Thursday, July 8, 2021

I've Left The Island...

I woke at midnight last night and as usual, further sleep evaded me. I've been trying to declutter a bit so grabbed a box of old stuff from my childhood to sort through. This box was from my school days. I was a smart kid. Aced lots of papers and tests, won some awards, excelled in music, science and all other subjects other than math. You'd assume this box would be stuffed with achievements and happy memories. But it wasn't. It was a box of failure. Notes fellow students wrote making fun of me. Papers and tests that I didn't do well on. Of all things to keep from my school days, I kept the box of failure.

In the bottom of the box was an essay I wrote in 7th grade. I had forgotten about that essay until discovering it last night. It was the only "F" on a paper I ever got. We were assigned to write about if we could go anywhere to live, where would we go and why. I had chosen the Island of Misfit Toys. Rereading the pain expressed in that paper was heartbreaking. It made me cry. I choose that island because I felt it was the only place I could possibly belong. A misfit waiting to be accepted. To fit in.

I remember my teachers words as if they were spoken an hour ago. She called the paper "pathetic". She found it unacceptable to pick an imaginary place from a Christmas show, instead of a real place. She pointed out we had learned about many wonderful places in school, there was no need to go to a place that doesn't exist, let alone a place so full of despair. In her opinion, dreaming of a place to go should be a beautiful place full of happiness.

I think she missed the point. In my world, that island was real and I felt very strongly that I belonged there. I think if I read such a thing from a young person, I'd be concerned about their well being. I guess things were different back then. It was a very long time ago. She didn't care. I put the failures back in the box, taped it shut, and stuffed it back into the bottom of the closet. I sat in the dark, depressed and waited for my alarm to ring, reminding me I work at 3am.

I set myself up to have a bad day today. I thought about the worry and disappointment from yesterday and filled any room left in my head with the feelings that the box of failure and my teacher's words brought back.

A few weeks ago, I received some messages from some fellow advocates that weren't kind. It was a huge blow to my fragile self esteem, and I've been stuck on it since. I'm hurt and angry. I'm struggling to not let it define who I am and the effort I'm putting in to helping people. But it's there, like a glaring blow horn right beside my head. The box of failure fit right in with my negative feelings.

To counter that noise, is the majority of fellow advocates. People who freely give their support. Some have gone even further, handing out praise like my Dad used to hand out beatings. It's so weird getting so many compliments. The first instinct is to argue and to explain why they're wrong. It's uncomfortable in many ways. It makes a person stop - or in my case to become speechless. My mind will go blank for a bit, and then it will race. I fight the urge to ask them if they've been drinking! LOL

In the end, I end up in tears. A kind word is one of the greatest gifts you can give another human being. You can lift a person from the depths of despair with just a word. You can make someone's day. You can make a person see a different side to themselves. You can make a person feel valued. And yes, you can even give them that feeling of being good enough.

I'm grateful for the people who spread kindness and support everywhere.

Today, a member of my "tribe" expressed one of those compliments. My mind went still, and yes, I was speechless. Today I learned to shut-up and bask in the heartwarming glow of praise. I felt accepted. I felt like I belonged. 

Today, a compliment made me say good-bye to the Island of Misfit Toys. 

Tonight, I'm going to go home and burn that essay. 

NO... I'm going to burn the whole damn box. 

It's time to end letting my past define my future. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

 


A Billion Dollars...




It's always been my secret dream to win the lottery and become a millionaire. I've never dreamed big enough to shoot for a billion! I've always dreamed of being rich so I could accomplish my list of things I would do if I was rich. If I had a billion dollars I doubt it would take me long to spend it!

