Yes. As if quitting drinking, revolutionizing the way I think about myself, and dealing with past traumas and triumphs wasn’t enough; I have now decided that I need to quit smoking. This is an impulse that just hit me last night really. I’ve been mulling around the idea to quit since I first picked them up about 34 years ago (yeah really). I’ve tried to quit more times than I can count. I have used gum, patches, Zyban (Wellbutrin), Chantix, will power (LOL), and forced breaks (Army training where smoking wasn’t allowed, long flights, church trips), yes, I have tried everything.
Nicotine was my very first drug of choice and smoking is more automatic to me than breathing. So lets talk about impulse. That’s the word that kept coming to mind as I woke up this morning and that is how I plan on attacking the smoking thing. I have to rewire my impulses. Much like I am doing with alcohol, unhealthy food, opinions and writing.
I am an impulsive person; I think we all are but some folks possess the ability to resist or rewire better than others. I have good impulses, bad ones, and ones that are questionable depending on whether or not I act on them. “Impulsive” is a very loaded word that often comes with negative attachments. I don’t see my impulsiveness as negative, I just see it as something I need to understand in order to help myself distinguish between impulses I should encourage and those I should resist or abandon.
Most of the major changes/actions and even friends in my life are a result of my impulsive nature and the simple fact that when I decide to do something (either on impulse or well thought out) I tend to have no fear about acting. I have had the impulse to quit smoking a million times. When I have acted on that impulse I am successful every time; the problem comes when I enter into that unknown place because of the impulse, and fear takes over. Then I indulge the fear instead of cultivating what I started, and usually quit. This is my pattern. Thankfully, I can also resist the impulse to quit when I take the time to think about it. The impulse is what I need to spur me into action; letting go of fear is what I need to make that action a positive one.
After my Mom passed away my impulsive nature took on new life. I no longer had any reason to stay put in my little town, and my desire to travel, to move, to explore was freed up. No more attachments to worry about. I impulsively decided to do one of two things; I was either going to just pick up and move to some other country and “wing it” or I would go active duty. I decided on the more stable path of the Army. I was fine with that decision. I had already done basic and served in the reserves for 8 years. The Army had rules and structure to follow (which I needed), and I could get rid of that travel bug that I couldn’t afford to entertain. Perfect. I was living in Sacramento, CA at the time and from impulse to arriving at Fort Drum, NY took a mere month. No time to regret or be fearful… I just had to move on the path I put myself on. I took my then girlfriend and we drove across the country to start my new (yet somehow familiar) life. We got to New York, NY and that is where we parted ways – a fun cross country adventure came to an end and I was now on my own as she flew back to CA. As I drove from New York City I was more excited than fearful, but as I approached Fort Drum, the doubts started to seep in. “You made a mistake.” “You will never be able to do this.” “You are going to fail.” “Why the fuck is there so much snow?”
I got to the post and checked into the hotel on post to take one last night before I was a “real” Soldier. I reported to my first formation the next morning and got the dose of reality I had feared. Six AM, surrounded by strangers, no idea what to expect. Of course that first morning was a nice 5 mile run, outside, in upstate NY, in January.
Now I have to digress just a little. I hate running. I am not good at it. I don’t like it. I do not want to run. Seriously – if I am running, something is wrong or someone is chasing me. As far as impulses go – running was never one I had to worry about. In the reserves I would ignore the need to run for months, and then nearly kill myself to pass the Physical Training Test every 6 months. I will walk for miles without complaint, pick up the pace to a jog or a run and I am pretty sure death is imminent.
So we go on this 5 mile run and I made it approximately a 1/4 mile before I decided that I had indeed made a very bad decision. I was not made for this. It’s cold. Someone I don’t know is screaming at me to get up and run. They are appalled that I only made it around the block. Who is this Soldier? Yeah; I am the Soldier who decided a few short weeks ago that this would be a good idea. Being homeless in Ireland was starting to look like it would have been the better choice. I quickly convince myself that I will get kicked out – possibly by late afternoon. Except, it isn’t that easy…
You see. I couldn’t quit. It’s not allowed. It isn’t an option. I gave up things like free will, choices, and the ability to make impulsive decisions. The formation is long gone. I am alone on the side of the road, freezing to death, tears streaming down my face (no one could tell as they froze as soon as they left my eyes), the yelling has stopped; for now, my chest is screaming, not only am I out of shape and I smoke like a chimney, I am not acclimated to 20 degree weather, and I am sure as hell not used to being outside doing things. The reserves were nothing like this. I have been on active duty less than an hour and I am done.
