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This is the final diary in a series celebrating the 3 month anniversary of our quit-smoking support group, GUS. The series includes,

 GUS: 3 Months Old! Beating The First Demon ... bsmechanic
 GUS: 3 Months Old! The 2nd demon speaks ... ChocolateChris
 GUS: 3 Months Old, The Third Demon is Lurking ... bgblcklab1
 GUS: 3 Months Old! Mastering The Fourth Demon ... Positronicus

The author of this diary, Positronicus, is not a current quitter, having successfully quit nearly 10 years ago. He did, however, contribute a story, The Fourth Demon, which lent a theme to the series.

Howdy GUSsacks! Thank you for allowing me to write this diary in celebration of your three month anniversary as a group. It’s a tremendous thing you’ve started; I’m a huge enthusiast for support groups. Hang on tight to your quits and to your quitbuddies – you can literally save each other’s lives.

GUS (Gave Up Smoking) is a community support diary for Kossacks in the midst of quitting smoking. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are quitting or thinking of quitting, please -- join us!

You can also click the GUS tag to view all diary posts, or access the GUS Library at dKosopedia for a great list of stop-smoking links. Check it out!

First some fun. Elsewhere I've posted a new, illustrated version of The Fourth Demon (it helps the presentation if you maximize your browser window), and a PDF version of the same (warning: 1.5 Meg pdf hosted on a server with unknown bandwidth limits). This was not hard to do – the story has an emotional truth for me – it essentially illustrated itself. I have no copyright or claim on any of the words; they are entirely for you. (The images are obviously not mine, I scooped them up from various places on the web.) Enjoy it please! Pass it around! You are free to do as you wish with either version.

My story: From Psychology to Demonology. When I first quit, a lot of the people in my online support group were posting about various psychological issues associated with quitting. I wasn’t familiar with any of them - I didn’t know what a “trigger” was, I’d never heard of Alan Carr, and “rational emotional therapy” and “cognitive behavioral therapy” sounded like so much psychobabble. I also heard about the mysterious “Three Demons”, who were supposed to visit on Day 3, Week 3, and Month 3, but I didn't understand them either. I thought quitting was just a matter of overcoming a bluntly physiological drug addiction – you had to endure a withdrawal, but once that was over, it was over.

And for some people, that may be all there is to it. There may not be anything deeper going on at all. If you’re one of those people, then hooray for you!

But for me it was like peeling an onion, layer on layer. Though I never did fully understand Alan Carr or cognitive behavioral therapy, I reached my own understanding of some of the deeper psychological aspects of quitting the hard way, from personal experience. I discovered first hand what a trigger was by inadvertently going to one of the places I used to smoke and being instantly visited by an overwhelming urge to smoke. Oh, so that’s what they’re talking about! My idiot brain had made all kinds of very simple Pavolvian associations between all kinds of people, places, things, events ... and smoking. Suddenly the advice to “avoid your triggers” made sense!

Remember Pavlov? Stimulus-response? That’s what triggers are all about. Simple associations.

So here’s the stimulus-response rule for smoking:

It doesn’t matter what the stimulus is. Smoking is NEVER the right response.

Get it? It doesn’t matter who, what, when, where, why or how -- there is ALWAYS a better, healthier, more productive way to deal with it than by lighting up.

Then a little bit later on – yes, around week 3 – I discovered, again the hard way, a second class of psychological problems one morning when I forgot to put on my patch. A few hours later I was in the grip of a 21 mg/day nicotine withdrawal, and my brain was screaming at me: “OMG, your job is so awful – YOU REALLY NEED TO SMOKE!!!”, and, “OMG, your wife is such a bitch – YOU REALLY NEED TO SMOKE!!!”. I could not figure out what was going on, until I remembered the forgotten patch. I slapped it on, and went to bed to bed for an hour.

Y’all, that was one long hour. And it was spooky. I had to listen to this crazy internal monolog reciting all the Seemingly Insurmountable Life Problems I had, and telling me to smoke, until the patch kicked in and it all quieted down. With 20/20 hindsight I can see that I was using all those problems as excuses to smoke, and using smoking to avoid dealing with them. Listen:

It doesn’t matter what the stimulus is. Smoking is NEVER the right response.

It doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life -- there is ALWAYS a better, healthier, more productive way to deal with it than by lighting up. Smoking is not dealing with it. Smoking is running away.

