Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Freedom From Nicotine Dependence

When I decided to start my latest attempt to quit smoking, I had thought that I had everything covered. I went online to do some research about what nicotine withdrawal symptoms that I might encounter. I went shopping and bought a bunch of food supplement pills to help replenish all the minerals and nutrients lost from all those years of smoking. I also went to the extend of buying a bunch of fresh produce and junk food to be used as cigarette substitutes in the event that the craving to light up comes and threaten to overwhelm my resolve. I thought that I was ready and confident to be able to cruise through the experience. Boy ... was I in for a big shock.

The first 4 hours of not smoking went by without any incidents. I did notice a slight case of heartburn but I thought that it was caused more by what I had for dinner instead of me skipping my customary after dinner cigarette. By the time I was ready to turn in for the night, I was so proud of myself that I’ve made through the first 4 hours without a cigarette. Usually I would have had about 6 of them within that time period. Sleep came easy that night and I woke up fairly refreshed the next morning. I also noticed that my mouth doesn’t feel as if it had been scrubbed with sand paper for the first time in I don’t know how long when I woke up that morning. At this point I was thinking that my decision to quit smoking was starting to pay off.

I wanted to test if I could function normally now that I choose not to smoke in an outdoors setting. Since it was a weekend, I decided to follow my usual schedule of going to Sunway Pyramid for lunch to and to pickup a few household items from the store. First thing that I noticed is that my sense of smell seemed heighten by the absence of nicotine in my system. Everything smelled more intense that a trip to the local “BreadStory” store as they were putting out the freshly baked breads for sale was a bit overwhelming. My sense of taste also felt enhanced after 12 hours of not smoking. Everything that I ate or drink that day tasted much more exhilarating. I suddenly found myself rediscovering taste sensations that I’ve burn off so many years ago.

When I got back from my outdoors experiment, I was on a natural high. I was just exhilarated at the new found senses that I continued to test them with the items that I had in the refrigerator. It was not long after that I realized that I almost went through the entire content of my fridge. I was eating non stop everything I had in the fridge and then some of the things that I bought from the store. I tried to stop eating by trying to focus on some other activity but my thoughts came back to what I had left in the fridge. It was a good thing that I didn’t normally keep my fridge fully stocked. As I began to realize that I was bingeing, which was the last thing I wanted to do, my mood shifted to a deep depression. I found myself feeling really down and disgusted with myself. I’ve tried to watch some of my DVDs to get me out of that blue funk but it didn’t help much. The clincher really came when I found myself bawling my eyes out while watching my “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” DVD even when I’ve already seen the movie about 20 times.

I had the most difficult time falling asleep on the second night partly because I was sweating the whole night. When I did finally get to doze off, I distinctly remembered having flashes of images in my mind that would shortly wake me up. Some of the images that I had were not clear but all of them had the sense of me being in a confined space. I woke up the next day after a very vivid dream of crawling through a hallway that was narrowing to a distant point of light. It took all I had not to wake up screaming from that image but I did find myself soaking wet from sweat. Even after taking a cold shower I still felt hot and found myself sweating. I tried everything to control the sweat from coming out in buckets but nothing works for awhile. All I could do was to stay hydrated and wait it out.

My newly enhanced sense of smell wasn’t really helping me at the time. All I could smell was my own sweat and odors which basically made me more than a little nauseated. The whole morning I was switching back and forth between wanting to puke my guts out and wanting to devour everything that I had left in the fridge. I felt light headed and I knew that I had to eat something but I couldn’t for fear of vomiting the moment I eat something. It got worse as the day dragged on as I found myself feeling extremely cold although it was quite hot outside. I just had to bundle up in my blankets as I found myself shivering and yet I was still sweating like a pig. I’ve seen video clips of drug addicts who quit drugs cold turkey undergoing the same things that I was going through. Was I that addicted to nicotine that I have to go through the same jitters that they did? Or is all this just in my head?

I didn’t get any sleep at all the night that followed. I had to keep two bottles of plain water by my bedside as I was feeling thirsty all the time that night. When I woke up to prepare for work on Monday morning I found out that I’ve passed the excessive sweating phase of the withdrawal but I looked like a total wreak in the mirror. I had hoped that I would only need the weekend to deal with the withdrawal symptoms but it seems that I was not out of the woods yet. Since I did not plan to take any day-off from work this week, I had to come into the office looking pale and quite sickly. I tried to slink into the office unnoticed but I quickly found my moods begun to take the better of me. I found myself getting easily irritated by small things that were happening in the office and a little bit paranoid at the slightest things. I’ve also discovered that my finger tips felt numbed and that I found it difficult to type anything with them. This of course made me more frustrated with myself so much that I almost got into a major argument with a co-worker.

When my boss found out about my near outburst, he called me into the office and then immediately told me to go and see the company doctor immediately. I told him that I was trying to quit smoking and that I blamed nicotine withdrawal for my outburst (although to tell the truth, I’ve been waiting for a long time to give that particular co-worker a piece of my mind). Although my boss applauded my decision to quit smoking, he told me that I should have not come to work in my condition. He gave me the rest of the day off with instructions to go to the company doctor and get something to help me deal with this problem. When I went to the doctor and told him what had happened, he of course congratulated me on my decision. He has been on my case for the longest time to get me to quit smoking ever since I start seeing him for medical checkups. He asked me to describe all that I have been through and at the end of it prescribed something to help me sleep and some nicotine gum if the symptoms get any worse.

I’m happy to say that 24 hours later, I finally think that the worst of the withdrawal phase is behind me now. I feel calmer now and much more in control. I still have to be mindful of how much food I eat but I think I can rein that problem in. I still feel a bit sore through out my whole body but I think that it is still manageable. I’ve also learned that if I never picked up smoking, I would never have to go though the horrendous 4 days that I just went through. Now that that’s all in the past now (I hope), I have to next focus on modifying my behavior so that I would not need to smoke again in the future.

It has been 5 days without a cigarette and still counting.

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