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Closet Fascination

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

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Smoking and the Media: The Handmaid’s Tale

*This post contains spoilers, stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled*

I recently finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I am currently halfway through the TV series. I’m enjoying both, but my inner fetishist isn’t happy that they decided to practically remove all the smoking from the book. I mean, I get it. When Margaret Atwood wrote the book, smoking was commonplace, despite the fact that we knew it was unhealthy. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the future, the TV show puts that future around right now, when smoking is less common, but still exists. But only bad people smoke now in TV and movies, unless we are talking period pieces, so there is no way we could make the main characters smokers.

Smoking is something that is forbidden in the world of the Handmaid’s Tale. But people still smoke. They buy cigarettes on the black market and if you are powerful and well connected enough you might get your hands on some. The Wives are often referenced and still drinking and smoking as they have their handmaiden’s to have children on their behalf as they are barren.

In the show, we see Serena Joy, the wife of the Commander smoke twice so far. Both times have been right before the Ceremony, where she must watch her husband have sex with the Offred, the Handmaiden. She smokes far more than that in the book. In fact, Offred comments frequently on how much she’d like to smoke when she sees Serena Joy smoking. Interestingly, when she gets Serena Joy to give her a cigarette in the book, Offred is excited to smoke the cigarette, but then realizes that with the match she could burn the house down and presumably hides the match (this is alluded to later) and gets rid of the cigarette (not sure about this, but she doesn’t speak of it again).

When she goes out to Jezebel’s with the Commander she smokes and when she continues to have regular sex with Nick she smokes every time she sees him. The more risks she takes, the more she smokes. Smoking in the Handmaid’s Tale is a symbol of freedom, but also of rebellion. It is taboo breaking at its finest. As much as I am enjoying the television adaptation, for me it losing a little something cutting all that smoking out. But I guess it wouldn’t seem like ‘now’ if everyone smoked, now would it?

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On a roll…

So I drove by myself a lot this weekend, meaning I spent a lot of time thinking about how Strange and Beautiful might go. I have the story outlined until where it began initially so now I just have to get it written out.

The unfortunate side effect of writing smoking fiction or even outlining possible story lines for smoking fiction is it made me really want to smoke. The urge was the worst when I was hungry. If I hadn’t correctly identified what I really needed, I was pretty close to buying a pack of cigarettes today.  I had the exact scheme and even how I’d get away with smoking it before I got home to my husband.

But I don’t want to start that again, where I’m smoking behind his back and I really don’t actually want to start smoking, despite what my fantasies say. That is what my 9 months of vaping and subsequent quit gave me. I’m able to separate reality vs fantasy. The urge I had today was the type that frequently led to me purchasing cigarettes and smoking in the past, but I guess I figured out how to ride these out.

What worked for those of you looking for tips: knowing that my desire in the moment no matter how big, was not bigger than my desire to be honest with myself, not start smoking again and also recognizing that it was all in my head, not from a legitimate need. I needed food and I think because I was thinking about my story, my brain was like you need to smoke. To be fair, when I was actively using nicotine that typically is how I felt when I needed to vape.

Anyhow, I got home and instead of doing chores or what not, I started to pen Chapter 24. So here it is: Chapter 24. Enjoy!

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. 

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. 

Watch “What It’s Like to Have ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety” on YouTube

My cousin posted this on my Facebook. My reaction was: this explains my life. 

I noticed that my thoughts of smoking have increased recently. I’m dealing with some stressful stuff. My dad is currently in a bad manic state. He is drinking and driving and I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t worry. To be honest, it has been hard keeping up appearances that everything is OK. 

I noticed my cravings to smoke have increased, but it is really that my anxiety is sky high. I know I don’t want to smoke, that it is just my mind looking for something to decrease the anxiety. 

I’m doing my best to cope, but I’m looking into going to talk to my doctor and a counsellor, just to have someone outside the situation to talk to. 

I haven’t been on meds since I was a teen, but maybe it is something to consider.

Without further ado: 

150 days…already?

To be honest, I feel like I quit vaping nicotine, recently. 150 days it turns out is 4 months and 28 days so almost 5 months. 5 months is almost half a year. What? Where did the time go?

Thoughts of using again pop into my head periodically, but quickly dissipate. I think I will deal with those types of thoughts for the rest of my life. Or at least as long as I find smoking sexually attractive. I have enough other ways to deal with anxiety that my anxiety no longer triggers cravings for nicotine.

Also- I think this is the longest I’ve gone sans tobacco in a very long time. I guess only time will tell. The hardest social situation smoking wise I will have to face is still 5 months away. The conference I attend every year for work. If my work friend isn’t smoking, it will be easy. We will not smoke/vape together. I likely will bring my vaping gear, load up with nicotine-free juice and vape. Of all things, I think it will make a difference being able to ‘join in’ without actually ‘joining in’.