Better, healthier solutions. What I really needed to do was figure out how to improve my job situation and my relationship with my wife. Over the next few months I concluded that the rat bastards in charge of my job would never change, and the only way to fix it was to leave and find another job. So I started looking. As for the wife, those of you who have suffered and recovered from long-term relationship problems know how difficult & complex that process can be, so I won’t digress on it here, except to say that I worked on it, successfully, and my wife and I are still together!

It was also useful at this point to buy into demonology. By pretending all the quitting problems were devious sabotage plots by magical demons - how else could they get inside my head? - I could separate myself from the addiction: the addiction is not me, it is not part of me, it is something else, it is anything else, it is these damned evil demons. It is not part of me.

And because it is not part of me, I can be rid of it. I can escape.

So I managed to stay a step ahead of the other demons. I kept my energy up. My quitbuddies had advised me of the virtues of vigilance and warned me of the perils of overconfidence, so I avoided the third demon, Exhaustion, at three months. The minor demon that planted a found smoke in my car had waited too long – at four months into the quit I was not so easily fooled.

It doesn’t matter what the stimulus is. Smoking is NEVER the right response.

For me, by four or five months into the quit all the excitement was pretty much over. The support group was for funning around and telling jokes. The rest of the year was dedicated to solidifying my progress, learning how to live without drugging myself 50 times a day, and dealing – in better, healthier, and more productive ways – with my day-to-day stressers and my Seemingly Insurmountable Life Problems.

The Fourth Demon. And yet, I was not done. There was a deep trap waiting for me at the end of the year. A few weeks before Christmas, my rat bastard bosses beat me to the punch, and fired me.  I used the break to visit my doctor, who after examining me declared, “Get thee to the cardiologist!” The cardiologist in turn ordered a stress test, and after pondering the results, a visit to the cath lab.

For those of you who’ve never been to the cath lab, 99% of the time, it’s not so bad. They give you some drugs to chill you out before they run this tube up your femoral artery into your heart. They inject some dye to visualize the circulation, and as long as they don’t find any occlusions, you’re good to go. But if they do find something, they try to put in a stent. The problem is that about 1% of the time, the stent knocks something loose and you have a heart attack or a stroke right then and there. So 1% of the time, it’s very bad indeed.

So there I was, right after Christmas, utterly unemployed, with a wife and two kids at home, all tubed up in the cath lab and listening to this cardiologist yelling at me, “This is the part where you have a 1% chance of something really bad happening! Are you ready?”

Yes, it was stressful. But everything came out fine, and I didn’t smoke.

It doesn’t matter what the stimulus is. Smoking is NEVER the right response.

The stories of quitbuddies L & K. Dearest L had to watch her dear mother smoke herself into her grave. Mom was totally addicted and even though she suffered from terminal emphysema, could not bring herself to quit. You know what I never want to happen? I never want to be dying of emphysema AND going through nicotine withdrawal at the same time. Too nasty. Dying of emphysema is bad enough all by itself, you don’t need to be craving a cig on your deathbed, and begging your daughter to get one for you. It’s sad and it makes her cry. Dearest L kept her quit through all of that, and even through the terrible arguments she had with her siblings following mom’s death. Good for L!

Dearest K had an even harder time of it. Three months into her quit, her dad suddenly died of a heart attack. She lost her quit, but hey, it’s hard to go to your father’s funeral without smoking. You know what I’m talking about. She regrouped and quit again a few weeks later, and kept it even though her only daughter left for college soon after.

Then The Fourth Demon conjured up a special treat for her. Her typing speed, which was usually blazing, deteriorated markedly. Her spelling, which was usually excellent, did as well. She had pain in her left hip, and a tremor in her left thumb. It was getting noticeably worse, almost daily. Her doctor ordered an MRI, and after just a glance, ordered her to see a neurosurgeon.

At Johns Hopkins. The next day.

The neurosurgeon took one look at the MRI and ordered surgery. The next day.

Thankfully, the rapidly growing, ping pong ball sized tumor was favorably placed, superficially in her right hemisphere, and was of favorable type, so K survived and recovered quite well. She’ll be on anti-epileptic drugs for the rest of her life, which knowing her, will be vivid, vibrant, and cheerful.

Remarkably, through the whole ordeal, she didn’t smoke.

It doesn’t matter what the stimulus is. Smoking is NEVER the right response.

The three of us chatted about all that one night, and then the whole picture came together for me. The Fourth Demon essentially wrote itself the next day.

:::

GUSsacks, if K can go through emergency neurosurgery for brain cancer without losing her quit, then whatever you’ve got going on, so can you. Congratulations on your three month anniversary as a group, keep going, and DON'T SMOKE!

Originally posted to Positronicus on Tue Sep 15, 2009 at 06:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by gussians.

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