Rendered Fat Content


Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ: A Eunuch's Dream (1874)

"That exquisite poison has no substitutes …"

By my accounting, I stopped ingesting nicotine a year ago. I mention that now because it's only very recently occurred to me that I have been Dedicting ever since, that I have been attempting whatever the opposite of addiction might be. I'm uncertain if I have been successful, for the Dedicting continues. I considered calling this story Dedicted, except I doubt whether I'll ever experience a definitive moment when I no longer feel either that tug or its absence, either of which constitute a sort of continuing relationship with the substance. It might be true that nobody's ever through with any physically addictive stuff, and/or that stuff's never truly through with them, for the attraction seems to go both ways. Tobacco's superpower lies deeper than just in the souls of its admirers, but also in its apparent ability to attract individuals unto itself. It seems to find its most appreciative followers.

It was a special class I once belonged to, the smokers.
Quiting them, I managed nearly fifteen years before I stumbled pack into that pack again, that second time with the most exquisite small cigars, Macanudos from The Dominican. These I smoked surreptitiously, just as if nobody could smell me coming from about a half mile away. I fed that passion with clear obsession. At that time, I'm still convinced, no power in the world could have possibly dissuaded me from engaging in it. Long plane flights, smokeless hotel rooms and rental cars, and eternal days teaching workshops aside, I lived for my addiction, for those special times when, perhaps crouched down behind the dumpsters out back, I could, for a few minutes, make like Gandalf and produce a magical cloud behind my back.

After a summer spent attending to my dad's final weeks of dying with lung cancer, I quit those smokes, trying snus just to temporarily take off that edge, thereby continuing my addiction, but in a distinctly less distinguished manner. While I could rationalize Macanudos, no story in this world could render snus noble. It was the stuff of cowboys, of which I was never one, and in no way respectable to anyone. Further, snus carries a reputation of being even harder to quit that the nefarious cigarette. I'd traded one unsettling choice for one only a slight bit worse and even worse, undiscussable. I suffered my addiction in secret and in silence, adopting that mañana lifestyle insisting that I was not
that addicted, but only ever seriously considered quitting tomorrow. That pattern carried me through more than the next decade, unsettled.

As things tend to evolve, I'd caught on that I'd somehow transformed into someone quite different than the one I'd intended to become. Last summer, acting almost upon a whim, I suggested to my doctor that I might be ready to take that tomorrow step today. He prescribed some psychoactive medication, since recalled, which he suggested might be helpful. It wasn't, other than to induce a state so much worse that my addiction that it distracted me from my habit. It also scared me into submission. Even crawling skin seemed preferable to another dose of that drug, so I let my skin crawl. It's an almost impossible sensation, like an itch with no place to scratch at it. Turning up the television does nothing to relieve it. Neither does any other human action, though many, I hear, attempt to eat their way beyond it. Only distraction seems to help, full immersion in something deeply distracting.

The jangles continued for weeks. I was fortunate in that the medication which made my condition relatively worse was recalled in the middle of my ordeal. My one supposed escape route guide quit and left me suspended between poles. I dedicated myself and managed somehow to make it through that first month without murdering anyone, including myself. The second month was easier going, but in recent weeks, I've come to a fresh knowing, that I'd been wrestling with that monster every day since I said I'd quit ingesting fresh reinforcements. It's now been a year since I finally ran out of the last vestiges, crumbs and such, and began my daily dedication test. I'd sworn to never again buy that stuff and over the subsequent year, I've remained true to that promise. I wrestled most every day of that year, fighting distractions and fuzzy focus. That little spot in my brain which I had been encouraging had not been removed. I suspect that he'll always remember.

On the other side, life promises some ease. My monkey mind might have finally settled down. I find that I can sit without fidgets for the first time in a very, very long time, for even when I was feeding the monkey, I never really calmed his insistences. He was always squawking, always chattering, always looking for another banana. I maintained my inventory, checking my pockets, plotting courses to likely suppliers, hyper-aware of any impending shortages. Even if I was not consuming, the absence of the package in my pocket would reliably induce a jitters, an all-consuming distraction until resolved. Variants of that awareness have been waining yet still present over the intervening months. I've been sensing that absence over the past month and just in the past week, noticed that I was no longer noticing it had gone.

Addiction's like a space imbedded within a life. It distances a person from self and surroundings in service to whatever's addicting. Whatever's considered, more's needed. An entourage follows everywhere and brings an abiding sense of not quite enough-ness. It motivates sometimes great expectations and epic actions, but mostly fails to deliver. It's really more about maintenance, keeping the beast subdued, staying placid. It becomes more than a choice to become the closest thing to a perpetual motivation machine ever devised. The dead might crawl to the corner store to score their stuff. Overcoming that urge should properly prove impossible.

I feel as though I've been launched into a world of fresh, crisp air. I feel positively reborn, refreshed, freshly blessed. I could still succumb to some effect of all my using. My father contracted his terminal cancer twenty years after he quit smoking. The doomsday clock never, ever stops ticking. I appreciate this new feeling of no longer being actively employed in producing my own demise. I had almost come to master the requisite denial that maintained my mañana lifestyle for so very many years. I became a journeyman addict, perhaps, a fellow traveller but not quite leader enough to stick with it to the end. My head seems clearer now, though I still contend that it was better to have smoked and quit than to have never been addicted at all. That exquisite poison has no substitutes until Dedicting kicks in, and that only on the far side of that experience.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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