The past two weeks have been dedicated to changing.
One of the biggest challenges and things I need to address in my life is my smoking habit. I have tried time and again to quit these things, and it’s been something that has always been a thorn in my side – well, at least since I was fifteen years old. I’ve already waxed on and on in the past about the reasons why I need to quit. I know them all, and I’ve shared them here many, many times. The truth remains, though, I still have an addiction to nicotine, and it’s power over me has to stop.
Since the first of May, I’ve cut way, way back on the amount of smoking I do. I started, full guns blazing, by quitting cold turkey. This was not only a matter of desire – I woke up two Mondays ago and said to myself that enough was enough – it’s become a health necessity. Heaviness in my chest, along with the lingering smell and feeling like a pariah have driven me to this point.
I made it about three days before I broke down and asked a coworker for a smoke, which he happily gave me. In the time since then, though, I’ve had roughly half a pack of cigarettes over the course of two weeks, which is down from my typical ten a day. I’ve also been dealing with the physical side effects of coming off nicotine – the cravings are only the start. Tension, constipation, headaches are also factors. What I wasn’t expecting, and what I didn’t realize, was the emotional side effects of this addiction also are huge factors in quitting. Since I’ve cut way, way back (to the point where I’m really on the verge of being done all together), I’ve been stuck in an emotional rut. I find myself defensive, depressed, and irritable to be around as well. Ray, bless him, has born the brunt of some of this, but I’ve done all I can to keep it contained. I need this habit over with, and I need it over with now. It’s coming.
The other thing that’s coming, as part of my breaking of this habit, is the decision I made two days ago about my fitness plan and exercise regime. I’ve been going to the gym twice a week now for about four months. In that time, I’ve experienced a weight gain that puts me back where I was when I first arrived in Portland – about thirty pounds more than I should be – some of it in muscle, I know, but also a good deal of pudge over that muscle. Living here in this house has afforded me a diet that allows for excess, and as a shift from where I was prior to moving here, with a very limited availability of food simply because I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford to purchase much, my waist line has expanded slightly, and my clothes no longer fit as I would like them to. I know that my efforts at the gym have been good. I have arms and legs unlike I’ve ever had before. I have a chest that, beneath the softness, is more defined and in better shape than ever. Still, I haven’t quite gotten to where I want to be, and I think I’ve found a way to change all of that.
I haven’t really gone running since moving here to this new house. I’ve not had the desire, energy, or drive to run like I did late last year. When I was running, it was for very different reasons than I originally thought. It was a coping mechanism. It was how I squelched anxiety. It was how I kept control of my life when everything else seemed to be collapsing around me. The stress of being jobless, and stuck in a space that was no longer my home, and the tattered edges of a failed relationship all around me, running away from it all for just an hour or so every other day kept the darkness in check.
Now, though, that darkness has gone. I’m in a new home. I have a decent job. I have managed to meet one of the most extraordinary men I’ve ever had the chance to fall in love with and truly begin the process of sharing my life with. I have so much going for me since the turn of the year, but as is the way I approach life, I’m not quite satisfied. I still hunger for a bit more growth and development. For me, this appetite for new experiences and new challenges is at the heart of what life is all about. I never want to stop learning and doing and growing as a person, which is why I’ve decided to take up something I’ve always denounced and thought impossible in my life.
Starting on Monday, I’m beginning a new series of runs that will eventually lead up to my completion of a marathon. This is going to be a monumental chore for me, with lots of effort, lots of dedication, and lots of moments of despair and frustration. Still, every time I’ve seen friends and contacts take up this challenge for themselves, or whenever I see a pack of people out there running for a cause, I have always felt like I needed to join them. I do love running. I like the way it clears my mind. I like the way it shapes my body. I like the feeling of motion and movement to offset the times when all I do is sit and remain still.
Running will also help me get over the hump with regards to my smoking habit. It will also, as I’ve learned in the past, help me deal with confidence and self-esteem issues. It will help me cope with the tension, depression, and physical side effects of cutting nicotine out of my life. It will inform my writing. It will challenge me to love myself a little bit more than I currently do. Most importantly, if I can actually achieve this goal, it will be something of a life-time achievement for me, especially since I have always been the fat kid on the end of the roster, the one never chosen, the one who always came in physically last. Yes, I am trying to prove to myself what I’m capable of. Yes, I’m trying to shatter this old, horrible image I have of myself. Yes, each footfall will be one more sword-swipe at the demons that have chased me for far too long.
Thomas Palmer: writer, teacher, marathon runner.