Tearing Down the Wall
by John R. Polito
Nicotine Cessation Educator
The final phase of nicotine dependency recovery is in either allowing sufficient time to pass so that thoughts of wanting to smoke gradually fade away and stop haunting and replaying over and over in our mind, or accelerating the process by seeing the arrival of each as a golden opportunity to set the record straight.Hooked
Imagine residing inside a mind chemically dependent upon a substance that addiction experts contend may possibly be the most captivating of all. Although it isn't likely that any of us then realized that our brain had physically grown millions of extra acetylcholine receptors, that it had de-sensitized affected brain pathways from an endless onslaught of nicotine, or that nicotine was in command and control over the flow of more than 200 of our body's neurochemicals, we didn't need to know the details.
We'd each already felt the punishing anxieties of waiting too long between nicotine feedings. We knew we'd lost the autonomy to simply turn and walk away. Even though we'd tried to tune it out, we also couldn't help but hear the dull roar of the endless stream of new study findings telling us that each and every puff not only destroyed more of our body' ability to receive and transport life-giving oxygen, but that with it came a greater accumulation of the 43 carcinogens present in each burning cigarette. We knew that time-bombs were building within.
Although clinging to the security blanket that all we suffered from was some "nasty little habit," deep down we knew we were hooked solid. So how did our conscious thinking mind cope with the sobering reality that our brain was a slave to its own senseless self-destruction?Dignity's Denial
How did we look in the mirror each morning and maintain any sense of dignity, self-worth or self-respect while constantly being reminded that we were prisoners to dependency, decay, disease, and that today we'd move closer to completing the act of committing our own chemical suicide? It was easy. We learned to lie.
We each called upon our intelligence and conscious mind to help build a thick protective wall of denial that not only insulated us from the hard cold realities of daily dependency, but behind which we could hide when those on the outside felt the need to remind us of who we really were and what we were doing. Our basic tools for building the wall were conscious rationalizations, minimizations and blame transference.
As soon as nicotine's urge commands began telling us that smoking was no longer optional, we each found ourselves forced to explain our involuntary obedience to them. Although nicotine's two-hour half-life inside our bloodstream was now the basic clock governing mandatory feeding times, we each became very creative at providing alternative justifications and explanations.
In our pre-dependency days we may have found honest pleasure in experiencing an unearned flood of dopamine accompanied by a nicotine induced rush of adrenaline. But once feedings became mandatory it didn't matter how we felt about them. Choice was no longer an issue. Even if we didn't fully appreciate our new state of permanent chemical captivity, many of us rationalized the situation based upon what we found ourselves doing.Building Protection
"I don't do things that I don't like to do," we reminded ourselves. "I smoke lots and lots and lots of cigarettes, therefore I must really love smoking," instead of "therefore, I must really be addicted to smoking nicotine."
Not only were our "like" and "love" rationalizations easier to swallow, they provided a conscious defense against those encouraging us to stop. Yes, the first bricks in our wall of denial were now being cemented into place, a wall made thicker with each empty pack.
Some of us hid from our dependency by blaming chronic tobacco use on what we described as tobacco smoke's wonderful smell or taste.
This rationalization brick not only ignored the over 600 flavor additives that the tobacco industry uses to engineer an amazing spectrum of smells and tastes, it ignored the fact that hundreds of other plants, products and people smell good too but we have never once found the need to light any of them on fire and suck them into our lungs in order to complete the experience. But if man ever decides to soak any in nicotine, stand back, as the nicotine addict will likely be burning them soon too.
One brick was our sense that we were each somehow able to control the uncontrollable. Some of us purchased just one pack at a time, playing the endless mind game that tomorrow would always be our last. Some intentionally never made a serious attempt, so as to avoid having to admit dependency.
Others rationalized that since they only smoked a little more than 5 mg. of nicotine daily (about 5 cigarettes) they were either less addicted than others, somehow better than other smokers, or not addicted at all. And then there are our closest smokers - like my grandmother - who constantly tried to convince us that the cloud of smoke rolling out of the bathroom behind her really wasn't there.
Each time our wall was pierced we simply added another brick. There was our "you have to die of something" brick, our "there's still plenty of time" brick, and even the rationalization that went as far as to counter tobacco's 50% kill rate by asserting that it really meant that "there is a 50% chance that smoking won't kill me."
