Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fags for Nothing

Today I have reached the magical three week mark of stopping smoking, and as such, I am now officially no longer mental. Therefore, unless the absolutely unthinkable happens (which it won't), there will be no more smoking updates. Simply assume that I'm still not smoking unless you hear otherwise (which you won't). And believe me, if I do fall over again (which I won't), the fallout will make Chernobyl look like a birthday candle (although hopefully with fewer dead sheep).

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Just spent a short mini-break with friends in la belle France and managed not to smoke for the whole time I was out there. What was especially pleasing was the fact that many of my old triggers were there and I wasn't the slightest bit tempted.

On the first night, I only had one hour's sleep, which left me feeling massively overtired and therefore a little bit emotionally fragile. This was what got me last time, but this time, I managed to not react like a petulant infant. Throughout the weekend, I was in the company of three people that were smoking and there was also a fair amount of alcohol. Although I was careful on the alcohol side, I didn't find that drinking or being around smokers made me want to smoke. I was tremendously pleased about that.

All things being considered, I felt pretty good about it all. Wednesday will be the three-week magic mark and hopefully bring an end to the emotional turmoil I always get in those first three weeks. I'm feeling overtired again this evening and therefore still a bit wide-eyed (it's amazing how lack of sleep really does affect me) but it's nothing a good night's sleep won't sort out and I should be completely back to normal by Wednesday.

I'm hoping that my brain doesn't find something wonderfully interesting and yet strangely pointless to occupy itself with tonight. Last night, having spent the evening reading a book about eco-houses and do-it-yourself builds, I was awake until around 3 in the morning imagining how I would build a yurt complex around a giant tree. I pondered over the idea of incorporating a double-decker bus into the scheme - it's always been a bit of a dream of mine to convert and live in a double-decker bus. I decided that I would try to include it, if at all possible, perhaps somewhere in the centre.

After spending around half an hour trying to work out the logistics of the composting toilet, I remembered that I don't actually own any land (with or without a giant tree) or a bus and am not likely to in the foreseeable future. And with that, I turned over and finally went to sleep. Still, it's good to have dreams, eh? Something to work towards - so long as the dreams don't keep me awake all night.

Oh, and France? We were in Marval, which is erm, in the middle of France somewhere. We spent a couple of days in a beautiful house with our friend's mum, which was wonderful (thanks Fred!). I ate my own bodyweight in cheese and loveliness, went to a market, bought some tea, discovered the wonders of a raclette (I've never had so much fun cooking a tiny omelette) and I saw a real-life leopard-skin horse (at first I thought it was a zebra, but instead of stripes, it had spots).

All in all, a top weekend. Great company, great surroundings, good food, no slip-ups and I even managed to stick to my new running routine when I was out there. I'm sad to see Anna once more head off for distant shores... Still, if I can just get my work stuff back on track, there's a holiday in the Maldives with my name written on it...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Running Man

I am now in my second week of training for the Plymouth Half Marathon, and things are indeed hotting up. I did about two miles today (half walk, half run) and my fitness is already starting to improve. And bizarrely, I actually really enjoyed it. I mean yes, it was hard, I thought my legs were going to fall off and yes, I did have to really push myself, especially at the end. But I found myself smiling once I'd finished, and I was deliriously happy and rather hyper for about 2 hours afterwards. In fact, it felt almost exactly like being on ecstacy, I should imagine.

Afterwards, I tried a new thing, which I was tremendously excited about. I tried an ice bath. You have to remember, I haven't run since, well, never. And after the first couple of training sessions, my poor underused muscles were screaming. Not just afterwards, I'm talking about three days later, when it was time to do the next training session. Then I remembered Eddie Izzard got through his marathons with ice baths, so I did a bit of research. And apparently ice baths really do help.

So I emptied a bag of ice into the bath and filled it with cold water. I'm thankful that no-one was in the house at that time, they would have thought I was being raped by an eskimo. I have never experienced anything quite like it. It wasn't too bad once I got used to it, but the first five minutes or so - well, it would have been less painful if I'd punched myself in the nuts. With a hammer. With a spike in it. Whilst on fire. With a steam iron tied to my cock.

However, the effect was simply magical. My throbbing legs hurt no more, there was no stiffness whatsoever (not surprising in water that cold). And the best bit of all - an hour later, when I had a hot shower, every single nerve in my body tingled. It was exactly like having a shower on speed, I should imagine.

