June 22, 2014

E-cigs, smoking, addiction and nicotine. The facts.

Filed under: Rants! — Tags: , , , , — Ann @ 8:45 am
Um, yes it is.

Um, yes it is.

A certain San Francisco radio personality brags that she quit smoking months ago, when in fact she’s switched to e-cigarettes. Another friend tells me on the phone that she “hasn’t smoked a cigarette in ages!” — but all she did was switch over to the electronic variety. The insidious aspect of these new nicotine delivery systems is that they lull people into thinking they’ve given up the habit when in fact they’re still as addicted as they ever were.

Here’s why.

I smoked over a pack a day for 20+ years. When I finally quit in my mid-30s, I quit cold turkey. I’d been reading an article about a little girl with cystic fibrosis whose mother had to hold her upside down daily to clear the mucus from her lungs and I thought, “Here’s a child who would do anything to have healthy lungs, and I’m voluntarily destroying mine.” I quit the next morning. And oh, it was hard. I carried around Jacquelyn Rogers’ “You Can Quit Smoking” book with me everywhere I went, so I could frequently refer to it for motivation. At the time, people still smoked at their desks in offices, so I brought carrot sticks to work and chewed them all day long. After a week or so the physiological craving subsided, but that’s when the tough work began: dealing with the emotional/psychological addiction. In short, I was depressed. I felt I’d lost my best friend. I couldn’t imagine doing anything without my cigarettes: how could I get through work, how could I drive? How could I face the day? In those days I spent two weeks each summer at a cabin in Lake Tahoe with my family. That first year, I distinctly remember wondering how I was going to get through my vacation without smoking. And I remember one awful day, sitting outside on the deck of the Tahoe cabin, sobbing because I couldn’t smoke. That’s nicotine addiction.

Because, before quitting, I had used cigarettes for everything: when angry, to celebrate, when anxious, while reading, with my coffee, with my wine, to wake up, after meals, to help with boring commutes, to deal with grief, everything. I never felt my feelings — I had cigarettes to do that for me. Nicotine is no different from any other drug in that aspect — it’s used by smokers to self-medicate.

On the other hand, if you’re using e-cigarettes to help you quit, more power to you. Unfortunately, only one-fifth of people who tried e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid succeeded in quitting long-term, according to a recent study published in the journal Addiction. However, quit-smoking rates in general are dismal (according to drugfree.org, 35% of American smokers tried to quit last year and only 6% succeeded) — but millions have beat the odds. According to the New York Times, only 19% of American adults smoke, down from 42% fifty years ago. That’s a lot of successful quitters.

The bottom line: if you’ve decided to give up cigarettes forever, good for you. Quit cold turkey if you can, or use every aid at your disposal if you can’t — e-cigs, hypnosis, patches, lozenges, gum, prescribed antidepressants, acupuncture, individual or group therapy, whatever works. Just please don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve given up the habit until you’ve actually given up the habit. If you’re still reaching for something to suck down into your lungs, you’re still a smoker. If you’re still nicotine-dependent, you’re still an addict. When you are no longer a smoker, you’ll know it. And you’ll feel a rush of freedom like never before.

June 1, 2014


Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays,Rants!,The Healing Project — Tags: , , , , — Ann @ 11:44 am

Being Alive
I recently met a young woman who is one of those people born to be in the healing arts. Her very presence is a blessing. As is often the case with bright-light individuals, she is deeply into yoga, spirituality, and living cleanly and lightly on the Earth. We got to chatting during a recent gathering and decided to keep in touch via Facebook. When I logged on yesterday, there was a Friend request from her.

From cryptic comments she’d made, I knew that her long-time partner has cancer. She’d made recent references to treatments that went well, and then not so well. I know that he is a young man, and because my partner was also a young man when he developed testicular cancer a decade or more ago, I assumed that that was the brand of C they were dealing with. And because all turned out well for my partner – and for Lance Armstrong, who famously battled that very same cancer — I assumed all would be well.

After she and I Friended each other I browsed her Wall. I saw her partner for the first time. The two of them together look like a glossy magazine ad for the best kind of life two beautiful people could ever live, probably at a base camp in Nepal. Radiating promise and hope and bliss and love, these two gorgeous souls smiled back at me from Zuckerberg’s social network program, and made me smile right back. Because her photos are interesting I started flipping through them – she and her guy have traveled all over the world, I notice — and then I see that a friend of theirs has posted a photo of her boyfriend with the Comment, “This is [name]. He is battling brain cancer.”

BRAIN CANCER. Stomach-punch heartsick held-breath ohmygod ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME, UNIVERSE?!! Is how my thoughts ran. This beautiful boy, this child of the planet, this lover of life, this shining light, has BRAIN cancer?!!!

All morning long my mind reeled. Here I am, so truly far away from the situation – I barely know her, and have never met him – and yet so gobsmacked by the horror of it. When my partner came home from morning services, I explained to him in choked sobs what I’d found out, then cried for an hour. Later, on my walk, I kept looking up at the sky, “Really, God? Really, Universe?”

I don’t know how common this type of cancer is in 20-somethings. I lost another friend to brain cancer a few years ago; she was in her 60s. I do know that people young and old, rich and poor, etc etc get cancer, fight cancer, live with cancer, die from cancer. I don’t usually go around thinking about it because, well, that way lies madness. But I can’t shake this. All day long, whenever I heard someone say something vaguely whiny, I thought, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer!” Watching a television show in which 40-year-old actresses were complaining about their wrinkles, I thought, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer.”

Can your whole life and perspective be changed by someone else’s battle with cancer? I’m not sure I even feel right about it, as though I’m “getting something” from someone else’s – what? What are they even calling it? His illness? His struggle? His challenge? His journey? I want to take care how I characterize what they are experiencing: this is not mine to name or make assumptions about.

Worse, I suspect that my heightened sense of the preciousness and fragility of all things will fade. I mean, not that I particularly take life for granted on a daily basis – I am filled with gratitude – but right now, I’m way above baseline. I’m up there in self-actualization mode, where brushing my teeth this morning was a blessing and touching the cat’s fur brought tears to my eyes, so awed was I by its softness. And I remember being elevated to this state of heightened appreciation and awareness a few years back when another friend’s wife, in her early 30s, with two small children, was expected to die of Stage IV cervical cancer. As I held his hand through that, all the life-appreciation clichés came to pass: air smelled sharper, colors seemed richer, grass felt velvety. She survived that, they eventually divorced, and I went back to baseline appreciation mode.

Someone I don’t even know has brain cancer, and I’m feeling more connected to life. But every day someone I don’t even know has cancer. Every day I could be outraged to the point of transcendence. As I said, it doesn’t seem right, “using” other people’s struggles in this way. On the other hand, is this not what every person wants, for meaning to be made from their life and existence? Whenever something Bad happens, the survivors say, “I want something Good to come of this.”

And so, a friend’s life companion gets sick, and those ripples come lapping into my awareness and something feels changed. For one thing, I know I don’t want to hear any complaining. From anyone, and least of all from myself. I may even say it out loud if I hear any whines today. I may look at the whiner and say, “Or you could have BRAIN cancer!” Someone does. You don’t? Then shut up and live.

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