Fighting the Fiend
In my first week free of tobacco, I was reminded that I am a fiend.
It’s a nasty word: fiend. Nastier when qualified: drug fiend. No better as an adjective: fiendish, or expressed as an action: fiending.
But, I am a fiend. Addicts are fiends. Free from drugs, I don’t act very fiendish. The more 24 hours I string together free from drugs and alcohol, the more I am capable of looking down on that fiend. I can pretend he was a thing of the past, or a passing trend—a tiger that I have since tamed. But, the first day on my tobacco kick, the tiger showed his teeth.
Fiending for nicotine in strange times made me realize that I was using nicotine all the time.
I used SNUS, a smokeless mouth tobacco that doesn’t require you to spit like dip or chew tobacco. The pouches are undetectable to the untrained eye, meaning I could feel that smooth flavor whenever I wanted and make no one the wiser.
On day one without SNUS, I found myself fiending for a pouch before I went to work. What’s that about? I thought. My conscience answered, that’s because you had a pouch before work every day. A man can really hate his conscience in times like that. In times when he doesn’t want to call his sponsor to hear all that venerable, clear-headed honesty. With a properly trained conscience—thanks a lot sobriety—there is no escaping that calm, serene, inner-sponsor. The more I go along, the more it thwarts all the bad decisions I could make before I can make them.
A gift, certainly. But, when my kids have fought like hell against their clothes, and breakfasts, and coats, and winter hats; and I’ve left my punctuality up to the whims of a few traffic lights and trash-collector vehicle patterns; and there are not enough coffee beans in Columbia to arm my sanity against one more tantrum; and I am at the exact point and time that I—usually—open the refrigerator to find that blue tin filled with a cool, calming tranquilizer; my conscience is like an enemy spy. I want to drag it to the leader of the revolution and sentence it to the guillotine. I want to witness the execution, then throw 4 SNUS pouches in my mouth and smile a bulging horseshoe of a smile at its severed head.
I told you I am a fiend.
It’s not like I think that first decision to throw a for-the-morning-commute pouch was a good one. I can recall my wife, watching me pop that tin lid more frequently, asking on innumerable occasions, “Really? You’re having one now? Why now?” The answer is easy when you have the thing that makes it all OK. “Why not?” I say. The fiend tells me, I deserve it, it helps digestion, there are far worse habits I can struggle with, no one notices anyway, it helps me write, it helps me parent, it helps me be a better me, keeps that anger out of me, makes me content, puts me at ease, helps me work, gets me through the day, helps me push through, when you really think about it, it is harmless, when you think about it some more, it works wonders in my life.
My thoughts become a whirling frenzy of rationalizations.
Tobacco has never actually worked wonders in my life.
In fact, take the power of self-medication away, and I become the opposite of all the things I pretended SNUS made me: angry, short-tempered, cruel, impatient. Then I see those defects in me like a good man in recovery should, and the fiend rises once more: is it worth it? It’s not worth it. Why put yourself through this torment? What was the harm anyway? The 7-eleven is a block away from work. It’s your free-period. You’d be back with time to spare. You have your whole life to quit. I hate to see you like this, Mark. Let me help you. Imagine the buzz, the ease, the bliss you’ll feel after not having one for three days. I won’t tell anyone. I’ll leave it up to you to handle that news. Not that it’s anybody’s business anyway. What you put in your body is your prerogative, it is your right. It is your right and freedom to go to that 7-Eleven. In fact, it is your patriotic duty.
My addiction doesn’t stand to reason for long.
I wouldn’t be feeling especially angry and cruel had I not first used those pouches in an increasing frequency.
It’s not the lack of tobacco that angers me, it’s the former presence of nicotine that makes the absence of it seemingly unbearable. But, the fiend doesn’t care about all that. The fiend wants gratification, and he wants it now. And he is so strong that he can turn that immediate gratification into the only thing that matters in life, patching blind spots over the deeper satisfactions of love, patience, and kindness.
The hardest time to go without my tobacco plug has been at night. I’ve grown accustomed to throwing a pouch in after the kids are in bed with all my daily responsibilities met. It’s that time of night when I open my laptop, and I write. Or if I have nothing to write about, I open a book and read. Without that pouch, it felt like I’d never know that joy again. Enter the fiend: Well, doesn’t that settle it? You’d sacrifice your art? For what? So you don’t feel guilty about ingesting cancer-causing chemicals? Chemicals that won’t kill you until long after your important work is done? What good is working as hard as you do if you can’t do what you love at the end of the day? You may never reach those peaks without it. Those plateaus where your words run flat along the elevated ground. Without a pouch, you’re destined for a miserable existence of falling asleep before your kids, of living without passion, of never reaching your full potential. Hey, that 7-Eleven is open 24 hours. Why don’t you go pick up some ice cream for your wife, and a little something extra for yourself?
Perhaps the worst part of this nicotine jones has been how conscious I have been of my own fiend.
I know the fiend spins bullshit about my brain, and I can’t stop him. Still, it is my consciousness of my fiend that has kept me from hitting up that 7-Eleven. It is the wisdom to know that I don’t have to take my fiend’s suggestions that gives me the great freedom I enjoy today—the freedom that makes miracles from the mundane.
My best defense against that inner-fiend is my acknowledgement of his presence, and his utter irrationality.