A couple of months ago, I decided to forgo my normal tea and have a coffee. You might be saying, what significance does this have? At the point it is about 9:30 in the morning and nobody is awake at my house. I drink the coffee. It tastes delicious. I think, “This coffee drinking thing isn’t that bad.” About 15 minutes later, I feel super anxious. I get flashbacks to my smoking experiments where I felt like I needed a cigarette. I felt like I needed something, anything to calm me down. An alcoholic drink? No, it is too early and no I don’t actually want that. So I take some deep breaths and try to mindfully figure out where this anxiety is coming from. I take some more deep breaths and notice my heart is racing. I have no anxious thoughts. I just feel it in my body. So I just exist with the anxiety for a bit until I realize why. It was the coffee. While I regularly consume tea, tea has less caffeine in it. It has just enough to render me alert, not enough to send me into miniature panic attack. I was essentially high on caffeine and didn’t like it. My roommate says you get past that feeling, but I’m not sure that I am willing to. I realized that I don’t drink coffee because of how it makes me feel, not because I dislike the taste.

I work with people with addictions for a living, so I often think about addiction. Even when this wasn’t my line of work, it was often a topic that would cross my mind. In the past, it was something that both terrified and intrigued me. I bought into the fear side of anti-smoking propaganda quite readily. But the propaganda didn’t work. Mainly because it wasn’t honest. I think if it had been honest and said something to the effect of this: People smoke because it feels good. They keep smoking because eventually their bodies get used to it and they need it to feel good. It can be hard to stop. Once you’ve tried it, your brain will always remember what it felt like and might want you to do it again, even if you didn’t like the way it tastes or smells, your brain remember that it felt good and it wants to feel that way again. Even if you get sick the first time, your brain remembers the high it felt, not the sickness that came later,  That might have been a more effective message.

The problem with anti-smoking propaganda, is that it seems to be written by people who don’t smoke. It tastes gross, you’ll smell gross, it is highly addictive and will kill you. I would always ask, “So if all of that is true, why do people smoke?” That is because they left out the small and important detail that I answered myself after I tried it. I also find it interesting how this Wise Geek article summed it up, “Most people that smoke do so because they can’t stop.” Really? Really? I call bullshit on this. I will not deny that smoking is probably one of the hardest things to quit. I’ve seen my father quit more times than I can count. But to say that the majority of people you see smoking, really just do it because they can’t stop, I call B.S. on.  I happen to believe that if you really want to quit, you can. I’m not saying it will be easy but that I think this is the type of myth that keeps people trapped in their addiction. Some part of the person wants to keep engaging the behaviour, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. Back to the coffee story- when I hear someone say, “I really don’t like coffee that much, but I’m so addicted to caffeine that I can’t stop.” I actually hear, “I actually really like the way I feel after I have had a cup of coffee and hate that I feel terrible when I don’t and I am unwilling to go through physical withdrawal and psychological reprogramming to give it up.”

The truth is that drugs feel good. Otherwise people wouldn’t do them. If you are saying “Duh!”, you might be surprised that there are people out there that have no idea. I recently watched the documentary, “Breaking the Taboo” about the war on drugs. It talked about how prohibition doesn’t work and I totally agree. And yet, we are still doing prohibition on smoking. While I would never encourage someone to try smoking, nor I am upset about the smoking bans in general, I do think trying to ban people from buying cigarettes if they were born after 2000, see here, is ridiculous.

I think we need to be more honest in our education if we want people to choose not to do drugs. I have no desire to try cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, MDMA or any other drug probably because of my experience with tobacco. But my lack of desire isn’t born of fear. It is born of the knowledge that all of these drugs might be fun to do, but is worth it? Right now, with prohibition and lack of regulation, you might not even be getting a pure drug. Do I want the desire of another drug planted in my brain?

I’m not sure how or why I googled, “What does heroin feel like?”. Curious I guess and I figured a Google search was safer than actually trying it. Not that I wanted to try it. Found a Buzzfeed article that was a repost of something on Reddit that answered the question. It helped me understand a few things.

Drug propaganda often says stuff like it only takes one time to be addicted. This terrified me when I was younger and is really not entirely true. It may be true for some, especially those using drugs to fill an emotional void. What is true, is it can only take once to plant a desire that wasn’t previously there. This desire can be powerful and can drive future use. Is it addiction yet? Probably not. Most addictions develop innocuously, slowly over time kind of how it is depicted in the article. That felt nice, I’m going to do this again. Wow, I function better while using this drug and then over time I need this drug to function. Without it I feel terrible. Now I want to quit.

