"It relieves stress and anxiety"
It is normal and natural to believe that smoking is a stress buster, that it calms us during crisis. How could we not believe it? We felt it happen hundreds or maybe even thousands of times. But as reviewed in the previous chapter, stress relief is one the biggest rationalization shams of all.
According to a once secret 1983 Brown & Williamson research memo, "People smoke to maintain nicotine levels" and "stress robs the body of nicotine, implying a smoker smokes more in times of stress due to withdrawal, not to relax."1
Stressful events turn body fluids more acidic, which accelerates depletion of blood serum reserves of the alkaloid nicotine. Whether smoked, chewed or dipped, nicotine does not relieve anxiety but only its own absence. Like taking the time to calm ourselves by counting to ten, the time needed for replenishment combines with the arrival of a new supply of nicotine and leaves us falsely yet totally convinced that nicotine was an emotional solution to crisis.
When did using nicotine ever resolve our underlying crisis? If the tire was flat, it was still flat. If some event had made us angry, nicotine replenishment totally ignored the event.
Feeling the physiological effects of stress causes kidney urine acidification. Sucking nicotine from the bloodstream has the effect of making every stressful event life throws our way far more stressful than it is for never-users or ex-users, as they only need to endure the stressful event, not nicotine withdrawal too.
Without replenishment, even if the flat tire or other stressful situation is tackled and resolved, the nicotine addict still is not going to feel good. Conflict resolution does not ease withdrawal. Only re-administration of nicotine or navigating withdrawal and the up to 72 hours needed to eliminate nicotine from the body can bring relief.
Unlike total nicotine elimination, replenishment's relief is temporary. While it calms for the moment, the user will again soon be forced to confront the chemical clock governing their life (nicotine's two-hour chemical half-life) or witness accelerated depletion brought on by encountering stress or by consuming alcohol.
Joel makes one final yet important point. Nicotine's false calming effect quickly becomes a rationalization crutch reached for during stressful situations. The crutch and nicotine's impact upon the user's life is "more far-reaching than just making initial stress effects more severe." According to Joel, "it affects how the person may deal with conflict and sadness in a way that may not be obvious, but is nonetheless serious. In a way, it affects the ability to communicate and maybe even in some way, grow from the experience." 2
Joel shares an example. "Let's say you don't like the way a significant other in your life squeezes toothpaste. If you point out how it's a problem to you in a calm rational manner, maybe the person will change and do it in a way that is not disturbing to you. By communicating your feelings you make a minor annoyance basically disappear. But now let's say you're a smoker who sees the tube of toothpaste, gets a little upset, and is about to say something, again, to address the problem. But wait. Because you are a little annoyed, you lose nicotine, go into withdrawal, and before you are able to deal with the problem, you have to go smoke. You smoke, alleviate the withdrawal and, in fact, you feel better. At the same time, you put a little time between you and the toothpaste situation and on further evaluation, you decide it's not that big of a deal, forget it."
"Sounds like and feels like you resolved the stress. But in fact, you didn't. You suppressed the feeling. It is still there, not resolved, not communicated. Next time it happens again, you again get mad. You go into withdrawal. You have to smoke. You repeat the cycle, again not communicating and not resolving the conflict," writes Joel. "Over and over again, maybe for years this pattern is repeated."
"One day you quit smoking. You may in fact be off for weeks, maybe months. All of a sudden, one day the exact problem presents itself again, that annoying toothpaste. You don't have that automatic withdrawal kicking in and pulling you away from the situation. You see it, nothing else affecting you and you blow up. If the person is within earshot, you may explode."
"When you look back in retrospect, you feel you have blown up inappropriately, the reaction was greatly exaggerated for the situation. You faced it hundreds of times before and nothing like this ever happened. You begin to question what happened to you to turn you into such a horrible or explosive person. Understand what happened," writes Joel. "You are not blowing up at what just happened, you are blowing up for what has been bothering you for years and now, because of the build up of frustration, you are blowing up much more severely than you ever would have if you addressed it early on. It is like pulling a cork out of a shaken carbonated bottle, the more shaken, the worse the explosion."
As Joel explains it, years of nicotine use stopped us from properly dealing with feelings early on. Instead, we allow them to fester and grow to a point where when they do come out, it is far more severe than if initially addressed. Sooner or later, even if we fail to break free from nicotine, that unresolved stress will most probably result in either a blowup or onset of one or more anxiety related diseases.
Don't for a second think that hiding from life by escaping into a central nervous system stimulated dopamine "aaah" sensation or hiding from life is an answer or solution. It's our problem. As we climb back into our mind's driver's seat we need to listen to our feelings and emotions. We may discover that we need to learn to address the root causes of once suppressed anxiety or anger in positive and healthy ways. The only lasting solution to anxieties brought on by rapidly falling nicotine reserves, anxieties that interfere with healthy conflict resolution, is to bring active nicotine dependence to an end.
John (Gold x9)