Category Archives: Lifestyle

Cigars and Post-Traumatic Stress

I’ve been a bit under the radar the last couple of weeks and so I thought I’d share some thoughts about why that may happen now and again and prevent me from doing my weekly post.  So here’s a little of my history and how I came to smoke cigars!

I have never been a cigarette smoker.  Sure I had my bout with them in my very early 20’s when I wanted to see what all the fuss was about but I eventually decided I just didn’t like it and quit on the spot.  However, my grandfather was a lifelong pipe smoker who mesmerized me with his meticulous packing of his tobacco, methodical choosing of his pipe and peaceful smoking.  I loved the smell of his tobacco and would watch him in silent awe.  My first foray into pipe smoking started with a ride home from the central jersey shore with my best friend at the time.  We stopped and bought a corncob pipe, a cheap little tool and some Captain Black tobacco.  I can still recall opening the tobacco pouch and shoving my nose into it to take in the sweet smell.  Of course my first pipe smoke might have lasted ten minutes since I didn’t really know how to properly pack a pipe but the enjoyment was immense!  From that time forward I was an on again off again pipe smoker and to this day still keep a nice selection of pipes and tobacco on hand when the mood strikes me.

I never thought to smoke cigars.  I had that vision in my head of “stogies” that smelled stale and old men chewing the ends of an unlit cigar while making inappropriate comments to young ladies half their age.  Yes, I’m a 50’s child so cigars, however magical they are, didn’t have the romanticism they now have.  I went about the business of living life and eventually made the choice to go back to college and get my nursing degree.  When I became an RN at 42 years of age I knew I was going to go into the Army Nurse Corps.  The military was a life long dream and being an Emergency Nurse was a leg-up to getting into the military because of the shortage of nurses both in and out of the service. September 11th occurred in the midst of my planning so coincidentally I entered the Army just two months after the 2001 attacks.  At 43 years old, and in great shape at the time, I became a United States Army Soldier.  To this day it is the proudest moment of my life!

I served in various missions to Guatemala and did field hospital training during my first few years.  I became the Compay Commander of my hospital unit and came into my own as a leader.  The beauty of the military is that one does many jobs that are not within your given job title.  You are a Soldier first and a nurse second.  So when the call came to deploy overseas I was more than ready.  No, I didn’t go into theatre (Iraq at the time) but I did get sent to Germany to man the Army Hospital in Wurzburg.  I worked in the ER and was also trained as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.  I was busy and felt useful but little did I know the experience that was coming.  In November of 2004 the “Second Battle of Fallujah” aka “Operation Phantom Fury” aka “The Bloodiest Battle of Iraq” began.  I was a member of an on-call team that received notice to go to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Kaiserslautern to help care for the wounded coming in from that battle.  There were about 12 of us and we anxiously gathered to make the two hour drive to our assignment.  What I was about to encounter would be a major factor in changing my life forever.  I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say that we took in over 650 wounded Soldiers and Marines our first week there.  It was a perpetual cycle of aircraft flying into adjoining Ramstein Air Base from Iraq, wounded being transported across base to our hospital, unloading, assessing, caring for and shipping out these brave men around the clock.  Twelve hour shifts became 14 and 16 hours.  I worked, ate and slept like it was only the blink of an eye and then would start all over again.  The wounds were a mix of gunshot, explosives and shrapnel and destroyed otherwise healthy and athletic young men.  In the little time that we had to gather and “debrief” there was no time for asking “therapeutic” questions such as “how did that make you feel?”  So we did the next best thing; we would gather and some NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) type would hand out cigars.  We’d light up, take a deep breath and then “shoot the shit” as a way to relax and unwind without buckling under the weight of our emotions and physical exhaustion.  There it was my first cigar.  There was no “Cigars for Warriors” back then so we smoked what we could get our hands on and my first cigar and subsequent others was a Chateau Fuente. It helped us stay bonded and sane during those terrible days and I never forgot that.