I think the biggest surprise of all of this is that I'm actually starting to enjoy it and incredibly, I'm actually looking forward to the next one. I always thought that getting fit was something you sort of felt you should do, but it wouldn't be much fun and would probably hurt quite a lot. A bit like having sex with Madonna or punching Bono.

And that's the reason why I signed up for the marathon. I thought if I signed up for something and then told everyone I was going to do it sponsored for Samaritans - I wouldn't allow myself not to do it, for fear of letting people down and the shame of admitting I actually have no mental grit or discipline. I never thought for a second that I'd actually enjoy any of it.

Oh, and smoking? Yes, I do still think of it from time to time. And I'm not quite ready to be surrounded by it. But it's a lot easier and I have without a doubt cracked it. Yup, all in all, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I love the smell of permanent marker in the morning. It smells like victory.

OK, so it's day whatever on the stopping smoking front and that's quite a good sign. When you forget how long it's been since you stopped (I think it's about nine or ten days), you know you're really on the way up. Next milestone is the three week stage, which is when proper normality should resume. I do still get the odd faint urge, plus the occasional bout of wibble. That should come to an end in about 10 days time. All I have to do now is just remember never to smoke ever again. Bizarrely, that's what's always got me in the past. However, I very much doubt that I will fall again. I am already starting to feel like a non-smoker.

Today was only my second training session for the Plymouth Half Marathon and I already hate running and want it to die. And I cannot find my yellow running trousers for love nor money, so I'm having to wear shorts. Although on reflection, that's probably not a bad thing. On the plus side, I did manage to do about a mile, so if I can just get fit enough to do that another 13 times in one go without collapsing, I should be fine.

I have to admit, though - the best bit about it is getting back in the house and putting a big black cross through the training schedule date I have pinned to my mirror. There's something very satisfying about putting a big black cross through anything.

I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually going to get fit. The last time I got fit was purely by accident and completely out of laziness. I was at university and lived around an hour's walk from campus. My bike was stolen after about three days, so I had to walk in. Uni started at around 9am, and that meant getting up at around 7.30 to be on time. Invariably, I'd end up staying in bed til about 8.30 and then would have to run to try to avoid being too late.

I quickly realised that the fitter I was - and the more I could run - meant the longer I could stay in bed. So I ended up running to Uni every morning (in Doc Martens and a leather jacket, incredibly) and became really very fit indeed. Until I eventually realised that a moped was even faster and meant even more time in bed, and that was the end of that.

This may well be the first time I will ever get fit out of choice. I will keep you informed as to the developments.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Five is the Magic Number

Big sigh of relief all round as I have reached the first smoking milestone - the magical Day Five. Day five is the day when the cravings subside, a level of normality returns and I stop being quite so melodramatic.

I still have some way to go before I reach the next milestone of three weeks, so I'm not out of the woods just yet. But in general it's a much milder and more subtle form of madness - more hapless than Hamlet, you could say. But the bare-chested, mano-a-mano battle is over and for that, I am grateful.

Actually, this is the first day I've been able to feel positive about stuff this year. It's taken ten days, but slowly I feel like I'm starting to get my head above water and make some progress. I've made some amazing curried soup for work tomorrow, I've bought some running shoes for the Half Marathon I'll be doing in May (plus found a total beginners plan to do it) and I'm really starting to feel good on the smoking front. Thank you for all your kind words of support.

I don't want to tempt fate - but whisper it quietly, the boy might be back on the way up. In no time at all I'll be back to nob gags and terrible puns. Happy belated 2010.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Morning After the Night Before

Ahem. This morning I am feeling mildly sheepish about my nicotine withdrawal-fuelled emotional outpouring last night. There is always a moment when I stop smoking where I feel that I am going to fail and I am going to smoke. I feel that it is simply inevitable and I might as well just go out and buy cigarettes right now. And that's the point when you really do have to dig deep, to keep fighting even though you feel that you have a 0% chance of success. To keep fighting when all hope is lost really does require an enormous amount of mental strength.

Bizarrely, that's what non-smokers can never understand. Smokers are not all weak-willed, ill-disciplined idiots. The thing about stopping smoking is that you have to have willpower and strength and never, ever have a moment of weakness for the rest of your life. It's no good being strong for 364 days a year, but weak for 1 - that one day will make you fail. Can you, as a non-smoker, imagine being mentally and emotionally strong without one minute of weakness ALL THE TIME, FOREVER? No matter what? Heartbreak, bad news, stress, worry... Yes, it gets easier over time - but you always have to be on your guard and that does take real discipline and inner strength.

