Knock knock. Who’s there? Dopamine and metabolism. Thank God!
I have had an exciting couple of weeks! I got my dopamine back! To tell you the truth, it didn’t occur to me that it went anywhere. But now that it’s back, it’s obvious. And my metabolism started back up again!
It’s funny. I knew that quitting smoking was affecting me. And it was clear from the weight gain that it was affecting me physically. But it didn’t exactly register that it was affecting me chemically.
I knew that I was not quite right. That I was having a hard time. I think I thought about it as a “spiritual” problem. Or a “mental” problem. I knew that I had to readjust the way I dealt with things. I knew I had to learn new coping mechanisms. And I definitely learned a lot about my feelings. And how to deal with them. And (one baby step at a time) how to honor my own life without regard to how I would be judged by others. And how to make decisions that honor my heart even if they seem unreasonable, or foolish. Or scary. But I didn’t understand that my brain had stopped producing happiness chemicals. That just like my body was going to have to heal, my brain was going to have to heal. I think I thought about it as mind over matter.
In practical terms, I suppose it is just mind over matter. At least in terms of waiting out the withdrawal. It’s the actions I take and don’t take in the end that make up my life. My self-respect. My character.
I don’t smoke. I don’t eat compulsively. I don’t eat sugar. I don’t take laxatives. I don’t make myself throw up. I don’t take any drastic actions. I don’t act out. I just live with the fact that it sucks until it stops sucking. It doesn’t matter how I feel. It doesn’t matter how much weight I gain. It doesn’t matter what thoughts I have. The promises I made to myself matter. Commitment matters. Everything else is vapor and ego.
What I have learned is that these commitments end up culminating as my self-respect. They are my self-esteem. They are my dignity. And I don’t need a substance to get high. I don’t need to eat sugars, grains or starches to numb out. Or create enough crazy to escape reality. I could skip a meal. And lie about it. And I would be just as high and sick and screwed up as if I ate a chocolate cake.
But I was keeping my commitments these past seven months, and still having dark thoughts. I was unhappy. And I couldn’t seem to “bright side and gratitude” myself out of it. On a good day, the best I could do was change the channel in my head and not obsess about how much I hated my body. Or what a loser I felt like. Or how I was certain that I’m unlovable and destined for loneliness. And on a bad day, all I could do was cry. And manage to not hurt or numb myself. All I could do was keep my promises to myself and live in pain.
And now that I can feel the relief, I can see how scary that time was. How it’s kind of a miracle that I came out on the other side with my integrity. I wrote in this blog that I was unhappy, but that I was not depressed. But I was wrong. I was absolutely depressed. But it was exactly that integrity that kept me from despair. My brain was incapable of producing happy without cigarettes. My dopamine levels dropped severely. But it was nothing like the horror of 28 years of sugar addiction and self hatred.
What is interesting to me is that I knew that it would pass, because I know that’s how life works. All things pass in time. But I didn’t expect it to pass all at once. I didn’t expect it to turn on a dime. I didn’t realize that my brain would just start producing dopamine again. I didn’t even know that my dopamine levels had dropped until this week when I realized I was happy again and googled “quit smoking depression”.
And as if it couldn’t get any better, my clothes are getting looser. I bought a very sexy dress when I gained the bulk of my weight. It was sexy because it was tight. Now it’s not tight. And it’s not so sexy anymore. Now it’s just a cute dress. And I can’t tell you how happy I am about that! Plus for the first time in many months, I have been hungry between my meals. (Is that you metabolism? I’m so glad you’re here! Why don’t you stay a while…)
So hooray for going through hell and coming out on the other side! And thanks to you for being there while I got through it. I’m hoping that I am now back to my grateful, joyful self. And that I’ll get to stay here for a while.