There's a little town in Germany called Breitungen. I went to their 1075 anniversary celebration with many distant relatives from around the world. We all have ancestors from that town. We went to St. Michael's church while there. I sat in a pew that my family has sat in for over 400 years. I felt a sense of belonging that I've never felt before. The service was in German, so I understood only a couple of words, and yet was so moved, tears flowed down my cheeks for most of the service. There is a giant pipe organ there. It is a work of art and is hundreds of years old. I was disappointed that I didn't get to hear it played. It was in need of restoration and the church could not afford $100,000 for the project. If I had a billion dollars, I'd give this quaint little town the gift of history and music and have that organ restored. There is a beautiful hand embroidered alter cloth there, made and given to the church by one of my ancestors. It is also very, very old and getting fragile. I would pay for preservation of that cloth.

I'd then return home and look towards my community. One of the things that always breaks my heart is to see people cold and hungry. I'm in Minnesota, winters can be harsh. Imagine having no where to live when it's 30 below zero! 

I'd start at our local youth center The Shop. They provide services for teens and young adults. They provide food, education, recreational activities, and support. Amazing, caring people run this organization. I'd set them up with a bigger place, with a parking lot, and outdoor space. It would have trees for shade, outdoor seating / cooking areas, and outdoor activities. Inside would have a nice kitchen, and fully stocked pantry and freezer. Inside would have a craft area with lots of supplies, a fully equipped music area, a recreational / gaming area, comfortable seating, and meeting rooms. There would be a community washer and dryer and a personal needs area stocked with hygiene items. I'd set them up with a van and some funding. I'd help them do even more of the good things they do. Most of these things are already there, they just need more of them and more space to do it in.

I'd move on to the programs in my area who help feed the hungry. I'd be generous to Sharing Bread Soup KitchenThe Outreach ProgramOperation Sandwich, and a group who not only addresses hunger issues, but also addresses many emergency needs in my community Bridges of Hope.

Feeding the hungry addresses an immediate need. Some people find themselves in an emergency situation and just need a helping hand to get by for a little bit. These services are great for that. Some people need more help because they are trapped in a world that doesn't allow them to lift themselves up out of a dark place. A bulk of my billion dollars would go to this. I would build a village of tiny houses. A transitional project to put a roof over peoples heads in a dignified manner while they work towards a permanent income and permanent housing. 

This village would have everything from tiny houses for 1 person, to slightly bigger tiny homes for families. Nothing fancy, but better than sleeping in the streets. Upon entry, there is no rent to be paid, but an expectation to "work" it off by participating in the care of the community. From cleaning, repairs, to food preparation, to helping with a community garden, and taking turns at the resource center and with child care at the day care center.

Residents can help with the garden, where people can learn how to raise their own fruits and vegetables. In the center of the village is a community and resource center. It will have gathering areas for socializing. A computer room for educational and job seeking use. Day care, a library, basic medical care, worship areas, craft area, music area, workshop area with equipment, a gym, etc. There will be support for people recovering from addiction, for people with mental and other health issues, for survivors of abuse. A large playground outside. A field where people can play baseball, Frisbee, disc golf, etc. The whole point of this village is to get people off the streets, on their feet, and then move out and be on their own. As many needs as possible will be addressed. Opportunities to learn life skills from finances, cooking healthy on a budget, job seeking skills, job skills, getting a high school diploma if the person has dropped out of school, to vocational and academic training to have marketable skills. Resources will be there to address all the things a person needs - social, mental, physical, and spiritual. There will be places to think, pray, create (arts, crafts, building things, music, writing, etc), be with others, work and play. A person feels more whole when they are given the opportunity to address all their needs, not just an emergency need.

Our village would work off the principle of giving a man a fish he eats for a day, teach him to fish he eats for a lifetime. Running of the village will be done by the staff AND the people living there. There will be a firm belief in "nothing about us without us".  

At first, my dream was to build the tiny house village out in the country somewhere. I think I'll change that and wish to build it in a community or right on the edge of one. This will better fit the needs of people who have transportation issues, want close access to community services and jobs, etc.

Anyone at any time in their life can suddenly find themselves in a situation out of their control. These people should not be judged, they should be embraced, loved, and supported. No one should have to sleep out on the streets. There is a world of difference between choosing to do so and being forced to do so because someone has run out of options. A village of tiny houses creates a whole new world of options. 

