A long time friend recently posted on Facebook asking for advice with her struggle to kick the smoking habit. She had been doing very well but lapsed and so reached out to a few of her friends that have successfully walked away form smoking. I am one such friend.
I started smoking in the ninth grade for the lamest and most unoriginal reason there is. Because it was cool. I don’t know if I even knew anyone else that smoked. I just thought it would be cool. Thats how unoriginal I am. This is back in the day of cigarette machines. You slide the quarters in then select a the knob for the brand you like and give it a pull, pulling other things was just around the corner for me. After the pull, the box, or soft pack if that was your thing, would slide out. More shocking than ‘back in the day of cigarette machines’, this was back in the day when a ninth grader could buy a pack of smokes with nary a questioning look.
And so started a love affair of more than twenty years.
I never jonesed for a smoke in high school. I could go the whole night without a drag. Although I remember the early morning smoke while waiting for the bus was a big thing form me. Morning break and lunch was all about the Dog House where my friends, and other fellow smokers gathered. The Dog House was exactly what it sounds like. I small stand where Hot Dogs and other food-like things were sold, but that was some eighteen years before Michal’s ‘Dilemma‘, so we ate the dogs and the chili cheese Fritos and called it a balanced meal.
With college came even more freedom, and time to smoke. So I did. And that cute little kitty in my belly, that only purred once in a while for a night time smoke started to meow. By the time a left college the kit had transformed into a little monster with long spindly tentacles wrapped through and around my lungs. Smoking was a salve for the beast and it would squeeze my lungs until they turned icy cold if I waited to long to deliver the beasts smoky remedy. I didn’t mind the beast though. It was quite right that a smoke after a big meal was very satisfying. In fact, a smoke after anything that was big, great, or traumatic, was satisfying. The smoke was equally satisfying in alleviating the boring or mundane. Smoking was an activity which meant I would always have something to do.
And so I kept smoking through grad school. And I kept being satisfied. I even kept smoking after I got married, even my wife had said she didn’t want to marry a smoker. I said that’s cool because I loved this gal and I really want to be with her, way more than smoking. Still, I didn’t quit. The same gal also asked me to become Catholic, which I did. So I kept the more important part of the deal in my estimation.
Post grad school the wife and I moved to New York. We both got jobs, she went back to school, and I started pursuing a career as an actor and a closet smoker. But a closet only from my wife. My days were spent calendaring how I could get smoke time in and then clean up time so I wouldn’t reek from the smoke time. This would invariably blow up in my face once or twice a year, because she knew. Of course she knew. Smoke doesn’t just wash away with public bathroom hand soap, or cologne, or Frebreeze. Mouth wash can’t kill, peppermints don’t do shit, no matter how curious their strength is. Smoke is the roach of smells. It can’t be killed by anything than a blast of chemicals. And just like you have to drown a roach in Raid until that last violent kick of life, you must drown yourself in steaming hot water and a thick soapy lather and your clothes as well. But smokers can’t smell. When your in the tobacco lust you can’t smell the stink. Its too sexy.
Even the birth of my first beautiful little girl couldn’t chase the monster from my chest. I halfheartedly tried several times. But the monster could always since my insincerity. It would leave like a friend loaning an apartment. It knew it would have a place to come back to. Sometimes I was forced to quit for a few days, several even. Instead of a dry run of what it could be like to break the chains it felt like an exquisite tease. My tongue would swell with the anticipation of fire burning paper. My nose hairs would stand on end straining to find that tendril of smoke sliding off the end of a Camel Wide. Oh yes, Camel Wides. Because why inhale a little cancer when you can have twice as much for the same cost? A few days into my tobacco furlough my lungs would go from constricted, bent old men, to nubile and young yogis, ready to do some downward dog all damn day. And the expansion in my lungs felt great, but it didn’t make me want to quit. It made me feel like I had so much more room to fill with smoke. So I did.
But one day my daughter, then almost two years old, put a pencil in her mouth and mimicked blowing smoke. She was copying me. It made me feel deeply ashamed. And yet I lived with the shame for a while afterward. I continued to work my overnight shift smoking away and then washing my hair and face in the kitchen sink at work. I would eye half smoked cigarettes on the ground like winning lotto tickets. I would hate how enslaved I was to smoking as I relished the hypnotic pull of smoke from my mouth into my nose and the super cool push back out my mouth, like I was playing the didgeridoo on a cancer stick. So just like a heroin junkie I turned to another drug to break my dependance on a drug! Chantix!
The warning label said it may cause suicidal tendencies. So can quitting smoking. It also warned there could be severe irritability. Again, so does quitting anything fun and awesome. Vivid dreams was also a side effect. I’ve paid good money for that same effect, many times. Quitting was to be referred to as ‘The Quit’. So I referred to it as such. I lived near enough to Brooklyn that being pretentious was not frowned upon.
The bare bones laymen explanation of this wonder drug goes like this. Imagine Chantix is like late Thanksgiving evening. You have had some much good food you can’t eat another bit of anything. Ice cream is too much, the most delectable dessert could be pulled fresh from the oven but you are just too full. Chantix takes away the physical desire to smoke. You feel like you have chained smoked your fill and just don’t want anymore.
I bought a second $140 bottle just in case the next month proved difficult. It was hard but I never smoked another cigarette again. The desire didn’t completely leave for well over a year. That monster kept stopping by to see how the old place was doing. But he never got back in. I ran a full marathon a year after quitting, and several half-marathons since. I have also gained forty pounds. But that is ice cream and cakes fault. And beer.
I started this journal entry to say, in the longest, most round about way as possible, that ‘The Quit’ is hard. It sucks balls and there’s no way around it. Its going to suck! It will be hard and terrible and you will want to have a smoke almost every second of every day. It will feel like you are under water and out of breathe. But you will get through it. One day, you will get through most of the morning without that crippling desire. Then a morning and an afternoon. Then you’ll get shit on by your boss, or a friend, and you’ll get through it without smoking. One night you’ll get shitty drunk and you won’t need a smoke to calm the scotch. One day+One day+One day+One day+