That was my first thought when I read this piece today by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.
In it, Heyman breaks the news that Josh Hamilton’s “personal issue” he referred to in an interview earlier this week is the slugger’s inability to quit chewing tobacco.
Heyman goes on to explain that Hamilton plans to clear this up publicly soon, since people here in Dallas and nationwide have been speculating about what the “issue” could be. Drug relapse? Divorce? Many different hypotheses have been bandied about.
So, again, whew.
Count me among those who roots for Hamilton and wants to see him succeed, off the field even more than on it. More relapses or the dissolution of what is a rather inspiring marriage would not quality as success.
Of course, using chewing tobacco also does not qualify as success. Nor does trying to quit and being unable to do so. And while chewing tobacco may seem tame and insignificant when compared with cocaine or crack, it still has deleterious health effects in the long term.
Thus, it’s something that Hamilton needs to quit doing. And he seems to realize this. He need look no further than Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn to see why.
Or, if you are wondering why this is a big issue considering Hamilton’s other vices, then you need look no further than Gwynn or the countless others who have experienced the harrowing effects of long-term chewing tobacco use.
And here’s the thing to understand, especially if you’ve never been addicted to something: just because chewing tobacco seems less harmful (at least in the short term) than coke or crack, that doesn’t mean it is any easier a habit to break.
I cannot relate with Hamilton on his issues with harder drugs because I’ve never used them, but I can certainly relate with his struggles to quit nicotine, the addictive agent in tobacco products.
And it sucks. A lot. It is terribly difficult to quit. Anyone else who has tried to quit nicotine – whether smoking or smokeless – knows this.
And it’s not just a matter of will power, so don’t let someone who has never been addicted to something try to tell you it is. A lot more goes into it than just will power.
You have to humble yourself to the omnipotence of your brain’s complex chemistry to even have a chance. And it’s different for everyone.
The fact that Hamilton has been struggling to hit baseballs thrown at him from 60 feet, 6 inches away at 90+ miles per hour while trying to quit? It makes perfect sense.
One of the most prominent withdrawal effects of quitting nicotine is trouble focusing. I experienced this every time I tried to quit smoking cigarettes – a habit that started by sophomore year in college and persisted off and on until about four and a half years ago.
Especially the first few days, it almost feels like your brain has been replaced by clouds all while a belt has been strapped around your forehead, which tightens and loosens throughout the day. This was my experience anyway.
It makes it hard to focus for more than short periods of time, makes you irritable, and it can even make your eyesight hazy at times.
Try hitting a baseball like that.
I’d heard about Hamilton trying to quit chewing tobacco but for some reason never put two and two together that it might be causing his on-field troubles. If this is indeed the reason, like I said: it makes perfect sense to me.
I ended up quitting smoking by first using Nicorette gum, which helped to satiate the nicotine cravings without smoking. While that is supposed to be a 12-week program, I then became addicted to the gum and chewed it exclusively for about a year, maybe a little more.
One day I woke up and didn’t have any pieces left. This happened from time to time, and I’d usually just stop by Walgreen’s on the way to the office and pick some up. But for some reason on this day I decided to just keep driving on by Walgreen’s.
I honestly can’t tell you what the impetus was. I’d been trying to back off the Nicorette intermittently, but it’s not like I’d made some grand declaration the night before.
But for whatever reason, I kept driving.
I got to the office, and it wasn’t bad for a few hours. Then the withdrawal symptoms hit…but I was surprised to find myself feeling more equipped to handle them. They weren’t less severe, but it was almost like by acknowledging and accepting their presence I took them out of my head, placed them on my desk beside me, and just waited for them to go away.
However it happened, I got through the day, didn’t pick up any Nicorette on the ride home, and then got through the night.
Same thing the next day.
I haven’t had a cigarette or a piece of Nicotine since. Even more incredible, I haven’t even had a craving. I say that without one shred of intended hyperbole.
I’ve been around smokers, out at bars, drinking — formerly a surefire formula for having a cigarette. Hasn’t affected me at all.
The guy next door at my office chews Nicorette. Haven’t even been tempted to ask for a piece.
Frankly, I feel really, really lucky. It was almost like attempt after attempt to quit finally coalesced in my body and spirit and my brain just subconsciously decided that day…I’m done. And whatever switch had been flipped “on” was now flipped “off.”
And it’s been long enough now, and I’ve had enough chances to slip up, that I don’t fear jinxing it anymore: I quit. For good.
And it goes without saying that it’s the single best decision I’ve ever made. I can’t even describe in words how much better I feel.
Now back to Hamilton.
If he ever asked me for advice, not that he would, I would simply tell him not to beat himself up over trying to quit and failing. It’s inevitable, as he surely knows from his bouts with other addictive substances.
I would also suggest that the middle of a pennant race is not the best time to quit something that is far worse in the long term than it is in the short term. Not only will the pressure and constant familiar nicotine triggers make it terribly difficult to successfully abstain, but it is going to make his performance suffer as a result. As it has.
Why not wait until the offseason, when he can put himself into a different environment that isn’t so tobacco-suggestive? And when the withdrawl symptoms won’t have such a profound impact on his job and everyone who counts on him to do it well?
If I’ve learned anything about quitting an addiction, it’s that the person has to be ready. There is no forcing it, not in my experience, not if the goal is long-term success and not just short-term stoppages. You’re either mentally ready to do it and it sticks, or you’re not and it doesn’t.
It sounds to me like maybe Josh Hamilton just isn’t quite ready to quit chewing tobacco. And that’s okay. He’s still a young man and still hopefully has time to avoid the worst of its side effects if he quits soon.
But maybe wait until the offseason Josh. And hopefully one day in January you’ll wake up, decide not to put in a dip, and never look back.
That would be a greater victory than even winning a World Series title.