On Saturday night, I was supposed to hang out with my friend Mean Asian Girl and the Mean Whasian Baby, because their hub/dad was out of town, and earlier in the week, M.A.G. had anticipated wanting some company in his absence. Like, the kind of company that keeps you from actually banging your head against a brick wall.

Unfortunately, by Saturday afternoon, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I still seemed pretty functional, but I was positive I was coming down with something — and about 75% positive it was bronchitis — and more than anything, I didn’t want to risk infecting M.A.G. or the baby.

Mean Asian Girl took the news like a champ, but I still felt guilty as hell. Especially when I explained my symptoms: “Well, every few hours I cough a lot, and I just feel… a little off.”

Sounds deadly, doesn’t it? No mother would want that near her child! Especially when the person suffering from that is a smoker. Oh my god, you’re coughing occasionally? WHAT COULD IT BE?

Two days later, however, you’d better fucking believe it’s bronchitis. Ow. My sense that whatever little bug I had on Saturday would get worse before it got better was bang on. (And unfortunately, I think I’ve got at least another day or two of getting worse.) So I was wise to have avoided putting my face and hands into a scene like this:

though I’m totally bummed I didn’t get to. There’s an adorable baby AND a dog! (Two dogs, in fact.) It’s a wonder I haven’t moved in with them yet.

Anyway, that sense of impending illness is a relatively new development, but I’ve come to rely on it in the last year. As I mentioned in a recent Ask the Blondes entry, I blame yoga for this. Before I started practicing regularly and becoming much more attuned to my body, I could walk around with the beginnings of a cold and not realize it until I woke up one morning with a head completely full of snot. Now, I know that no matter how I’m feeling overall, if I sneeze more than 3 times in a row, I am most likely in the beginning stages of a cold. If I sneeze again after that in the same day? Definitely. Day One is sneezing, Day Two is sore throat, Day Three is head full of snot, and then about Day Five, it usually drops into my chest. It always goes like that. But before I developed a lot of body awareness, I never noticed that Days One and Two were part of the pattern.

Being that attuned to when I’m getting sick is a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I don’t go play with babies when I’m contagious anymore, and sometimes I can even pound medicine fast enough to head some illnesses off or minimize them. On the negative side, I hate knowing it’s coming. I hatehatehate nights like this past Saturday, when I could be hanging out with a friend and playing with a smooshy baby, blissfully unaware of impending bronchitis, but instead, I’m sitting at home trying to figure out what needs to be done around the house before I’m completely incapacitated, and whether I’ll be recovered before our upcoming vacation. (I should be recovered by then but, as a smoker, will probably have a persistent cough that frightens small children and animals, even if it doesn’t feel particularly bad anymore.) What would really be useful is a sixth sense about when I’ve just come into contact with a bug that’s going to get me; ooh, touching that subway station banister was a really bad idea — get the Purell! Unfortunately, I’ve only achieved a level of awareness that allows me to know I need to get to the grocery store, try not to cough on the produce, and prepare for a few days in bed.

Overall, though, I’d say this is definitely a good development. Because the more I’m aware of my body, the more I trust it. And that helps with everything from knowing I shouldn’t go infect a baby to eating when I’m hungry and stopping when I’m full to recognizing when a lousy mood could be vastly improved by a walk.

It’s even — dare I say it? — helping me cut down on ciggies while I’ve got bronchitis. The sad fact is, having a wall-rattling cough wouldn’t be enough, in itself, to slow me down. But when I think about the fact that my body is trying to heal itself, and every smoke I have beyond those required to keep me from having a nervous breakdown is a big fuck you to my lungs as they work overtime… I feel kind of cruel. Finally, I can actually see that treating my body badly is treating myself badly — something I honestly didn’t realize during all those years when I viewed my body as something separate from the real me, a necessary evil only because we don’t yet have this technology:

