Living the Ideal

Once, someone I love dearly (who is so different from me) said:

“Yes, Tamrah, we All Think About those things…But We Don’t Feel The Need to Talk About Them!”

And yet, once more, I shall talk (write) about that which is dearest to my heart…

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Possessing a life experience in excess of 40 years means I understand having Ideals and living up to them are two different things.  I also have pondered for nearly three decades, what, exactly, gives us our ideals.   I no longer believe our deep seated ideals to be explained by genetics, religion, culture, government or physiology.   Rather, I believe our aspiration to high ideals to be some miracle (or perhaps mutation) so ingrained in the very being of our humanism that it continues to elude definition.

For myself, I rather like the paraphrase of a quote from the movie, Kingdom of Heaven:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies,

Be brave and upright that all the Universe may love Thee

Speak the truth, even if it leads to your death

Safeguard the helpless

That is your oath

(Big Slap on Your Face, from me)

And that is so you remember it

Yes, yes, I wrote this whole blog, just so I could slap you in the face without consequences….did you really think to find the Truth here?!?

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Throughout the centuries, the arts have tugged at our heartstrings – the magnificent architecture and tributes to gods, Michelangelo’s David , the music that lifts us to orgasmic heights, the haunting beauty and mystery of Mona Lisa, the stirring sonnets and speeches made by saints, madmen and Hollywood script writers….

We are drawn to that which is noble or at least gives a good impression of it.   Anything that stands for balance, beauty and harmony is the Siren’s song to our Sailor’s Heart.  Not because our parents were strict, or of specific social status, nationalism or religion.   Not because someone with a bigger army or more gold than us told us to.   Not because it’s cool, in fashion or fiscally savvy.  For some indefinable reason, we yearn for and are comforted by that which is the greatest gift humans possess – the chance to dream of and strive for a better tomorrow.   Without fur, claws, sharp teeth or the ability to swim continually without sleep, we instead inherited compassion and the desire to ‘do better’ as our gift from the gods.

What is it about our DNA that longs for that which surpasses our everyday routine?   What changes and mutations drive us to work towards greater morrows, even when we are wading neck deep in offings of our own making?   I know not, and anyone who tells you they do know is either a liar, self-deluded or a fool.  They may know what is true for them – they simply cannot tell you what is true for you.

Perhaps our knowledge that deeds can long outlast our physical body has seduced us into high ideals as yet another path to the fable of immortality.

Who knows?  But questing after my ideal world and doing what I can to bring it about, still outshines other current options of what to do with myself when Sunday afternoon rolls around…

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Confessions of a Smoker, Part Deux

Last fall, a bout of flu turned pneumonia, followed by a nice case of pleurisy (mistakenly diagnosed as a ‘rib out of place’ and ‘strained sternum area’ by the grand gods in white, aka MD’s) resulted in chest, rib and back pain of various intensity levels everyday for the following year.

Needless to say, I dinked around for quite awhile, thinking perhaps all the coughing had injured my torso muscles and ligaments, and not-so-patiently waited for the injured areas to heal.   I can report there is simply nothing you do that does not require using the muscles in your chest, rib and/or mid-back area.   Honest!   Even sleeping in one position for too long caused the ‘pain’ to pool to one area, which meant not only was I in pain, but also sleep deprived.

(Me sleep deprived is akin to Bandits on Tequila – -I tend to want to raid the village, steal the women and rape the horses)

So in November 2010 – a full year after the worst of the pneumonia was over, 3 x-rays and 4 blood tests later – I go back to my acupuncturist and inform her I’ve waited long enough, nothing I’ve done is ending the pain, medical science says nothing is wrong and can she please fix me? (Please don’t ask why I didn’t go earlier – it’s a long and complicated story…mainly centering around my tendency to be stubborn.)

Ten treatments later, I was doing much better; however, it became very obvious that my chest pain intensity was directly linked to my smoking.    Something had to go and I realized the cigs were it.

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I’ve smoked for over 25 years.   During that time, I successfully ‘quit’ twice – once for 6 months and once for 3 months.    Once with gum and once with the patch.    The stresses of divorce, illness & surgeries derailed those attempts.

