Saturday, July 25, 2020

My secret shame: an addiction to these contraptions for (ugh) 12 years

These are vaping devices.  The long red pen on the far right is the oldest, what I puffed on for several years.  The center one is a Janty, brushed steel and heavy, and flat.  It feels good in my hand, and can hold the most e-juice, but its refillable cartridge burns out quickly, needing replacing every few days. 

The smallest one on the far left is a ‘Mini-Fit’, one of the latest devices and a real champ.  No bigger than my thumb, it can take endless juice refills, charges in minutes and plumes big clouds of vapor.  I had it in 5 colors—red, bronze, black, blue & gold.

They’re all gone now.  I quit vaping on July 4, and carted a bag of a dozen or so pens, 3 Jantys, 5 Mini-Fits, refill cartridges, e-pods and a case containing 22 bottles of e-juice (each bottle lasted approximately 3 months, I had enough to keep me vaping for years) downstairs and outside to the dumpster behind my apartment building. 

For the first time in 41 years, I am both “smoke and vape free”.  I HAD to quit if I want to get over this awful jaw disorder. 

This began with cigarettes, in 1979.  Both my best friend Dan & my girlfriend Sherri smoked, would always offer me one, and while I never felt pressured, sure why not.

And a week before I graduated high school, I bought my first pack—I was hooked.

I was never proud of the fact I smoked, but I enjoyed them greatly.  I’ll never forget one day in 1984, I was working in the Garden Shop at our local Murphy’s Mart, helping a woman load bags of potting soil & peat moss into her trunk.  She was fairly new in town, a dentist & avid gardener, and on friendly terms with everyone.  She said “Douglas you sure have a beautiful smile.”  I said “Aw, thanks Dr. Jane.”   She said “I’m surprised you’re a smoker, if you don’t quit you’re going to lose that smile someday.”  

She was right, of course.  I spent most of the 1990s getting several teeth pulled, and the rest either root-canaled, crowned or both.  Half of my upper teeth are bridges, and I wear a partial denture on the lower left.  Tobacco will wreck your teeth.

Still, I continued puffing away.

And then one evening in June 2008, I was watching foreign tv commercials on Youtube, and saw a British advert for electronic cigarettes, “for when a real smoke isn’t convenient.”   They weren’t even sold in the US yet, so I wrote the manufacturer and asked if I could order a kit.  I thought if it seemed real enough, it might help me cut down 1-2 cigs from my pack-a-day habit. 

Oh, it worked better than expected.  That kit included a couple of black pens (with a tip that glowed orange when you puffed) and a ‘juice sampler’ in different nicotine strengths.  18mg nicotine—12mg—6mg—3mg.  I began with the 18mg, but was still frustrated that it wasn’t like smoking at all.  You weren’t inhaling a dense, aromatic smoke, it was more like “sipping steam”. 

That first night, I tossed it across the room:  “Useless.”

But that inhale of steam contained nicotine, so I stuck at it, and began noticing in the days ahead that my urge to smoke REAL cigarettes was diminishing.  Instead of running downstairs for a cigarette every 90 minutes at the office, I vaped for a couple minutes at my desk instead.  Coworkers asked what it was, and laughed at the silliness of it.

I wasn’t laughing—for the first time in decades, I saw a real possibility of quitting cigarettes altogether.

And on July 4, 2008 I was outside on my balcony smoking my nightly “cigarette before bed” and a voice inside me said:  This is your last cigarette.  You’ll never smoke again.  That voice was right—I never picked up another cigarette.

Going to full-time vaping wasn’t easy.  The first few nights I puffed frantically on steam.  But eventually I adapted, and happily settled into vaping.  As days passed, I coughed up some awful stuff every morning as my lungs cleared themselves of 25+ years of tobacco use; soon my smoker’s cough was gone.  Everything smelled & tasted better.  My clothes smelled as fresh at the end of the day as they did in the morning.

That e-cig was a godsend!  I soon learned I could vape indoors too, the fog it produced was clean of tar or burnt tobacco, and didn’t yellow walls or lampshades, or stink up anything.    

