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Had I kept the original lede to this update, written the evening of January 2, it would have read as a string of profanity that trailed off to unintelligible characters, and eventually several pages of a single repeating character when I face planted on my keyboard in the middle of typing the aforementioned swearing. Days on, I am past the worst of certain withdrawals, and am left to contemplate their interactions in the face of overwhelming boredom.

Let’s start with the big one, as the dull headache starts almost immediately after waking, and doesn’t let up for three or four days. I was never a smoker as a kid. I experimented with cigarettes under what I considered controlled conditions in 10th grade because I couldn’t understand the hold nicotine might have, but it didn’t become a habit then. While I enjoy the occasional cigar, it’s an infrequent indulgence at best. A few years back, in response to stress at work, I started vaping. Not the gigantic clouds of fog machine juice, but honest to goodness nicotine in your blood vaping. While this distinction might seem as inconsequential, it’s a little more like the difference between candy cigarettes, and well, actual cigarettes.

Most reputable websites on the topic are happy to give you a rundown of the positive benefits of quitting, including a timeline for all the ways you’re positively affecting your health. They skip over what the actual process feels like. The headache starts pretty quietly, kind of a slight buzzing in your ears you might mistake from low grade tinnitus. At least I always do. As the chemical craving gets worse, your sinuses get torched. Either it’s your body’s way of working errant chemicals out of your lungs, or maybe the tissues are used to more irritants at this point, but regardless the effect is as though, ironically, someone has lit your sinuses on fire in an attempt to smoke your brain out of your skull like bees from a hive.

You miss it anytime you would have otherwise partook- stepping outside for a second, or waking up in the morning, or after a meal, or after sex, or with coffee. Curiously, most of the literature I’ve read suggests not using caffeine in the first couple days of quitting nicotine, because another stimulant would make the craving worse. I think it’s in part social, because nicotine and caffeine go together like Otis Redding and any waking moment you could be listening to Otis Redding.

Again, because of the rigors of work, I used to have a cup of coffee every Sunday morning. Then a few times a week. Then I discovered yerba mate in cans, and Mr. Brown Macadamia Nut Iced Coffee, and I was off to the races. My last caffeine of this past year was a mint yerba mate. I’d gotten a Monster Mango Loco, but ended up leaving it on the coffee table at my friends’ home. We drank very good champagne instead. I woke up to texts indicating my friends had put the Monster in their fridge for safe keeping. I suggested either disposing of it properly, as though it were hazardous waste, or making themselves a Sammy Hagar bellini (Mango Loco, sprite, and tequila.) I should mention, I’m rambling more than usual.

Point being, I’m OK without coffee. I get a dull headache, and I’m decidedly slower without it, but what really slows me down though is the lack of sugar.

I’m Keto. Or, I adhere to a modified ketogenic diet, which is a little like admitting you’re a casual opium user- which I’m not, but the percentage of people who think you’re trying to kill yourself is about the same. For the record: I don’t recommend the diet to anyone; I don’t advocate for it; combined with intermittent fasting it’s worked for me but that’s not to say it’s a good idea for anyone else. All I know is the first three days without sugar I’m irritable, and slow witted, and generally if I have some decent appetite suppressants like, oh, say, caffeine and nicotine, I can maintain an even keel. Instead, I’ve just been sleepy. And dopey. And grumpy. And sometimes sneezy because of the sinuses. But I’m neither bashful, given that I’m telling you all this, nor a doctor. I hope you’re happy now, having read all this.

Somewhere around day four or five, the headaches recede. I still have the muscle memory of pulling on a vape pen, which is why I end up sucking on not-the-business end of a Sharpie, muttering about low-nicotine office supplies. Also, when you’re off sugar for a few days and replace it with a high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet, you wake up one morning with way too much energy and very confused by it. This leads me to I think of the last vice on the list: a lack of TV.

TV is a crutch for me because I like the noise in the background. The problem is, it’s not in the background if I’m not doing anything else. Since my reading has suffered the past few years, I decided to just stop watching. Without TV, or a reason to go out- I’m not eating out, I’m not drinking… Oh, I forgot about the drinking.

I’m not much of a drinker. It takes a lot to get me drunk, I sober up too quick, and I grew up drinking old man drinks. Even when I did drink to excess in college, I was the kid drinking I.W. Harper, or ordering rum with a twist so that I could make a mojito with a few sprigs of mint I’d keep in a tin in my pocket. But like with the Sharpie, there’s a muscle memory. Coming home on a Friday evening and pouring a drink with dinner. Going to a bar and ordering an Overholt on the rocks. Livetweeting Snallygaster and ordering a dozen unsauced McRibs for experimentation purposes (mambo sauce- excellent. Everything bagel seasoning? Not so much.) All this is to say I miss the social aspect of it, and the contemplative aspect.

I’d love to tell you I’ve been super-productive this past week, but it mostly feels like avoidance. All my laundry is done. I finally organized and cataloged my beer collection, not that it’ll do me any good for the next few weeks. Including the BJJ and judo classes, I’ve worked out five of the past six days. I’ve now finished four books, made headway on finishing one from last year, and started another (inadvertently reading a lot of Man Booker winners.) Errands get run immediately. My to do list has become a done list. I suppose this is living.

This is living?

Check out part 1 of this series here.

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