I have another goal for that conference. I normally get entirely too drunk. Then I spend the next day too hungover and I don’t enjoy the conference speakers. My goal for next year is to not exceed three drinks over the course of each evening. So a total of 6 drinks total… I think is is reasonable, it will just take some planning. My downfall last year was free wine at dinner and buying $10 worth of twonie bar tickets. So no drinks at dinner and I am going to only bring enough money to buy two drinks. Reasoning: you normally win or get drinks from co-workers over the course of the evening. Three drinks is my upper limit recently without feeling shitty the next day. My tolerance has way decreased since I’ve started moderating. Not to mention, I feel better the next day.

Just some random things I’ve been thinking about. Because most days I don’t have cravings anymore. Most days are exactly like before I started using nicotine regularly. But special events have always been when I’ve engaged in smoking and/or excessive drinking and this conference is literally where I started my pattern of more frequent, than everyday smoking. I teach relapse prevention and I teach my students to have a plan to prevent relapse. So I’m working on the plan… it isn’t perfect yet, but I guess I have 5 more months to perfect it. 

Challenge Day 28: Favourite Movie and Quote

Carpe, carpe. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

The above quotes is from my favorite movie of all time. The Dead Poet’s Society. I rented this movie on a whim when I was in grade 9 and loved it from the first time I watched it.

I’ve always loved this movie. The message about seizing the day, going after your dream, living life to its fullest has always resonated with me.

I think a large part of it is because I really identify with the character Todd Anderson. I didn’t always know why but today I figured it out. Both Todd and I suffer from anxiety.

I actually have only been putting this together recently. I can’t believe I never connected the dots with this before now, but I think I’ve been anxious my whole life. It certainly explains a lot. It explains my overeating, my compulsive use of nicotine and why I was drawn/liked smoking to begin with. As well as various other coping mechanisms developed along the way.

Like Todd, I suffer from social anxiety. How I cope: normally if the social situation has food, I eat the whole time I am at the event. I think this could be why I feel drained at the end of a drain- less so now that I work with adults and don’t like I have to ‘put on a show’ for them as much. If you were to ask me which vape or smoke I miss the most it would be the one right after work. Probably because I feel totally anxious right as my work day ends. Today, I used deep breathing in the car to calm myself down.

I used to think that I was getting really hungry at the end of the day but it turns out it is anxiety.

My next ongoing challenge: figure out the healthiest ways to deal with my anxiety. Meditation works, so keeping up with that will be key. Exercise works. The smoking/vaping thing didn’t work out so well. Eating isn’t working so hot either. So learning how t change that will be my next challenge.

Meditation:Peaceful Sleep Meditation

 

 

Challenge Day 27: Sliding Door Moments

Day 27: Sliding door moments: pick one or two moments from your life that could have drastically changed the course of your life.

I’ve been looking forward to this prompt for a while but when I sat down to write tonight, it was actually really hard to pick just one or two moments. I’ve often thought about this question in relation to my smoking. But the thing is: all the time I could have started smoking regularly, I always picked to not start. And when I imagined my life and how it would be different, ultimately I think would have ended up exactly where I am now only with more exposure to carcinogens. The only difference possibly being I might still be vaping nicotine as perhaps I’d be used to being in withdrawal when I can’t smoke/use nicotine and wouldn’t remember things being different. So that sliding door moment, it turns out is actually pretty mundane despite the amount of the thought I gave it.

Another moment: My friends really wanted me to go to the same university as them, but I chose to go off on my own to another city. Basically, my life would be completely different. I’d have different friends, I wouldn’t have met my husband or some of my best friends. It is hard to even imagine. I think I might have still become a teacher at some point though.

Another moment: Not moving into the city when I was a teen, staying with the friends that I had known since elementary school. First, I would have remained a part of drama productions, something that I stopped doing when I moved to the city because I didn’t get any parts. I would have never played rugby and who know what I would have picked to go to school for after high school. A large part of why I chose to go into science was because of my biology teacher in High School.

I’d go on, but the more I think about it, while aspects of my life would have been drastically different, there are something things that appear to be really consistent about who I am that would have probably resulted in very similar things happening in different ways.

Like the smoking thing: it eventually happened in the city, I would have eventually tried it in the town I left. I guess a totally different sliding door that I have trouble actually imagining is: what if I had never tried smoking. So never taken that first puff at 16, never hung around with the smokers in the smoking car, attempting to inhale, never trying again and succeeding at the age of 17, never buying my own cigarettes at the age of 18. I think I can’t imagine it because I think it was going to happen eventually.

I feel the same about teaching. I fought becoming a teacher for so long but everything I loved doing involved teaching. So eventually my path brought me to teaching. Same with my interest in psychology. I’m not a counsellor, but now I do a job that combines my love of psychology with my love of teaching.

But then again, perhaps each change, changes parts of us resulting in completely different realities. My mind hurts just trying to think about it…

Meditation: Guided Awareness-for Obsessive Thoughts

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