Hey there. It's Susan Peirce Thompson, and welcome to the Weekly Vlog. So I want to talk about something this week that I realized I don't think I've ever talked about in the Vlog. And it's a pretty intense chapter in my addiction history. Not that, that long ago, but the five-year anniversary of it just came up, and I know why I didn't talk about it in the Vlog. It's because I felt a lot of shame about it. Yeah, just disbelief that I went through this with my addiction.
So what happened was sometime in 2017, I picked up cigarettes. I picked up cigarettes after not having smoked for a long time. Now I have mostly been a non-smoker in my life, but I've smoked enough on and off to know that I do not get along with cigarettes. As soon as I pick up a puff of a cigarette, I become close to a pack-a-day smoker really fast.
I first started smoking when I was 15. My dad got wind of it and bribed me. He said he would give me $100, which was along a lot of money back then to a 15-year-old. He would give me a hundred dollars if I didn't have a puff of a cigarette for three months. And I did it, and I was honest about it. And that's when I first experienced using dreams. I started having vivid dreams that I'd smoked cigarettes, and then I had to decide whether I was going to lie to my dad or not to get the 100 bucks. I did not smoke any cigarettes. I did get the 100 bucks. He re-upped it for another three months. I got another 100 bucks, honestly. And then I showed some integrity and just said, "Dad, you don't have to pay me anymore. I'm a non-smoker."
I stayed a non-smoker for another year and a half or so till I was 17. I smoked for a bit when I was 17, and then I smoked again after I got clean and sober when I was 20. Pretty quickly I picked up cigarettes. I was not interestingly, a cigarette smoker when I was in the crack house smoking crack. I was a non-smoking crack smoker. And after I got sober, I picked up cigarettes really fast, and then I smoked for about a year. And this time it was my mom who supported me and bribed me to help me quit smoking. And then I was a non-smoker for a long time, but I dabbled with cigarillos. These like smokable cigars, these like little skinny cigars. I smoked those for a while.
Anyway, in the meantime, I married my husband, David Thompson, and he's always been a non-smoker and hates cigarettes. So fast forward now as a mother of three kids, the founder of Bright Line Eating, in 2017, what happened? I just had a moment of insanity where I was outside of a 12-step meeting for drugs and alcohol, and I saw all the cool people in a circle out front smoking their cigarettes and socializing. And with this home-based career that I now had, instead of being a professor, going onto campus and teaching college courses, I was alone in my home office on a laptop all day. I just yearned for the socializing. And I just thought, "Doesn't that look great?" And I just thought, "I'll just have one." I'll just bum a cigarette and I'll just stand out there and get to know them. And with the social lubrication of that cigarette, I'll become one of that crowd and just enjoy talking with them. So I did that, and then I went out and bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked and smoked and smoked. So I did that in 2017, smoked for a bit, quit, picked them up again, smoked for a bit, quit, picked them up again, smoked for a bit, quit.
And I think I did that four or five times. Fast forward to April of 2018, and now I'm up at one o'clock in the morning, two o'clock in the morning, 2:30 in the morning, chain-smoking cigarettes outside in the snow in the middle of the night on this little chair. It was a little blue, kindergartner chair, preschooler chair, plastic chair that we had. I was crouched outside our house in the snow smoking cigarettes. And the reason that I was chain-smoking them is that every time I smoked to get back in the house, I had to sneak in the back, go right upstairs to the laundry room, strip off all my clothes, dump them in the washing machine, start the washing machine, go into the master bedroom, take a quick shower, brush my teeth, wash my hair just so that I could go back and be with my family. Because I didn't tell my kids that I was smoking cigarettes.
My kids had been well indoctrinated by their fabulous public schools that smoking is bad. We don't smoke. Smoking is so bad. Smoking is so bad. And I didn't tell them that I was smoking and my husband knew, but he wanted nothing to do with it, or really, he'd told me that he wouldn't kiss me. He's like, "I can still smell it on you even after you brush your teeth." So I had to do this shower, laundry rigamarole just to get back in my house, which meant that I could only do it... I mean, picture me showering and doing my laundry 3, 4, 5 times a day. That's a lot. So I was smoking as many cigarettes as I could. When I would go outside, I would smoke tons of cigarettes.
So I stopped this insanity finally on my husband's birthday, which just happened. So it's the five-year anniversary of finally quitting and then not picking them back up again. And as I reflect on that insanity, it strikes me that it's so similar to food, it's addiction. It's the same mental process. And as I look back on the anatomy of what I was thinking, I identify some very specific biases that are involved in addiction. Insanities really, truly insanities. Not clinical insanity, but like insanity being the lack of the ability to think straight. The lack of ability to effectively and honestly weigh cause and effect or consequence.
So the first piece of mental insanity that comes up is the gross exaggeration. As I'm considering smoking a cigarette of the initial pleasure of it. The way that my mind exaggerates how good it's going to feel, and then shrinks and diminishes any thought of the consequences that are going to come downstream after that, all I can think about is just how good it's going to be to stand in that circle with those people and smoke that cigarette and socialize a bit. That seems so good.
