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.

An Oxford nightscape I rename: the Feel of the Fiend.

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.

34 Responses to “Fighting the Fiend

  • Colin Chatburn
    7 months ago

    hi mark best to seperate nicotine and baccy.use an e cigarette of in haler.been on one for 14 months.its an addiction but at the lower end of the scale and less antisocial.i need my fix of caffiene/nicotine .i dealt with the others.there always hope etc,and way round it.happy with my industrial battery inhaler(from amazon)ill deal with nicotine in time.don’t suffer.cheers colin

    • I’ve never messed with a vaporizer before. One of those things, since I haven’t started yet, sure as hell don’t want to try it now. I’m finding the same things that work for recovery, work to kick this. Hasn’t been easy though. Good to hear from you, Colin.

  • Soberinny
    7 months ago

    That fiend is cunning, powerful and baffling. Well written! (As usual). I’m finding alcohol harder to kick than smoking…. but a drug is a drug is a drug.
    Keep up the good fight. It is truly exhausting.

  • Good luck Mark. I know how hard that is! <3
    Diana xo

  • Stronger man than I am!! I had to have my cake and eat it to and switched to vaping, but in all reality it’s just like jumping off of the 3rd floor instead of the 27th. One day . . . Nice piece, Mark!

  • ‘TOO’ Ugh, Dan. Edit!

  • Great piece, Mark. And I totally identify. I quit cigarettes 6 years ago and it’s been really hard. Yes I’m happy that I did and undoubtedly I’m healthier but I’d be lying if I said the little fiend inside of me doesn’t feel entitled to a smoke every now & then. The reality is I smoked for 2 decades so my little fiend isn’t going to vanish overnight. But it has gotten better and it’ll get better for you too.

    • Thanks Sean. I’m eagerly awaiting it to get better. I can’t believe the mental side of it lasts this long this intensely, actually. It’s fucking crazy, actually. Thank you for your support! And good on you for your 2 years!

  • Oh man, this hit so close to home. As a parent of young kids who also spent the morning fielding tantrums and battles, and who also looks to the end of the day post-bedtime as my reward for getting through it all, I relate so completely to this. Food is my drug, sugar specifically, but I’ve given up cigarettes years ago, mostly alcohol this year, and social media usage last week because all of them trigger my fiend and stoke my primary addiction to avoidance of life. As a parent, there is a whole extra layer to it all. I appreciate reading about your journey with addiction to nicotine/tobacco, as it is less stigmatized in the world but no less real for you- I feel the same way about addiction to food. It’s something many people play down or write off altogether, but for me it is as ravaging as any drug could be. Thank you for the work you do, it has given me a boost on a difficult morning. 7 days today, one day at a time.

    • Congrats on 7 days! It’s great to share this journey. A burden shared is a burden halved, as they say. Food, nicotine, two heads with one brain! I’m so glad these posts are helpful. It gives me the motivation to keep writing them.

      You mentioned social media use. Man, that would be another fiend to tackle. I’ll have to save that fight for another day. Fighting nicotine (or booze, 0r whatever) is enough for one day.

  • Reading this, my thoughts went to the Tin Woodman from the Wizard of Oz. I couldn’t remember what he was missing, and then remembered it was heart. You have heart; you have everything you need. Don’t let this fiend spook you into thinking you need more.

  • I’m vaping and trying to get myself free. I’ve been a fiend for nicotine since 12 yrs old. Thanks for sharing the struggle!

  • I think I am in the .05% of alcoholics (and addicts) who doesn’t smoke, nor ever did smoke. I was the only non-smoker at the rehab, and one of my duties was cleaning the ashtrays..ha ha.

    Anyway, I do get this though. Just substitute sugar for tobacco / nicotine. Or self-pity. Or whatever else I have in my treasure chest at the time. The rationalizations and justifications are the same. That voice is a bugger, ain’t it? And that anger comes from the flush of knowing that what we’re doing is *right* but ego can’t stand to be wrong. We play out the temper tantrum.

    Glad you’re seeing this – and hey, I see a lot of my stuff and still go at it because I’m flawed and a work-in-progress and I am not where I want to be, but I’m not where I was before.

    Love the post, dude.

    Paul

  • Oh yes I relate to the fiend so very well. Its that thing of denying myself something I want (but i don’t want) I don’t do very well with rules. I just keep telling mself you can go buy cigarettes anytime you want- smoke 50 of ’em and then what? Then you are a amoker again which is what you dont want to be. The craving is caused by the first dose of nicotine. It will soon pass (I hope so) xxx

    • I was thinking of you, Hurrah, when I read your post yesterday about your own journey to quit. I’m glad you stopped by!

