Just One.

While talking with my Mister this week, as I sometimes do, I mentioned a friend from work that he had met before. This friend – let’s call him “W” – is the one whom I credit for inspiring me to see a hypnotherapist. He had successfully quit smoking with hypnosis, himself, and referred me to the therapist he used. Unfortunately, she was no longer in the area, leading me to find another, who turned out to be just perfect for what I needed. Anyway, as an update, I told Mister that W had started smoking again. The last time we spoke, W spent most of that time kicking himself for backsliding. He also struggles with his weight, and he felt pretty helpless about that, as well.

It got me to thinking. When I quit smoking in 2005, that wasn’t my first time. I had quit smoking several times before that. Most smokers do try to quit, and most try more than once; I was no different. I quit for about a year, way back in my 20’s, and was really proud of my success until the night I went out with my friends to a local bar. My friends all smoked, and this was before smoking indoors was banned. We all sat around this big table with our beers, and out came the packs of smokes, lighters, and ashtrays. After sitting in the second-hand smoke for a while, I thought to myself, Man, I really want a cigarette. I’ll just have one. I even framed the argument in my head, lest one of my friends object. I thought of what I would say to them if they protested. I think the extent of my defense was, It’s not like I’m going to start smoking again! I just want one while I’m having this beer.

So I asked my girlfriend, who only smoked while she drank, for a cigarette. She gave me a sidelong glance and handed one over. She said, “If you start smoking again, don’t blame me.” I assured her it wasn’t going to happen, and lit the cigarette, taking a long drag. I felt the rush of the nicotine hitting my system; it made me a little woozy, but it was also comforting in a strange sort of way. The brief nausea I felt went away with the next couple puffs. I enjoyed that cigarette far more than I thought I would or should have.

I wish I could say that I stopped at one, but I didn’t. That night I ended up bumming another cigarette or two from her, and then out of guilt I bought a pack to pay her back. Naturally, I finished the pack in the next day or two. And another, and another…until I was back to my nearly two-pack-a-day habit.

That “just one” plan was flawed from the outset. I should have known, and I probably did, but I chose to ignore the angel on my shoulder when the devil on the other one was egging me on. I should have seen that I was addicted to smoking, and that thinking I could have just one was risky. As it turned out, I lost that battle, and I smoked for several more years until I quit again right before I got married.

Yes – I was determined to quit. I had great reason to: I was going to be stepmom to a terrific little girl, and I didn’t want to smoke around her. So I quit again in 1991. I marveled at how much better food tasted and how the acrid smell of smoke no longer followed me everywhere. It was a win-win, because Mister was not a smoker and hated that I was. Plus, it saved money, and I felt better, too.

Fast forward to 1999. Tragedy struck, and I was completely overwhelmed. When I came back to work, I was in a fragile state, and found myself needing to get up from my desk and take a walk to clear my head from time to time. When my not-particularly-sympathetic boss questioned the frequency and duration of my breaks, a helpful friend devised a solution: he gave me an unopened pack of cigarettes he had found. He said, “Put it on your desk so if anyone asks, you can say you’re taking a smoking break.” Good plan. The pack sat unmolested on my desk for a few days while I enjoyed my breaks with my smoking friends. It wasn’t long until I asked someone for a cigarette – just one – and not long after that, I opened that pack on my desk, surrendering once again to the demon nicotine.

This time it’s different, I told myself. I’ve been through hell lately, so don’t judge. If smoking is the worst I do, then who would blame me? Anyone else would do the same thing. I readily acknowledged that smoking was my crutch to get me through. At least, that’s what I told myself to justify the relapse. I hid it from my young sons as best I could, smoking outside after they went to bed or taking a trip to the store just so I could have a cigarette in my car. I felt so guilty about living that lie, but I absolutely did not want them to see me smoke and think it was okay. I knew I was setting a terrible example, and that made the guilt even worse, which meant I smoked more and more.

Eventually, they caught me smoking. I had to confess. It was a great weight off my chest, now that the secret was known, but I knew I had to quit – for good.

In March of 2005, I was involved in a 4-vehicle accident; the car behind me plowed into me so hard that his license plate was imprinted on my rear bumper. I had numerous soft-tissue injuries and was off work for quite a while. I was seeing a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a physical therapist. The pain was incredible, but I kept pushing myself to recover. The PT spoke to me plainly, telling me that if I quit smoking, my circulation would improve, and with better blood flow to my injuries, they would heal faster. I hadn’t thought of it that way. It was then that I sought out the advice of my friend W for quitting smoking. On November 7, 2005 I quit for good.

