks the whole act is like watching kindergarten kids, and he’s always claiming being too busy to have a chat on the phone. In short, I agreed to (and have) changed some things I do at work; he agreed but hasn’t really changed.

So remind me again how that’s my problem?

Precisely, it isn’t!

We talked about my not smoking for a week, and in her mind that’s the ultimate illustration of having taken control and wanting to take care of myself. I laughed out loud commenting, “I even have fewer headaches …and you know why? Because of these damn glasses I’m wearing now!”

Finally convinced, Lucy seemed pleased for me. “But you’ve worked hard on yourself,” she added. “You haven’t been afraid to consider anything.” I’m probably a psychologist’s dream: I can’t be that much work! 🙂

Now if only I weren’t craving a cigarette so much, life would be as close to perfect as I could ever wish…

Her & My Truth About Quitting

Nat, formerly known herein as the Bush Whacker, mentioned to me in Facebook her friend’s Mo‘s short-lived blog from 2010 titled The Truth About Quitting.

At this point, I have been FIVE FULL DAYS without a smoke. And this time I mean it! Unlike previous quitting attempts when I would allow myself 1 to 4 ciggie per day by rationalizing that it was one heck of an improvement over 25 to 30 per day, I have not had a single puff, let along a complete smoke, since 5:15 pm on Thursday, November 3. So by all accounts — although Mo has some good points about that which I’ll discuss below — my body should be fully nicotine-free by this time.

I’m not feeling more stressed out than when I would be a few weeks into the first level of the nicotine patch. However — and that’s the fascinating thing for me — I can honestly say for the first time in 30 years that I’m nicotine-free. After all, the patch is nicotine replacement therapy AND I’d still be smoking a little, so the nicotine never completely left me before now. Now let me be clear: I’m still tempted like a sonovabitch, but I think about being nicotine-free and I say to myself, “No, it would be a shame to break that,” so I keep my resolve.

But coming back to Mo’s blog… I love everything she wrote about, including what I disagreed with or can’t relate to.

For you see, Mo quit “cool turkey”. That’s the same as cold turkey except that she had reduced to half a pack a day …over a eight-year period! For my part, I went from about 30 to zero per day overnight …but aided by soft-laser therarpy.

Another huge difference: Over the years, Mo restricted her smoking to one room in her house before finally forcing herself to only smoke outside. As for me, home was my smoking haven! Only when going out or visiting most friends would smoking be an outdoor activity and, unlike Mo, I didn’t have a strong “smoking = solitary” association and even less a “smoking = doing nothing else” association.

I would say the only statement from Mo with which I completely disagree with (or can’t relate to) is “that I don’t really feel any different.” Sorry, Mo, but speak for yourself! 🙂 In only five days, my coughing has almost vanished and I certainly don’t have coughing fits anymore. A half-a-pack-per-day smoker is nothing compared a pack-plus-per-day smoker, so I suggest that’s why you didn’t notice much change.

That’s my only disagreement, though.

“Quitting wasn’t that hard,” she asserts. “Here is the most common story you’ll hear about nicotine addiction: it is among the most powerful addictions there is, as powerful as cocaine or heroin.” She is absolutely right that is what we hear all the time and she admits that she fully believed it. However, she colourfully writes about what she (and I) HAVEN’T done:

So I imagined the sort of fight I would need to put up against cocaine or heroin addiction. I pictured myself in a Trainspotting-like daze, shaking and sweating, out in my backyard in the middle of the night, flashlight in hand. I would crawl on my hands and knees, through the muck, desperately searching for an old butt that had escaped the outdoor ashtray. I would brush it off when I found it, raise it to my lips, feeling the dirt in my mouth, and light it, cursing its dampness. And then, once it caught, I would have one perfect drag, deep into my lungs, and my body would sink back, satisfied, and there would be some kind of dream sequence. And just like that, I would fail.

So far for me this time around, I haven’t even been more irritable. I’ve only felt occasional waves I would describe as a kind of pressure above the temples or a feeling inside my mouth that makes the urge to smoke flash in front of my eyes. But the smokes remaining from my last pack are still on the kitchen table, unmoved since last Thursday. In fact, when I look at the pack rather than just think about a cigarette, the resolve in my “NO!” is even stronger.

The other insight to which Mo admits not having thought of before trying to quit is that smoking cessation is almost as big a business as smoking itself. And that’s when I think to myself, Yeah …didn’t I just spend nearly $800 for a therapy in which I wouldn’t have believed if it hadn’t been for two friends who managed to quit with it? There’s still a part of me that’s wondering if I’m benefitting from a placibo effect. Certainly a lot more willpower is required than the “stop smoking in one hour” ads suggest! I suppose I can find some consolation in the fact that I’m doing it without any drug.