I have been helped many times in my life with many kinds of needs. I think it would be great to have a billion dollars and pay all the help I received forward. I can't think of a better way to live out the rest of my life than being able to give to others. Who knows, maybe our little village will give birth to tons of community minded people who will spend the rest of their lives paying it forward and giving back to their neighbors. 




 


Sunday, June 27, 2021

Blowing Smoke?


I watched a video called "A New Ending" and was shocked when Marion Burt talked about her husband being prescribed 4 cigarettes a day as a toddler. It was supposed to help with breathing issues! This led to a lifelong smoking habit, which led to COPD and his death. A sad and moving story. Hard to believe (but true) that smoking plant material was once a treatment for asthma.

This brought back memories of my Mom sharing stories about when she was a little girl. She suffered from horrible earaches. She said they were treated with sulfur and with someone blowing smoke in her ears. She was born in 1939 and lived on a farm. I'm not sure how much medical care was available back then, or what antibiotics were on the market. Mom wasn't the only one who was subjected to blowing smoke in the ear, it was a common home remedy.

These 2 stories made me curious about smoking and medicinal use of tobacco. I remember a saying about "blowing smoke up your ass" and wondered if it's just a saying or is this connected to some former medical procedure. Turns out that at one time, it was a medical procedure, often used on drowning victims. It's hard to believe, but there's still places that believe in using the practice of blowing smoke in a patients lungs or ears to cure cancer, autism, and emphysema. 

Tobacco has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes. It was used to disinfect, ward off diseases, and to battle fatigue. It has been used as an ingredient in toothpaste, to treat skin ailments, and treating a long list of physical and mental maladies. Some of those cures had no scientific proof, while other uses of tobacco were and still are being explored for their medicinal properties. Tobacco also has a sacred value to some cultures, and is used for spiritual and medicinal purposes.

Nicotine is one part of the tobacco plant that is being explored for it's therapeutic benefits. That research shows more potential than blowing smoke into the various openings of the human body. Unfortunately, stigmatization over tobacco and nicotine has dampened scientific exploration into the potential of nicotine to reduce human suffering. Modern science shows that many people who smoke are probably self-medicating and don't realize it. We'd be giving them a life saving gift, if we'd stop the stigma and offer them safer delivery methods for the nicotine that seems to be helping them.

Who knew that blowing smoke up someone's rear end or in their ear would someday lead to something that can help people lead a healthier and happier life? Ending stigma means we stop writing the ending to people's stories, and let individuals and science create happier endings to potentially tragic stories.



Sunday, June 20, 2021

Gummy Bears and Cotton Candy



June is National Candy Month. Started by the National Confectioner’s Association, the holiday celebrates the value candy adds to our lives. Candy has been produced for over 100 years.

The national confectioners association believes that as Americans get older, they tend to favor better things in life. A multiple cross sectional analysis of consumption patterns revealed that adults are consuming an ever increasing percentage of candy. The adult market has proven to be lucrative. 75% of all adult Americans say they eat chocolate or hard candy. The average American eats almost 25 pounds of candy every year and 1 in 4 American adults will choose to have at least one piece of candy every day of the week.

Sweetheart Candy "conversation" hearts were first made in 1866 by Necco. They were originally used in weddings until the early 1900's when they became a Valentine's Day staple. Almost 100 years after Necco started making conversation hearts California Senator, George Murphy, kept candy in his desk to offer his colleagues. This started a tradition that is still followed in the US Senate today and is referred to as the Candy Desk.

PEZ Candy was invented in the 1920's in Vienna, Austria by Eduard Haas III as an alternative to smokingIn 1952, PEZ came to the United States. The original PEZ container was a tin and later changed to the dispenser that fit easier in a person's pocket. 

In 1997 the President of Phillip Morris, James Morgan, made the outlandish claim that cigarettes were no more addictive than Gummy Bears. This gave birth to the Bears for Butts program run by the Health Partnership Project and the California Medical Association Foundation. At events around California, anyone turning in their smokes received a free bag of gummy bears, cessation counseling, and tips on avoiding secondhand smoke.