Subsequent attempts to quit resulted in horrific nightmares (patch induced), as well as SBS – (Screaming Bitch Syndrome) and NSCS (Non-Stop Cussing Syndrome).   Life was sheer hell and let’s face it, you can only say “I’m sorry” to your spouse and kids so many times before they are begging you to “please start smoking again.”

I will say that while divorce from hubby #1 resulted in a return to smoking, Hubby #2 did not divorce me when I was trying to quit.   See?  Miracles do still happen.

Given the miserable results of the last four attempts, I again researched the various options for quitting.

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Before listing the quit smoking choices,  I wish to pen a line to the various authors of such articles as “The Top 5 Quit Smoking Tips” and “10 Ways to Beat the Quitting Smoking Blues”:

After reading your list of helpful hints for quitting smoking, I will say you obviously aren’t a smoker, never have been a smoker and apparently decided to write about how to quit anyways.   Exercise, eating nuts and raisins as snacks and drinking lots of water are all fine ideas, but They Don’t Do Shit for someone who uses nicotine and alone time in the garage to tranquilize and distract themselves from the stress of their life.    Please write your next article on something you actually know about.

Okay, I feel better – now on to the real options available:

  • Nicotine Gum – makes my mouth sore and as expensive as smoking
  • Nicotine Patches – induce horrific nightmares and as expensive as smoking
  • Cold Turkey – induces SBS, NSCS and thoughts of suicide – not an option
  • Pharmaceutical Prescription Help – May cause aggression, depression, thoughts of suicide – also not an option
  • E-Cigarette – Immediately cut out the harmful effects of inhaling burning tobacco, slowly step down nicotine levels while weaning yourself away from other portions of the habit. Cheaper than cigarettes after initial investment in batteries, chargers, etc.

I’m sure you know which one I picked.

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Before I share how the first month went, some facts to keep in mind:

  • I switched to organically grown, additive-free tobacco cigarettes flavored with mint instead of menthol approximately 5 years ago.
  • I will smoke even when very ill (I smoked while passing kidney stones, 2 hours after major surgery while sitting in a wheelchair in the parking garage and even discovered how to shallowly inhale so I could smoke while in the throes of pneumonia – face it, I’m a Dedicated Smoker)
  • I do not smoke in my house.  And will only smoke in the car with the windows down – even if it is 30 below with white-out conditions
  • If I feel good and can keep to my ‘want-to-do’ schedule, I smoke between 10 and 15 cigarettes a day – If I don’t feel well enough to be up doing things, I can quickly move to a pack or more a day.
  • My usual expenditure on cigarettes per month ranges between $120 and $160 per month (face it, if it says “organic” or “additive free” you’re immediately going to pay more.) If I’m going to quit smoking, I wish to also have the financial benefits of doing so.  And sooner than 3-6 months from now.
  • Most nutritionists advise menthol is more addictive than nicotine – My experience supports this, as I can chain smoke five regular cigarettes and still be dying for a mint/menthol one.

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*Please note I’m sharing with you not only the mistakes I made, but also links to information and the companies I have ordered from – if you decide this may be for you, please visit E-Cigarette Forum and read, bunches, before ordering.  Trust me, you’ll get great information as well as the bonus of coupon codes for various suppliers if you do decide to order!

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12/26/10 – Google search “e-cig”: Look at first 10 links.   Decide to order starter kit from Primevapor, because they use USA sourced and made vegetable glycerin (VG) for carrier agent rather than propylene glycol (PG).

(I choose to use VG based liquids as they adhere to my ideals regarding nutrition, sustainability, etc.   If I chose to, I could make vegetable glycerin in my own kitchen with locally available materials.  This may or may not be important to you.)

12/30/10 – Place Order with Primevapor for 1 starter kit with 2 batteries, USB charger, wall charger and five menthol, 36 mg nicotine cartridges for $49.95.  Also order an additional six 5-cartridge packs in two other menthol/mint flavors and lower nicotine levels in hopes to have full first month supply.  (Because people vape differently, it’s hard to compare cartridges to packs of cigarettes – I used their estimate of one cartridge being equivalent to 2/3 a pack of cigs.)  Order total, $109.65.   I also vow not to exceed $140 budget for the month of January.