Fast forward to getting out of the military in 2010.  At 52 years old I was tired and broken.  I loved my time in the Army but knew it was time to transition to Veteran status in my community.  I smoked cigars now and again but they weren’t the priority that they now are.  I smoked whatever was available and mostly with the military and veteran friends that I chose to hang out with.  Since my time at Landstuhl I served on other missions and had both good and bad experiences moving forward, but the Post-Traumatic Stress that was boiling inside me had not yet burst.  I was different that’s for sure and my friends knew it but I had no idea what to do with all the emotions so I kept myself in a perpetual state of numbness.  That was much easier than dealing with what I felt.  People became something I needed to avoid.  It was much easier to isolate than it was to either deal with people who didn’t understand my world or people that seemed to just piss me off.  I lost long-term friends who just didn’t like the person I had become.  I was a robot who gave them the superficial person they wanted but had this blank stare that didn’t register much emotion.  Than came the fateful day that the pressure cooker blew up.  August of 2010 my dad had open heart surgery and experienced some complications.  I was forced to be in the hospital day in and day out and spending time with family that I didn’t have a great history with surely didn’t help matters.  One more issue and I exploded inside.  The rage and emotions that I had bottled and built upon since 2004 came bubbling over.  I paced the hospital hallways and couldn’t get the crawling of my skin to stop.  I wanted to find someone, anyone, to beat the crap out of, to scream at and to destroy.  I hated the civilian world and mindset and I just wanted to go back to the military where at least I knew my buddies had my back and I was understood.  Life crashed in a profound way that day and it is also the impetus for cigars becoming part of my healing.

I was referred to the VA for evaluation and treatment and formally diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress in October of 2010.  Since that time I have improved with the help of medication and therapy but like most chronic illnesses and injuries I had to also find ways to maintain my functionality in this every day world.  My new service dog, Gunnar, helped me with the isolation that I so desperately clung to and watched my back out in public.  I talked to him incessantly and was finally able to go out and enjoy the world a bit with him by my side.  I started spending a lot of time outside in my backyard and cigars became a part of that ritual.  I could get to work and get through the day knowing that I had this peaceful paradise of me, my dog and my cigars waiting for me when I got home.  I frequented my local B&M to pick up smokes and then by chance one day, the owner mentioned a cigar tasting event to me.  I decided to venture out and attend.  To my amazement and delight, the greater majority of attendees were veterans!  I had found my new niche and safe place.  We talked, we smoked, and we shared.  For the first time in a very, very long time I “belonged” again and I could be myself again without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. (Please note, I do believe there are many “civilian types” who are empathetic and understanding of PTSD but it is the Veteran’s perception many times that they don’t.  We don’t share often because we don’t want to paint a picture for you that we struggle with each day and we want to protect you from our pain.  BUT we THANK YOU for your support and kindness to us!).

Let me point out an interesting fact about my therapy.  My therapist is aware that I smoke cigars on a regular basis and the first time I divulged that information to her I braced myself for the “quit smoking” and “smoking is bad for your health” speeches.  They didn’t come.  She simply stated, “if it helps then do it!”  Music to my ears!  So in a quick sidebar regarding the FDA and their infiltration into my rights let me share a few excerpts from a research article regarding PTSD and nicotine.

“There is evidence that individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may smoke in part to regulate negative affect.”

“A hallmark phenotype of individuals with PTSD is increased psychophysiological responsivity and negative affect to idiopathic trauma related stimuli.”

“…..individuals with PTSD exhibit biased attention to negative emotional information……..deregulated emotional information processing in PTSD (may) be due to to hyper responsiveness of the amygdala – a region (of the brain) sub serving negative emotional information processes.”

“Laboratory studies show that smoking and nicotine reduces distraction caused by negative stimuli……”

“….neuroimaging studies show that nicotine acts on limbic (e.g., amygdala) and prefrontal brain areas that subserve emotional information processing.”