What I know now is that I am an addict. I cannot fall into the trap of “just one” thinking. I can’t have just one cigarette. Not even one. If I do, I will once again be a smoker. What I also know now is that my addiction is not limited to nicotine: if I allow myself, against my better judgment, to indulge in certain foods, I will likely binge. There are certain foods that trigger that behavior, and I am nearly powerless against them, so my best bet is to stay away. My food addiction, which is a manifestation of a lifetime of unhealthy thinking and emotional baggage, is very real. Just look at me.

I like to think my war with cigarettes is over, and I won. Because of hypnosis, I no longer have cravings or even think about cigarettes. I have never cheated; I have no desire to smoke. But my war with obesity is not, and never will be, over. It’s easy to talk myself into, or out of, certain things, but those actions have consequences, and one of them is obesity. I fight with myself on a daily basis. But I have to remember that my success is predicated on my constant awareness; I can’t make big, sweeping plans and ignore the details. I have to take this battle one day at a time.

Just one.



photo credit Brett Jordan

You’ll See.

Like so many other things – parenting, for instance – weight loss surgery is one of those situations where people tell you, “You’ll see,” in an ominous, knowing tone. 

“I would NEVER let my kid throw a fit like that in the store!  MY children will behave when we go out.”
Yeah, well, you’ll see…”

“There’s no way my kid would say that to me!  No way!”
That’s what I thought, too.  You’ll see…”

“Seriously, I’m supposed to chew this bite of chicken, like, 25 times?  That’s just gross!”
Well, yeah, it’s a lot, but you need to.  You’ll see…”

“You don’t miss coffee?  Oh, I would DIE if I had to stop drinking coffee!”
No, I don’t miss it that much.  It’s different now.  You’ll see…”

And indeed, I did.  I found out that eating (I’m still on soft solids, progressing prudently) is different from what I remember.  Eating or drinking too quickly, or failing to chew adequately, has its consequences – and they’re immediate.  One – you’ll wonder how that quick drink of water solidified into a chunk with sharp edges as it fights its way down your esophagus.  Ow!  Two – being full used to feel like, ‘yeah, I’m full, but I can eat those last couple bites of lasagna — bring on the cheesecake!’   Now, when I am getting full, my tummy feels like it’s already stuffed up to here (points at Adam’s apple), and I’m swallowing like mad to keep it from rising further.  Full means ‘up to my neck.’  And there isn’t any more room.

I’ve found that the best remedy for that full feeling is to sit back and give that little tummy some room; usually, the discomfort is gone after about 15 minutes.  Other sensations I’m becoming familiar with?  Hiccups.  Bloating.  Burps.  Seriously.  Unwelcome and uncomfortable.  I realize this is due to my body adjusting to the foods I eat, the air I swallow as I eat, and the medications I take, which now include a fiber supplement.  I hope that these things settle down as time goes on.  (Nobody told me that I’d be able to compete with my sons in a belching contest.  At this point, I might even win!)

I’ve noticed that I’ve been having a lot of painful leg cramping lately, more than usual, so I’m probably low on potassium.  Didn’t expect that.  Time for a banana.  Which reminds me — nobody told me I’d have monster breath, either.  I can’t chew gum (I bite my cheek every time), so I have to keep some mints handy so I don’t scare people away.  (If I’ve scared you, I apologize.)

Crushing my pills and taking them with water is still working out pretty well, except for my @#$&*^$#@ vitamins.  Mr. Stuck reminded me that if I don’t take my supplements, my hair will fall out.  He’s right, of course, and I rather like my hair, so I once again tried to figure out a good way to take these powder-filled capsules.  (The Omeprazole caps are filled with granules, which present their own challenges, but I digress.) 

The first (and last) time I tried, I opened the capsules, poured the powder into a 1-oz medicine cup and added water, much like I do for the rest of my meds.  Big mistake.  The powder and water repelled each other, in some sort of strange electrostatic dance, and the powder would not mix.  Instead, it adhered to the sides of the little plastic cup, and floated mockingly on the surface of the water.  When I swished it, it stuck to the cup.  When I stirred it, it stuck to my finger.  When I tried to drink it, it stuck to my tongue and the inside of my mouth.  I don’t know how much water I had to drink to wash it down, but it was a lot, and it turned into chunks with sharp edges as it went. 