It's obvious how much adults like their candy. The Tipsy Bartender offers several gummy bear themed cocktails. Consumers can purchase gummy bears flavored with wine or spiked with caffeine and flavored with coffee. There are even breast implants that are named after the famous gummy bear!


American adults eat 75% of all the cotton candy in the USA. They also enjoy cotton candy flavored products such as personal lubricant, wine , vodka, and a desensitizing throat spray to minimize the gag reflex

Adults enjoy candy and candy flavors in a variety of shapes and sizes. There's a lollipop that is shaped like a man's private parts, candy shaped like sperm, gummy boobs and specialty candy for bedroom adventures. Who knew you could get a bra, male g-string and a female g-string made out of candy?

The examples of adult products with candy flavors are endless, yet groups fighting tobacco harm reduction products claim that when the products are candy flavored, they are a ploy by big tobacco to market to children. We don't hear these same groups express concerns about food products influencing kids to use tobacco. A quick online search found bubble gum cigarettes, candy cigarettes, a real candy pipe, licorice pipes, and bubblegum cigars. Outside of gum and candy, there is shredded beef jerky called "chew" and packaged in a container reminiscent of a chewing tobacco tin.

While quit smoking resources suggest that the use of candy-like lozenges are a great quick fix of nicotine, it appears that the only time it's OK to use something candy flavored is if the tobacco control community says it's OK. These groups remind the public that many tobacco harm reduction products are not FDA approved for smoking cessation, while suggesting many non-FDA approved strategies to help people stop smoking. Their list includes: toothpicks, cinnamon sticks, gum, and lollipops, or chewing on and sucking a straw.

The voice of consumers who are trying to quit smoking continues to be ignored. The use of flavored e-cigarettes was associated with more than twice the odds of smoking cessation among adult users compared to those using tobacco flavors. History demonstrates the adult love of all things candy. If something candy flavored is what helps someone stop smoking, who are we to tell them they can't quit that way? We'd help more people stop smoking if we would listen to their needs and what works for them.

Whether your adult choice includes a candy bar from the grocery store, something candy flavored from the liquor store, a sexy candy item from the adult sex-toy store, or a candy flavored product that helps you to avoid smoking, here's wishing everyone a happy candy month!




Friday, June 18, 2021

What I Learned This Week


Before I get into a list of life's lessons learned this week, I want to send positive thoughts to 3 people I love dearly. In one day I received the news that all 3 are fighting cancer. A painful reminder that cancer sucks. I pray they can beat this. Please add your prayers or positive thoughts to mine!

I've spent considerable time the past few months sharing some really personal things. In a way it has been freeing to do so, but also really scary. The fear of being judged is real. It's been rewarding to see some people comment that they can relate or to see people open up about their stories because I shared mine. It's helpful to know that the sharing of the dark things can help others. It has been super hard to deal with those who don't agree with me being open and honest. This week I was called a crazy person and I was told I should delete certain things from this blog and from my Twitter and Facebook accounts so others don't think the vapor industry is full of crazy people. I learned being brave comes with a price, but I also learned that being brave is something I must continue to do.

Someone I know and respect took me by surprise this week. They "did their research" about a project I'm connected to and instead of asking about it they made assumptions and then made threats. I caved to their demands. A project that was fighting back against illegal sellers of tobacco and vapor products to kids is now gone. I learned that I'm tired of fighting my own people. I learned I don't like myself very much when I should have fought back and didn't.

This week I learned if you make a bad choice and skirt the law, just own up to it. There are angry people in the world because they made the choice to do the right thing. Sometimes, doing the right thing can bring harm to that person or something important to them. They can resent those who didn't choose the right thing. By keeping mistakes and bad choices a secret, I was leaving myself open to someone using that choice as a weapon. My choice, as bad as it was, felt like the right thing to do at the time. I learned that one person's right can be another person's wrong.

