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Benjamin West: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (1791)
"Let him forever after be known as a quitter …"

I know myself to be a quitter, but a relatively inept one. In this culture, my culture, we revere starters, especially self starters, but look down through our glasses at quitters, with perhaps one exception. Those who've quit a dependence upon some reviled substance—demon rum, evil narcotics, or that devil tobacco—are held in some esteem for what those who've never been addicted imagine a certain depth of character. Of course it's that brand of character that came after a fall and was apparently inadequate to prevent the fall in the first place, but it's generally deemed worthy of a place near if not precisely in the hearts of the nation. Those who continue their abuse of substances sometimes get sent to treatment, which sometimes works. Others enroll themselves into twelve step programs which teach abstinence, acceptance, and forbearance in roughly equal measures, and consider addiction a life-long issue from which one might be recovering but from which nobody ever recovers. People who haven't had a drink in decades still consider themselves drunks and those who stopped using heroin continue recognizing themselves as junkies.

Addiction only somewhat involves a substance.
Some explain it as a personality, one of those questionable gifts with which some just seem to have been born. I've heard that some can just dabble with smoking, taking it or leaving it depending upon their mood. Most, I warrant, quickly become serious smokers and quietly but insistently start wrapping their lives around their habit. They might not plan for anything as reliably as they plan on where and how they'll acquire their next pack, their next carton, and never even distantly forget. They might be upstanding citizens but they're smokers first and foremost, in service to the dopamine machinery in their head, just as reliable as junkies unless frequently sated. They won't exactly turn into The Incredible Hulk if denied a smoke, but they don't joke around with their desire. The urge to smoke, to ingest a little nicotine, never leaves for long and soon returns with a vicious vengeance: headache, anxiousness, blurred vision, distraction. They won't think straight until they sate the monster within.

I quit smoking cigarettes on December 31, 1985, just as I entered the year when I'd turn thirty-five. I'd concluded that smoking was a young person's sport, that I might enjoy the addiction for only so long, like one can only pass for a kid until the beard starts growing. Beyond that point, it's borrowed land. I'd read somewhere that coffee increases the urge for tobacco, so I also stopped drinking coffee simultaneously. I'm uncertain now which disruption hit me hardest, but both together produced a memorable following eight months. I lost my mind, or what I'd come to recognize as my mind. I could not seem to focus. I became irritable and secret. I'd leave my office and go out for long walks just to get out of my office. I experienced my first migraines, pure white agony overtaking my entire field of vision. I snuck a few smokes in the following weeks, but I'd dedicated myself to growing beyond my addiction. I suspect that shame finally did it in.

'Tiz better to have smoked and quit than to never have smoked at all. Without first acquiring the habit, how could anyone understand the exquisite agony of losing it? When my to be best seller was published, I celebrated by smoking a fine cigar, almost fifteen years later. I became instantly addicted again and spent much of the next decade sneaking cigars. When my father died of lung cancer, not even I and my addiction could continue sucking smoke, so I switched to the pinch between cheek and gum, the can destined to ring my jeans. That was an even deeper secret, for I was no ordinary hillbilly, or so I thought. That dopamine system favors no social class.

Last month, visiting my new doctor, he casually suggested that if I ever wanted to ditch that habit, he might be able to help. I thought, "Why the heck not?" Addicts like me are always looking for a perfect time to quit. We believe that any odd Tuesday just won't do it, especially if we want to remember and celebrate our act in the future. New Year's in popular, So are birthdays. I figured that SettlingInto might suffice. I was already recovering the house. Maybe I could recover myself for whatever comes next. I agreed to the help.

He prescribed Chantrix®, which was a brilliant choice. I had experienced the kind of crazy denying this addict produced. This drug produces crazy as its primary effect, and so sort of co-opts the withdrawal experience. Out of my mind for a week, I continued dipping, but the drug had cleverly disabled my brain's ability to absorb the nicotine. It also throws some sparkles in on the side to emulate a nicotine high, producing sensations that just feel crazy. I noticed first a veil thrown over my vision. I could barely read and felt sincerely unsafe to drive. Over the following few days, I experienced every side effect except stigmata, which I understand to be the rarest side effect of all. All the others visited me. I felt like Egypt during plague season without a Moses in sight, and so distracted, I sort of forgot to feed my habit. Brilliant!

The turning point came when I decided to go solo. To leave the house without the tin tucked in behind my iPhone in my right front pocket where I could easily confirm its presence. This felt like training wheels off and seemed to amplify the fading urges. I persisted. I found that I could sleep through the side effects, though the drug produced vivid and disturbing dreams. The dreams seemed less disturbing than the urges and if I was sleeping, I was not wrestling with my dedication test. I was, however, a mess. I could not operate machinery of any kind, not even ovens or toasters. I filled the kitchen with smoke. My writing suffered, my SettlingInto stories suddenly lacking that certain Gandolphian context a nicotine-induced dopamine high produces; smoke rings most notably not encircling my imagination, I wrote a few flat stories which seemed to lack my usual animation. The conviction that while a habit might be bad, it's the probable cause of genius, has killed more geniuses than have jealous lovers. I somehow persisted.

I'm not finished Quitting. If the twelve steppers are correct, I'll be a quitter for the rest of my life, never finished with it. I could always stumble and tumble back into an addiction still present if in remission deep within my personality.
I've Got A Secret became the defining element of my receding lifestyle. I fancy that almost nobody knew, that I was that good at clandestine operations. I'd drive to the other side of town to a barely reputable truck stop to buy my drugs, the better to maintain their ambiance. I could be a temporary bad boy there, a role, I suspect, that every male sometimes revels in playing. I have been abandoning the hope that perhaps all who enter addiction experience. The physical elation, however slight, along with the emotional sensation of genuinely being special, a chosen one, especially blessed. It's damnably seductive and has done in many more than one. Not me this time, though. Not yet!

There! I have spoken the great secret. I admit to duplicity and great embarrassment. Let us not speak of these things again for they are no longer of any consequence. I'm six days into soloing without any backsliding. I'm still chemically-induced crazy but I'm noticing an increasing lessening of urge. I can see myself walking away from this chapter, from these stories, not having exactly quit, but actively Quitting hereafter. Let that image serve as the next to last chapter of this grand SettlingInto Saga. He came and he quit, or at least started actively Quitting. Let him forever after be known as a quitter, a designation I'll proudly acknowledge.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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