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.


8 comments:

  1. Good for you, Doug! In the long ago, I used to smoke cigarettes and occasionally cigars. At one point funds were low and I had to choose between smoking and eating. I chose food! Sipping ice water really helped stop the nicotine urge. Stay the course, lad!

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    1. Wow, cigars! Thanks very much Florence... well, I never liked being addicted to an electronic device, but my reason for quitting is food too. I'm hoping this will help my jaw heal and allow me to eat solid food again.

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  2. Whoa, you scared me for a minute with your photo -- I thought you might be talking about the Big H! Anyway, as a former smoker myself, I know nicotine is hard to kick. So congrats and may you stay clean for now and forever more.

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    1. The big H?? Ulp! Anyway, thanks Tom--yes I thought quitting smoking was hard a dozen years ago, but I think now it was easier than this. I just know I'm done with all of that nonsense. And I'm glad to hear you're a quitter too. :)

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  3. You need strong will power to overcome addiction of any kind. Some do and some don't. You have my sympathy.

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    1. Thanks Gigi, you're very kind--but I've got age (and TMJ) on my side, they're my biggest incentives to not go back to anything addicting again. Well, except for coffee :)

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  4. Pulling for you Doug. I know how hard it is to quit. I had surgery go badly and was in the hospital 21 days on Demerol every 4 hours which made it easier. Prior to that I couldn't go 24 hours with out one. Hope this not only makes you healthier but cures your TMJ. Stay strong fella.

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    1. Patti, you really are a dear--thank you. I'm sorry you had to go thru something so traumatic to quit (I didnt know you smoked) but I will say that quitting vaping has been easier than quitting smoking.. and it does help to have an incentive to guit, I want the ability to chew food again! Thanks again for your good words, P.

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