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Closet Fascination

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

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. 

The Reboot

I’m currently watching the U.S. election results pour in and it has reminded me that nothing in life is guaranteed. Polls are often wrong. I mean, they were wrong about how close this race is. No clear winner yet. But being the introspective person that I am, I’ve started thinking about where I’m going from here, since I find it more comforting than imagining Donald Trump as president. 

Starting Monday, I’m going to add back the following: 

1) Up the exercise. In addition to walking the dog, I’m going to add three higher intensity exercise days of at least 30 minutes

2) Slow down when I’m eating and stop when I’m full.

3) If the urge to smoke arises again before March, puff on the vaporizer (nicotine free). 

I didn’t notice any sort of ‘withdrawal’ from my slight slip yesterday. All it confirmed in my mind is I don’t want to smoke. So you might ask why the weird permission to smoke every 3 months plan, I proposed yesterday? My rationalization is that my desire to smoke has less to actually smoking and more to do with the fact that I told myself I couldn’t. Giving myself a full-time free pass led to very habitual use. Plus, I know I don’t want that now. That killed the part of me that thought regular smoking might be good. To be clear, 3 months is the minimum. If I have no desire, I’m not going to smoke for the sake of smoking.

So here is to my reboot. May the odds be ever in my favor. 

201 days with no incidents…until today

I guess my counter gets reset today. I knew this was coming and maybe I wanted it to at least on some level. 

Relapse. A tiny one, but a relapse nonetheless. 

I had some old stale cigars. I smoked half of one, inhaling only once. You don’t have to inhale to absorb the nicotine, but it tasted so disgusting, that I put it out before I would have normally. I was expecting a more noticeable effect, but I guess nicotine tolerance doesn’t disappear that quickly. 

The good: it took care of my desire to smoke, extinguished it with the disgustingness of the flavour. I felt more at peace than I have in days like it was exactly what I needed. I’m guessing that is partially from the nicotine though too. This was the feeling I liked about smoking/using nicotine but that I feel is lost in regular use. I’ve been abstainant for long enough that my body hasn’t demanded more yet, although in the past, that normally came the next day. Perhaps it won’t come at all. My mindset is different now though. In the past, there was always a small part of me that wanted to smoke regularly. Now, I know that I for sure, deep down don’t want that. So think the likelihood of this starting something is low. 

The bad: I’m not sure if there is a bad. I mean, I don’t feel bad about giving into my desire. Maybe I should? The only bad I see is a potential false sense of confidence for the future. My plan is to keep use very, very occasional. Previously, prior to my 9 month regular use stint, I was an opportunist. The problem with that is if the opportunity pops up too often, it would be easy to slip into regular use. I don’t think I’d end up smoking, I could see it escalating to the point of me vaping regularly. It might be good to set some guidelines, like three months at least between use, not more than one session (one pipe, one cigarillo, one cigarette, one vape session) and no consecutive days of use. Kind of like people have moderate drinking guidelines, but they would be my super moderate smoking/vaping nicotine guidelines.

Is it stupid to think that I could moderate after failing so fantasticly in the past? Perhaps. Abstaining indefinitely, I don’t think will work long term. For me it sets up my fetish, making me want it even more. My blog is good evidence of that. I get to the point where I’m psychologically itching for it. I think 3 months is a good waiting time, but if I don’t fancy it, I’ll go longer.

I want moderation in all areas of my life. I’m tired of living in the extremes. I’m almost there with exercise, although I need to add a bit more back. Food I struggle with, but it is getting easier, I just have to pay more attention to bring full, especially when I eat out. Also, eating regularly rather than letting myself get ravenously hungry. Drinking enough water throughout the day, this I’m still bad with.

If anything, the free pass every three months might remove the taboo enough that I don’t actually feel the drive to smoke/ use nicotine as much. Here is hoping. For now I will enjoy the peace. 

The Nature of Beast: The Danger of Letting Things Slide

 I was doing so well, but alas I have a cycle to repeat. Or so it seems… This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten cravings nor will it be my last. I find my cravings are worse when I’ve let other things slide in my life. I stopped tracking food, mostly because I felt like I didn’t need to anymore. But it turns out, for someone like me, it is the recipe for backsliding into old habits. Mindless eating habits. Eating to the point of overfull. Ironically, overfull triggers a craving for nicotine to help me disgest. 

I stopped exercising (other than walking my dog). This was a subtle backslide, but there nonetheless. 

I could waste time beating myself up over it or use the backslide as a way to rationalize smoking or even vaping nicotine again. But the truth is, if I were taking better care of myself my cravings wouldn’t be as strong. 

That said, there is no denying the strongly sexual nature of these cravings. As I abstain for longer, my fetish cravings grow stronger. I think that while a large part of my attraction is to that of the image of the smoker, my smoking fetish is more about giving in to a darker side. I used to think it was partially tied to addiction, which really creeped me out. But I found nothing sexy, at least long term, about being addicted to nicotine, nor do I find it attractive in others. When I was deepest into my addiction, smoking and vaping were actually the least attractive to me fetish wise. But now that I’ve put them on the “will not do” list, they’ve become infinitely more attractive. The attraction isn’t necessarily about smoking, although that is how it mostly plays out sexually for me. The attraction is about self-denial, then giving into pleasure whatever that pleasure may be. It is a cycle that plays out with both food and exercise in my life as well. It is all connected. Giving in always feels good at first, but then becomes tedious whether it be for good or for smoking.
How to find a satisfying balance? I feel like finding balance is like the quest for the holy grail or the Philosopher’s Stone. I guess the only way is to keep working at it. 

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