Quitting Addictions

Rich Juzwiak, senior writer for Jezebel, has a piece on the Slate magazine where he talks about how he has quit addictions such as eating meat, cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, and late night snacks.

Rich shares his experience with quitting meat like this:

My addiction to quitting started in seventh grade, when my teacher read some meatpacking excerpts from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle out loud in class. “I’m not eating meat anymore!” I announced to whoever was listening (likely no one). I stood by my word. It was surprisingly easy, even well before the time that supermarkets were equipped with freezer sections of meat alternatives. I appreciated having a thing to care about. Being a vegetarian contributed to the formation of an identity that I could wield like a prize—it made me stand out with the veneer of social consciousness. I learned to cook for myself and annoy the shit out of people with my decisions. By my midteens, I was well on the road to becoming the man I am today.

Quoting smoking was much harder than quit eating meat. He says he was a chain-smoker for more than a decade in his early 20’s. He attempted to quit several times but failed.

Quitting smoking came from the quarter-life realization of my own mortality, which is to say that for the first time I was thinking seriously about the future and what I could do to possibly prolong my time there. Consequences—what a concept! Around the time I quit smoking, I began running because I wanted to exercise but was terrified of going to the gym and looking like I didn’t know what I was doing. (Later, a friend showed me the ropes.) Together, quitting smoking and running created an incentivizing system: I knew that if I had a cigarette, my lungs would feel terrible the next time I ran. Motivation. From the times that I failed—allowing myself one smoke, then smash cut to me tearing my way through a pack within just a couple of hours—I learned that I can approach this only from a black-and-white perspective. I’m either a chain-smoker or someone who hasn’t had a cigarette in more than 18 years. I’m nothing in between. Call it keeping momentum or settling into inertia, but I’ve found that I can follow a program extremely well. Permissive dabbling is just chaos to my mind.

So, quitting smoking was a triumph of will that I didn’t realize I had, and it inspired more abstinence. I weaned myself off drinking half a dozen cans of Coke Zero a day in the mid-aughts. I quit weed a few times—at least once in my late 20s because I was worried about my memory, and once in my late 30s, because every time I got high, I had these 10-minute freakouts in which I was suddenly struck by my profound failure as a human harmonized with a feeling that the world was ending. Maybe these were panic attacks? I resumed smoking weed when I felt better about myself, and I haven’t seen them return.

On quitting drinking alcohol, Rich writes:

I never liked alcohol. I always preferred marijuana. But peer pressure wore me down and turned me into a social drinker who sometimes went overboard. Throughout my drinking tenure, which lasted longer than 20 years, I would tell people that if I never drank again, I’d be totally fine. Alcohol dulled me—the opposite effect of weed and psychedelics. I’d dabbled with mushrooms and got a sense of mastery of my mind and, by extension, my life, so when I told myself that night, I don’t want to do this anymore, I was determined to stick to it. I figured it would be easy, but I had no idea how easy. It was like hanging up a phone. One day, I was someone who drank, and the next, I was someone who didn’t.

Much like quitting smoking and exercising formed an interlocking system of obligations and rewards, not drinking fit into my next paring-down endeavor: intermittent fasting. After reading encouraging research about the practice’s potential, I slowly integrated it into my lifestyle, starting at 12 hours of fasting, then in a few weeks moving on to 14, then 16, then 18, where I’ve (give or take) stayed for nearly three years. The first month was excruciating; the 35 or so others have been mostly fine. I’m very strict and allow myself only water during my fasting window. Drinking alcohol socially at night (when I almost always did) is simply incompatible with intermittent fasting. If I were out at a bar till midnight (a conservative curfew, for sure), I wouldn’t be able to open my window until 6 p.m. the next day on my current schedule. No thanks!

On quitting coffee, Rich writes:

Unlike the relationship between smoking and running, and drinking and fasting, I thought maybe quitting caffeine would make fasting more difficult, since on most days, all I had to taste during my morning-to-mid-afternoon abstinence was black coffee. But really, that too was fine. I don’t miss it very much on a druggy level—I feel perfectly awake without it—but sometimes I miss the taste of a good cup of coffee. But then I worry about deviating from my “all or nothing”–ness and watching my life slide into immediate disarray, with all my hard work undone. So, abstinent I remain.

Rich’s this inspiring story is a reminder to many others who have pledged to give up bad habits in their new year’s resolution, like this: “I know that “willpower” is a frequently derided term by experts, and often conceived of as a myth, but whatever it is that’s allowing me to keep telling m