Awareness: 1/6/2018

Today is the fourth day of quitting my vaporizer. My nicotine addiction has been a long time symbol of my inability to control my impulses. I started smoking at a party when I was fifteen, and I was a closet smoker for a long time after that. I never had any intention of smoking long term. I thought that it would be something that I did once in a while whenever the mood struck. But it crept up on me, and before long I was smoking half a pack a day. All the years I smoked, I never went above a half a pack a day.

The decision to quit smoking came whenever I found myself out of breath performing everyday tasks like walking upstairs to my apartment. I decided that I would replace my smoking problem with snuff. I dipped for a year, and I can still feel the effects on my gums. They never really recovered.

During that year, I always had a chew in. I had spit bottles littered around my apartment. At first I wouldn’t do it near my girlfriend (now my wife), but as time went on and we became more familiar with one another, I relaxed that restriction. She never complained, but I could tell that she was turned off by it. I knew that it was a disgusting and untenable habit that desperately needed to be broken. She was a smoker herself, and so I decided to go back to smoking.

I told myself that I would limit my cigarette consumption to one or two per day, and I would eventually wean myself off nicotine completely. Of course that never happened. I didn’t really want to quit; I enjoyed the ritual of it too much, and the cravings constantly nagged at me. I didn’t understand at the time that there was no compromise with the addiction. I wasn’t capable of being a recreational tobacco user (if there is such a thing).

The shortness of breath came back quickly, but I was trapped by my own anxieties about never smoking again. I wanted to smoke; I treasured the quiet moments and social experiences that it provided, but I recognized that, even young as I was, the health consequences were massive. This crisis of indecision struck right as electronic cigarettes and vapes were beginning to enter public consciousness. I read the marketing, and convinced myself that this was the consequence free smoking experience that I was after.

With the vaporizer, I was able to immediately kick my smoking habit. My lungs ached and I coughed up copious amounts of mucous those first weeks. I felt better, and I had no cravings, but I still had lung pains in the morning, and vaping changed my habits. Smoking a cigarette was an occasion. I had to step outside and do nothing else but watch the smoke roll in the breeze. I could vape anywhere anytime, and that changed my triggers.

Before I started vaping, my triggers (the actions that cause a craving and are associated with smoking in my mind) were driving, breaks at work or school, and meals. But because vaping offered a completely unrestricted nicotine drip, pretty soon everything became a trigger. I vaped when I watched TV, when I read a book, right before bed, and when I played video games. I took a couple puffs in preparation for every routine activity. Everything I did seemed to go better with nicotine, and I was consuming so much of it that I would get headaches and nausea, but I kept puffing away, knowing that what I was doing was causing my present illness.

I’d suck down as much nicotine as I could right before bed. I’d be visibly ill in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. I went through withdrawal every night. I always woke up shivering. My vaporizer became the first thing I’d grab in the morning and the last thing I’d touch at night. I found myself unconsciously reworking my routines around my access to nicotine. And because I’d allowed everything to become a trigger, I found myself increasingly unable to enjoy my favorite activities whenever I tried to do them without sucking on a vape.

Vaping helped me quit smoking, which was a miracle in its own right, but it too had overstayed its welcome. Vaping was still hurting my health. It was increasing my blood pressure, increasing my heart rate, and scarring my lungs. It was a friendlier addiction, but it was still a net negative.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided that I wanted to quit, but that was the moment that made the difference. Before, I knew I had to quit, but I didn’t really want to. I rationalized with myself, told myself that I could use the vaporizer sometimes, maybe in the evening or first thing in the morning. I’d have a few puffs like a morning cup of coffee. I tried that for a while and failed, never able to stick with it for more than a day or two.

This is the longest I’ve been without nicotine since I was fifteen years old, and I think it’s because I started using the word never. I’ve always been a fan of moderation, all things in moderation. But perhaps moderation is a naive idea when dealing with an addiction, even a minor one like nicotine. I think we have the tendency to think of moderation as noble. It takes greater self control, and we tend to think of words like never and always as too simple to have a place in the modern world, but these words are powerful.

Deciding to never do something again has immense power to bring about change. Once I decided to never pick up the vaporizer again, as silly as it sounds, quitting seemed easier. Never speaks of unwavering self control, while moderation speaks of compromise. No one can force me to smoke or vape, I make and own that decision, and I have decided to never engage in that behavior again. There is power in never. It’s a word I plan to use more often.

Even though I’ve only quit a short while, this has been a valuable exercise in quitting unnecessary consumption. The industry has a highly addictive product, that it effectively markets, and I have access to. It feels good to exercise this self control. It feels like an accomplishment. 

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