“Smokers with PTSD report greater NA (negative affect) immediately prior to smoking and greater decreases in NA following smoking.”

(Froeliger, B., Crowell Beckham, J.L., Feldman Dennis, M., Kozink, R.V., &       McClernon, F.J., 2012)

So take that FDA!  For a quick soapbox moment:  I’m much rather smoke cigars while understanding the health risks and having a clear mind than to get a prescription for marijuana and have the same health risks plus a mind altering drug!  But, who am I…….certainly not the end all, be all FDA!  (SIGN those petitions BOTLs and SOTLs)

My life today is filled with great friends who I consider family.  I still have my back yard rituals of hanging out with my service dog Gunnar, smoking cigars and relaxing the evening or day away, but my world has expanded exponentially.  I love the cigar world and the cigar lifestyle.  My palette has matured and although I feel tremendous nostalgia whenever I smoke a Chateau Fuente, I have graduated to a very diverse ad expansive collection of cigars that I smoke.  My friends are fantastic and have my six when we attend cigar events that have crowds.  I’m blessed, I’m loved and I’m able to be the veteran that I truly am now.  The cigar world has helped me heal and helps me keep myself on tract when things get rough.

So there you have it!  My cigar story.  I still get rough patches sometimes and that’s when I’ll go “under the radar” for a bit but I am never far from all of you in my thoughts.  I’m out on my deck or in my Gal Cave having a few cigars and letting the healing happen.  When I re-emerge I am renewed, refreshed and ready to go forth and live the public cigar life that I love!  As I always tell my audiences when I am a guest presenter; “Don’t read my story and feel sorry for me but hear my story and understand.”

If my story can help another person who is struggling with PTSD to shed any shame they may feel then my mission is accomplished.  If my story helps someone understand and gain education and empathy towards our brave men and women who have served in the military then I am happy to oblige.  In the meantime I think I’m gonna go smoke a few more cigars today because as it says on my t-shirt “I smoke cigars because therapy is expensive”!  

Until next time,

“Stay Smokey and Be Blessed, I know I am”

Diana ~aka Queen of Cigars
References

Froeliger, B., Crowell Beckham, J.L., Feldman Dennis, M., Kozink, R.V., & McClernon, F.J. (20120). Effects of nicotine on emotional reactivity in PTSD and non-PTSD smoker: results of a pilot fMRI study. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, 2012. 265724th ser. Doi:http://do.doi.org/10.1155/2012/265724.

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Essential Cigar Smoker Accessories

One thing I never foresaw in my foray into the cigar smoking lifestyle was the amount of cigar accessories I would accumulate over the years.  For the beginning smoker or the seasoned BOTL/SOTL, accessories are just as much collector’s items as cigars can be.  Today I want to talk about the essential accessories of cigar smoking and leave the variety and number that you acquire up to you!

First things first.  If you are a cigar aficionado you must have a safe and comfortable place for your cigars to hang out and rest before you decide to choose one to join you for some cigar meditation.  Humidors are sacred to cigars.  They can make or break a good cigar and sometimes take a good cigar to a great level.  Preparing, seasoning and maintaining your humidor(s) is a topic for another day but nonetheless, a very important one, so do your research and get a seasoned smokers advice when first prepping a new addition to your cigar family.

The variety and style of humidors is overwhelming so start with something that is well constructed, appeals to your personal style and will take good care of your cigars.  Be prepared to have more than one humidor though.  What starts out as a necessary accessory many times turns into a prized possession.  The practicality is important too.  Not only will you want to have the “main” humidor but you will be needing a travel humidor because after all, who can leave home without having a tasty cigar at their beck and call!  Personally I currently own a wineador, an ammo-dor, a coolerdor and a couple small wooden humidors.  Oh yes, I forgot to mention the four sizes of travel humidors I own along with numerous leather finger cases.  See what I mean?  It can get out of hand quickly but oh so willingly.

