Spoiler Alert: If you used to be addicted to tobacco and or alcohol and have worked hard to stop consumption of these substances don’t read this article, as it contains potential “triggers” that may increase the risk of you going back to doing something that caused you a great deal of difficulty in the past. Also, please avoid this article if you have determined that you want to stop tobacco and/or alcohol use for whatever reason and have found it difficult to do so.
As a former social work counseler of men who had substance abuse disorders I have come to believe that a much neglected aspect of substance abuse treatment and prevention is the cultural contexts in which substances are used and abused.
The history of tobacco and alcohol use to facilitate social bonding amongst men is as old as recorded history. The knowledge as to how to do it right seems to be mostly lost. The knowledge is simple. The knowledge is moderation. The practice is mindfulness.
Most men have experienced the “sweat spot” of alcohol consumption. This spot can be recognized by a feeling of warmth and relaxation in the body. Speech is not slurred, coordination is not noticeably impaired. Listening is enhanced, as is comprehension.
Often there is a sense of warning that the boundary of the “sweet spot” is at risk of being exceeded. These warning signs include a decrease in the ability to listen, a sense of a growing “fuzziness” in the ability to think, as if an obscuring fog is entering your mind space and a decrease in muscle coordination. There may be an increase in irritability, muscle tension and impulsive blurting out of words that are disconnected from compassionate thought.
If none of this makes sense to you, feel free to stop reading. Continuing to read what may very well be a waste of your time. If you know what I am talking about, read on.
Unfortunately many men are socialized to believe that alcohol consumption is for adults who have the maturity and skills to safely enjoy getting “shit faced” drunk. Part of learning how to be a man, is learning how to get intoxicated like one and get away with it.
The “sweet spot,” in this tradition is viewed as mere foreplay to the main event of orgasmic release that comes with drunkenness. Valued are the ability to talk and act stupidly and find such behavior hilarious. Valued is the ability to ability to get pissed off and express anger without giving a fuck as to how some one else is effected by that expression. Valued is the ability to savor self loathing and being the victim of something unfair.
There is great economic pressure to drink a lot, because there is good money in selling drunkenness. There is less money in moderation. Furthermore a history of drunkenness increases the likelihood that you will think in ways and act socially in ways that make you unhappy, with the primary way of making this unhappiness go away temporarily be imbibing in more drunkenness.
It is very common for men who have substance abuse disorders to have great trouble controlling their tobacco use. I worked for many years at a hospital inpatient substance abuse detoxification and rehabilitation program as a social worker. When I first started to work there, the unit included a room reserved for smoking. Patients had scheduled smoke room availability breaks. The room had a heavy duty ventilation fan that was running constantly.
Over my time there, the frequency and duration of these breaks were decreased. When the breaks were reduced to 15 minutes, patients could be observed doing what I called “power smoking,” or consuming as much tobacco smoke as possible in the time allotted.
The smoking room was a popular for conversation, particularly conversation that patients would rather not have overheard by treatment staff.
Over time, the smoking room was closed completely. Patients were offered and usually accepted nicotine patches to manage nicotine cravings. Occasionally, patients would leave treatment because they needed a cigarette. Part of my job as a social work counselor was to investigate and locate the source of what smelled like tobacco smoke and confiscate contraband tobacco.
Patients used to be able to take supervised daily walks outside of the hospital and smoke all they wanted while walking. The daily walks continued. The smoking was stopped.
I used to give a brief lecture on conscious tobacco use when the smoking privilege still existed. I would tell patients that tobacco use had the interesting property of tending to calm down smokers that were too wound up and to energize smokers that were too laid back, with the action not being in the tobacco, but on the rate and inhale to exhale ratios by which it was consumed, the mindset of the consumer and the setting in which they were smoking. I would suggest that if the patient was going to smoke while in treatment, it was a good place to experiment with being more mindful of the act of tobacco consumption. Patients were encouraged to experience the feel of the cigarette paper on their lips, the smoke going into and exiting their lungs. Patients were encouraged to experiment with exhaling more and inhaling less and following visually the intricate patterns of the flow of tobacco smoke for relaxation, the campfire-like glow at the cigarette tip. I warned that some patients may find being more aware of the physical sensations of tobacco use, a noxious one. I suggested that this unpleasant awareness could fuel motivation to stop smoking.
I was in complete agreement with the ban on all tobacco consumption while in treatment. i would not wish the expense, inconvenience or health risks of tobacco use on anyone. I continued to feel that it was valid to offer some advice for contemplation to those men who were not contemplating tobacco cessation for themselves.
I let patients know that I didn’t want them to think that I was basing my suggestions on research data or my personal experience with smoking, but rather what various tobacco consumers have shared with me informally.
When I was old enough to buy cigarettes, you could smoke just about anywhere. Doctors used to advise patients about the hazarards of smoking, while they themselves were smoking as they talked. All bars were smoke filled. I grew up with a father who smoked, before he decided that smoking for 30 years was long enough. When I moved away from my father to go to college, I thought smoking would be nice when socializing with others who smoked. I noticed that everybody I knew who smoked, smoked while socializing. I tried to get the hang of smoking cigarettes, but just couldn’t get past the nausea and the sense that I was poisoning myself. I didn’t realize that I was trying to inhale a whole bunch of added chemicals in addition to those naturally occurring in the tobacco, put there to help addict the unsuspecting consumer. I gave up trying cigarettes but found that I could tolerate cigars and later pipes. Loose tobacco smoked in pipes seemed to go down the best, that is until I developed jaw pain from spending time clenching pipe stems. I just got out of the habit of tobacco use, by forgetting that I like smoking tobacco.
After about 20 years of smoking nothing, I indulged in a relatively fine, not cheap cigar at my son’s wedding reception. I felt guilty for doing something that was bad for my health, but I certainly enjoyed it. It’s been over four years now, but I am starting to think I might enjoy a few more puffs of tobacco.
I have read that tobacco use was popular with many Native American tribes as a spiritual rite. They didn’t put a bunch of chemicals on their tobacco and they didn’t use too much.
Many men have found taking a tobacco break as being a pause that refreshes, and a facilitator of supportive social interaction. They may not all be crazy to risk their health like that.
I don’t regret having made “don’t use tobacco, it’s bad for you,” as my main message in counseling men with substance abuse disorders. I would encourage anyone who doesn’t currently use tobacco to remember that they are doing a good thing for their health. However, if you find moderate mindful tobacco consumption to help induce states of spiritual transcendence and/or supportive social interaction, you might want to consider that you might be on to something good that has been corrupted by greed. You might want find your own ways to enhance you alcohol and tobacco pleasure while, at the same time, reducing your health and behavior related risks. I don’t think you need reminding as to what they are.
I offer no research literature citations, spiritual texts or personal experience to advise you on your alcohol or tobacco use or abstinence. I only suggest that if you have read this far that you contemplate how many powerful sources of male social bonding and spiritual transcendence have been messed with, by whom and for what purposes and how you can work to reclaim them for your unique benefit.
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