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Riding away from my vices

The Quitting Chronicles

Posted: June 13, 2008 3:40 a.m.
Updated: August 14, 2008 5:02 a.m.
In my last column, I ended with words of frustration about my difficulty in getting hold of Nicotrol inhalers. The insurance company wouldn't cover them, I couldn't afford to pay out of pocket, and my doctor didn't have any free samples.

Over the last two weeks since the column ran, a lot of people have tried a lot of different things to help me get those inhalers. The nurse at my doctor's office appealed to the insurance company to make an exception. Peter Jaeger (of the Henry Mayo Smoking Cessation Program) said he'd contact some of the doctors at Henry Mayo to see if they had any samples. Colleagues at my office even offered to take up a collection to help me pay the $212 cash price.

All without success.

The insurance company said no (again), Peter wasn't able to get any samples from his sources, and I think my colleagues were only kidding about the collection.

But the thing is, I don't care. I don't really want the inhalers anymore. Something strange has been happening over the last two weeks - my addictions have started melting away.

Maybe it's just coincidence, or maybe it's a sign of a deeper psychic shift - I don't know. What I do know is that only a few short weeks ago I was stuffing my face, gnawing my nails and hankering after a cigarette or three, but now I don't want any of the above.

It might have something to do with the fact that I have been making some changes in my life in the last few weeks. I have started riding my bike to work, and I've started eating better food.

I know I said in the last column that I was not going to try to kick all my bad habits at once, but this was not deliberate. I have done these things not so much in a conscious attempt to "get healthy," but mostly because it ... just felt right. Riding my bike makes sense since I only live six miles from my office, and I could stand to lose a few pounds anyway. And of course who can afford four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline on a journalist's salary? Eating better is a no-brainer since it's almost summer, and there are more fruits and vegetables available in the supermarket. Besides, those are the only things my sensitive stomach can handle in this hot weather.

After a lifetime of indulging in the sweets and processed foods that I got hooked on as a child in the pre-health-conscious '70s, it's kind of refreshing to let go of that stuff and dedicate myself to homemade fruit smoothies and mixed-green salads and fresh seafood. I realized that I can feel full and satisfied even without stuffing myself full of fat and sugar. I even stopped hitting Starbucks every morning. (Well, I still go every other morning - I'm not a saint.)

And getting back on my bike after being somewhat sedentary and couch-bound for the last couple of years has had some welcome benefits: I sleep better at night, my skin glows with health from the sun and increased circulation, and I have become more tightened and toned.

In some ways it's not surprising that I have been feeling less interested in smoking over the last couple of weeks: nicotine is sort of mutually exclusive from healthy eating and exercise. It would be really weird to spend 45 minutes biking home from the office, only to crack open a box of Marlboros once I got there. And it would be logically incorrect to eat a meal of free-range organic skinless chicken breast fillet with a side of steamed vegetables, then chase it with a couple of drags on a cigarette.

But what is surprising is the cessation of the fingernail-biting. I woke up one morning a few days ago and almost injured myself when I went to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Where did these little daggers on the ends of my fingers come from? I saw them there, but couldn't remember making a conscious decision to stop biting. It just happened one day.

Two weeks ago I thought addictions were like a zero-sum game: You give up one, but another pops up to take its place. But now I am not so sure. Maybe the decision to give up one subconsciously unbinds your mind from the others as well. Or maybe it's a matter of positive reinforcement: Now that I have seen that it's possible to (semi) successfully give up my worst habit and not suffer a total breakdown, that gives me the mental confidence to tackle the others.

Or maybe it's just a short-lived phase, and tomorrow I will race over to 7-11 to stock up on Ding Dongs and Camel Lights after chewing my nails down to the quick. Who knows? I suppose the answer will come two weeks from now, when you read my last column. In the meantime I will just continue to live this new lifestyle day-to-day, hope for the best, and try not to over-think it.

Karen Elowitt is a staff writer at The Signal. Her opinions are her own, but may have been influenced by nicotine, carbon monoxide, or any of the other 4,000 chemicals commonly found in cigarettes that can addle the brain. Her views do not reflect those of The Signal, nor those of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, which waived the normal Smoking Cessation Program fee of $149.


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