The Return of the Fiend

I can explain, I promise. Just hear me out.

First, before you judge, know and understand that it was a beautiful day. Mid 80s. Sunny with occasional relief from a passing cloud cover. The water was calm. The only thing less than perfect was the fishing.

No one caught a flounder. Crabs kept eating our bait. That didn’t matter to me. The saying, “A bad day fishing beats a good day at work,” explains how I felt. I was out there with six other men. No kids. We fished with actual rods. Rods without Spiderman logos on them. I focused on nothing but my cast and reel in the serenity of the Chesapeake Bay.

I felt like nothing could go wrong.

Those were not the circumstances I would imagine myself in when I relapse on tobacco for the first time in half a year.

The relapse before this one made much better sense. It was after a tough morning at home, and I was in that “Oh yeah?” kind of spirit when any decision I make is inextricably bound with stupidity. Why I reached for that bag of Beech-Nut chewing tobacco on a calm day under blue skies doing something I love is beyond me. But I did. And I couldn’t finish the fishing trip without tossing in a second pinch from that carcinogenic pouch.

Later on land, I tried to remember when I gave myself permission to chew tobacco again. Bad decisions such as this one are usually preceded by a gradual slipping of will power—a series of excuses lubricate my relapse. “You can just quit again,” or “It will help you get more done during the day,” or the prideful, “You deserve it.” These little thoughts are always pestering me. They poke and prod my thinking. Sometimes, they hit me in just the right places. And when they do, it doesn’t matter if I’m on a boat ride, wrapping up a long day’s work, or stopping to get gas on a road trip. I cave.

The fiend told me that this time around was different. Raw leaf tobacco is not the same as that fine cut stuff. My last trip down the nicotine vortex involved Snus, a Swedish brand of fix that doesn’t require spitting. Chew tobacco is on the opposite end of the juice spectrum. It’s the kind of tobacco that baseball players had to quit using when the movies stopped glorifying cigarettes, the kind mimicked in bags of Big League Chew bubblegum, the kind that caused the fictional characters in the movie The Sandlot to throw up at a carnival. Somehow, this made the decision a good one.

With all that I do to stay clean and sober, I am still susceptible to the bizarre and private logic of relapse.

This fact—my continued vulnerability to bad habits no matter the evidence to dissuade them—reminds me of two important things. First, I cannot be so sober that I never drink again. I stay sober daily. My addiction has no cures, only reprieves. And second, I need to be grateful that I am out of that active cycle of alcoholism and drug addiction. If you think tobacco makes me crazy, try adding a shot of tequila, a bump of cocaine, and a bong toke.

I know that telling myself it is okay to use leaf tobacco because it isn’t cut is insane. But in the moment, it seemed a clear and rational suggestion. I justified my indulgence of one with my restraint of the other. I put one hand in the tobacco pouch, while the other hand patted my back because the pouch is not a tin. It’s this maddening reluctance to see the truth of my actions that has got me in a lot of trouble. It’s nearly killed me. It should have killed me. And there, under the summer sun and bay breeze, it began to slowly kill me again.



It’s one thing to borrow a pinch on a fishing trip. It’s another to buy my own pouch when I get home.

That’s where the fiend becomes even more baffling. You give him a taste, a morsel, and he has the energy to run a marathon of circles in your thought.

The fiend tells me to have the bag ready for recreational use only. So I buy a pouch when I purchase the rest of the camping supplies for that coming weekend. So what if it’s Tuesday and we don’t leave for four days, can a man be prepared? Then, naturally, I grab a pinch for the car ride home. I leave the pouch in the car, expanding my permission to chew from fishing and camping trips, to drives in the car. I ask my wife that night if I can pick her up anything from the store.

Now the fiend has me on the ropes.

“You’ve been getting tired in the afternoons. One pinch a day will help that.”

“The leaf tobacco is obnoxious, the stuff of spittoons and yellow teeth. It’s so obnoxious that you can’t keep the habit going for too long or use it too often.”

“You’ve never had a run with chew tobacco. This would complete your knowledge of the tobacco plant. You’re always calling yourself a student of life.”

Then the knockout punch: “This gives you something to blog about.”

It the unique power of an addict that can turn a blog whose title claims sobriety is a miracle into an excuse to start using a drug again.

My permission to chew floated like a fog from fishing to camping to driving to anytime I can get away with it. I learned that this chew tobacco has the strongest pull of them all. Not cut like dip tobacco, it is raw. Not portioned out like Snus, I can self-prescribe my dosage. I bought another pouch and the fog seeps into everything. My days became stained brown.


And then this weekend came.

I was biking with my son. Because biking is a recreational activity, I had a wet wad in the side of my mouth. My son stopped his bike.

“Why’d you stop?” I asked him.

He leaned to the side and spat.

“So I can spit. I want to be just like daddy.”

And then, unprompted, and as if the God of vengeance gave him the script, he added, “I want you to always have that in your mouth. So we can always spit together. Okay, daddy?”