Fortunately I managed to get through that last night and this morning things are looking a lot more positive. I'm not out of the woods just yet, but I can certainly see more daylight. And I'm feeling better too.

Incidentally, I do have something to hold onto for this - I would like to do the Plymouth Half-Marathon this year (which is on May 31st) and to do this, I need to be fit. Last time I wasn't smoking (in Portugal) I managed to walk 15 miles, so theoretically it's not impossible... What do you think? Reckon I'll do it?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Drawing Lines in the Sand

Arse and buggery, things are afoot this evening... As many of you know, I've been fighting the bastarding shitweasel that is nicotine for some considerable time, with mixed success. Last year I stopped in June sometime, only to fall over when I went to Portugal. I managed to stop again in November before the late nights of Royal Mail finally got me to fall again shortly before Xmas.

My last plan had been to stop again once and for all on January 1st, but sadly that was not to be as the fates conspired to block that attempt. However, I have pulled myself together and am currently on Day Three of what I am determined will be the last time I ever have to do this. And although it's never easy to stop smoking, tonight I am finding it particularly hard.

Usually when I stop smoking, I like to give myself a clear run up at it - I tend to pick a time when things are fairly relaxed and easy, and get through it by distracting myself and only thinking about light and fluffy things... But that's not how things are right now. Life is complex and distraction is pretty much impossible. So there are two choices - either keep smoking until things get easier or just get stuck in and fight it face to face.

I've decided to get stuck in, and so far I've been able to keep it at bay, although it's harder than it's ever been. Stopping smoking is like being in a concrete bunker during an alien spider invasion. You lock yourself in, but you can hear them hammering on every wall, every brick, every door, hammering every second of every day and night without stopping, trying to find a way inside. And there is no concrete bunker, except for the one you have crafted in your own mind. If the spiders find even the slightest weakness, they pour in and your bunker falls.

And tonight the walls feel very thin. It's so tempting to think I've chosen the wrong time, there is too much else going on around me to remain strong enough to do this. And yet at the same time, I feel that perhaps doing it now will make it more permanent. The harder it is, the less likely I am to give it up on a whim.

I am still sure that this will be the last time I do this. I have said that before, but this time it feels different. There have been times in my life when smoking has taken priority over the things that really mattered in my life. Never intentionally, of course - that's just the nature of any addiction. But realising that has really opened my eyes and it's something I never intend to repeat. So for that reason alone, failure is not an option.

And 2010 is going to be the line in the sand that I asked it to be - it's just that the line is not necessarily where I would have chosen to draw it. Still, writing this has helped tremendously and the walls now feel a little thicker. I'm sure this won't be the last time I struggle with this over the coming days and weeks - but it is without a doubt a new beginning and it should get easier, with time...

Oh, and I also mustn't forget - I am a total and utter drama queen in the first week of stopping smoking and everything is magnified tenfold. It's not easy dealing with anything when you have the emotional stability of a pre-menstrual jellyfish.

Wish me luck. I'll keep you updated.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Out with the Noughties, in with the Teenies

So 2009 is done and dusted and all I can say is thank god it's over. It has been at best a complicated year, at worst a downright shocker. There have been some positives - but sadly they have been rather outmuscled by the negatives. Still, the noughties are gone and it's onwards and upwards; we now look forward to what the teenies are going to bring...

Every New Year's Eve I say that I have high hopes for the year ahead - that's an occupational hazard of being a hopeless optimist. And this year is no different - except perhaps it's more of a quiet determination to implement change, without fanfare or fuss, rather than just blind optimism or wishful thinking. It's not the empty promise of a New Year's resolution, rather a resolve to start implementing the lessons I've had to learn the hard way.

I've made mistakes, and have paid for each and every one; at times I've been the architect of my malaise, and at other times I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's been a white-knuckle ride from start to finish and for all the wrong reasons. And yet I've learnt a lot, I've become stronger and I'm still here.

If nothing else, I've grown up a lot this year. In many ways, I've had to. You can't undo your mistakes, but you can take responsibility for them and try to learn from them. And you can't choose your fortune, good or bad; all you can do is take the rough with the smooth and try to do the best you can with what you're given.

So let's hope it is indeed a Happy New Year, both for me and for you, dear reader. And that 2010 smiles on us all.