And yeah, the consequences downstream are hardly considered at all, which is just really a form of insanity. The next little mental insanity is, "I'll just have one. I'll just have a little. It'll be fine. I'll just have a little," which is bringing up the third insanity, which is the notion that after I've had one cigarette or some sugar or whatever, I'm going to be thinking about it after that with the same brain that I've got now, which is to say, a brain that can weigh out the cause and effect, even as poorly as one is one, is still able to consider it. Do I want to do this, do I not? Whereas of course, once you've picked it up, you don't have that brain anymore. You have the brain that's now got the substance in it. You now are triggered by physiological cravings. Because what one does is it just triggers the desire for the next. And I totally forget that.
So these layers upon layers of mental insanity come in. So I pick up one cigarette, I smoke a bunch, I buy a pack. I smoke and smoke and smoke for a few days, a week, two weeks, however long it was, I think different times in those different cycles. It was like a few days, and then a couple of times, it was a couple of weeks of this insanity, and then I'd quit. And then what's stunning is I'd have complete amnesia for all of that, for the next time. I would utterly fail to call to mind with any crystal clear, accurate recollection, the madness that I'd just been through. And a few weeks later, I'd be back outside of a meeting thinking, "Maybe I'll bum a cigarette from somebody," and I'd do it all over again. Can you relate with your food? I'm just curious. It's it bizarre how we have a brain that will shield us from all ability to accurately weigh out cause and effect. It's incredible, isn't it? It's incredible.
So what happened? So it got bad enough that I had some really intense, powerless feelings, like really intense, helpless, desperate feelings. Those started to burn in a little bit more, I guess in addiction parlance, you could say I hit bottom. I hit bottom with it. And then I noticed that it was the eve of my husband's birthday. So I was smoking outside in the snow into the wee hours of my husband's birthday. And I thought, "You know what? If I quit now, it'll be a birthday present to my husband." And I quit. And I told him. He was not impressed because he'd seen me quit several times in the recent past. He was like, "Yeah. All right. Well, we'll see about that." And I just thought, "You know what? I'm going to make this one stick, this one on his birthday. I'm going to make it stick." And it's been five years.
Now, I did read a book that was really helpful about all this. It's Allen Carr, "The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.T It seems to also be published under the name, "The Easy Way to Quit Smoking," whatever. It's published under both apparently. And I found it very helpful. And he went even further to point out other mental fallacies, like the notion that it actually is effective or tastes good at all. Now with cigarettes, I think that a good case can be made that they're just pretty nasty. They don't taste good, and they don't reduce stress. They increase stress. And he said, "When you see someone smoking, instead of thinking, how lucky they are, you need to think, oh, how enslaved they are that they're smoking, which means they're just causing the craving for the next one." He said, "That's really all a cigarette does is it causes the craving for the next cigarette. And as long as you smoke, as long as you put any of that into your brain and body, you're just exacerbating that craving. As soon as you stop, that's when you're free."
I remember typing all of these notes from his book into my phone, and I have a little cheat sheet for it that I can read. If I ever find myself with a brain that's starting to think that a cigarette might be a good idea because I think I still have that brain that could propose that to me. And the cheat sheet from his book has been really helpful about that. Five years since that insanity. And of course, I was shooting a weekly vlog all during that time, and while it was happening, I just did not feel equipped to talk to you about it. I just did not. I remember outside of a meeting a couple of times, having someone look at me and go, "You smoke." I just sprout at a three heads or something. I guess I have a reputation of being a pretty healthy person, and people they just couldn't believe it. "You smoke?!" And yeah, I just didn't feel like I could bring that insanity to the weekly vlog quite like that.
I was talking about bingeing. I mean, I was not bright with my food consistently back then, and I talked about that. But cigarettes are just... I mean, I think it's good that we have a society that's stigmatized cigarettes to the extent that we have because yeah, they're nasty things. They're nasty things. And the initial cigarette gives quite a head rush, quite a high. And yeah, there's still quite a little counterculture, socializing thing that happens around them. I am very grateful to be off cigarettes again. Even then when they were like, "You smoke?" I was like, "No, I don't." I'm still a non-smoker. I am a non-smoker who happens to be smoking a cigarette at this moment. I do not smoke. That's what I would tell. Isn't that funny? That my identity is a non-smoker carrying through, even as I was smoking a cigarette? God, bless me.
Addiction is such a head trip, isn't it? Is such a head trip. The cells and the nucleus accumbens, those neurons that emphasize that initial pleasure, they can't see consequence. They can't see downstream. All they know is there's a hit available and it's this big and it's there for us if we take it right now. And they exaggerate the initial pleasure. They minimize all consequence, and they just lie to us until we pick it up again. And being free from any of that insanity of addiction one day at a time is such a gift.
So here's to five years, here's to many, many more. Please, God. Thank you, God. That's the Weekly Vlog. I'll see you next week.