There are many good “deals” out there today also.  Buy a box of cigars and get a free humidor or travel case.  These are oftentimes great deals for the beginning cigar smoker who hasn’t blossomed yet, but you get what you pay for, or in this case what you don’t pay for, many times.  You will want to take the time to research and get sage advice as to what type of humidors and price ranges you can expect in order to purchase a quality and well sealed box for your treasures.  Being lined with Spanish Cedar is not simply enough to do the job.  The seal and ability to “hold” the humidity settings is critical to cigar life.

Well now that you have gotten that gorgeous humidor squared away, let’s look at some of the other items that are essential to your craft.  Cutters.  The variety and types are more plentiful than humidors I suspect.  I actually have a box that I use to keep all my cutting tools in one place.  There was a time I’d find them all over the house and vehicle and would be going crazy trying to find the one I wanted that day.  Now I’ve come to a place of organization so do it first before you get in a mess like I did!

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You know what’s going to happen, right?  You will wind up with at minimum one of each of these types of cutters.  Should I do a straight cut, a “V” cut, punch or some other creative configuration that the cigar world may dream up.  Oh and don’t forget…….many lighters come with a variety of punch cutters integrated in them.  I have my fancy cutters for when I’m out in public and want to stay classy.  I’ve got my home cutters that are used and abused daily.  I’ve got scissors, I’ve got knives, I’ve got………and so it goes on.  One of the coolest things about cutters, and lighters as we shall see, is that we tend to collect then through cigar tasting events, cigar shows and as freebies with our cigar purchases.  I can’t lie and say that there hasn’t been times that my cigar purchase hasn’t been swayed by the potential for a new cutter and/or lighter thrown in as incentive to purchase!

Again, as far as use, only you will ultimately decide what type of cutter you want to use for specific vitola and ring gauge cigars.  Do your research and ask questions of your seasoned cigar smoker friends and experiment with what works best for you.

Now to one of my favorite collectors item; lighters.  I could have a different one for everyday of the year if I’d let myself.  There are soft flame, torches (one, two, three and quad flames), tabletop and personal lighters.  Again, I have learned to keep a box with all the lighters in one place.  You will develop your favorites and those that light the best on a consistent basis but also those you love for their looks even though they are temperamental at best.

I use many different lighters depending on my mood but I have a few favorites.  One is actually a pipe/cigar lighter.  It offers the best of both worlds in that it has one button for the single torch and one lever for a soft flame.  I use both in the course of smoking a cigar at times.  Many times I toast my cigar with the torch and then use the soft flame to do the first light.  Again, this is an accessory of personal preference and as such you may decide to use different lighters for different vitolas of cigars.  I am strictly a single torch user when lighting a perfecto.  I am able to have better control of the flame in this case over a very small area.  For a large gauge cigar I will often use a double or triple torch.

Lighters are like jewelry.  Ever spend time in the cigar lounge and at some point or another a fellow BOTL or SOTL will comment on someone’s lighter?  It’s part of a personal statement of who we are and where we’ve been.  Cigar events, tastings and special offer incentives are great ways to get some fantastic lighters on the cheap or for free.

Next up are ashtrays.  From the multi group to the Stinky brand “anti-social” ashtray, there is something for everyone.  Again, collecting ashtrays from cigar events and such is a great way to increase your collection.  I know for myself I have a group ashtray for guests, a personal for myself, a car ashtray, a gal cave ashtray and on and on it goes.

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I’ve collected several different style car ashtrays.  When me and my cigar family head to events such as CigarFest we know that smoking in the vehicle is a must and so we go prepared with a single ashtray for each person.  In my gal cave at home I tend to use the “anti-social” ashtray but lately I’ve been foraying into other small, single and very convenient glass holder ashtrays.  As with every other cigar accessory we’ve talked about, there is something for everyone’s individual tastes.

