San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
What Smoking Taught Me About Diabetes
I was a heavy smoker for 12 years. When I quit, I was up to two packs per day. I don’t know where I got the willpower, but by the time I’d gone three weeks without a smoke, I knew I was done with cigarettes forever.
My older brother, who’d been smoking since he was 13, asked me, “Don’t you think about cigarettes all the time?” I told him that I did, but as time went on, less and less so each day. “The reason why I quit is so that I don’t have to think about them at all.”
Easier said than done. For years afterwards I’d dream about suddenly finding a smoke in my hand and feeling as though I had done this horrible thing. “No! All those years of not smoking undone!”
Later on I realized that this was an earnest part of myself making sure that I stayed really and truly away from the evil weed.
A few years ago, the dream changed. I’d find myself smoking, and remember that I’d taken up the habit again a few months before. By all logic, my dreaming self should have reacted hysterically to news of this terrific setback. Yet in each dream I’d look at the cigarette in my hand and then put it out without a single bit of longing or self-recrimination.
Those later dreams were a sign that smoking had truly lost its hold on me. I was indifferent to the fact that I’d taken up smoking in the dreams because I knew deep down that I’d reached the point where cigarettes simply weren’t important to me anymore.
Smoking them in a dream was a fiction, not a lurking threat. They were not going to take me over.
What does this anecdote have to to do with type 2, you ask? Living with diabetes means learning to live without certain things. In dealing with my type 2, I’ve had to give up a fondness for carbs. That includes potatoes, most Mexican food, pasta, pastries, rice, and bread.
At first, excluding those foods from my diet took a big act of will. But as I developed new habits and experimented with new recipes, I found myself thinking about them less and less.
Now I’ve reached the point where I might occasionally reach over and take a portion of a potato, or use a tostada shell to make a crisp quesadilla, or eat a spoonful of white rice. I do it because I enjoy their textures and taste, and because I know that savoring a small portion won’t reel me back to carbohydrate addiction.
I thought about this after chatting with my type 2 neighbor, Paul. Paul’s a good amateur baker. Everybody loves his artful cakes and fruit tarts. But since his diagnosis, he’s been careful to not eat his creations, though it hasn't exactly been easy. Just last week he said, “I wonder if I’ll ever again be able to eat what I make.”
We discussed that maybe the answer was portion size — his type 2 isn’t going to up and kill him if he occasionally takes a bite of his creations. The key is to enjoy them a little bit from time to time and leave it at that. A taste is neither an invitation to pig out or a reason to become angry at himself.
Most type 2s work hard to stay on the straight and narrow. But occasionally pulling into a roadside rest, or going on holiday, or out to recess—even if we’re just talking about eating a small slice of this or a portion of that—is called taking a break. It’s a natural part of the rhythm of life and it keeps us from becoming grim.