Quitters never win

Up until 2 years ago, if you’d asked me, “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”, I probably would have said running a marathon, or perhaps leaving my job and moving to another state. Yeah, that’s what I WOULD have said… until I tried to quit smoking.

When I began writing this, I realized that I’m not sure why I even started smoking in the first place. I wasn’t like most of my smoker friends, who grew up stealing Marlboros from a parent or older sibling, or were goaded by other kids into sneaking smokes at school. No one in my immediate family smoked, and one needs to actually have friends in order to experience peer pressure.

I started smoking in my early 20s, when it seemed like everyone in my primary social circle was doing it, and I guess I just wanted to fit in. At that time I didn’t really have much of a personality; I pretty much went along with anything my friends were doing, which seems to be a pretty common experience for people who grew up lonely. I thought I could limit smoking to “only when I’m drinking.” But, the problem with “social smoking” is that it inevitably leads to plain old regular smoking.

Most young people don’t worry about the health consequences of their decisions. Who cares, that’s Future You’s problem — hopefully a future you with health insurance. It wasn’t until I was nearing my 30th birthday that I became acutely aware of how smoking was negatively affecting my quality of life. I could still run, just not very fast or very far before getting out of breath. No consistent physical activity + sedentary office job + living as a self-proclaimed “foodie lush” in New Orleans = weight gain. My teeth were permanently stained, I had bags under my eyes, my skin was always dehydrated. I felt how I looked: tired, doughy, and just… old.

Let me tell you, it’s not a fun experience to look at yourself in the mirror and all at once hate everything you see; especially after spending my teenage years hiding my body in baggy clothes, there I was, right back to that place I swore I’d never return. And this time I was also getting wrinkles?!

Perhaps even more infuriating was the idea that smoking could — in fact, very likely would — prevent me from physically achieving my goals. I’d always wanted to do things like run a marathon, go on a safari, do a polar expedition, and hike around some famous mountains. It was unlikely that I’d be able to accomplish any of these as an almost pack-a-day smoker. I was unhappy and knew I had to change something.

Shortly after turning 30, I left New Orleans and relocated to Jacksonville. I transitioned to a paleo diet, then went vegetarian, plant-based, and finally adopted a fully vegan lifestyle. I dropped some weight, my skin improved, and I began feeling good about myself again. I was successful in tapering off my smoking as I began doing 5 and 10k runs. I got down to about a pack a week, and anyone might assume that I would stop smoking altogether when I began to take running more seriously and started training for half and full marathons. Believe it or not — my “reward” to myself at the end of each race was to light up a cigarette.

It wasn’t like I didn’t attempt to quit — I tried (and failed) several times, with different methods: slowly weaning myself, chewing nicotine gum, vaping, constantly holding a toothpick in my mouth, sucking on hard candy. (I didn’t want to try Chantix after I read that it can cause insomnia and unstable moods.) My then-spouse was also a smoker, and we mainly hung out with other smokers in bars that allowed smoking. All of this made the situation even more challenging. As I approached my 35th birthday, I finally admitted to myself that it was phenomenally stupid of me to be making all these positive lifestyle changes in an effort to have a longer and more fulfilling existence, yet still making excuses to knowingly poison myself on a daily basis.

I was forced to do some serious personal introspection about my previously failed quitting attempts. Eventually I realized what the common denominator was: in order to quit smoking for good, I’d also have to quit drinking alcohol for some unknown period of time. Since I started as a “social smoker,” it was impossible for me to mentally separate smoking from drinking. I simply could not have even a single beer without immediately fiending for a cigarette, and the more I drank the weaker my willpower became.

On June 15th, 2017, I woke up that morning and decided I didn’t want to have another cigarette. Ever.

(to be continued)

So what had happened was…

Hey there.

Uh, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of some major life events that have transpired since I last made a post here:

  • I’m no longer living in Florida, and have been in North Carolina since last October.
  • I was accepted into a graduate program, and am now working on figuring out my finances so I can earn a Master’s Degree.
  • I got divorced and moved into my own apartment, which I lived in for a year until I relocated and moved in with my romantic partner.
  • I started smoking again, then quit again — actually for good this time (my 2-year quit-iversary will be in June).
  • I also quit drinking, which I might expand upon later.
  • I’m still vegan, though! My 3-year veg-anniversary will be in August.
  • I did a second RunDisney weekend (a 10k + half marathon, 19.3 miles total!) last April, which I meant to post about but never got around to.
  • I visited Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco, El Paso, Puerto Rico, Fiji, Jamaica, Curacao, Aruba, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Mexico. I started a travel journal/scrapbook again (an actual, physical book!) but I have intentions of also posting here about a couple of those adventures.

The other day I realized I’ve had this domain for about 18 years. I suppose if I’d committed to it at the beginning, it could be something really cool by now. While I’ve put aside my daydreams of being a full-time blogger, I’m hoping I can find the motivation to simply start writing again.

In the past I think I’ve felt pressured to find an internet “niche” and stick with it in the topics of my posts, so a lot of things I started to write just never got published because they didn’t match whatever “type of blogger” I was attempting to be. But now I’m just going to write about my life without any sort of contrived direction to follow. My goal is to post more frequently than once every 2 years, lol.

You may notice that the layout is now very minimalist; lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the “simple” web designs we had in the late 90s, so that is what inspired it.

Postcards from Swamplandia

I recently had a request — actually from someone I don’t share chromosomes and/or a last name with! — to please write more.

