Responsible parenting and leadership are a start. In between reaching for the sky (Toy Story rocks).

Screw the darkness. I prefer the lightness of Pop.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

That Bastard of a Monkey

"It's not a habit, it's cool, I feel alive
If you don't have it you're on the other side
I'm not an addict, maybe that's a lie..."

–K's Choice, Not an Addict

She knew when I cheated. The first two years were the hardest, and covering up the few cheats were exercises in futility; the stench never leaves the clothes after even just one cigarette, and the residue left in the mouth and throat is unmistakable, no matter the mouth wash or breath mints. I convinced myself that it was okay, that each one was the last cheat. It was such a difficult monkey on my back.

However, after the first two years of quitting in 2002, it became literally a breath of fresh air. I didn't miss it after that. It had been nearly 20 years since I first smoked those nasty clove cigarettes that eventually led to my pack a day cigarette habit. Even with smoking decreasing everywhere, I'm surprised / not surprised when I still see smokers on the streets, in parks, on the beaches, etc. And now vaping is more prevalent that ever, which is nothing more than another way of getting the nicotine smack monkey on your back. And this is something we've talked to our girls about since vaping is has been marketed to younger school-age kids.

My quit date is still a very important date to me, even with the cheats. It's also our oldest daughter's birthday. And my wife Amy wouldn't marry me unless I quit. She had smoked a little herself when we first met, but had long since quit.

If you've been a smoker, then you know how tough it is to quit. You also know how easy it is to start again. I had quit multiple times prior to the official quit, failing each and every time. Nicotine is such a highly addictive drug, and even though it doesn't give you the same "high" as other addictive drugs, the vicious reward cycle is one of the strongest.

According to recent research:

Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in neurons that connect the nucleus accumbens with the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, and other brain regions; this dopamine signal “teaches” the brain to repeat the behavior of taking the drug. 

The amount of dopamine released with any given puff of a cigarette is not that great compared to other drugs, but the fact that the activity is repeated so often, and in conjunction with so many other activities, ties nicotine’s rewards strongly to many behaviors that we perform on a daily basis, enhancing the pleasure and the motivation that we get from them. 

Smokers’ brains have learned to smoke, and just like unlearning to ride a bike, it is incredibly hard to unlearn that simple, mildly rewarding behavior of lighting up a cigarette.

Columbia University researchers Denise B. Kandel and Eric R. Kandel have identified a molecular mechanism underlying nicotine’s gateway effect: Nicotine encourages expression in the reward circuit of FOSB, a gene that underlies the learning processes described earlier. Thus, nicotine makes it easier for other drugs to teach users’ brains to repeat their use.

Smoking seems to both enhance and prolong the pleasure of other activities. The reinforcement-enhancing effect applies also when obtaining nicotine from e-cigarettes.

Not to mention that cigarettes cause more than 480,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, which is about 1,300 deaths every single day. There's enough research out there today accessible to all of us that underscores the dangers of smoking.

I empathize with addicts of all kinds. I do. Unfortunately it's in my genes. I also know the health benefits of quelling an addiction, especially one like smoking cigarettes. Because you don't choose to smoke once you've started, the only choice you have is not to smoke. Addiction is selfish that way. (Learned that from Nicotine Anonymous.)

Recently I was on my way to one of my Natural Bridges State Park beach workouts, and a woman had just finished smoking a cigarette. I didn't see her smoke it, but as she walked in front of me to cross the street, I could smell it. The visceral memories of that smell reminded me all the times I smelled that way. That bastard of a monkey on my back dug its rusted nails into my skin and I literally flinched. Not because I missed it; I'm way past that now. Because I worry it could still kill me someday, just like it continues to kill 1,300 people per day.

God bless you, Brothers and Sisters. The only choice is not to.

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