Still, I didn’t want to trade one addiction for another.  I began vaping those other juices with less nicotine.  I switched from 18mg to 12, had a shaky start, but adjusted.  In the next several months I went to 6mg nicotine juice, and finally down to the lowest, the 3mg.  

I was one happy camper, and told everyone I was vaping the lowest juice available; how difficult can it be to quit now?  I’d do it when I was good and ready.

What I’d failed to see, I was vaping more to maintain the same level of nicotine in my body.  On that 3mg juice, I pretty much vaped constantly now.  It became a worse habit than cigarettes. 

I never thought of the workout I was giving my poor jaw muscles day & night… to think I did it for 12 years… I am such a dope. 

When I wrote at the top that I quit vaping, it wasn’t by choice; I wound up in the hospital over the 4th of July, and was in there longer than expected.  I’m debating sharing the whole story, I’d sooner just forget it.

A nurse found one of my vape pens on me, asked what it was and when I told him, he slapped a nicotine patch on my arm.  My vaping days were done.

After my release, I headed straight to my local drugstore and bought a couple boxes of the patches.  They’ve taken a little of the edge off, but this has been hard.   Everytime my phone rings or I get out of the shower or make a cup of coffee, I reach for a vape pen and—fudge.  I take some big breaths of air instead.  

I’ve been vape-free 3 weeks as of this writing, but I often feel as anxious as the first day.  The nicotine patches (which gradually taper you down) says the emotional need lasts around 6 weeks.

I just hope my swollen masseters will forgive me in time and calm down too.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

On this day, four years ago… 15 reasons why I like this photo so much

This morning I was looking thru my ‘Drafts’ folder (blogs I started but never completed or posted) and found one with this photo, with today’s date at the top.  It was titled “On this day, July 11 2016…”  and below the photo was written:

“It’s a boring summer day, I’ve got nothing.  But that’s okay!”

I guess I can see why I chose not to post it, but I sure wish I could go back to this day.  It was only 4 years ago, but compared to events today, personal and public, it feels like a lot more time has passed.  Here’s 15 reasons why I like this photo so much.

1.  I’d just lost 50 pounds after a year of good diet & exercise.  (I’ve lost 50 pounds this year too, but not from a good diet or exercise, I’m afraid.)

2.  Temporomandibular joint dysfunction?  Orofacial pain?  Didn’t have it, never heard of it.  11 trips to the ER for kidney stones?  Never had those either!

3.  My apartment had an outside balcony.  (I like my new apartment better, but it doesn’t come with outdoor seating.)



6.  The country wasn’t shut down from a nightmare pandemic, and 135,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 were still with us.

7.  I really believed we’d be electing our first woman president in 4-5 months, and the world would finally see us as a truly progressive nation.

8.  Pizza Milano was one block up the street from me and had the best pies in town.  (They’ve since been replaced with a ‘Pizza Express’ that everyone says is the worst.)

Milano’s “Wild Buffalo Chicken” pizza weighed a whopping 5-6 pounds!

9.  My niece Sophia was 11 years old and still shorter than her Uncle Doug.

10.  I hadn’t sold my car yet (due to vision problems in two year’s time) and my sister Shawn’s house was just an hour’s drive away.

11.  The Good Wife was still on TV.

12.  I was paying ZILCH for my tv viewing—I had a Tivo & an indoor antenna that picked up 44 HD channels for free.  (The antenna didn’t work out too well here.)  Oh well, I missed cable channels like CNN & MSNBC anyway!

13.  I was still happily vaping my blues away (I took up vaping after quitting smoking in 2008, which is probably what gave me my TMJD, darn it).

14.  Strawberry Kitty lived directly below me (my downstairs neighbor Mary Beth’s cat) and spent her evenings outside, and would meow along when I softly sang “Soft kitty, Warm Kitty” from The Big Bang Theory.

15.  The only person who had to wear a mask when he left his cave was Batman!