Butting out
The addict within

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 05/99) - I started sweating at last Wednesday's quit-smoking meeting, and it had nothing to do with nicotine withdrawal.

The minute I entered the Detox Centre for the weekly quit-smoking session, I was put on the spot.

"So, did you smoke?" a gentleman asked me, even before I got my coat off. With barely a hesitation I admitted I had -- three half cigarettes to be precise -- and that, no, I wasn't proud of it.

In fact, I'm still sweating as I write this column, weighing whether in holding myself up as a public ex-smoker, I shouldn't be a model of goodness and purity, and no backsliding, too. But if the Tobacco Action Yellowknife group has taught me anything, it is to be open and honest about the addiction and my progress in quitting.

Now I don't want to poke and prod and lay bare all the psychoses involved in quitting, and smoking. But I will say it has a lot to do with confidence. Like most of the 11 individuals in the group, I didn't approach the business of quitting with a whole lot of confidence. I never expected it to work and, frankly, still don't. Having written that, however, I essentially have stopped -- and just hope I stay stopped.

Group co-ordinator Dr. Ross Wheeler presented an interesting way of gauging progress. When one former pack-a-day smoker said she'd had three cigarettes since quitting, Wheeler pointed out that meant she hadn't smoked 22 cigarettes on that day and hadn't smoked 25 cigarettes on all subsequent days -- adding up to a grand total of 172 cigarettes not smoked during the first week. Now that's impressive.

Group leader Gail Gaudon also pointed to the money saved -- approximately $8 per pack or $56 a week. Gaudon said that when she quit, she got in the habit of buying herself little gifts, like scented candles so that she could appreciate the sense of smell that had been deadened from years of smoking.

On Wednesday, Gaudon and Wheeler also led the group through the grieving process. Likening losing cigarettes to losing a friend or family member, Gaudon said grieving over the absence of tobacco is also part of the healing process -- to what smoking has done to your body, mind and spirit.

Group members described a variety of losses associated with quitting smoking, ranging from sociability and reward to security and comfort.

Gaudon's presentation of the stages of grieving -- denial, anger, sorrow and despair, bargaining and acceptance -- made a lot of sense to the group and triggered constant input and ideas.

Members also discussed the symptoms of withdrawal and loss. Two women pointed to the fact that their short-term memory is temporarily shot. One said she'd bought herself a book as a quit-smoking reward but finds she has to continually re-read the first chapter out of an inability to concentrate. The other woman spoke of forgetfulness and being easily distracted at work.

"You'll be able to hide your own Easter eggs this Easter," one man suggested.

But whether quitting means dealing with grief or physical withdrawal, my big enemy is the addict within -- the cunning seducer who makes quitting a nightmare.

"My mind is the enemy, I never go in alone," Wheeler said, quoting a friend.

"There's a committee in my mind, and one of the guys is a smoker whose suggestion is always, 'Let's go for a cigarette,'" he added.

I can only pray the rest of committee votes that guy down.