And on that note, another thing I’ve become more aware of over the last year is that I really want to quit smoking. I’m not quite at the point where I want to quit more than I want to keep doing it, but I’m getting there. Laurie sent me a link this morning to this article suggesting that quitting on impulse is more likely to be successful than planning to quit, and I completely believe that — last time I quit (which lasted a year and a half), it was because I got fed up one night and decided to go cold turkey. It wasn’t precisely impulsive, though — it was, as these researchers were wise enough to consider, the culmination of a whole series of factors that ratcheted up the tension between my desire to smoke and my desire to quit, until something snapped. But the difference between the “impulsive” quit and the planned one is that the former is emotional; the latter is intellectual. And if addicts could quit for purely intellectual reasons, there wouldn’t be any fucking addicts.

Most people are perfectly happy to acknowledge that “you can’t quit unless you want to,” but many don’t get the logical corollary there: you can’t just decide to want to. Every smoker I know wants to quit, intellectually speaking. But that deep-down emotional motivation is a whole different story. That has to sneak up on you.

Except, maybe it doesn’t. In retrospect, I can see all those little factors I missed leading up to the last time I quit — suddenly being moved insted of annoyed by anti-smoking PSAs, suddenly being really irritated by how much money I spent on cigarettes and the inconvenience of trying to find a place to smoke. Becoming increasingly angry that this addiction dominated so much of my life. That’s the stuff that built up in my brain until I finally got pissed off and decided the cigarettes weren’t going to win anymore; not the statistics on how smoking would kill me or the not-so-well-meaning judgments of friends and strangers. (My favorite thing is when people come up and tell me that some relative of theirs died of a smoking-related illness, like I just didn’t realize that was possible, and will immediately jettison my pack of cigs! Those people never know how to respond when I say, “Yeah, so did my mom.” As I’ve said before, it’s an addiction, not a goddamned hobby.)

The point, insofar as I have one, is that I can feel those things happening again; this time, I’m actually aware of it as it’s going on.

When Al and I were planning the aforementioned upcoming vacation, we batted around the idea of taking a train. That would have meant at least 24 hours trapped in a non-smoking environment — the train would stop occasionally, and there might be time to hop out and have a smoke, but I’d have no control over whether or when I got a chance. A year ago, I would have said, “No fucking way.” This time, I said, “Okay, well, I’ll want a compartment so I can go in there if I need to cry and tear my hair out, and I might be hideous company, but I can do it. I know it won’t kill me or anything.”

Al ultimately decided he’d rather I not ruin our vacation by going that long without a cigarette, but he appreciated the offer. And I registered that moment as another milestone en route to the next (and hopefully final) quit. I’ve been noticing a lot of those moments lately. I have a sense that the impulse for The Big Quit will be coming along sooner rather than later.

Of course, that doesn’t mean shit to anyone I talk to, because if there’s one thing addicts are good at, it’s denial, and if there are two things we’re good at, they’re denial and lying through our teeth about when we’ll quit. So I don’t expect anyone to buy it just yet — but I’m recording it here for posterity nonetheless. Because, while this sense isn’t exactly a function of body awareness along the lines of knowing when I’m getting sick, it is a function of knowing and trusting myself more all the time. And that comes from the same source: the more I give up seeing my body as something to be conquered by my brain, the more I live as a whole human being and take care of my whole self.

Wish me luck.

23 thoughts on “Awareness

  1. I totally know what you mean about the body awareness thing. One thing I detest about Western medicine is the fact that doctors think they automatically understand my body better than I do….even though I’ve lived in it my whole life and have taken great pains to learn its language. This is why I love my acupuncturist.

    Meanwhile, good luck on working up to the Big Quit. And getting over the bronchitis.

  2. Good luck, and call Frank if you need to (mom’s acupuncturist/ TCM dude in Evanston.) Frank Scott: 847-791-9214
    Feel better!

  3. The VERY best of luck, and I know exactly how you feel – I was a stubbornly addicted smoker for nigh-on fifteen years. Oh, I “quit” for a few months here are there (cheating from time to time, wearing patches, all of hat), but this past March I got REALLY sick – the sort of lung-rattling pneumonia that keeps you in bed and on drugs and totally unwilling to smoke – and I figured after a week of that, why start up again?