I didn’t answer him.

I did finish the chew. But I told myself that this was the sign to quit, to really quit.

Days free of tobacco? Put me down for one.

29 Responses to “The Return of the Fiend

  • Mein Goodson,

    I am also a battered veteran of the “quit tobacco” fist-fight. And I conclude, like you conclude, that when you do something every day despite knowing it kills millions, it’s best to stop after two decades with thanks you still have time to almost ensure you stay alive.

    But I’m wondering how you feel about my backup plan. When I feel the urge to dip or smoke (I’m also a tobacco double threat), I now use Nicorette gum. From the non-exhaustive research I’ve conducted, it’s not the nicotine in cigarettes or chew that kills you, it’s the tar they add for flavor. So if you get besieged by lack of willpower, you can use the gum as if it were dip – getting a little nicotine exposure without carcinogens. (No doubt it’s better to have no nicotine, but like I said this is a stopgap for “emergencies.”)

    Knowing you, you’ve scouted and scouted every option. Any thoughts on that?

    Also, lovely verbiage.


    • Coley! Great to hear from you broheim.

      I’ve heard of the gum before but never in that context. It’s definitely worthwhile for me to look into that option. It sounds like a better recourse than the backup plan that got me chewing the big leaf stuff. That was a stupid move and took me a month to wake up to how stupid it was.

      I like it. A much better backup than having nothing at all.

      Thanks for that! How is everything with you?

    • Wow.
      Longtime lurker, first time commenter here. What a powerful post. THANK YOU so much for sharing this. I’m always grateful for a reminder of how close at our heels our disease is, no matter how sunny the day or how aligned all our ducks may be. “… bizarre and private logic…” Nailed it.
      Thank you so much, Mark. I will share this with my peeps in recovery.

      • So glad you commented!

        Yes, we are always on our heels aren’t we? The price we pay to stay sober. I know I’ll pay it. Sobriety is priceless. I need to remind myself of that, often.

        The shares are very much appreciated. I’m a not-for-profit blog, so I am 100 percent supported by shares. There’s no donation, only support, word-of-mouth and comments. So glad you left word!

        Hope to continue the conversation in the future,


  • Mark, I’m reading this primarily as metaphorical regarding drugs (like, “real drugs”) and alcohol. Otherwise, I say give yourself a little break. I read about our friends whipping themselves over sugar consumption; man, progress not perfection and recovering from actual substance abuse is much more than just “progress.” Guilt and shame are constant companions of mine and I don’t wish them upon anyone. Maybe give yourself a break. And my apologies if I am misreading!

    • HD, you’re good. Ya know, I was thinking to myself that the “drug” language in this post was a little heavy for nicotine. Definitely, admittedly, a part of me used that language for a wow effect, I realize. I needed it though. I don’t want to be messing with something that causes such certain cancer.

      But I hear you on the giving myself a break, thing. I’m not good at that. And I think you’re right, progress is what is key! We are all in a constant state of progress. I want to thank you again too for having a read of that (not at all little) project of mine. I just finished going through all the comments and feedback. It has been immensely helpful! So thank you once again.

      • Mark, thanks (as usual!) for your generous view of my comments. They feel “preachy” in retrospect lol. I LOVED reading the project and am so excited to see where it goes. Good luck starting the school year; I’m sure the lack of football it both wonderful and tough at the same time. Appreciate you.

        • It is exactly that. Wonderful and tough! I actually just finished writing about what it was like to watch the first game. Thanks for your support HD. I’m going to read Drop the Rock and get back to you!


  • Jeff stroud
    6 months ago

    How insidious addiction is, old behaviors are just beyond the stinking thinking, rationalizing etc. Many have heard that voice, hopefully they talked out, with themselves, a sponsor or a friend, even a blog if that works. Yes being honest, speaking our imperfection’s, our doubts, our victories most of all, are the way through.
    Thank for sharing !

    • No problem, Jeff. Thanks for reading and leaving a word. The sponsor or “sharing it with others” is clutch. I admit that I underutilize my network. This is exactly what they are for! Thank you for that reminder.

  • Victor Garate
    6 months ago

    Thank you . the fiend has had me in acting in certain areas of my life that I believed did not compromise my recovery and sobriety … one more.. one more. Knowing it’s the wrong thing to do and do it anyway. prostituting,my morals and values to fufill my selfish needs. grateful for the process to see it and then do something about it. the right hard action.

    • The right hard action. That sums it up. The right thing to do is always the harder thing to do, isn’t it? I’m glad you can relate. It’s always one thing or another with me. Substituting one addiction for another. Just trying to keep them on the healthier side as much as possible.

      Bushy top out!

  • Great post mark on the insidiousness of addiction, some brilliant inner dialogue. Chilling ending.
    I battle with nicotine and have progressed somewhat by changing to vaping. My breathing etc is better but I know it for a stop gap solution until I’m in a better(stronger) position to quit completely.
    I was taken by surprise at the ‘scene’ in and around vaping. The guy in my local shop told me his origin story. Origin stories! how cool is that! its still bad for you kids!
    anyway, its a love it or hate it kinda thing, but for people looking to cut nicotine habits, not to mention the carcinogens its one path outta the smoke.