I learned that sometimes when someone I know is wrong, it is more important to let them believe they're right than to prove them wrong. Sometimes protecting someone important to me is more important than my personal honor. I learned how to set a new kind of priority. After a lifetime of loading the evidence truck and dumping it on someone I disagree with, for once, I left the evidence in the warehouse, locked the door, and walked away. I learned going for a walk is a good thing.

Yesterday I went home early. I went out in my yard and laid in the grass. I realized I'm making a big mistake by never taking a day off from the shop and taking a day off from advocacy. I'm harming my relationships with my family and friends when all I can talk about anymore is Tobacco Harm Reduction. I have turned my life into a tunnel and am denying myself my favorite view - vivid green tree tops against a bright blue sky. My husband came out to see what I was doing. He laid down beside me and held my hand. I felt a connection to him I haven't felt in a very long time. We killed an hour talking and laughing. This was us when we were young. I learned I miss that feeling.

In the end, I learned the most important thing is to do the right thing for the right reason. I learned that people have power over me when I give them that power. This week I learned to take my power back.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Dear Tobacco Control

 

I've been called a smoker.

I've been told I stink.

I've been shamed for failing to quit.

I've been looked down on for not only failing to quit, but for being a repeat failure. 

I've been judged for polluting your air and turning your walls yellow.

I've been accused of being weak and lazy. 

I've been hated and found to be disgusting.

I've been treated like I'm not as good as you.

I've been told I have to quit smoking.

I've been told how to quit smoking.

I've been led to believe I'll never be good enough.

I've been treated like I'm damaged and broken until I ended up in believing that was my identity, and my name was smoker.

When I finally quit smoking, but didn't do it the way you wanted me to, you continued to judge me. You told me I didn't really quit. You started calling me an addict. I was still scum to you.

When I volunteered (that means I didn't get paid) to help a company owned by someone who used to smoke, develop products they hoped would help other people quit smoking you labeled us as evil. You accused us of marketing to kids because the products were flavored. You never asked why we created those products. You call us Big Tobacco when we have nothing to do with those large companies.

One of my local vape shops was in the lower income part of town. They kept their prices low to help the disadvantaged have an option for something safer than smoking. I know you know that lower income people smoke at a higher rate than upper income people, but you ignore that fact and say the prices are low so kids can afford them. In your eyes, when I took over that shop I was something even dirtier than smokers, I was a vape shop owner. It doesn't matter that the previous owner or I have never failed a compliance check, you take a joyous pleasure in accusing us of being part of the supply chain shoving JUUL down the throats of the youth of America. Funny thing is, we've never sold JUUL products. You never asked us why we owned a vape shop. You never asked what we sell or to whom.

You were the judge and jury and you passed a sentence without ever hearing our testimony.

Today, I'm sharing my testimony on how I ended up smoking and how I feel about my experiences...

I come from a long line of people who smoked. They weren't smokers, they were people. Most of them were really good people. The exception to that rule was my Dad. He had an anger in him that burned to the depths of his soul. He had a need to be in control and for everything around him to be perfect. Problem is, life isn't perfect.

Dad didn't want kids. When my Mom became pregnant with me, he wasn't thrilled. He isolated her and kept her from medical treatment. She got very ill. A neighbor found Mom collapsed in the yard and got her help. Once it became apparent that even ill, Mom was going to remain pregnant, Dad decided that was OK, as long as it was a boy. I was born with the wrong body parts and I paid for it my whole childhood.

Most of my childhood memories of my Dad revolve around punishment. To this day, I struggle to feel I'm good enough, because I was never considered good enough when I was little. My bedroom had to be spotless. After cleaning my room, my Dad would inspect it. If anything was wrong, I paid for it. Something out of place or a gum wrapper that missed the garbage warranted a beating on a bare behind with a leather belt, along with being grounded to my room for 2 weeks. I could only come out to eat, use the bathroom, or go to school. I couldn't talk out my window to the neighbor kids, I couldn't watch TV, and I couldn't use the phone. If I objected to the punishment or took too long to go to the bathroom and return to my room, I'd get another beating and sometimes got locked in my closet for a couple of hours to help me learn to be where I'm supposed to be. 