We also have all of our "why we smoked" rationalizations. We told ourselves that it made our coffee taste better when in fact it deadened our sense of smell and drowned coffee's flavors in the 4,000 chemicals present in each burning cigarette. There was our "best friend" brick which asserted that a chemical with an I.Q. of zero was the most loyal companion we'd ever had, even when our friend had long ago deprived us of up to one-third of our functional lung capacity.
There was our boredom brick, our appetizer before every meal brick, our after each meal dessert brick, and the brick proclaiming the first cigarette of the day to be one of the best of all. Each such rationalization totally ignored the real clock driving the situation - nicotine's two-hour chemical half-life.
They ignored the fact that the average pack-a-day smoker will receive a command to smoke (an urge) about every thirty minutes regardless of which activity their denial wishes to credit. It ignores the fact that after sleeping through three to four nicotine half-lives we were left with nicotine blood-serum reserve levels that were somewhere down around our socks. Those first daily smokes should have been memorable.
Then there was our alcohol and stress bricks. Living in a world of dependency ignorance, very few of us knew that nicotine is an alkaloid and that both stress and alcohol are acid-producing events. Every bit as real as what happens when we mix baking soda (an alkaloid) with vineger (an acid), instead of understanding how stress or alcohol accelerate nicotine's elimination, we rationalized that smoking reduced our stress, and that we liked smoking more when drinking.
Let's not forget our romantic fixation bricks proclaiming that some of our best memories ever were based upon the presence of nicotine, and that somehow the moment or underlying memory would have been less significant if nicotine had not added dopamine and adrenaline to it.
Wouldn't honest reflection have us asking how many of life's perfect moments were interrupted by a mandatory need to leave and feed, or by a mind pre-occupied with the need to do so?
And what about our quitting bricks? Pretending that we'd be quitting soon or going so far as to actually set a date would always made today's nicotine fixes far more bearable.
Possibly the most deadly rationalization of all is the quitting fraud of "just one," "just one little puff!" Although a primary maxim of addiction is that "one is always too many and a thousand never enough," instead of picturing all of them and the return of our entire dependency and the endless destructive chain of feedings linked to it, we rationalized countless relapses by lying to ourselves that we were stronger than nicotine and that we could smoke "just one."
What we couldn't possibly know was that brain scan studies discovered that just one puff of nicotine resulted in up to 50% of dopamine pathway receptors becoming occupied by nicotine. While most of us walked away from attempting to cheat when quitting feeling like we'd gotten away with it, it wasn't long before we found our brain wanting, plotting to obtain or even begging fore more.
Real drug addicts in every sense, what we didn't appreciate was that quitting is one of the few activities in life where being 99% successful means 100% defeat.
When we failed to follow through or relapsed we could always reach for our blame bricks and lay the cause for our defeat upon family members who just couldn't handle the temporary anxieties associated with recovery. We could blame friends, a lack of support, a relationship, stressful times, financial hardship, other smokers, alcohol or even our job.Natural Erosion or Conscious Intervention?
The only limit upon the bricks within our wall was our imagination. Have you ever noticed just how challenging it really is to coax a smoker out from behind their wall? After years of construction it tends to be a secure and comforting place to hide from those seeking to impose their will upon us.
It's not necessary that any of us set out to consciously dismantle our wall of denial in order to successfully keep our dependency arrested. But what it may help to realize is that the bulk of our "thoughts" of wanting to smoke nicotine are likely a reflection of the very wall that we ourselves created.
As each thought arrives, would spending a bit of time reflecting upon its origin and validity help shorten this temporary period of adjustment called quitting? Could it diminish the number of excuses available to justify future relapse?
The day and moment is approaching when you'll awaken to an expectation of going your entire day without once wanting to smoke nicotine. Oh, you'll still have thoughts now and then but with decreasing frequency, shorter duration and declining intensity. They'll become the exception, not the rule. It may even get to the point where you'll greet them with a smile as they'll be your only reminder of the amazing journey you've made.
They say that "truth shall set us free" but here at WhyQuit we have an even better guarantee. It is impossible to lose our freedom so long as we refuse to allow nicotine back into our bloodstream. The next few minutes are all that matter and each is entirely doable. There was always only one rule ... no nicotine today ... Never Take Another Puff!Breathe deep, hug hard, live long!
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