01/03/10, 11:10 a.m. – Receive order.   Would have received on Saturday, but for the holiday.   I’m all set to start vaping.  Batteries charged and I am vaping 2 minutes after opening my mail.  Taste is different, but so far, so good.

1:05 p.m. – Hubby says the exhale vapor reminds him of the smell of a cappuccino.  I smile and continue puffing in my warm, cozy living room.

1:12 p.m. – Have the urge to sit in the garage.   Don’t ask me why.   I associate smoking with the garage.  And having a ‘break’ –  Becoming very aware of all the different aspects of my smoking habit.

2:15 p.m. – Catch myself thinking, “Well, guess I’ll go to the garage and smoke before I start this project.”  Again aware of how much of my daily routines center around accommodating my smoking habit.

3:15 p.m. – Feeling a bit restless and scattered.   Not irritable and so far, no SBS or NSCS episodes – realize I’m having withdrawal symptoms related to sitting in the quiet, testosterone free garage.

Finish out the day with no real cigarette smoking (referred to as analogs by the vaping crowd)  I notice my chest and back pains are not at their usual evening levels.  Great!

01/04/10, 7:30 a.m. – awake to morning breath; however, my mouth does not feel as foul as usual.  Chest and back feel pretty good.  Have my e-cig with morning coffee.  Funny, coffee doesn’t taste as good as it used too.

10:15 – Gave in to the urge and sat in the garage while smoking my e-cig.   Funny – doesn’t have the same feel to it.  Plus, it’s damn cold in here.   Think I’m okay giving up my “office” in the garage.

1:35 – This is so infinitely cool!   I just did some database coding and wrote 3 articles – and didn’t have to leave my desk when the nicotine urge it!   I’m back to being productive once again!  Less than a day and the habit of garage sitting is broken.

3:15 p.m. – Feeling slightly nauseated.  Realized I’ve gone through 2 1/2 cartridges today – Since I can vape, anytime, anywhere, I start setting my phone timer to remind me, “I’m done” instead of continuously vaping while reading, doing computer work or watching TV.  That should take care of over-consumption of nicotine.

End of Day Two and I’m convinced that with tweaking, this way of kicking both the smoking and nicotine habit is a good one.

Days 3 – 16

Chest and back pain gone except when I really over-do. (lifting 5 gallon water jugs still causes some twinges.)

Sleeping much better and deeper.  Not sure if because of lowered pain levels or less carcinogens in my system, but deeply grateful.

Acupuncturist informs me my tongue looks much better (examining tongue for texture, color and coating is part of the diagnostic tools of Chinese Medicine)  I smile and say my mouth tastes better too!  Down to 1 treatment every 2 – 3 weeks, instead of once a week.   More money saved.

Hubby raves about how pleasant it is to ride in the car without either the smell of smoke or freezing from the open window.  Cleaned the car and threw away my cup-holder sized ashtray.

Due to increased health and no ‘garage breaks’ I’m getting more done in a day than I’ve been able to for a long time.

On the downside, my teeth and jaw hurt, because I’ve been ‘hands free vaping’ – face it, the battery and cartomizer are heavier than a analog – I quit doing that and teeth/jaw feel better within a day.  I also have been going through the cartridges faster than I thought I would.  Need to better monitor how long and often I’m vaping.

Day 17

9:15 a.m. – WTF!?!   I thought I had another full pack of cartridges!  I can’t be out!

What to do, what to do.    Hmmm…. I really liked the mint, low nicotine cartridges.   I have a bottle of essential peppermint oil in the cupboard.

11:20 a.m. – I purchase food grade vegetable glycerin and mixed with small amount of water and peppermint oil.    Reload empty cartridges after looking online at how to do.   WOW!  What a mint hit!  Fabulous.   I don’t need no stinking nicotine!  Amazing – I hit nicotine free much faster than I thought I would.

