(Photo courtesy of Rick Stiebel)

Rickter Scale: A quitter’s curious collection of cures

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

The shotgun union that weds alcohol and tobacco in unholy matrimony is like pizza and pepperoni or burgers and fries. You may enjoy one without the other, but they’re much better in tandem.

That’s why I instigated a two-week divorce from drinking the first time I successfully quit smoking. Looking back, it felt like the longest 336 hours of my life.

I knew someone, a weekend tippler grappling with the same devil, who decided he would only smoke when he drank. He was well on his way to full-blown alcoholism before his wife and saviour reeled him in.

He managed to short circuit his drinking but still smokes, a truce be told in his battle of two evils. There’s a reason our neighbours to the south linked alcohol and tobacco with firearms and explosives when they formed the ATFE federal law enforcement agency.

I wouldn’t shoot someone for a smoke, but I might threaten them with a pellet gun or fake grenade. I had just turned 30 when I vowed I wouldn’t become a parent chained to tobacco with a baby in the house.

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It lasted six months before I reverted to the water pipe infamously outlined in the previous column. I quit a second time, once again on behalf of my toddler son’s lungs.

That crashed and burned after 18 months under the stress of a marital breakup I wanted no part of but richly deserved.

I was 33 before I smoked my first cigarette, living in exile in Vancouver, driving taxi 12 hours a day seven days a week, the first baby steps toward rebuilding a broken life.

Two years later I found myself at a neighbourhood house in the Little Mountain district, working on fundraising programs in a tiny kitchen and overseeing the user groups that rented out rooms in the evening.

Narcotics Anonymous met on Tuesday evenings, and I would listen to the regulars and the junkies who wandered in for the first time. They shared their struggles with recovery while I prepared the next day’s soup, which we served all day long for half a buck a bowl.

I got to know the people who ran the NA meetings, four intelligent, eloquent mentors who had at one time been as hopelessly lost as the people they were now shepherding.

The two dudes who managed to quit smoking said it was harder than kicking the heroin that once held them in a stranglehold.

The others admitted the challenge of kicking nicotine was frankly a bridge too far for them to cross.

I’ve tried everything in the quitter’s bag of tricks, short of hypnosis.

It seems I’m immune to Zyban and not up for Chantix; something about the suicide warnings was a little off-putting.

The patch experiment lasted seven days until a booze-fueled retreat for journalists sequestered me in Parksville, far from the bride’s watchful eye.

The first laser treatment in 1992 worked for 11 hours, the second in 2005 barely made the two-day mark.

Apparently, they won’t let you take the machine home to ensure better results.

Next week’s column – the last in this series for those of you scoring at home – dives into the multitude of reasons for quitting.

Until then, I’ll return to pondering the pros and cons of self-administered Taser treatments.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.

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