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Closet Fascination

A blog about a journey, smoking, not smoking, vaping and everything in between

Anxiety Strikes Again

So I sit here on a Friday, after spending the majority of my evening paralyzed by anxiety or a depressed mood or both. With 8 days until my period, I know this is my ‘normal’ PMS mood swing. Knowing that doesn’t help me change how I’m feeling very easily. It helps explain it, which reduces any inevitable worrying about why I feel so shitty but nothing on the actual reducing how shitty I feel.

Being a teacher of how to take care of one self when one is experiencing negative moods, I know what I should do. De-stress, take it easy, distract with an activity, avoid alcohol or other drugs (cough- nicotine), try not to overeat. I’ve managed to do most of those things, aside from overeating.

Overeating is the worst. I find when I am feeling this way, I mistake my anxiety for hunger and try to eat it away. Of course, it doesn’t work. No quantity of food could satisfy because I’m not actually hungry (to a point, I always start hungry). I don’t eat quantities of food that would qualify as a binge, but I eat more than I need and beyond the point of comfort. Part of me figures it would be good to go back to tracking my food as I did this less often when I was tracking all of my food. The drawback is I become a bit obsessive about what I eat when I track. I need some sort of happy medium between tracking each piece of food entering my lips and the free for all I’m practicing right now.

Next time I feel this way, which I guess could happen as early as tomorrow, I’m going to try to chug a bunch of water first as I actually find that being dehydrated sometimes feels like hunger.

I’m happy I avoided drinking alcohol and smoking (although that was more of a thought than an urge). Alcohol always seems like I good idea in the moment, but in these moods I find that my anxiety is even worse the next day. I should probably avoid drinking again until I have my period. I also cleaned the kitchen which is something as well.

To end on a more positive note, today I had a good day at work. At the end of each of the classes that I teach students can give their feedback. The feedback today was overwhelmingly positive. My favorite piece of feedback was this: “Thanks for helping me feel like a person again.” Jail is a pretty impersonal place so I’m glad I was able to help this person feel this way.

I feel better after writing this all down. I often tell my students that writing can be helpful but sometimes I don’t take my own advice. Time to continue the de-stress with a bath, more water, perhaps a book and maybe a relaxation meditation.

Long Awaited Fiction

I really have to be in the mood to write this story. I think it has been two years since I left those of you reading this story on an incredible cliffhanger. I’ve had an incredibly inspired productive day when it comes to this story. I wrote not one, not two, but three chapters to the story. I kind of what to finish it so I can get these stories out of my mind. To be honest, the story is done in my head. I just have to get it out on paper. I get how J.K. Rowling felt writing Harry Potter. It is literally on in my head. I’m not sure the ending is as good as the beginning. I re-read my earlier chapters and they were really good. I feel like I’m running out of steam, but you be the judge. I could be that I am slowly loosing my desire to smoke  but also I’ve changed a bit since I started writing this. Oddly, vaping publicly and being out with smoking at work has allowed me to be Mel. The character of Mel is not me, but based off of me if I could have gotten past caring what people think when I was her age. Fast-forward to now,  while my parents still don’t know that I smoke/vape or if they do there has never been a true ‘coming out’ moment for me, almost everyone else close to me in my life knows that this is part of me. I can talk about my former smoking to my classes without blushing and feeling super shameful. Anyhow, enough preamble.

Here are the links:

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

For those of you who have not read the story, it is what I call ‘PG-13 Smoking Fetish Fiction’. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I always found the best smoking fetish fiction focused on the characters, their motivations, their desire to smoke and what not. The sex was never important for me. Also, if you arrived at this blog because you are currently in the process of quitting smoking then don’t read this story. It reads like a big smoking fantasy. It could lead to relapse. I don’t want to be responsible for that. Read at your own risk.