3:15 p.m. – Sort of edgy.  Maybe I wasn’t quite ready to go nicotine free.  But not too bad – maybe I can wait it out.  Probably hitting me worse, because the first few days I was actually getting more nicotine than with cigs.  Think I’ll wait it out.  Besides, no one locally sells the e-liquid for refilling my cartridges.

7:15 p.m. – Really Edgy.   Hubby and son are purposefully doing things to irritate me, even when I’ve informed them that I’m feeling the effects of nicotine withdrawal.  I live with sadists.   I’m going to bed.  Surely it will be better tomorrow.

Day 18

5:30 a.m. – Puff, Puff, Puff – Yup, lots of mint flavor, still no stinkin’ nicotine.    Google search says the worst should be over in 24 – 36 hours.   So I’ll wait it out. “Menthol is more addictive than nicotine” my arse…

7:30 a.m. – Thank gawd my family is at work and school.   If they were here, I’d have to hit them.

9:30 a.m. – Why is it we never got a cat to kick?

9:33 a.m. – Why did I ever think I wanted to make bread from scratch?   What the HELL is wrong with this stupid oven!   It’s broken….Just F***in Great!  Oh, wait, I forgot to hit ‘Start’….okay, it’s working.  But Still, It Could Have Been Broken…..

9:47 a.m. – As soon as I’m done in the kitchen, I think I’ll go to bed and sleep through the rest of the withdrawal phase.

10:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Can’t sleep, all documentaries and cartoons are stupid, tried 4 books and one lecture series – the authors/teachers are all a bunch of idiots!  Just why did I think embroidering and quilting was so great?  Great way to injure your fingers….

(I could go on for about 17 more paragraphs, but I’m sure you get the idea – I managed to try to ride it out through day 19 – in the end for my own sanity and the safety of my family, I went and bought 1 pack of my organic, mint cigs.   Which tasted like crap.   Three puffs at a time provided enough nicotine to keep me from being edgy.

I repeat, cigarettes taste terrible and my garage is cold and depressing.)

Days 20 – 35

Finally found a store 30 miles away that had a limited selection of e-juice (PG based, not VG and about 5 times the cost of online choices) – the only menthol one they had was low nicotine levels.   I purchased the one 3ml bottle they had available with menthol and a bottle of camel flavored PG juice (also low nicotine) for $12, mixed them together and added a drop of peppermint oil laced VG to stretch it further.    Chest hurting somewhat and after researching different options available for e-liquid, refill options, etc., I learned peppermint oil isn’t water soluble, so basically, I’ve been coating my lungs with oil,  there is such a thing as ‘oil pneumonia’ and ain’t it interesting the things I do to myself when experimenting without proper research…

I limp through the rest of the month with my mix of e-liquid and the occasional analog, determined not to steal from other portions of my financial budget to enhance my ‘nicotine habit’ budget.  In the end, I spent $137.97 on e-cig supplies and regular cigs (5 packs, compared to the previously consumed 30 – 40 packs per month) before my full months supply order of e-juice arrived on February 3.

I’ll also note that mid-month, one of my batteries quit working two puffs after being on the charger all night.   Checked the FAQ’s and sent an email to Prime Vapor, asking what else I should try, or if I should just chuck it and order a new one.   (batteries should last between 2 and 3 months, before needing replacing).  They reply once in awhile there are defective batteries and promptly mailed me out a new one, free of charge.   Very impressed with their customer service!

So far, I’ve spent $38.75 on nicotine habit expenditures for this month of February.   (30 ml of menthol e-juice with nicotine and 5 blank cartridges purposely made for refilling.) If my calculations are correct, this will be the total I spend this month.  If they aren’t, I’ll be sure to post an update.

