Here I Go Again

photo (7)
My mascot for the week (she’s obviously meditating)

I feel a little funny as I sit down to write this today. I am getting a much later start than I anticipated, but I still don’t really know what it is that I am going to say. That’s how it goes:  some days the words are just bursting to get out, other days it’s a struggle to complete a sentence. But today has a rather surreal feeling that I am just going to try to go with.

You see, I just got home less than an hour ago from my first acupuncture appointment. I went in at 9am to fill out paperwork before my 9:30am appointment, had a consultation and settled into an available chair, and the next thing I knew the practitioner was waking me up, gently telling me it was noon (!). Though at times it had felt like I was lying there in my recliner for way too long, it had also only felt like an hour or so had passed. I’d drifted in and out of consciousness, trying to follow my breath and quiet my mind. At intervals the music selection was soothing, at other intervals it felt offensive, too loud. This up-and-down-in-and-out sort of dreamland I entered was a direct cause of my decision to smoke my last cigarette yesterday.

I smoked my last cigarette after work yesterday on my way to an Ayurvedic institute and bathhouse, the same ritual I performed the last time I quit smoking. Though I only lasted three months the last time, I know that I initially succeeded because I had gone to use the saunas and sweated as much of the toxins out of my body that I could. This time around my sister-in-law met me and we cycled through the steam room, dry sauna, and infrared sauna, plunging into ice-cold water in a copper tub between heated sessions (insanely cold but it is said to purify the body). After we’d had enough, we went to dinner and I didn’t even think about smoking. Then came time for after-dinner coffee. As any smoker knows, coffee and cigarettes is the most luxurious and delicious combination ever created (can you tell how I’m feeling right now?). But I distracted myself by focusing on conversation and headed home feeling pretty good.

This morning I woke early and made myself breakfast sans my usual cup of coffee, remembering the instructions I’d received from the receptionist at the acupuncturist’s:  No caffeine, eat breakfast, wear loose clothing, no perfume. I was grateful that I had scheduled this appointment ahead of time, that I had added a tool I hadn’t thought of the previous time to my quit-smoking tool belt. With no coffee and no time to really think about it, I was okay without my usual morning cigarette. I drove to the acupuncturist’s office excited and a little nervous, not knowing what to expect.

I obviously live in an area where going to the acupuncturist and the bathhouse is not outside of the norm, but that doesn’t mean that I embrace everything “woo woo” wholeheartedly. I am open-minded about alternative medicine and am thankful that I live in a place where I have access to other options when it comes to my health and well-being, but I was still astonished when the acupuncturist “read” my pulse. Just from placing her fingertips on the inside of each wrist, she asked if I have tightness in my neck. I do. She asked if I have sinus congestion. I do. She asked what was going on with me emotionally and when I explained my current situation — looking for a job, unsure of what comes next, often anxious and worried about the future — she said that she could tell. It was crazy! I almost cried when she went over my ailments, congratulated me on quitting smoking, and told me that she and the other practitioners could help me feel better. I hadn’t really realized until I had to fill out the pre-appointment questionnaire that yes, I have not been feeling that great. Quitting smoking is taking a big step, but I need help.

I will be honest with you, when I was woken at noon I was not instantaneously transformed. I was not expecting to be, and the acupuncturist had told me before we began that she would like me to come in twice a week for a month. But when I was woken up I felt… peaceful. Calm. I was not frantic with cravings for a cigarette, which was amazing. I felt rested and also like I had traversed a long way. I had gone up and down throughout the session, gone from feeling antsy to sinking into a kind of trance, from immersing myself in the music to alternately hating it. I had probably been battling cravings during this strange journey, but instead of thinking about cigarettes, I had been thinking about other things. Mostly I tried to think of nothing at all, to push thoughts out of my head when they tried to take root, to meditate, and at least I was successful for part of the time.

Meditating is still difficult for me, to quiet my mind and follow my breath, but I also know that it is important to try. Meditating provides me with an opportunity to get still and go inward, which is rare these days with so much going on. And yes, during the acupuncture session I was often thinking of my internship, or the plans for this weekend, or cleaning the house, or wondering if I would have time to walk the dog, etc, but during the session I was also losing myself to just…. Being. And when I meditate at home, it’s never for two hours! It’s usually just for 5-10 minutes, 20 at the most, and I usually have to listen to a guided meditation in order to really get still.

Without even realizing it, I had been still in a recliner (these use old-man recliners instead of tables, pretty cool) for over two hours. The acupuncturist told me that next time if I have somewhere to be to let the receptionist know when to wake me up, otherwise they’ll let you go for as long as possible. I was kind of upset that I hadn’t known, that I would have less time to write this today, but then I thought that I most likely needed it. That I had been given a rare moment in time to unplug and go inward and get some healing. I also got a reprieve from thinking about smoking, which I will admit I am now thinking about.

I usually write this blog with a cigarette dangling from my lips, squinting through the smoke as I sit on my patio. Right now I am sitting in my usual spot but with just a cup of coffee (don’t worry I drank three pints of water when I got home). Per the advice of a friend, I also have a toothpick in my mouth; I feel like a reporter from the 50s. Now that the hard part is on its way — going to work at the restaurant where many of my coworkers smoke — I think I should think of a few things that I’m gaining out of this giving-up. Hmm…

Well, I won’t have to spray myself with essential oils or perfume multiple times a day in an attempt to mask the smell of cigarettes. I won’t be spending $7 and change (!) every other day on something that could potentially kill me. I will no longer be reliant on something outside of myself to give me a false sense of calm. My skin will hopefully improve. My lungs will clear. I still have coffee! Maybe I’ll finally take up running! Who knows? The possibilities are endless.

I wish you a wild, free life.

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