Mr. Stuck’s next idea was to put the powder into my daily protein shake.  Sounded like a plan, so today I gave it a whirl.  Um, no.  Again, the powder sticks stubbornly to the side of the Blender Bottle ® and no amount of monkey gyrations will shake it down (yeah, I tried).  So now I’m drinking a chunky, funky-flavored protein shake (oh, yum) with bits of dry, bitter powder suspended in it.   What do these people expect me to do?  I guess I need to try the powder in a spoon of applesauce or something, even though I don’t want to.  Sure looking forward to the 3-month mark, where I can finally swallow my pills whole again.

My tastes are changing, too.  I drink cocoa or tea as much or more than coffee now; when I do have a cup of coffee, I rarely finish more than half.  Even the 12-oz mocha I ordered this weekend sat untouched after I drank less than a quarter of it.  The broccoli-cheese soup that Mr. Stuck thoughtfully bought for me was horrid when I tried it.  The clam chowder I had for lunch last Friday must have been too rich for my baby tummy, because I had to throw most of it away.  I suppose some of it will come back as time goes on, but for now, things taste different.

Since surgery, I’m down over 20 lbs.  It’s coming off fast.  I’m sure it will slow down now that I am actually eating food I can chew.  It’s easy to lose weight on a liquid or almost-liquid diet.  I’m glad to be eating food again, even though I’m not quite to the raw vegetables stage, which will be the final part of the post-surgical diet.  I am sooo ready to eat food that doesn’t have to be soft, pureed, or pre-chewed.  I am ready for some stir-fry chicken and veggies, or a fresh, crisp salad, or even an apple.  It can be tough to get through these first few weeks of restricted eating, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You’ll see.



photo credit striatic

More Adjustments.

Pardon the alligator skin, but the rings fit now!

So a big part of this whole journey I’m on, post-surgical and all that, is making those changes that will enable me to live a healthier life.  I am learning to exchange a bad habit for a good one.  There are discoveries along the way, as you can imagine.  Here’s what I’ve recently thought about:

I have come to a workable routine with my medication that must be crushed.  I just put the powder in water rather than try to disguise it in some kind of food such as applesauce or pudding.  I’d much rather toss it back that way than ruin the flavor of something I would otherwise enjoy.

Omeprazole (Prilosec), which decreases the acid my stomach produces, is my new best friend.  Next to my surgeon, that is, because he said I could take my Meloxicam for my poor aching thumbs, as long as I continued the omeprazole.  Yay, me!

I would not recommend having this surgery during the holiday season unless you avoid parties like the plague.  Standard fare at holiday parties, in my experience, is not post-surgical-tummy-friendly.  And it shouldn’t be — these are the parties of excess, with rich cheeses and meats, delectable baked goods, and mountains of veggies and chips for dipping.  This is the food you mindlessly sample every time you walk past.  At least, that’s what I used to do.  This year, I kept away from the kitchen to avoid the temptation.  But I did have a deviled egg, some flakes of smoked salmon (perfect melt-in-your-mouth texture), and a few small cubes of soft cheese.  Thank God.  What a treat, especially after so long on liquids!

Mmmm…deviled eggs!
photo credit jeffreyw

As I sat in the living room or wandered outside during these parties, I thought about how much we center our social lives around food.  I will have to learn how to socialize without food and alcohol, and even coffee, to some extent.

I thought about how eating such a small amount forces me to choose what I want the most; I have to get used to throwing away uneaten food.  Having been raised not to let food go to waste, and having admonished my children not to be wasteful, this is a very difficult change for me.

It will take some time to get used to estimating how much (or little) to cook for me and the Mister.  My mind’s eye is still calibrated to a family of 4 with two teenagers and a couple of overeating parents.  My spaghetti sauce overflows the skillet; my estimation of how much pasta to cook always results in too much.  I never learned how to cook for two; even when we were first married, I was cooking like I’d seen my mother cook: for a family.

I went to the store for a few things and ended up with three pounds of bacon and nearly as much chicken breast.  Now, the chicken will be made into soup or stew, but why did I buy that much bacon?  Old habits die hard, I guess.

But in other, more exciting news, I am finally able to fit into my wedding rings again!  I can’t recall when I was last able to wear them, but I’m sure it’s been at least 3 years.  So I took them to a jeweler for a check and cleaning and now they sparkle like new.

Yes, I missed piling my plate with the sausage, the raw veggies, the lasagna, the sandwiches, the prime rib roast, and even the BLT salad at these parties.  I missed the pie, the pickles, and the wine.  But I look at my rings and I am SO HAPPY — and that is so much better.