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During my first month, there were many aspects of my smoking/nicotine habit that I became aware of and some which really surprised me.  Here’s the highlights:

  • I vaped in public places and only once did someone call me on it – when I showed  him I was not ‘smoking’ he immediately apologized and then spent the next 15 minutes asking me questions, as he was a smoker and thinking about switching to the e-cig too.  No other “You Can’t Smoke In Here” incidents happened.   Which surprised me – are folks ‘entrained’ to identify smokers from the smell rather than seeing a cloud of vapor?
  • I realized the years of being a social pariah has taken its toll on me.  It took nearly two weeks of vaping in front of  my family, friends and in public places before I lost the feelings of unease and fear of conflict.   Years of both well-intentioned as well as cruel, unsolicited advice and opinions regarding the smoking habit had put me on the defensive much more than I ever realized.

While I’ve been fully aware the “No Smoking Campaigners” chose to pursue their objectives via a moral war, rather than legislation, I was not fully aware of how emotionally affected I had been by the social stigma  of my habit.

  • While being a smoker is not socially acceptable – it does appear that being a nicotine addict is all right, as long as you don’t get your nicotine from cigarettes.  There are so many “good for you” comments regarding me not smoking, that I wonder how the No-Smoking Fanatics managed to miss educating their followers about nicotine addiction.    Those close to me know my ultimate goal of being nicotine free and have been very supportive.

Casual acquaintances  and complete strangers seem completely oblivious to anything other than the fact that I’m not polluting their air with second hand smoke.   I still am amazed at how total strangers will walk up and comment on my habit (either smoking or vaping) and offer their judgments on the former and congratulations on the latter.   I do not approach the morbidly obese and chastise, nor the healthy looking and congratulate; The socially-acceptable behaviors surrounding the smoking issue still confuses me…

  • I found out there are those who choose to vape using zero nicotine, flavored juices – the varieties available will boggle your mind!   Cherry cola, fudge brownie, cinnamon roll, bubblegum… the list is durn near endless.  For me, once I’ve eased myself off nicotine, I doubt I’ll vape at all.   My first month’s experience has proven to me I’ve broken most of the other habits associated with smoking (sitting in the garage, puffing on something, the sensation of inhaling,  taking a break from work, relaxing, etc.)  – I smoke and vape for the nicotine at this point.
  • Me on no nicotine results in a mentally scattered and disorganized feeling at best, uncontrolled irritation and anger at worst – also a feeling that everything is going wrong.  I hope that with a gradual lessening of nicotine levels, I will be able to both physiologically and emotionally adjust to these withdrawal side effects with less trauma and angst.  I’ll report when I have better data…

As for what I wished I had known before that I know now:

  • 1 ml of e-liquid is equivalent to 1 pack of cigarettes – depending on the company, you can order e-liquid in a variety of nicotine levels, usually with 36 mg at the high end and 6 mg at the low end.
  • If you vape in places/situations you can’t or won’t smoke, unless you’re diligent, you will vape more (and hence, increase your nicotine intake levels) than you smoked.   Be mindful of how much you are vaping so you don’t unintentionally increase your nicotine consumption, rather than decreasing it.
  • Purchasing a starter kit is great to get started with the ‘supplies’ you need for vaping; however, in the long run, utilizing blank cartridges and refilling your own, as well as purchasing your e-liquid in 30 ml or larger sizes is the cost effective way to vape.
  • There are stores in the Colorado Springs/Woodland Park area that carry e-cig supplies – the costs are equivalent to or more expensive than purchasing regular cigarettes.  If you view vaping as a ‘cost-effective’ alternative, best order your supplies online.

As for the companies I’ve ordered with, I can report I’m very pleased with all three – order processing time, shipping time and customer service and response times all have restored my confidence that good customer service does still exist.   Here’s the links to those I’ve done business with:

Primevapor

Nhaler

InnoVapor

While each of these have great FAQ and informational pages, I again urge you to also utilize the E-Cigarette Forum if you wish to learn more about vaping.   After my initial (and very shallowly done) research and order, I found loads of information at this site that I wished I knew before I started this adventure.

While the jury still seems to be out on whether vaping is a quit smoking solution, I can say that though I’m not nicotine free, I’m very happy to be smoke-free.   The benefits I’ve experienced from vaping are wonderful and even if I never make it all the way to zero-nicotine, I’d still be happy with both the cost and quality of life improvements I’ve experienced from switching.