Smoking is Gross

But I did it anyways and don’t regret it. Although I had been feeling pretty ambivalent about my plan to let myself smoke at the conference I go to and had actually been leaning towards not, my co-worker who had quit back in December decided she was going to smoke for the conference, then quit again. She did not pressure me, but part of me wanted to so I did. She admitted she got cigarettes that she finds unsatisfying so she wouldn’t feel tempted to buy more and continue when she was out. They were B&H superslilms -the green ones that look like the old menthol packs but that only gets your hopes up to be disappointed. They were indeed ‘less satisfying’ especially in terms of smoke body, volume and flavour. I smoked one, almost to the end no problem but felt like a whole cigarette was a waste on me because I didn’t finish it. 

Later that night, my other co-worker wanted to bum a smoke off of her, but she had left the cigarettes back in our hotel room. I kind of wanted to smoke with her so we found another co-worker who smokes and he gave us each one cigarette. He smokes Export ‘A’ greens and considering how little I’ve smoked recently they were way too strong for me. About 4 drags in, I was done. But I kept smoking. Mistake. About 30 minutes later, I tossed my cookies, felt better and didn’t smoke for the rest of the evening. I also managed to drink somewhat moderately and was not hung over the next day. Success! That was the plan and I stuck to it.

The next day, my roommate smoked after breakfast, but I wasn’t feeling it so I just kept her company. She smoked again after lunch and by then I figured I just wanted a few drags and asked her if she was open to sharing. She was cool with that, so every time she smoked, I would have 4 to 5 drags off her cigarette. I shared three cigarettes with her over the course of the day. We ended the second night of the conference with a couple of night caps and the guys we had them with were smokers. So we ended up joining them for a smoke. They gave us each a cigarette. Again, these were too strong for me, but this time I threw it out half smoked. We went to bed shortly after this. I had the best sleep. 

I haven’t smoked at all since then and although I had a few urges, like right after eating, I don’t feel depressed or super anxious like I did last time. I was enjoying smoking again by the end of the second day, but I’m going to focus on all the negatives because honestly there are more negatives than positives. 

Here they are:

1) Cigarettes taste gross. They also seem to reduce the deliciousness of food. 

2) I hate smelling like smoke. 

3) I hate being addicted. I don’t think my two days were enough to rehook me, but I enjoyed my time this year at the conference much more because the only thing distracting me from the speakers this year was my urge to pee.

4) Loss of sense of smell and slight persistent congestion.

That is all I can think of right now. My roommate felt a little bad for smoking this conference as her current boyfriend doesn’t know she has smoked because she quit as soon as she started dating him. I told her if she doesn’t want to smoke next year, we can not smoke together. Too early to tell what will happen next year. I’d be OK with being a once a year conference smoker or not. The draw isn’t as powerful as it used to be. Maybe one day there will be no draw.

I also noticed I don’t get sexually aroused anymore when I smoke. Smoking just isn’t as appealing in real life. 

I think my mindset needs to continue to be I can smoke if I want to but I choose not to because I prefer not smoking most of the time. As soon as I tell myself I can’t smoke, I want to more than before. Then it becomes an obsession followed by a compulsion to act on the obsession.

This conference was a successful exercise in moderation. Perhaps not with smoking, especially not on the first day, but definitely with drinking. I’m discovering the joys of not going overboard on alcohol. It is possible to drink moderately and still have a great time. It is the first year of the four years I’ve attended the conference that I haven’t been hungover for the duration of the conference. My next goal, zero hangover year? I think it is possible as I have not been hungover to date this year, not even after New Year’s Eve. 

As for smoking, as it becomes something I enjoy less and less, my motto will be I can smoke but I choose not to. Most of the time, I’m pretty sure I’m going to choose not to. I don’t have that many  opportunities and I’m definitely not going to be buying my own.

One interesting thing, I have zero anxiety smoking in front of people anymore. Everyone at work knows this is something I do on occasion so there was no fear of being seen by some one. If anything, part of me liked being seen, however briefly, as a smoker. Interesting, because when I started this blog I would give anything to not be seen when I smoked. While many smokers tie part of their identity to smoking, I don’t think that is what it is for me. For me, being able to be seen smoking is being able to be vulnerable in front of others, showing the world I’m not perfect. I think the other need it fulfills is connection. Not to the drug in the way Johan Hari posits that people become addicted to drugs but in the context of the smoking I did it fueled connection with the people that I smoked with. Can I fulfill these needs in other ways? Yes and that is what I plan to do moving forward. That said, I don’t see an issue with letting go once a year. If I want to.