  • If this is a repeat comment…apologies…struggling with posting log ins… But what you shared had so much impact on me…I want to try and comment again.
    “I won’t tell anyone, I’ll leave it to you to handle that news”…”no one else’s business”…”it’s your right”….”pick up some ice cream…” If this wasn’t so REAL for me, I wouldn’t be laughing so hard. I still am looking for a name for my crazy lady voice. Wicked Whispering Witch Woman (Chick) is sort of bubbling to the top.
    Change Sucks. Braking Habits Sucks More. High Five.

    • Only received one comment, by the way. And I’m so glad you made sure to send it. Feel free to borrow ‘fiend’. Mine sounds the same as yours…

      High five received! Thanks for visiting! Solidarity.

  • My son saw a hypnotist to quit smoking. It helped him to uncover why he was reaching for an escape. He hasn’t smoked since last August.

    • I’m glad it’s worked for him!

      I went to a hypnotist once, but I couldn’t get hypnotized. I felt relaxed, maybe fell asleep for a moment, but never fully had a loss of consciousness.

  • I never smoked. I tried, but I didn’t know how to inhale.
    I am SO glad I never learned!
    LOL
    You can do this!!
    xo
    Wendy

  • I hope you beat the demon. I need to quit myself.

  • I’m wrestling with the sugar fiend myself. I end up giving up real food and having just sweets instead. The fiend won tonight — eating Edy’s Ice Cream.
    Must. Stop. Tomorrow.

    xoxo

    • Just. Stop. Today.

    • Haha. I swear my worse vice today has to be ice cream so much that I’d justify it instead of dinner too! Stepping out my from door into Market Sq of Newburyport I’ve had three options; frozen yoghurt with all those candy toppings, homemade ice cream or Italian gelato each within a stones throw. That damn fiend would show up and explain how gelato is actually pretty healthy compares to the others 🙉

      https://youtu.be/zTlaRu_Wsl4

      • I love that video! Thank you. ; )
        You will in a really cool area. I just found a custard shop that sells all kinds of amazing flavors with toppings. (I found it on the third day of my sugar detox. So much for that.) I am most definitely a sugar fiend.

  • You captured how powerful our minds can be working against us, Mark. It’s amazing how the devil uses our own voice to trick us.
    I’m fortunate to have never smoked yet I have had a few bouts with chew that lasted six months or so. I’d always pick up chewing while visiting my inlaws in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest VA driving through the hills, listening to country music bc that’s what you do in the country.
    Today I catch my teenager and his friends sneaking packs of cigarettes through my house and just ask, “Really?” I hate to see them even start knowing that fiend can sneak up on them and get a good grip on them.
    Thanks for sharing, Mark.

    • The chew was my start. Always had an old coach that chewed while he coached. I thought it was so cool.

      I used to steal ciggarettes all the time from my grandma. She never noticed. Or if she noticed, she never mentioned it.

      The ways of youth, I guess. Thanks for stopping by Greg. Love what you’re up to over there at Ragamuffin. Enjoy what’s left of your mountain visit.

  • John 2flags
    7 months ago

    after the horror of the ‘bottom’, ain’t been able to comment, I needed to hear how shitty, scary, insane that was, this is difficult to say, you, that is to say I needed something as near my insane mindset day2day detonated, face towards Enemy, sub-con claymore. thank u mark, I mentioned this posts content couple times. I saw that was dragged out, reliving the wish 2 end. but thank u so much Mark, the humor but absolute truth in recovery that is your wonderfully mindfull mind, helps me to grasp what I need in a (at present) deepdark time. all this talk of vape , trying to be helpful I know, but missing t point posse (ahem)

    • Right. Vaping would totally open the door to other stuff for me. I need the cold turkey quit. Or else the fiend will hang around in the guest house of my mind, waiting to crash the party again.

      Always good to hear from you John. Thinking about you, hoping everything at home is stabilizing. And you’re finding time to handle you.

  • Quitting smoking is so hard!! I quit smoking and drinking at the same time this time but I used the nicotine patch for 6 weeks which I think made it a little less painful (for me, not for the people who had to endure being around me!). I think maybe I did myself a bit of a favour though as there have been times where I’m confused on what it is I’m craving. A drink? A smoke? A smoke while drinking? Ughhh, nothing then!
    Good luck!

  • Colin Chatburn
    6 months ago

    mark ive checked on this.there is dispensation for writers. gave up a 30/dat smoke habit now on medium strength nicotine e-cigarette.in terms of harm reduction its a winner.fight the good fight.by the way,good piece i enjoyed it

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