I was shy as a kid and didn't like to talk to people I didn't know. I could talk to people when I had something to talk about, but found small talk to feel awkward. Dad took this behavior as being rude and if it embarrassed him, I'd get another beating. Sometimes around people I knew, I'd get excited and talk too much. Thoughts would race so fast and fly out my mouth. That was just as bad as not talking at all and also worthy of a beating. It was important to my Dad that I learn to speak well, in a proper manner at a proper time. It became even more important to me.

I didn't like certain foods as a kid. Macaroni and cheese, liver and onions, and Brussel sprouts were the worst. I didn't like the taste, smell, or texture of these foods. My Dad believed you eat what's on your plate and you better be grateful for it. I remember trying to eat these foods and gagging on them. I'd have to sit at the table for an hour or two after everyone was done eating until I ate that cold, nasty food. If I didn't manage to eat it, I'd get it with the belt again and my plate went in the fridge and would be served cold to me the next meal. This would be repeated until I ate it.

I couldn't stand sox and shoes. Once I took them off in church and somebody laughed. My Dad was so mad at me, he didn't even wait until we got home. I got my beating in the back seat of the Chevy in the church parking lot. He didn't like me crying and on the way home told me to shut up or he'd pull over and give me another licking. I learned to cry without making a sound. I'm still good at that skill.

Sometimes I just had to move. I liked to rock. I'd rock my body while sitting in a chair. Sometimes, my hands would just randomly flop or flap. Sometimes I talked too much with my hands. The rocking and flapping my Dad found socially unacceptable and irritating. I got warned to not do that and if I did, you know by now what happened next. I wonder how many belts he wore out on my behind? Due to the talking with my hands and too many glasses of milk going flying at the dinner table, I was banned from talking during meals and wasn't allowed a drink until we were done eating. Sometimes my Dad would make me sit on my hands for hours to teach me that hands are not for flopping, flapping, and waving about.

There are many more examples I could give, but I think that's enough personal details to paint the picture of what life was like for the unwanted daughter of my dad. Now imagine that was you. Do you think it might have had an effect on your mental health?

My Grandpa C was the exact opposite of my Dad. I was his favorite of all the grands and he didn't care who knew it. His eyes glowed every time he looked at me. The best days of my childhood is when my brother and I went to spend a couple of weeks at the farm with my Grandparents. No Dad meant no beatings. I rode on the tractor with my Grandpa and I helped in the barn. I spent time with the animals. We did lots of fishing and hunting together. In my eyes, he was one of the most amazing people on earth.

My Grandpa smoked heavily. The first cigarette I ever smoked was taken from my Grandpa's pack of smokes. I was 10 and smoked it behind the barn with a couple of kids from the neighboring farm. I know we coughed, but I don't remember that 1st cigarette being awful. I remember it making me feel closer to my Grandpa. After being so imperfect in Dad's eyes, it felt good to be like someone who was perfect in my eyes and smoking like Grandpa smoked made me feel like I was more like him.

I became a person who smokes with that very first cigarette. I took many cigarettes from my Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. Back then, if the store clerks knew your parents and knew you, you could ride your bike to the store and pick up smokes for them. At 10, I was already babysitting the neighbor kids and had money, so I'd go to the store and ask for a pack for my Mom or Dad and buy my own smokes.

There was something very strange about smoking. I felt better when I smoked. It brought me a calmness, a slowing of my racing mind. I liked how I felt after having a cigarette.

The trauma I experienced as a child continued on into adult hood. I was raped when I was 19. I ended up in an abusive relationship and had to flee my home and move to another town in 1980. My boyfriend beat me in the stomach with a dining room chair and I miscarried. I was 5 months pregnant. I went to my Grandparents, who had retired to the family cabin. I remained hidden there for several months, not telling any of my friends back home where I went or why. I had to start my life over. I never moved back to the land of so many kinds of abuse, and feel safer up here living my rural life in the woods. Bears and coyotes are nothing compared to the danger of angry men.