Moderation with drinking will continue to be my goal as it is so much better that way. Healthier both for my body and mind. 

Waking Up By Sam Harris- A Book Report

This is the first book that I have finished reading in a long time. I’ll probably read it again before I fully grasp the impact it will have on my life because for me it was one of those life changing books; not because it taught me something I didn’t already know, but because it articulated so eloquently something I’ve deeply believed for a long time.

I’ve written about religion on my blog before and my views on spirituality. I’m agnostic when it comes to belief in God in that I don’t really think we will ever be able to prove God’s existence. I also don’t think it really matters if we do. I have a certain amount of awe about our world and how much we still don’t know about it, but to simply explain natural phenomena that we can’t explain (yet) by saying that is ‘proof of God’ isn’t good enough for me. Perhaps that makes me a full out atheist. I don’t like labels.

I’ve always considered myself spiritual, but never really been able to articulate what that means to people. In my post on spirituality, I sum up a lot of my views, but there was still something about being spiritual that was could not be explained by living my values or even just being with nature.

Enter: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion By Sam Harris. I think I first read about this book about two years ago. I follow a website called Brain Pickings on Facebook and they had written an article about the book and it seemed interesting, but much like unacknowledged or unobserved thoughts that come and go into our minds, I never gave the book a second thought. What rekindled interest? Oddly, it was this post on Dilbert writer’s Scott Adams’ blog entitled, Sam Harris Induces Cognitive Dissonance in Ben Affleck. The video for that is here.  This got me interested in him in general, so I went to his website and promptly started to devour the podcasts. Many of these were a useful, intellectual analysis of what is going on right now in America, unlike what is currently being posted by my friends on Facebook. It is critical of both sides and I appreciate that. Wanting more, like the obsessive fiend I can be, I bought Waking up on Thursday and have since read it cover to cover.

For me, this book explained to me something I have, albeit only briefly, experienced but could never put to words what it was.

These two paragraphs from the book sum it up:

We seem to do little more than lurch between wanting and not wanting. Thus, the question naturally arises: Is there more to life than this? Might it be possible to feel much better (in every sense of better) than one tends to feel? Is it possible to find lasting fulfillment despite the inevitability of change?

Spiritual life begins with a suspicion that the answer to such questions could well be “yes.” And a true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason, if only for a few moments at a time, and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self. Those who have never tasted such peace of mind might view these assertions as highly suspect. Nevertheless, it is a fact that a condition of selfless well-being is there to be glimpsed in each moment.

I think I’ve had a few of these moments through out my life. They were fleeting and Waking Up  assured me that this is completely normal. The missing link in my description of spirituality is self-transcendence or going beyond the self.

Typically, these moments have been when standing a top a tall mountain or skiing down a steep slope. More recently, when I ran the marathon in 2014, there were moments where I felt a oneness with the world and joyful beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before. My first marathon was such as awesome experience that I hesitate to run another for fear that I will be let down should I not have that feeling again.

The book takes your through five main topics: Spirituality, Consciousness, Self or rather the illusion of self, meditation as a tool for transcending self and finally a catch all chapter called Gurus, Death, Drugs and Other Puzzles. I found the first four chapters to be really strong so the last chapter seemed as if it were a grab bag of interesting topics (I’m glad they were there) but that didn’t have enough substance to be discussed in their own dedicated chapter.

There are some interesting exercises and really I think the book is meant as a ‘here is what spiritually might look like without religion’ rather than exactly how to access it yourself. The exercises are an interesting starting point but left me wanting to learn more. I think this is probably the point. I don’t think Sam Harris fancies himself an expert on any individual’s awakening. He is simply describing what worked for him and how one might go about being spiritual without religion.

A few quotes from the end of the book really hit home for me and in a way summarize the feel and intention of the book:

First:

It is within our capacity to recognize the nature of our thoughts, to awaken from the dream of being merely ourselves and, in this way, to become better able to contribute to the well-being of others. Spirituality begins with a reverence for the ordinary that can lead us to insights and experience that are anything but ordinary.

