When a friend of mine’s mother died of emphysema I knew it was time to stop smoking. I hadn’t been smoking very long but I was having a terrible time quitting. The worst part was I had a support group for smoking at work. I drank on the weekends and as anyone who has ever drank beer and smoked cigarettes will tell you, drinking and smoking go together like movies and popcorn. But there are a lot of people who drink and go to movies without popcorn or cigarettes and I knew it.
The thing that made me hate myself more than anything else is that I divorced a woman because she smoked. Well, okay, that was just one of the reasons but I hated the idea of letting someone in my life that was that bad for me. And here I was, smoking. I was One Of Them. I was A Smoker. I knew what I smelled like and I knew what my truck smelled like and I knew what people thought of me when I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette.
I remember back in the day smokers lit up anywhere and everywhere. Movies, grocery stores, hospitals, and bar, oh my god , bars were a place you couldn’t step into without stepping out with a nicotine buzz. Everyone smoked and no one complained about how much anyone smoked. My grandfather was one of the first people to die slow, die horribly, and die of smoking. The world changed.
So how did I get to where I was, as a nonsmoker, to smoking? I married a smoker. It’s that simple. The number of people willing to give up smoking for love is smaller than those who can get talked into it by love. So for 989 days, as a married man, I was a smoker. Then, dammit, for about that much time or even longer, way after she was gone, I could not quit.
I hated myself for smoking. I couldn’t stand the weakness. There was a deep and everlasting sense of self-loathing every time I bought a pack. I liked Camels. They were the first cigarettes that I had smoked and I stole them from my long dead grandfather. I was a statistic. And I just simple could not stop no matter how badly I wanted to quit.
People, and I was one of them, made up all sorts of promises. I’ll stop after this pack. How many times have you said that? I’ll quit after this project. I’ll quit as soon as this part of my life ends. I’ll quit after the holidays. I’ll quit when it warms up. I’ll quit on my birthday. I’ll quit on New Year’s. I’ll quit when Keith Richards stops looking like someone who died in 1967. I’ll quit when I can put my left elbow into my right ear hole. Yeah, I’ve lied a few times to myself about quitting.
I lied about smoking. I lied about how much I smoked. I lied to myself about how much damage I was taking. I lied to people about how many times I had tried to quit. I lied to myself, mostly, because I told myself I could quit anytime I wanted to quit but I just didn’t want to for the last four years.
On January the fifth, 2005, on a Saturday afternoon, I was playing a video game with a friend and we took a smoke break. He didn’t smoke but he went along with my smoking and I hated us both for it. Then I realized that to quit all I had to do was stop smoking. That easy, that hard, all I had to do was lay it down. I stubbed out one of those cheap little cigars and the clock started ticking.
Day One: No fun.
The next day I busied myself in a hundred different ways to keep from going into town and buying a pack. Of course, I started an Excel program to count the days. After one day the program looked like the results of someone who was counting honest politicians or sober drunks or fish with pilot’s licenses. One; and that wasn’t true because it hadn’t been twenty-four hours yet. Wait! Yes! I started counting the minutes. I started counting the hours. Twenty-five hours seems much longer than one day and one hour.
By Monday I was closing in on fifty hours but it was a bitch. I missed my Pepsi and a smoke at seven in the morning. I missed smoking on the deck. I missed smoking with my buddies first thing on the project. I missed my ten in the morning break. I missed my after lunch smoke.
I missed my habit.
Three days was nearly seventy-five hours. One hundred hours came by Thursday. I made it to the weekend which meant I was about to make it one week. One week without smoking. It was like running half a marathon and realizing you still have a very long way to go.
But a week turned into ten days. Ten days made it close to two weeks. Two weeks was a special occasion because by two weeks there was some signs, positive signs, in recovery. I felt better. My sense of smell was returning. Food tasted better. People were beginning to believe I had done it and I was getting a lot of positive feedback from family and friends.
At three weeks I felt I had turned a corner. At a month I felt like I had reached not the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning. At forty-two days, which my program was counting down from, I was supposed to go out and have a cigar but I chose not to do so. Suddenly, I had a battle cry that sounded a lot like, “NEVER AGAIN!” and I felt like I could do it.
That was eight and a half years ago.
I haven’t smoked anything at all during those years. Not to celebrate, not just once, not even a little, and certainly not to just see what it will do for me.
You either quit or you smoke. Cutting down is smoking. Trying other cigarettes is smoking. Patches and smoking is smoking.
It is that easy and it is that hard.