I love how Mo points out how little real and credible information exists about smoking cessation. I would point out that I’ve long said the same (politically incorrect) thing about “research” on the ills of second-hand smoke, but I digress. She raises a point I have also noticed:

Here is just one example I’ve found of the ways that the discourse of quitting is being shaped directly by the companies behind the drugs and NRTs: try to search for information about what will happen to your body when you quit. No matter how you configure your search, or how many sites you click through on, the majority of the information you find will be strikingly similar. It will divide time into these increments: 20 minutes, 8 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, 2-12 weeks, 3-9 months, 5 years, 10 years. For the record, the (almost always uncited) information you find is copyright Johnson and Johnson, makers of Nicorette.

Credit to Mo: she found the copyright holder; I never did. Now my question is this: Am I REALLY nicotine-free by now? I’m expected to believe that what I’m feeling is 100% psychological?

But perhaps my favorite post by Mo is “The Shape of the Relapse Curve,” in which she poses the question that few if any “researchers” are posing but that quitters would like answered: “When is a someone who’s trying to quit most likely to cave?” And she found only one article that suggested that “approximately 90% of smokers who relapse do so within the first 8 days.”

I suppose that means if I make it to next Saturday, I’ll be in the 10%. But that said, even though I’m only five days in, I think I can already relate to Mo’s last thought in her blog: “I don’t miss the actual smoking anymore,” she concludes after 13 weeks of not smoking. “In truth though, I still miss being a smoker.”

I know people who stopped smoking 25 years ago but admit to smoking in their dreams when they’re particularly stressed out, so that indeed tells me how strong the psychological bond to smoking is. I also worry about how interacting with my few smoker friends will be like if I persist at not smoking. I think it’s going to be really weird…

It’s All Been About Taking Control

Taking Control!!!I don’t think someone’s mood is like throwing a die and I seriously doubt anyone can control how dice might fall. Hence I think that this graphic, while cute, is off.

I acknowledge that I’m only speaking for myself and from my own experience. However, while I still have much to do, I know without a doubt that I have taken back control of my life and perhaps taken a bit more than I ever had. There could be setbacks here and there but, as a general trend, I feel there’s no other way from here but up.

It has been 48 hours since my last drag off a cigarette. Yesterday before my second treatment, I had serious doubts about succeeding and expressed those doubts to the therapist. The session was supposed to last about 60 minutes but he took nearly 90: he did some extra things in response to my stated anxiety, and you know what? I think it really made a difference! I might think of having a cigarette every few minutes but, each time, I simply close my eyes and say to myself, “Nawh…” And the thought goes away, like a wave receding back into the ocean.

Could this really be happening? Have I really gone, within less than a year, from “I can’t stand myself” to a 30-year smoker who’s quitting shortly after having completely cleaned up every aspect of his life and now feels confident enough to assert himself?

Last Thursday I told Lucy that next week should be my last appointment with her. She seemed a bit taken aback and mentioned some areas we hadn’t yet explored; however, with the greatest respect in view of how helpful she’s been, I replied that I was asserting my needs now and that I believe I have reached my best point in over four years.

I have taken control. THANK GAWD!

Don’t get me wrong. I know that I might have another puff. I know that unexpected turns of event will happen at work. I know that unforeseeable complications will throw off parts of my first serious personal financial forecast in five years. In short, I know that I’ll have setbacks and that I’ll get just plain pissed off from time to time.

But so what! Now I have a plan. I have motivation. I have hopes. I have a belief in the future. Moreover, I have peace of mind over what I can and cannot control, and a better understanding of what makes tick. I know the traps I need to avoid.

Hopefully I can now resume a lighter form a programming at aMMusing!!! 🙂

My Reasons for Quitting

Centres StopI have set the afternoon of Thursday, November 3 as my latest attempt to quit smoking.

Why that date?

Well, really, it was “imposed” on me. It was the first available appointment date.

Indeed, I’ve been thinking for a while (again) about quitting, this time by using soft-laser therapy (click the logo above for Stop Centres’ website), as I know two people personally who’ve had success with this method. Given that I’m a heavy smoker by the Stop Centres’ definition, I will be forking out nearly 800 bucks (taxes included) for the therapy, which currently is a lot more than what I pay for smokes. (Don’t ask, but MontrĂ©al-area smokers and former smokers will understand.)