    I’m so glad I stayed with it this time. I think the main difference in my mindset this time was that I had quit smoking, I wasn’t in the process of quitting smoking. Like it was done and over with.

  4. Ahhh, welcome to my world.

    My friends are saintly when it comes to me missing out on meet-ups. They’ve never questioned, never accused, never had even a slightly critical tone of voice. Always love and concern and nothing else.

    As far as awareness, yes, it’s a double-edged sword. I become more and more aware of the patterns my body takes when I’m descending into a flare, or when I know I need to stop and rest. There are no demonstrable signs I can point to; I don’t feel absolutely shitty yet; but I know I need to stop and rest, even though I feel something close to fine right now, because I know if I don’t, I’m going to feel pretty damn shitty an hour from now.

    When you’ve lived your whole life receiving signals from society that your condition is nonexistant, you’re making it up, etc. then things get complicated. I understand my body better now, but I don’t have anything I can point to to prove that I’m not making it up. That anxiety and instinctual self-doubt doesn’t help my condition overall, I can tell you. I lived most of the beginning of my life pushing through, because I can’t be sure I’m really not feeling well after all, and then riding through monumental health crashes and suffering the consequences. No more.

    It feels crappy knowing I need to stop, put off outside activities, and tend to my health. Because there’s so much that I feel like I could be doing right now — but I have that sense that if I do it, in a few hours (or days, or even weeks) I’ll be much worse off than if I don’t. It’s a terrible trapped helpless feeling, and that self doubt piled on top of it is beyond painful.

    It’s not directly analogous, but I’m sympathetic nonetheless.

    You’re going to learn yourself better and better as the years go by. That’s one comfort, at least. That now that you are paying attention, you know things will only get better.

    Best of luck to you.

  5. ore I give up seeing my body as something to be conquered by my brain, the more I live as a whole human being and take care of my whole self.

    I think you are keen so I am glad you are taking care of your whole self, including this inkling that you maybe want to quit smoking.

  6. I wish you the best of luck with quitting. I’ve never smoked but did lose my mom to it.

    I hate to go around finding good in the diet world, but I will say that Weight Watchers was always kind of inspirational in the aspect of ways to change HABITS. Even dorky Dr. Phil has the nugget that anytime you try to stop doing something, it leaves a void that has to be filled by something.

    Even if this attempt isn’t the one that ultimately ends in you being smoke-free, I do think it’s worth it to forge on. I read somewhere that most successful quitters didn’t do it on the first try. Persist! ;o)

  7. I don’t talk about this much online, but I’ve been smoking a half a pack to a pack a day since I was in high school. I try not to smoke in public because dear God, fat AND I smoke? I might as well toss myself in front of a train!

    I’ve never tried to quit, nor have I ever said I was planning on quitting, because I know that it will come as an impulse. I know, the same way you do, that it can’t be planned or talked about, it just has to happen. I know people who have quit over and over and over and just end up smoking again because they did it intellectually, not emotionally.

    The sad thing is that my main reason for wanting to quit right NOW is so I can get my teeth whitened. I’m young and vain, so what! Any reason to quit is a good one.

  8. I hope you feel better. I had my first case of bronchitis when I was three, and have gotten it a gazillion times since. And I have learned to respect that feeling off ‘off’. ‘Off’ = get sleep. Fast. Dose on echinachea or Emergen-C or whatever might fight it before it’s too late. Then get your ass too a doctor once it’s too late.
    The last time I started and quit smoking was the most educational. I always convince myself that I am good at quitting (I’d been an on-again/off-again, social, half a pack a day smoker for years) because I quit cold turkey and stick to it.
    What I finally retained this time was that while yes, from the day I stop, I have it a bit easier than a lot of other people, every day that I am smoking is a torturous dance with self-hatred. Every single day, every pack I purchase, every cigarette I smoke, I am miserable (and in love with them cigarettes!) and telling myself I gotta quit.
    Blogged about it. Can’t figure out how to hyperlink, so here:
    Good luck with all.
    (Whasian! I love that! My neph is Jewaisian.)

