Sunday, March 21, 2010

Quitting Smoking: An Existential Review

HELP!!! I’M DYING FOR A CIGARETTE!!! I’m having an operation next week, and in order to not develop complications, I must stop smoking and drinking TODAY. ACK! This is worse than when I got my nose pierced last week! This is worse than that time I screwed up my haircut and ended up shaving my head. This is worse than the night someone stole an entire wheel off my ’79 Chevette and left the back axel sitting on a cinderblock.

At first, I thought I could stop this coming Monday (I'm writing this on Saturday), but then the doctor upped the procedure date late yesterday afternoon, which means I have to stop TODAY. So last night, after having my final smoke and sip of wine, the cigs went down the toilet and the wine went down the drain, and now I feel like a crazy person who’s ready to run out onto the main drag here in my pajamas and see if I can grub a smoke from some passer-by.

Why didn’t I save just one cigarette??? At first, I put the pack under the faucet, then threw them in the garbage, but I knew it would drive me insane this morning to see beautiful, wet cigarettes in my close but so I pulled them out and flushed them down the toilet.
Out of sight, out of mind, right? NOT!

Oh, what I’d give for one right now. I’m tempted to go buy a whole pack just so I could have one more, and then I’d throw the rest away, but luckily I’m too cheap (and too poor) to do that. Let’s see...did I leave a stray cigarette around somewhere? Is there some gross butt sitting in a random ashtray that has one last drag in it?

Of course, I’m drinking my morning coffee here, which is making the torture worse. Caffeine and nicotine go together like...well, caffeine and nicotine. They provide that one-two morning punch that’s like no other...that blast of energy and goodwill that puts a rosy glow on the whole world, before reality comes crashing back that I’ve got bills to pay, work to do, and an aching jaw that’s still aching.

What also aches is the existential question as to what do I DO with myself when I’m not smoking? Right around now, I’d be lighting up, legs crossed, sipping coffee and finding some mundane TV show far more interesting than it would be ordinarily without the caffeine/nicotine enhancement.

Oddly enough, I’m not a heavy smoker by most heavy-smoker standards. I like one, or two, occasionally three in the morning, then that same amount again in the afternoon when I pour my 4 p.m. glass of wine, which must also become history if I care anything about the outcome of this operation next week.

It seems that engorged veins have been forming in my stomach again, which means I could pop a whirly at any moment, and as I learned six years ago, this is NOT something I ever want to happen again. I lost seven pints of blood from my 10-pint system, so if quitting smoking and drinking is what I have to do to ensure a positive outcome, I’ll do it. Believe me, there are things far worse than death in this life, and I’ve just about had it with life-threatening complications.

I suppose that’s the good thing about quitting today...not just the obvious stuff, like it’s the healthy thing to do, but also the relief I feel in not playing another round of Russian Roulette with my health, which is what smoking feels like. When you’ve got a chronic blood clotting disorder and you light up a cigarette, that single little tobacco stick could easily be the last one of your life, instantly, if another deep vein thrombosis were to occur.

I’ve been aware that, even though I’m on Coumadin, every cigarette I smoke is a flirtation with death, or worse, a stroke. Or even worse than that, another clot that would cause even more pain than I’m already in. I’ve been in that vicious circle of feeling intense stress from chronic pain, then relieving that stress with painkiller abuse, smoking and now wine, which, in turn, only makes the pain worse, I suspect. Ah yes, I live the very definition of insanity...doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I’ve known for awhile that these habits have had to stop, particularly the last two (at least in the immediate sense), but just couldn’t find the motivation, which I’ve been praying for. Are these newly engorged veins God’s answer? The fact that I could seriously clot or bleed out during next week’s operation if I don’t stop has indeed provided me with motivation, along with a sense of relief that I don’t have to worry that today is the day that the bullet is in the chamber. I suppose there’s a certain satisfaction that this feeling of relief will become more prominent once the nicotine cravings pass.

Of course, I suspect I’ll be hit with another craving whammy around 4 p.m., which is when I usually pour my glass of cheap Carlo Rossi chablis, over ice, a tradition I picked up from my mom during my visits to her at the Jersey shore. Oprah comes on at 4, and that's when we kick back to sip on the cheapest wine on the market.

Carlo Rossi’s wine is great, because it’s only 9 percent alcohol, and you can buy an entire jug (gallon?) for about $12 dollars.

Even though I’ve just moved into an affordable housing apartment building, I’m actually in a swankier part of town now, and when I’ve gone into local liquor stores to inquire about my “jug” of Carlo Rossi, I’ve been met with horrified stares, to which I reply, “It’s for my mother. She also likes wine in a box. Hee hee.” Kathy Griffin and I have a lot in common.

Oh brother. Today’s just gonna be a tough day, no two ways about it. Or rather, EXACTLY two ways about nicotine, no alcohol. If someone told me, “You could die from doing this,” I might actually go ahead and continue. But it’s the stroke/clot/hemorrhage possibility during the operation that seriously has me spooked this time.

As anyone in chronic pain will tell you, the thought of dropping dead isn’t nearly as scary as some of life’s other little dramas. There are far, far crueler fates, and as I’ve had my share, I’ll do everything I can to prevent any more catastrophes.

Hopefully, it’s thoughts like these that will get me over the hurdles in the coming days and weeks. I will continue to keep a log of the ups and downs of my journey to quit tobacco and say goodbye to Carlo once and for all.


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