I smoked from 1969 until 2015. Over the years, I tried to quit smoking several times. I joke that I became a professional at failing to quit smoking. The joking was to hide the embarrassment over failing to quit, over not being perfect, of not being good enough to achieve this one small task.

In 2014 I tried vapor products to use when I couldn't smoke. Four months later, in 2015, I suddenly realized I had quit smoking. I haven't smoked since. I continue to vape and there are some of you out there who continue to judge me for my intake of nicotine.

I tried to stop using nicotine in 2020. That was probably not a good idea in the midst of isolation due to COVID. I ended up depressed and I ended up needing help. That help led to a diagnosis of Late Life Depression, ADD/ADHD and Autism. My therapist wanted me to see someone about medications. I didn't like some of the options. I have a tendency to be very sensitive to medications and often find side effects worse than what the meds are supposed to treat. I talked to my therapist about nicotine. She wasn't too excited about that option and wanted me to stop vaping because she felt it would be making my problems worse, not helping me.

I sent her the links to several studies and via my computer, we watched the film "You Don't Know Nicotine" together. She was shocked. She agrees that I am probably one of the people who are helped on a therapeutic level with nicotine. She now supports my using nicotine for my mental health, as long as I use a delivery method that doesn't involve smoking tobacco.

I'm telling the world much more than I wanted them to know, but I think that people in tobacco control need to stop and think about what they're doing. Stop calling people like me "smokers". We are people. We have feelings, hopes, and dreams just like you do. Stop calling us "addicts". Even those of us who are dependent on nicotine don't deserve your stigmatization. We deserve your compassion.

If you really care about us, and you want to end the death and disease from smoking, you need to stop talking at us. You need to listen to us. Ask some questions, show you care. I don't need anyone else judging me. My Dad did enough of that and now that he's not in my life, I do it daily to myself. Help people like me to finally feel like we're good enough.

How do you do that? Do something about what causes people to smoke in the first place. Do something about poverty, child abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse. Do something about the poor mental health services in this country. Do something about discrimination and stigmatization. Do something about our schools with low academic achievement and the bigger populations of high risk youth. Volunteer with kids, be a mentor and a positive influence in their lives.

You can waste your time fighting for taxes, bans and restrictions all you want. There may be less people who smoke from those efforts, but the problem isn't going to go away until we kill the root. The root is the social ills that makes a person seek something to make them feel better, who feel their only option is to smoke. The world is full of people not realizing they are self medicating.

The next time you meet someone who smokes, remember, they are a person. Show you care, ask to hear their story, ask what you can do to help. Support them when they are ready to quit, and please, no judgements on how they quit. How doesn't matter, success is what will save their life. You don't need to fear the nicotine. Nicotine helps people like me. All we need to fear is the smoke.

I am tired of feeling like I'm not good enough. I'm tired of feeling like I'm broken or damaged. I'm tired of having to fight to be able to use something that's safer than smoking and keeps me from going back to smoking. I'm tired of being judged. 

I'm ready to be told I'm a welcomed member of society. 

I'm ready to feel accepted and that I belong.

I'm ready to hear I'm good enough. 

I'm trying to believe I'm not worthless and to give myself credit for being a survivor.

I'm ready to meet other people who smoke on their turf and help them quit on their terms. 

Are you ready to go on this journey with me?

We are people. We don't need to be controlled. There's something wrong with the whole effort when it's called "tobacco control". We have a voice, give us your ear and listen. Work with us. We could save so many lives if we'd just give people a better life, a promising future, options and a voice. Let's close the rule books and the play books. Let's open our minds and hearts. It's time to roll up our sleeves and do great things together. It's time to stop the stigma and end the war between you and people who smoke or used to smoke.