So while I’m working on actual content, I thought I’d oblige my loyal twos and threes of readers by answering a few “frequently asked Florida questions.”

Q. “So, Jacksonville, huh? How you liking that?”

This is mostly from people upon finding out that I’ve relocated from New Orleans. The answer is, “A lot more than I thought I would.”

Look, let’s be clear: no place is like New Orleans except New Orleans. I still visit every chance I get, which is not nearly as often as I’d prefer. For the first year after I moved here, I was suffering from homesickness and FOMO all the time. But I think if you make a choice to live somewhere, then you have basically two options: 1. Walk around constantly butthurt that the place you’re living in isn’t exactly like the place you came from; or, 2. Within the limits of common sense, make your new location into someplace you want to be.

When I moved here I really didn’t know anything about Jacksonville, so I thought I was going to the middle of nowhere. Despite still not really being “on the map” when compared to Miami or Orlando, we do have over a million people in Duval County. We even have a NFL team… I mean, it’s not a GOOD team, but we’ve got one.

Living here is nice because winters are mild, and the gulf stream keeps many of the bigger hurricanes away. Unlike some other locations in Florida, our beaches are still an accessible place to live for people who aren’t millionaires. We have a thriving buyer’s market for younger homeowners, and our own community festivals and parades. We also have an international airport and two interstate highways, so it’s fairly easy to get away when you want to.

Plus, we have a minor league baseball team that was recently renamed from the Jacksonville Suns to the Jumbo Shrimp — I don’t care who you are, this logo is hilarious.

Yes, Jax has things that need improving, but I’ve most assuredly lived in less desirable locations.

And no state income tax, so that’s pretty cool.

Q. “Does Jacksonville really have a wonderful TGI Friday’s?”

A. So, it seems that “We have three of them, but I haven’t been to a TGIF in years” isn’t the answer that people are looking for here.

I really wish I had some kind of epic story to tell you but I’m 99% sure that you will find the same greasy burgers and watered-down drinks you get at every other TGIF location.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Q. “Florida isn’t really the South, though.”

A. I guess this isn’t so much a question as a statement people like to make because they think it’s some kind of “gotcha!” moment? I’m not entirely sure what they seek to achieve by it… Is it like, “You think you’re from the South but really you’re from Florida!”… Gasp, oh no! Now I have to return my Bitter Southerner membership card?

Look, okay — as far as I’m concerned, anyone above I-10 is a yankee.

(Just kidding, everyone knows yankees live above I-20.)

[Seriously, kidding; don’t send me your hate comments.]

So let me learn y’all a thing about Florida. It’s the only state in the country where the further south you go, the more ‘North’ you get. What I mean by that: in Florida there exists a line of delineation not shown on any maps. Going by the results of an unscientific survey with a sample size of my friends, the divide occurs somewhere around interstate 4.

Everything located above Orlando is more or less an annex of Georgia/Alabama. The culture is undeniably Southern. Go to Panama City or Pensacola during spring break and try to tell me it’s not the South. (They don’t call it the “redneck riviera” for nothing. Although I think Myrtle Beach, SC, is competing for the title.)

The Florida that exists below I-4 is another world entirely, with a completely different cultural landscape, one that has been shaped by immigrants from the Caribbean and Central America, as well as from above the Mason-Dixon. (I mean, you can trash talk Florida all you want, but nobody retires and moves to New Jersey or Ohio. They all come here. Just sayin’.)

In my humble opinion, cities like Miami and Key West are great because they are so different. (Key West is barely in the United States. I think they’d secede if they could.) You can take a vacation to someplace new and different without ever leaving your state! Florida is awesome like that.

But it’s also definitely the South. At least half the time. This explains why we are a swing state in every election. It really just depends on which half of Florida turns out to vote in larger numbers. But if any state has a split personality, it’s Florida. Speaking of which…

Q. “Hey, did you hear about [insert crazy news headline from Florida Man this week]?” or “Why are people in Florida so crazy?”

A. Yes, whatever it is, we’ve heard about it. You just have to laugh about it and own it. We don’t hide our crazy, we put a margarita in its hand and let it walk down the beach. Florida Man is the best/worst superhero.

A2. I don’t know for sure, but I have a hypothesis: Drugs + heat = crazy.

I realize I’m approaching this topic with some levity, but we seriously do have a drug problem — there’s that whole opiate crisis among low-income/rural Americans right now, and our government still refuses to treat addiction as a mental illness instead of a criminal act due to a for-profit prison system that thrives partly on keeping drug users locked up. When addiction is “treated” it’s with 12 step programs instead of medicine, and illegal drugs are often easier to get and cheaper than health insurance, so it’s really not a surprise that a lot of people are walking around tweaked out of their minds.

Compounded onto that is Florida’s soul crushing heat, which lasts for about 50 of 52 weeks of the year and can make even the most well-adjusted of us (not yours truly, but, I know a couple of well-adjusted people, so I just assume) act a little bit insane sometimes.

End result, every once in a while… you get people going off the deep end, doing bath salts and eating someone’s face.

(It’s not the heat, really; it’s the humidity. Makes the faces oh so tender and delicious.)

Nah, but really… the reason these things make the news is because they are so rare and bizarre. It’s not like face eating is a daily occurrence in the bread aisle at Publix. Pretty sure you’re more likely to get your face torn off by a frat bro named Chad, after his team loses the Florida-Georgia game.

Q. “Do alligators really come to people’s doors like that?!”

A. lol, no. The only ‘gators near my house are UF graduates. But even literal alligators would still be better than Jehovah’s Witnesses.