After that day, it took me 7 years to quit that job; but quitting was in my head from day one. For seven years I simply accepted the consequences of my impulsive decision to go active duty, and reenlisted because I was too afraid to change or try something else. I mean, we see where my last decision landed me! Self-doubt, complacency (I eventually got used to being in the Army obviously), and the learned lesson of thinking things through kept me stuck there even when I knew it wasn’t quite what I wanted. There was enough there to keep me satisfied. I liked a ton of things about being in the Army and looking back on it all now I know that it was in fact one of the very best AND very worst decisions I have ever made. So basically, one impulse lasted 7 years and the ramifications of that are still being realized.
I am at another crossroads in my life right now. I have a ton of decisions to make. I have to figure out what I want to do with myself. I need a hobby, or a job, or some money, or a path, or a miracle. I don’t know. I have no clue. All I know for sure is that I don’t want to make any rash decisions. I have put my impulsive nature in a time-out. I do not want to join the Army again and that’s all I know for sure. I know that I am tired of trying to kill myself, and that isn’t what I want anyway. Drinking has stood in the way of good decisions either well thought out or impulsive; it always provided me an excuse, and a way to plan my life (I can’t go there because I can’t drink, or I will have to drive somewhere)… so many missed opportunities. I can regret all that time, or I can act differently now. I am liking the acting differently part. It isn’t easy and like that first snow filled morning in New York – I do have some fears and feel like I’ve made the wrong decision or the wrong choice. However, now I have more desire than fear, and more love than fear; those things are more powerful than fear. When we train ourselves to do something, that can be our best ally against being afraid. The Army knows this, that’s why training is so important. The more you train, the more automatic things become. What I train on now is entirely up to me. I can train myself to respond fearfully, or impulsively, or lovingly… I really am in control of how I feel about anything. That friends, is empowering. That starts the elimination of self-doubt that has plagued me for years.
How does this all relate to smoking? Well, I have an opportunity that arose from an impulsive decision to be in an environment where smoking is inconvenient, time consuming, and will be more of an annoyance than a coping mechanism and it will be difficult to light up out of habit. In order to smoke I will have to make time for it (unlike sitting here where just during the time it took me to write this I have by sheer habit alone smoked about a half a pack of cigarettes). I have been slowly but surely eliminating unnatural things from my life. Better food, no booze, no prescription medications… my last two drugs to rid myself of are nicotine and caffeine; the two most addictive substances on our planet. I am going to need to be out of my comfort zone to change the habit part, and I am going to have to think before I act to get rid of the impulsive part. Being in an environment that naturally encourages those actions (leaving comfort zones and thinking) will be helpful. I never would have quit drinking without rehab. I needed to be in an environment where I couldn’t drink, along with the mindset that I wanted to stop in order for the lessons to be learned and for the habit to change. So far that’s working, and has worked longer than any other attempt to quit drinking. I figure it will work for smoking too.
So I guess I am taking my impulsive nature and making it work for me. I am going to take full advantage of being in the most restrictive state in the country for smokers and enjoy my time with my non-smoking friends (pretty much everyone I know now doesn’t smoke anymore or never has), and I am going to make the most of being outside in beautiful California. I’m tired of cigarette butts in my pocket, the smell of it nauseates me, the cost is ridiculous, the damage I have done to my body, the inability to breathe (and my new-found love of breathing is also a huge motivator)…. I mean at least with alcohol I could come up with a pro/con list. With smoking, it’s all con. I don’t even enjoy it anymore and honestly haven’t in a while. Let go of those things that don’t serve you. Really, I am looking forward to creating new habits. I am looking forward to (several) long walks in my California sun/forests/beaches without having to stop and smoke.
Will I be successful? I don’t know. All I know is that this is the perfect opportunity to jump on the impulse and have it supported by my environment and the people I am with. It can’t possibly be bad – especially now that I know how to cope with emotions (better). I don’t need cigarettes for that anymore. If I get frustrated I have all kinds of things to do other than smoke. I won’t be drinking, so that drive to smoke will be a non-issue. I am looking forward to spending time with the people I am going to visit with; not plotting time away from them to indulge in this deadly habit. Some people I will only have a few hours with, how sad to spend some of that time away from them to smoke? How silly! How wasteful! I have this opportunity to go home; and I want to experience and enjoy every second of it. I would worry about mood swings due to nicotine withdrawal, but honestly my mood swings are out of control right now anyway; might as well do something positive with it. I go from laughter to tears in seconds these days. Waking up is full of sensations.
This is a long post I guess, but welcome to my process. When I write things, it sort of seals them for me. It makes things real. It takes the thoughts out of my head and organizes them, and cements them in place. I have just chosen to allow to you see it.