And then:

We are always and everywhere in the presence of reality. Indeed, the human mind is the most complex  and subtle expression of reality we have thus far encountered. This should grant profundity to the humble project of noticing what it is like to be you in the present. However numerous your faults, something in you at this moment is pristine- and only you can recognize it.

Open your eyes and see.

And so I will continue to try…

To meditate…

To eat mindfully…

To exercise…

To be present in nature…

Because all of these things, lead my existence to be better. Happier. Even so, sometimes it can be a struggle to do them because of another hedonistic desire pulling me in another direction. I’ve noticed everything actually worth doing in my life requires some effort, some level of what could be called discomfort to reach the pleasantness. I think I need to commit more intentionally to my meditation practice as I think this would help me shift my perspective to be more present focus and thus better able to appreciate tasks I currently think of as arduous or boring.

Interesting… 

Study Finds e-cigarettes Don’t Make Tobacco Use Appealing Again – http://wp.me/p4uyBp-Sa

I’m not a young person, but I think that vaping is a great harm reduction tool that has been demonized unfairly in North America. 

I’m glad they are studying this and finding what those of us who have vaped were saying all along. My own experience: vaping has pretty much killed any enjoyment I used to get out of smoking. I honestly think it is a key as to why my brief lapses with smoking have resulted in a reaction of “meh…”. 

If I were to use nicotine again, I wouldn’t smoke. I’d vape. That said, I really have no desire to use nicotine again. Cigarettes taste gross and I like the cleaner (no CO) buzz of straight nicotine vs smoked tobacco.

So there you have it: seeing people vape doesn’t cause hordes of young people to go off and try it. Some might, but other studies have shown they are the ones that would have been interested in smoking as well. 

Feeling Better…

I have to say, I was pretty taken aback by how awful I felt for about two days after the cigar puffing incident. If that is how I feel after a bit of cigar puffing, I don’t think I can let myself smoke at all at the conference or let myself and suffer the consequences. Honestly, I think I know how it will go. Get a little tipsy, convince myself it will be ok and then all bets are off for the next two days.

Here is what I have going for me: I don’t think I want to smoke. My slightly alcohol intoxicated brain might have other ideas but I’m going to keep visualizing not smoking at the conference (which is the opposite of what my brain normally does). I’m not sure, but I think my co-worker smoker friend has maybe quit. She has a new boyfriend and she typically quits for her relationships. I didn’t smell it on her the last time I saw her. If she isn’t smoking, I won’t be smoking. There are two other smokers, but I’m not staying in a room with them and so the likelihood of me  asking them for cigarettes is low. I know this sounds like a lot of obsessive strategizing, but this is new territory for me. Prior to my 9 month stint as a full-fledged nicotine addict, the only kind of scheming I did for years was orchestrating opportunities to smoke. I became very good at taking advantage of opportunities to smoke. My plan late last year to let myself smoke every three months was really a rehash of an old plan I had done before. I had a few phases I went through when it came to being an opportunistic smoker.

The first phase was wanting to smoke, but saying no because I didn’t want people to know I wanted to smoke.  Phase 2 was secret smoking. I would buy a pack. Smoke alone and in secret. Become disgusted with myself. Throw out pack. Not smoke for long time. Repeat. The third phase was ‘drunken smoking’ where I would get drunk enough that I wouldn’t care want people thought when I smoked and then I’d use my drunkenness as an excuse for smoking. Phase 4 more regular secret smoking followed by a realization that I was becoming dependent on nicotine. Phase 5 was vaping all the nicotine because I couldn’t bear to smoke all the time.

I guess you could call what I am in now Phase 6. Quit phase. The phase that started because I was no longer getting pleasure from nicotine, only relief from withdrawal. What have my lapses during this phase taught me? Unless I use quite a bit more than a puff or a few puffs, I get relatively little benefit from smoking. Truth be told, I didn’t even really want to puff on the cigar last Saturday. It wouldn’t have been that hard to say, No thank you. I’m not sure why I didn’t. While the cigar tasted good, was it worth the days of depression that followed? Nope.