    • I can’t rule out that vaping won’t be part of my future. Although I haven’t tried it yet. Like you John, I’m doing my best with this thing. And like HD commented on this one, it’s all about making good progress and giving ourselves a break once in a while. That voice though. Like you said. It’s a familiar voice. Like traumatic familiar.

      Is that a wordpress site I see! I like the name. Requested access.

      Thanks as always for stopping by and leaving a comment. It’s always good to hear from you.

  • Mark,
    I am not a smoker, but I have heard about how hard it is to do.
    That your son wants to be like you? That he said it like that?
    Hard stuff.
    Things like that wake me up to real life.

  • That was a pretty profound moment with your son.
    You know your inner dialogue very well. Perhaps you need to write out a two person play…where the alter ego convinces you tobacco is not the next best coping mechanism and that gum might be a better choice?

    Progress not perfection. You will figure this out. I’m sure your doctor would help if you decide to go that route. Whatever it takes.

    • A two person play! That’s a great idea. The title would be easy. “The fiend and me” or something like that.

      Unfortunately, that inner voice is a constant one. I’ve grown used to hearing it at this point. Thanks Anne!

  • You’ve got one day, brother. If you just.stay quit, you’ll never have to live it again.

    Pick up and all bets are off.

  • Same here with sugar. I gave myself permission to relapse on it. It can get me by the short and curlies, for sure. Monitoring this space…

    • I don’t think sugar is bad for a person. Unless you eat it at the expense of everything else and it is impacting your health I think it should be considered just another fuel source.
      I just can’t put it in the same category as alcohol, drugs or nicotine (all drugs).
      Restriction for the sake of restriction never works…

  • Quitting the nicotine is tough work, man. I’m right there with you. Thanks for this post.

  • I do love the inner dialogue. I am having the same battle with sugar, as some of your other readers have. I am babysitting right now, and it turns out the couple has not only Moose Tracks ice cream in the freezer, but also fudge topping in the fridge. So the inner dialogue and permission giving talk is hounding me as we speak.

    So far, I’ve only had a spoonful of each, but that is enough to keep me glancing longingly toward the fridge. Time to re-watch “That Sugar Film.”

    • Wow, well that was good timing. I hope you were able to stop at a spoonful. And if you weren’t, of course, I totally get it. Sugar has been that thing I don’t dare shine a light on. I think you (and the readers) are brave for it. I can’t imagine trying to give it up. It’s one of those rewards I’m so dependent on I don’t even know it’s there.

  • Interesting how that game invariably plays out. Sorry I’m late to the game coming to this, but I know the battle well. Again, my suggestion is to do-what-I-do: give up and go to vaping! That’s not very recovery-minded of me, but I figure it’s not as bad as the other stuff.

    Oh . . . justifications! Another blog post for sure.

    Love your writing, my friend.

    As always – Danno

    • Thanks Danno! You’re not late to anything. It’s always a pleasure to see you left word here. Vaping is something I’ve never tried. Never even borrowed a toke from someone else who does it. I imagine it tastes like hookah smoke? I love smoking a hookah so maybe I would like it.

      Great to speak with you last week and catch up a bit. Always eager to see what you’re up to. The transformations never end!

  • I love this topic. I’m just about 2 years into recovery and have been on and off the cigarettes. Although currently I am a non-smoker, each time I’ve relapsed on tobacco I’ve had that inner dialogue tell me it’s ok. Sooner or later I’m sneaking it, hiding it from my wife and leading a full-on double life…isolating with my cigarettes. Those addict behaviors come out no matter what the substance. I fully believe if I go back to smoking cigarettes, I will probably end up drunk eventually.

    Great blog by the way. I relate to every entry at some level and get a lot out of it.

    • Dan-

      I am so glad you stopped by and decided to leave a comment. It’s great to connect with like-minded people. I think most people who smoke or use tobacco can relate, but people who suffer from addiction or alcoholism have an especially strong voice.

      I could have gone on about the hiding from wife part. Too often, my wife discovers some secret of mine when she reads a blog post. That’s not cool to her. But sometimes, I don’t know any other way to bring it up because my normal defenses are pulling me into secrecy, like you said.

      Happy to hear from you. Hope you can stay off the smokes and I keep off the chew. My sponsor has been helpful with it. This marks one week!

  • How’s it going? Tobacco in all of its forms is a tough one. My son uses “chew” also. Yuk. I tell him his bottom lip is going to have to be removed. Of course that has accomplished absolutely nothing. But Im his mother!

    • I’m glad your there to tell him that. I hope eventually he’ll listen. I’m pretty stubborn too. But so far so good. As in, I haven’t had a chew all week! Although it’s been tough.

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