Sincerely,

A seeker of reason, compassion, and co-operation.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sometimes the road can get a bit rough

 


A few days ago, I had a really bad day. I don't know if what I was going through has a name, so I'm calling it a brain storm. I described it to someone that it was like a machine gun in my head. The bullets were bad thoughts and emotions. FEAR, ANGER, SADNESS. It was like someone was pulling the trigger and wouldn't let go. Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, it was an endless assault. When my head got too full it started coming out of my eyes. I couldn't stop crying. I shed tears for hours. I'd sort of calm and then it would start all over again. I was a hot mess. 

I felt out of control. I went through episodes of my heart pounding, my hands shaking, and breaking out in a sweat. I'd start feeling short of breath and dizzy. I tried to relax and it would get a little better and then BOOM another wave of it came over me. This went on for several hours. I felt very needy. I was alone and didn't want to be.

I've never experienced this before and I hope I never do again. It was unpleasant and overwhelming. I'm starting to think this might have been stress related. The day before had been a long, hard day, because my husband had issues with his COPD. He struggled to breathe all day. I left work and went home to be with him because he started to panic and it made his breathing worse. I spent the day trying not to look or act worried so he'd relax. It isn't fun to watch someone you love struggle to breathe! While this was going on, my adult son (who has an "unspecified social disorder" which is now believed to be autism) had a meltdown. His girlfriend had never experienced one of those and so, I was on the phone helping them through that. My son, who's already had 2 heart attacks started having chest pains in the middle of everything going on...

The good news is my son wasn't having a heart attack, his meltdown ended, and by evening my husband was breathing better. We had survived another day of health issues, many smoking related. We're a family of people who used to smoke. 

The health issues of my loved ones is nothing new. We've dealt with them for years. I don't know if them happening on the same day was the trigger for my bad day, but I'm starting to think it was. The only thing that was different that day is that once I went home in the morning, I didn't vape again until I left home the next day, the day I woke up with the storm already raging in my head. 

As I tried to work through my bad day, I vaped constantly. I found it helpful to try to verbalize to a couple of people that I wasn't OK (Thanks Charles and Cami!) which was like opening a faucet and just letting the ick pour out. Later that day a switch flipped and suddenly all the weird thoughts and feeling were gone. The storm was over.

Maybe the depression I've battled this past year made me more prone to the brain storm. Maybe I self medicate with nicotine more than I thought. Maybe my autism put me in some kind of weird sensory overload. I don't know. What ever was going on that day, I'm grateful I've reached a point in my life where I finally feel safe to tell people I'm not OK. I hope that part of this sinks in for you, it's OK to tell someone you're not OK. Don't be afraid.

Those of you who are accepting and safe to talk to are a life line to people like me. Thank-you for being there.



P.S. Many years ago, I was really good at being young and stupid. I liked to party and I did too much of it. How I came out of my youth and escaped becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs is beyond me. One day, I just decided not to do those things and walked away from them. Didn't touch either for over 20 years. Now, I might drink 1 or 2 beers a year, and that's enough for me. 

Smoking cigarettes are a different story. It was a struggle for many years to stop smoking. I tried every method known to man. I became a professional at failing to quit smoking. I finally quit trying to quit. When I started vaping in 2014 it was because I could do it in places that I couldn't smoke. 4 months later, I realized I had accidently quit smoking. I remain smoke free to this day.

But, I miss smoking and there are still times in my life where I want to smoke. Stressful and emotional times are the worst for having an urge to smoke. It amazes me that when I had that really bad day, it never once crossed my mind to have a cigarette! 6 years smoke free, and the first time I had a bad day and didn't want a smoke! 

Many think that people who vape to quit smoking should also strive to quit vaping. For people who want to do that, I fully support that goal. I think people like me have a need for the nicotine, both in their brains and to prevent relapse to smoking. I wish more people would understand and support that. I function better with nicotine in my system. I also function better with coffee in my system. 

Some people have a glass of wine or a beer everyday, and society doesn't have an issue with people using that drug of choice. I hope someday, society will also accept the use of safer forms of nicotine. People like me could use the world judging us on one less thing.