Given that cigarettes don’t even taste good and that I will have to smoke at least a whole one to get any sort of ‘pleasure’ from one and really I can’t even be sure of that. I’m thinking what is the point?  My plan will be to stay sober enough to make this decision because my other goal for that conference is to not be hungover. You are probably thinking: well don’t drink. True, that is the easiest way not to get hungover but I’m actually pretty good at drinking moderately in my old age. Moderate drinking starting later in the evening it will be.

So the plan: pretend cigarettes are like strawberries, might taste/feel good in the moment, but the consequences are just not worth the pleasure of the moment. I guess we shall see in  19 days.

Insanity 2.0?

They say doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If so, I’m definitely crazy.

Went to a gathering last night. I was the designated driver. Avoided smoking cigars (Backwoods) the first time people when out for them but could not turn down a few puffs off a large Cohibas cigar. It was the first full sized cigar that has tasted delicious to me. Didn’t inhale. Didn’t feel anything, not unlike the puff I took off my co-worker’s cigarette. Except the cigarette tasted gross and the cigar tasted delicious. 

If I had felt fine today, I probably wouldn’t be rethinking (cancelling) my plan to smoke in March if I did. 

So today I woke up and I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I’ve been emotional all day, weepy and by the way I’m feeling I could swear that must have been drinking last night. Like drinking heavily when I had nothing. It feels very similar to the first three weeks after I quit vaping regularly. I have no urges or environmental cues to vape or smoke right now so I don’t crave it but this feeling is what led me to smoke and vape regularly and it isn’t good. I now remember why I can’t occasionally smoke. I’m actually considering getting my vaping stuff ready with some 0 mg juice to bring with me so if I do feel like I ‘need’ to smoke, I can do that because I don’t even get a buzz or anything from smoking anymore. Just shitty rebound anxiety/depression. Not worth it. And the lack pleasure while actually smoking is decreasing my drive the actually do it. Here is ‘The plan: 2.0’. I’m allowed to smoke if I feel like it but I won’t feel like it. If I feel like it, vape 0 mg first before actually smoking or vaping nicotine.

It is starting to be like my intolerances to a few foods. Like strawberries. I love strawberries but I can’t eat them anymore. Took me a bit to link the severe GI cramping I had to strawberries but once in did, I felt really sad I couldn’t have them anymore so I tried eating them again and boom cramping just like usual. It is like a lactose intolerant person eating lots of ice cream without taken a Lactase. Nicotine and tobacco in general are my kryptonites. It is getting easier which I am so grateful for. 

Hopefully I bounce back from this quickly.

Is Nicotine addictive? Short answer: Yes Long Answer: It is complicated

By Alyssa Strong (LoveVapePlus.com) “If policy makers reject the scientific truth about nicotine and make e-cigarettes more scarce, then the likely result is that more Americans will die from smoking.” – Forbes When you think of nicotine, tobacco cigarettes are most likely the first thing that come to mind. This is where the stigma […]

via Vaping: Can You Develop a Nicotine Addiction? —

So I want to comment on this article as nicotine addiction is something that I have first hand experience with. I mostly agree with this article, but I think we should be cautious in understating the addictiveness of nicotine.

Now, for the main factor: nicotine found in traditional cigarettes. “It’s the addictive chemical used in cigarettes to keep a smoker buying!” Well, actually, did you know this is actually not a fact? Due to the fact that nicotine, by itself, has been found to not be addictive, there is no real evidence to show that nicotine is the primary or even the runner-up for addictive chemicals in cigarettes. You can find over 4000 chemicals within a traditional cigarette. It is pretty easy to see that with such a large amount of chemicals being used, there is most likely more than one at fault for the issue behind smoking cigarettes. Whether it is one chemical or the combination of the chemicals together, we do not know at this time. We do know, however, that nicotine solely is not the issue.

We are blaming a very crucial health concern on a stimulant, just like caffeine, that plays no role in the matter. This is due to many issues, but mostly it is from a lack of study and media. You see an ad on television or elsewhere telling you nicotine is addictive and that is generally what you are going to agree with.