But this is to say my reasons for quitting are not financial. In no particular order…

  1. My coughing in the morning and the middle of the night has me frightened, so the Number 1 reason is the extent to which I now FEEL my smoking affecting my health.
  2. My coughing can sneak up on me at the most inopportune times, and I feel embarrassed by it because I know everyone knows why I’m coughing.
  3. Now that summer is definitely over, I’m less motivated to go out for only coffee because I anticipate (read “dread”) having to step outside in the cold a few times just to have a puff.
  4. I’ve come to dread travelling because of my smoking:
    • I hate having to think, when travelling by air, about the last ciggie before boarding and the first ciggie after deboarding.
    • I rarely smoke in my car and, if I do, I make it as uncomfortable as possible in order not to stink up the car.
    • Except at one or two friends, smoking must be done outside and I wouldn’t expect it to be otherwise.
  5. I would prefer if my stuff and I didn’t betray (through smell) that I’m a heavy smoker.

Bottom line, I’m just plain tired of smoking.

The reason I’m more confident with this laser treatment than anything else I tried is because of what I recall from my last attempt. While on the patch the last time, when I would still have a craving, I felt it as what I’d describe as a “hot spot” towards the front of my head. I’m thinking this acupuncture-like laser treatment is more likely to address this particular problem or sensation.

At any rate, we shall see! But here’s to hoping (and another significant change in my life)…

Becoming Stingy or Smart?

Spreadsheet Heaven or HellIn reference to the title of this entry and the previous entry on this topic, I’m starting to wonder if my rekindled budgeting obsession demonstrates that I’ve turned downright stingy or simply smarter. It might be a bit of both, although I prefer to think it’s more of the latter.

Yesterday I scooped out my most recent phone bill from my mailbox. It’s more of an FYI kind of bill because the total amount, which is stable every month unless I do some odd extra thing, is automatically debited from my personal account. Except this time I paid attention to the fine print and identified two lines in the details section that have long bothered me — something about maintenance fees.

So I called Bell — what an awful maze of “If you’re calling for this, press 1; if you’re calling for that, press 2” they have! — to speak to a live agent. The “interior cable maintenance” fee was described to me as a kind of insurance: for $6.95 (plus taxes) per month, if something happens to my line that the reception becomes horrible or some people can’t reach my number for whatever reason, I can get a repair person to come and won’t have to pay anything upfront. “You might never need this for 3, 4 or even 5 years,” the agent explained, “but if you did need a technician, it would cost you over $90 up front.” As for the other fee of $6.95 (plus taxes) per month, I was paying it for nothing because my non-Bell equipment wasn’t even registered with Bell, and it is meant for repairs on such third-party equipment.

I did the math out loud with the agent, rounding off the numbers.

The cabling maintenance: $7 * 12 months = $84 per year and I never used it in more than 3 years. At that price, I’d be better off forking out a one-time $90+ fee if I needed to.

The equipment fee: Same calculation, but if my phone sets suddenly stopped working well, I’d just buy new sets for probably less than 2 years’ worth of fees.

“So basically I’m reducing my phone bill by $14 per month excluding taxes, which works out to $168 per year,” I said. “It’s not much but it’s better than nothing, especially for something I’m not very likely to use!”

The agent laughed, implicitly agreeing with my logic. She then “took the opportunity” to warn me that the basic fee is going up by $2 starting in January. She didn’t mention, however, that the QuĂ©bec Sales Tax is also going up 1% on January 1, 2012, bringing it to 9.5%, and since it’s charged on top of the federal GST of 5%, our sales tax rate will be 14.975%. Except that when all is said and done, if I compare my current monthly bill to the one I’ll be getting as of January, I’ll be paying almost 15% less, or the equivalent of the sales taxes. Not bad for one 10-minute phone call!

It’s wonderful to be taking back control of all aspects of my life, even trivial little things like this one. I also asked the janitor this weekend to have the rental office send a formal letter of complaint to my offending/offensive neighbours upstairs. These are little things, but they’re all contributing to feeling less powerless as I bemoaned earlier.

Centres StopMeanwhile, after work tomorrow, I’ll be going for my first of two consecutive soft-laser treatments in my latest attempt to quit smoking. This is an expensive proposition: it will cost nearly $800 but will include two “touch up” treatments over the next year and some herbal remedies for backup. But that is yet another testament to trying to regain control over my life.

I still have a few things to tackle in the coming days and weeks, all of them financial. But while “discipline” will be a featured word in my life for the coming months, I’m actually stoked about it all. I’m yearning for that sense of control I briefly held around June 2007, for when I fell in control, I’m able to make big decisions.

Indeed, it was in June 2007 that I stopped bitching about not living in MontrĂ©al and instead made plans to do so within less than a year…