  9. I keep waiting for a bad case of bronchitis to inspire me to quit smoking! No, really, that’s how pathetic I am with this habit.

    Any people who’ve quit here, who might have some advice? I shouldn’t even ask as I’ve done it before, many times! Actually, the last time I quit for a long time (over 3 years!) was after a bad case of bronchitis. Then 9/11 happened, and I kind of lost my willpower around this. Just for that to make some kind of sense, I work accross the street from where the World Trade Center used to stand. The whole thing hit me kind of hard.

    And yes, I know what liars we are around quitting. I told my husband I’d quit for his birthday. That was last week. Still smokin’ )-:

  10. good luck kate. there’s a book. overcoming addictions by deepak chopra. it’s good. has chapters on all kinds of addictions, talks about how you can’t divide “the body” from “the me.” feel better!

  11. Well, I quit smoking 7 years ago, in the summer of 2000, when I realised my insurer would not cover my transgender chest reconstruction surgery. I knew that smoking could really affect the cosmetic result because of the way it constricts fine blood vessels needed to nurture the scar and drain the wound. I wanted a fine male chest more than anything and couldn’t bear the idea of 4000 Irish pounds (app. 6500 USD) down the drain simply because I couldn’t stop smoking.

    So I made a deal with myself to stop for nine months – six months prior to surgery and three months after. However, by then the next surgery, a total hysterectomy, had been scheduled, so I felt it made no sense to break the smoking moratorium at that point, and said to myself I would wait until after the hysto. And guess what? By the time the hysto was over, the addiction had been broken. Although I still have moments of intense cigarette cravings, which tell me all I need to know about how addictive nicotine is.

    One good tip I picked up for free from Irish public health information, and which is directly linked to body awareness, is to pay attention to how your body clears itself from the tar and nicotine in the first 14 days of quitting – the way your skin and hair don’t stink any longer, and how you can draw ever deeper breaths and feel the freshness of the air, and celebrate that in your mind. I found that a very powerful re-direction of purpose which helped me over the immediate withdrawal period. And it works particularly well with yoga and yoga breathing, which like Kate I have been practicing for more than twenty years.

    Best of luck with whatever you decide!

  12. Good luck! I gave up (intellectually) when I was pregnant with my first, and it took over two years after she was born before I quit completely. It’s a nasty, nasty addiction.

    On the positive side, I haven’t had a bout of bronchitis since I did quit. It’s horrible stuff and you have my sympathies.

  13. Good luck with the Big Quit. The couple of times I have quit – gone on hiatus, really – have been spur of the moment impulse decisions. Like, “Ugh, I have to get out of the car and go into the store to buy cigarettes? Eff that.” So I guess by impulse, I mean laziness. I think I’m just not ready to give it up yet.

    Plus, it’s still summer, and nice out, and I don’t get frostbite if I step outside to smoke. Winters are a good inspiration to quit.

  14. OK — first — I relate COMPLETELY with the stuff about becoming more aware of your body = having to listen to shit that you used to just glide by. It’s a blessing and a curse, I agree.

    A hint — however wacky you may think this may be — I’m ready for the slings and arrows from those who think this is “woo-woo” crap — but hey — try it before you stick me, OK?

    At the first notion of “feeling off” (especially if it’s a “coldish” feeling) take some Ferrum Phos right away ( it’s a common homeopathic remedy — maybe $7 for a tube that will last you half-a year?).

    Frankly, I don’t care if it’s the placebo effect or not — it’s helped me. Of course, this intake of Ferrum Phos has to be accompanied by responding to the message my body is giving me anyway: “Lay the fuck down! Stop stressing out!” etc..

