I never realized how much smoking affected me, mentally as well as physically, until I quit last summer. It was July last year that decided enough was enough and made the commitment to become smoke free after almost 18 years. I'd smoked here and there growing up, the sneaking a smoke from one of the aunts at a family get together, the camping trip with a school friend that smoked, but it wasn't until September of 1992 that I became a regular, pack a day, addicted smoker. September of 1992 was when I moved from Alaska to Washington for college. At the time, I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but who really does at 18 and fresh out of high school? I never say "hindsight is 20/20", I agree more with "hindsight is a bitch", because of seeing how much time I squandered with having too much freedom and not enough maturity. I was pursuing a degree in Law Enforcement, having come from a small town where police officers where trusted, respected, and more of an all around public safety officer. They were EMT's and firemen, most had some sort of higher education or extensive military backgrounds. When I was 18, they were people that anyone could approach, even if it was just to ask advice. They were our protectors as well as councilors.
Well, it didn't take long living in Vancouver, Washington to have that perception completely shot to hell. I'd only been there a month the first time I was hassled by a VPD sergeant just for walking home from a friends house at midnight, or a few months later when I was hassled by five Clark County Sheriffs deputies for the same thing. It didn't matter to them that I was studying law enforcement at the local community college, they were bored, angry, and liked to be bullies (at least that was my view of their behavior). What I had lost sight of around then was that I'd started working with the EMT's in Alaska during high school, and had an underlying desire to be trained in a field where I could help people. At the same time, I'd lost my respect for the law enforcement community as not being helpful individuals, but rather bullies who didn't care about the people as much as they cared about their arrest quota (don't get me wrong, I did get to know some fine officers with VPD and CCSO, this was just my general impression).
After bailing on college after 5 terms, I ended up back in Alaska, essentially wasting most of my 20's working crap jobs for low wages, mostly because I was comfortable and didn't really care about anything outside of my little microcosm that was "Craig, Ak.". I could already see my smoking affecting my health by this point, but what I didn't see was what it was doing to me mentally. I was learning to maintain a defeatists attitude toward life, convincing myself that there were physical challenges I would never be able to accomplish, and that was just the way it was. I was also losing interest in education, losing interest in exercising my brain, I honestly felt that I was getting dumber as time went on. Then it hit me, it is time to change my attitudes, change my perceptions, time to get off my ass and start living again!!! After I quit smoking, it was as if everything kicked into high gear, physically as well as mentally. Besides the physical endeavors, I started using my brain again, reading several books, looking at going back to school, taking wilderness medicine classes..... It was a complete attitude shift. The more I saw what others had done with their lives, the more I hated myself for wasting so many years of it.
I finally hit a breaking point. I knew I needed to be doing more, but with my current employment and financial situation, it seemed hopeless. Then it all came together, and I can continue my education without having to stress over the big picture. I have such a desire for knowledge these days, you could say a lust for it, that I almost can't sit still waiting for the next event to unfold. I haven't been this excited and ambitious about making such a tremendous life change since I left Alaska for Arizona in 2000 to work on my pilots license. Even then, I don't think I was this anxious! I feel it is because I now have figured out "what I want to be when I grow up", or at least what I want to be doing. My life has always revolved around the outdoors, but I hadn't been able to put all the pieces together until now. I can combine my love of the outdoors with my desire to help others by taking the Remote Medical Wilderness EMT course in January, as well as taking other medical and rescue classes in the meantime. After that, its back to college, and even though I dread the thought of taking Math and English classes again, it's the desire to achieve the "Bigger Picture" that is motivating me to get off my ass and do it! The "Bigger Picture" is a BA/BS in Outdoor Leadership, possibly OSU, possibly, SOU, but either way, I have goals set that are achievable. Is this my mid-life crisis? I hope so, sports cars are expensive, and at least this will benefit more than just me in the long run.