Well we’ve covered the main staples of cigar accessories, but there is one more that I am including because I think it should be a mandatory part of the basic cigar smokers tool kit. I’m talking about the draw / nub poker.  I was remiss on owning one of these fantabulous little tools and found myself being frustrated from time to time with a tight draw cigar with great taste or getting to the nub while still wanting more and burning the tips of my fingers.  My first one was a homemade gadget from a fellow BOTL of mine.  A cork top with a long metal spear that I could use to poke my cigar and loosen the draw.  I still have it and use it mostly at home but when I’m out and about I tend to carry more commercial types.

The most elaborate of the pokers that I’ve seen is the one pictured above left.  That’s a great tool to keep in your lounge locker and always comes in handy for any BOTLs / SOTLs that are smoking with you and having a tough time with the draw of their cigar.  You will be the lounge hero or heroine with that nifty bugger at the ready!  The poker above right reminds me of a cocktail spear.  I usually have one with me and for the girlie in me I love to nub a cigar while delicately holding the shiny silver spear in my hand!  Usually gets a few laughs too as it certainly let’s people know you are getting every stoke of that cigar you can.

So there you have it folks!  The essentials of the cigar smokers tool kit.  So many choices but so important to have.  If you are looking to surf on the Internet while smoking a great cigar this is it.  I’m a frequent eBay watcher and will find some of the neatest ashtrays, lighters and other accessories around.  Amazon is another site that offers a veritable smorgasbord of accessories.  The humidor is the only item that I will say you should see in person or at minimum, do your research on the specs and reviews before ordering online.  Otherwise, have fun with it and get those accessory collections going!  Not only will you enjoy yourself but your cigars will love you too!

Until next time

“Stay smokey and be Blessed.”  “I know I am!”

Diana

~ aka “Queen of Cigars”

Cigar Review – BLTC Ginger

I am a lover of boutique cigars but I’ve learned through the years that they can sometimes be hit or miss. So when I saw the “Ginger” go up for sale on Cigar Federation I wasn’t sure where it would fall in the line of success, mediocre or fail.

Only 500 cigars were produced at Fabrica Oveja Negra in Esteli, Nicaragua. Only one vitola is available, the 5 x 52 Robusto. Not a lot of information is given other than the wrapper being a corojo. It is classified as a medium bodied smoke but no information is given on the filler and binder.

I opened the five pack (only way to buy them) and smelled the cigar. A slight floral aroma hit my nose immediately. The cigar has a smooth appearance and a bit of a reddish hue to the wrapper. I decided to use a punch and on the unlit draw I tasted the floral that I was smelling along with some mild cedar. Upon the first light the draw remained easy, but not sloppy. Sufficient smoke and immediate flavor was impressive.

The first third was flavorful with a mix of chocolate, floral essence, ginger and mild spice. As I went through I noticed a bit of white pepper in the background. It gave the cigar a little pep and kept it from being totally smooth. The second third remained the same but the chocolate fell to the background. The pepper remained light and the floral and ginger grew. The burn line remained perfect and the cigar felt good both in my fingers and my mouth. The last third brought out more of the cedar and the ginger came more to the forefront. I wasn’t ready to put the cigar down when I got to the end and nubbed it. The cigar required no touch ups throughout the smoke experience.

I was so impressed with this cigar that I went onto the Cigar Federation site and ordered another five pack while I was smoking. If I had the cash of a champagne drinker instead of beer I would’ve bought all the packs still left (15 at the time). I did a review on the CF website and gave this gem five stars. I would rate it at a 91 and definitely recommend it for anyone who wants something a little different. The Ginger is a success in my boutique cigar book.

I’m hopeful that BLTC will decide to produce a few more of these in the future. All in all a nice way to end my Monday evening Herf. Next time I’m going to pair it with a Shiner Ruby Red Ginger beer and see if it enhances the cigar or mutes it.

Until next time brothers and sisters – Stay smokey and blessed! I know I am!

 

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