I can agree that it is not only nicotine that makes cigarettes addictive. There are in fact studies that show that nicotine on its own isn’t as addictive as the combination of chemicals present in cigarette smoke and that smokers could be dependent not only on the nicotine but on the cocktail of chemicals. This explains why many smokers switch back to cigarettes saying they are not the same.

Is nicotine addictive? I think (and this is anecdotal, an opinion based on my personal experience and what I have read) that nicotine on its own is less addictive than when it is obtained through smoking tobacco. I also think that nicotine dependence has more to do with delivery method and spikes in blood nicotine levels rather than the drug itself. The addiction that can develop with vaping nicotine has as much to do with the drug as it does with forming habits and psychological cues to use. This Forbes article referenced in the above article has a good quote:

Many e-cigarettes deliver less nicotine per puff and generally produce lower blood nicotine levels (and, thus, brain levels) than cigarettes do. However, with access to increasingly sophisticated devices and more experience as a vaper, the user can attain a blood level of nicotine that is comparable to that produced by smoking. Still, it takes longer for vaped nicotine to reach its peak level than for tobacco-burned nicotine.

These two variables – how high the level of nicotine is in the bloodstream and how fast that level is achieved — are important in determining the addictiveness of any abused drug. As expected, Foulds’s team found that subjects who used weak “ciga-likes” (first generation e-cigarettes that physically resemble actual cigarettes) had among the lowest scores on a test of “dependency,” or addiction. Also, the length of time as a vaper was positively correlated with the strength of dependence. As Foulds suggests, “we might actually need e-cigarettes that are better at delivering nicotine because that’s what’s more likely to help people quit.”

So as the devices get better at delivering nicotine, I think we will see higher dependence. I used a sub-ohm tank which is fairly good at delivering nicotine. In fact, per puff, I noticed no real difference in ‘drug hit’ vs a conventional cigarette when using higher nicotine juices such as 9 mg and 12 mg. Granted, most people that sub-ohm vape don’t end up going that high, but I can tell you if you are vaping that regularly you probably will become dependent.

That said, do I think nicotine is the problem? No. It has been shown in countless studies to be fairly safe to use. I think that is what should be focused on. Nicotine, a stimulant like caffeine, is safe use. Nicotine, like caffeine, can also result in dependence. People need to stop worrying about that though and focus on the fact that these devices are being demonized for being ‘less safe’ for reasons outside of the addictiveness of nicotine. I think vaping is the best harm-reduction for people looking to quit smoking but who are maybe unwilling to go nicotine-free. I’d probably still be using nicotine if I had a job that could accommodate my fairly heavy need to vape. Vaping is not allowed indoors where I live. It is treated like smoking. Therefore, I spent most of my work days in nicotine withdrawal, a fog of nervous anxiety that was instantly relieved the moment I got into my car at lunch and at the end of my work day and vaped. I’m glad I quit and for me the negatives outweighed the positives. I continued to vape nicotine free for a bit, but for me, it really isn’t the same.

That said, vaping has ruined cigarette smoking for me. Part of me wants it but when I take a puff, I find it totally disappointing. Do I regret my 9 month stint as a total nicotine fiend? Nope. Not one bit. Do I want to go back? Nope. I actually really enjoy being off nicotine.

Happy New Year! 

I’ve been thinking about posting for awhile but just couldn’t tear myself away from my sewing long enough to write anything. 

Since I posted The Reboot, I failed exactly once by taking one drag (yes, a single drag) off my co-worker’s cigarette. It was anti-climatic and made me question if I want to smoke at all in March.

But my desire to smoke decreased so much after saying I would periodically allow myself to smoke vs telling myself I couldn’t smoke that I’m pretty sure my desire come more from doing something I’ve told myself I can’t do versus from the action itself. I guess we’ll see where I’m at in March. If I feel like it, I have permission; if I don’t feel like it, I won’t. 

I’ve been mostly keeping busy with sewing. Made a couple of baby quilts and placemats over Christmas. 

I only have one resolution: put stuff away. 

Now to put myself to bed. 

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