    Secondly: For those who want to quit smoking — change cigarette brands to something that has absolutely no additives (I recommend American Spirit) — then, to organic American Spirit. Very few people realize how addicted they are to the additives in cigarettes, and then, to the chemicals used to fertilize non-organic tobacco. (Personally, I think that this is a major factor in the cancers related to tobacco).

    Yes, these brands are expensive. Good. It makes it even more painful to buy a pack.

    Then, realize that you’re still addicted to the nicotine, if you are. Want a personal alternative to a nicotine patch? Try wetting a little organic tobacco, putting it between your little and fourth toes, and putting a band-aid around both. Your body absorbs small amounts of nicotine, and you probably won’t go crazy with nicotine cravings.

    Either go cold turkey, or adopt a pipe/roll your own. Thanks to Lord of the Rings, there are some really cool pipes available online. Believe me, without that convenient filter, you’re going to get into a whole new world of tobacco — you’ll actually experience the harshness of what’s going into your lungs.

    I smoked from age 15 to 30. I quit at 30, cold turkey, by promising myself that in another 15 years, I could smoke again if I wanted to. I actually have consumed tobacco again since I turned 45, and will quit when I’m 60.

    I won’t lie. I still smoke. I usually smoke the equivalent of about 3 cigarettes every day. But now, I actually enjoy tobacco, and I can abstain from tobacco for 48 hours without becoming a banshee.

    My partner is chemically sensitive, and I don’t smoke around her, and that’s not a problem. It’s something I enjoy and engage in consciously. For me, the exact things that have led me to “health” around food issues (being aware of what I eat, and when, and why) have also transformed how I smoke and how I feel about smoking (what, when, and why). I know that some people will probably call this denial. That’s OK with me.

    And Kate — honor your body. It’s Divine!

    Sending (only if you want it) big love and great energy for your lungs to be liberated.

  15. My mother quit suddenly, impulsively, a year and a half ago. She got up one morning and said no more.

    She was age 71 at the time. She had smoked for almost 60 years.

    I think you’re on to something.

    (May the bronchitis leave you soon!)

  16. I hope you can manage to give up smoking. My Mom has been smoking for 40 years and was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last October. The worst part was that she was misdiagnosed with allergies, sinus problems and bronchitis for six months before the cancer diagnosis — her only symptom was a cough. If it had been caught earlier, she would have been a candidate for surgery, which would have increased her five-year survival chances.

    Until my Mom got sick, I had no problem with smokers — it was their choice. But my Mom is 57 years old and will most likely die in the next year. She’s too young for us to lose her. Had she quit smoking even 10 years ago she’d have been better off. So I tell people my Mom’s story as encouragement to quit. Women between the ages of 55 and 65 have the highest risk of lung cancer. With people living well into their 80s and even their 90s, do you want to cut your life that short?

    And for what it’s worth, my Mom is still smoking. As she says, she’d quit immediately if it would add years to her life. But it’s too late for that.

  17. When I quit my pack-a-day addiction, I spent the month leading up to that quit thinking about all of the reasons I wanted to quit and everything that sucked about smoking. I did this every time I had a cigarette, the entire time I smoked it. After a month of this, I had drained all of the joy out of smoking and it felt like nothing but a burden. I actually felt *glad* to finally be done with it.

    I quit cold turkey, and replaced with dum-dum suckers. I found that the hand-to-mouth motion was very similar so it made for a good replacement, plus they taste nice. I just put piles of dum-dum suckers wherever I normally would have had a pack laying around (the dum-dum sucker habit tailed itself off after a few months…)

    I also figured out how much money I was spending on cigs per month and bought something else with that money. That way I could honestly tell myself that smokes were not in my budget and I couldn’t afford them.

    I spent a lot of time in online quit-support groups, specifically AS3.

    And when I’m having a hard time, I tell myself, “One pack away from a pack a day” and “Not one puff, not ever”.

    Good luck! When I smoked I got bronchitis every single year like clockwork. Since I quit 5 years ago I’ve never had it since.

    YOU CAN DO IT! People quit every day. Come on, be a quitter too! ;-)

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