Secondly, it made me realize that I have never gotten to that point with any drug (nicotine, alcohol and caffeine) that I have used really, where the negative effects of using the drug now outweigh the positive. Where my use is severely impacting my life and my health. But then again, perhaps that is my hyper vigilance coming into play. I consume caffeine daily, much like the majority of adults- anywhere between 1-2 cups of tea a day. I drink alcohol semi-regularly- a glass of wine often with or after dinner, with the occasional binge (more than three drinks in one night) on weekends (about once every 4 months). And I log pretty much every time I smoke here on this blog, so it isn’t something I do more than occasionally. Alcohol would be the only one I would see any addiction potential at this point and I feel like I am pretty careful about.

That brings me to today. I just got back from a conference for work where, for the past three days, I’ve smoked about more regularly (or frequently?) than I ever have in the past. It was a very conscious decision, however, it lacked my previous fear of addiction. I brought some of my pipes  and my favorite pipe tobacco as one of my co-workers was interested in trying smoking a pipe. I also brought some cigars, but we didn’t end up smoking them on the trip.

Now all my current co-workers know about my quirky pipe collection as they saw us smoking the pipe in my co-workers car on the way down to the conference. If you’ve read this blog from the beginning you’d realize that at earlier points in my life, this would have mortified me. During the car ride, my co-worker, mentioned that she would love to try rolling the pipe tobacco into cigarettes. It was like she read my mind. So I bought some rolling papers and I proceeded to try my hand at rolling cigarettes. I now know why people use tubes and a machine or even just a machine because hand rolling is hard. My cigarettes (if you could call them that) looked more like joints. They smoked ok once you got past the paper end. A little harsh to inhale because of the lack of proper filter, but overall not terrible. I was a bit worried they’d be too strong, but they really weren’t. They were actually kind of nice.

The first day was my heaviest smoking day. I smoked two bowls, one pipe tobacco cigarette and two regular cigarettes I bummed off my co-worker. The next day, I smoked two cigarettes- one after dinner and one right before bed and yesterday I smoked a pipe tobacco cigarette after lunch and a cigar just before bed. In retrospect, I smoked too much the first day and didn’t feel super awesome. The other two days were better levels, although I probably could have smoked more given the opportunity.

One thing I noticed this time, is that while occasionally the idea that having a cigarette (or just smoking in general) would pop into my brain it was actually pretty easy to ignore. Occasionally, I’d also get a slight physical feeling that my brain figured a cigarette could fix and while the feeling was uncomfortable, I could be with it, without feeling pre-occupied with it. I’m guessing this is what a craving feels like when you are not terrified of addiction. As I write this, I currently have a bit of that feeling.It feels like hunger and sometimes nausea, but I know I’m not hungry because I just ate. It sucks, but is not unbearable. I’ve decided to abstain from smoking for a bit as fun as this stint of semi-regular has been. I guess you could more aptly call it a binge, since it was a much higher level of smoking than my usual.

I guess as an occasional smoker, I’m well practiced in getting over withdrawal, but I think it might be a bit worse after three consecutive days smoking. That said, I have no developed patterns of smoking so I have less that triggers my smoking than a person that smokes more regularly would. I imagine physical withdrawal must be worse for a regular smoker too, but maybe not. I just know that smoking would make me feel better right now and I’m choosing not to smoke. At least I’m not anxious right now. That was the worst withdrawal symptom I’ve experienced. Knowing that in a few days I will feel like my non-smoking self again is comforting. I think I like living in both smoking and non-smoking worlds, even if the transitions between those worlds are difficult.

Now I know some people have asked me why bother? The answer that me and the other occasional smokers I talked to over the past few days came up with is that we all really love smoking. The withdrawal right now is worth being able to smoke occasionally. Actually, these past three days were a good reminders as to why I don’t smoke regularly. I started writing a post on that topic that I will finish and post later this week. For now, I can empathize with anyone quitting smoking. I can tell you that it gets better on the other side. You probably will still want to smoke, but you won’t need to. You might still psychologically crave it. That will be harder than the physical withdrawal. I find rather than flat out saying that I can’t smoke, which increases my desire, telling myself that I can smoke if I want to, but that I am choosing not to for a variety of reasons helps me get past moments of desire. Until next time…