Year-Long Reflection Of An Ex-Smoker. Why I Started, How I Quit, Who I Blamed, and Why I Still Crave One.

My brother was such a jerk.  And John – I love you today, but back then, you were a complete jackhole when it came to supporting your little brother.   We agreed only on one thing – that mom and dad smoking in the car in the middle of Chicago winter drives with the windows cracked, SUCKED.   In retrospect, it may have been the one issue that we agreed on, which may have ultimately kept us from killing each other.  We got backseat backslapped with smoke, the occasional stray still-burning ash in the face, and we had to freeze our hineys so that mom and dad could diligently smoke their stupid cigarettes.   Why couldn’t they roll up the windows and just suffocate us?  At least we’d have been warm.  Our complaints would fall on deaf ears, and after a while, we just learned to live with it.

Here was the disconnect:

Illusion of Smoker in the front seat:  Sticking the cigarette outside the window made ashes magically disappear onto the freeway, and the smoke would follow your desire for it to exit the car.

Reality in the backseat:  Along with the cold air, the ashes and still-burning embers flew back at 60MPH.

But I was raised in a society of smoking, where restaurants had ashtrays (the smoking section was always open – you had to wait for tables in the non-smoking section – as a kid, this was BORING, and considering the car ride over, actually advocated for the smoking section – we might as well eat quicker!), and grocery stores had stamped-out butts lined up and down the floor on the sides of the aisles like broken down cars on the side of a shopping cart freeway.   Mom would purchase two packs of Kents for .59 cents, and while I knew at that age what 50 + 50 was, this is where I learned what .59 + .59 was, and where tax still confused me.   It was $1.18, I’d say proudly.   Yep, if I ever needed to purchase a pack of cigarettes,  I could count it out, plus a dime or quarter for tax.  I figured at that age that I’ll just bring a ten dollar bill, and let the intelligent, genuis, smart as a whip cashier expertly count the money back to me.  I’d believe them – after all, these are the pillars of society that allows my mom to get food.  But $10. would cover it.

But mom would smoke at the kitchen table, or while on the phone, or with friends in the living room.  I’d ask to try it.  After all, dad let me sip the beer, which was pretty bad, but not so bad that I didn’t want to sip it every time anyway.   It was so adult!  Why wouldn’t they let me try smoking?  I was persistent, still no dice.  Drats!

Despite that, the curiosity never left.   I picked up my first pack during my Freshman year.   I got busted by a crying mom, and that prolonged my smoking for about a  year until I was a sophomore, and teen rebellion was in full swing, and the tears were no longer a deterrent.   Life turned around as I arrived at Army Navy Academy (read:  Military School) during my Sophomore year in high school.  I began to be independent and self-sufficient.  I also started to chew tobacco since I couldn’t smoke like I did “one foot off of the campus line” at Irvine High School anymore, and while some guys were into that,  it wasn’t for me.   For those that remember back when public schools HAD a smoking section OFF campus (and one ON campus!), you know the drill.  Military school was tougher because you were trapped on campus.  The only saving grace was that most of the staff smoked, so they couldn’t really smell it on you.   This was also a time when identification for cigarettes was lax.   Really.  The good ol’ days.   Before everybody got all militant on the subject and decried the access of cigarettes to kids.

So… Why DO people smoke?

So to those people, let me answer the age old question:  “Why do you smoke?”.   If you hear me out, you might learn something and get perspective or walk away just reading someone’s story.  Maybe you’re looking for an out yourself.   Perhaps you want to be supportive to someone close to you.  Or you want more ammunition to use to beat up some current smoker.   This will cover all of it.

So here’s the undiluted truth:   I’ve always enjoyed tobacco.  No, really.  For those of you anti-smoking Nazis (some self proclaimed, others of you just haven’t discovered your bigotry yet), it’s actually quite an enjoyable experience, as most smokers will tell you.   I won’t lie and say, “Oh man, I wish I never picked up a cigarette”.   I’m glad I did.  If I could go back and do it again, I’d savor it more because now I can’t at all.  We’ve been trained to say, “Boy, I sure would like to quit”.   Do you know why smokers say that?  It’s an offensive to deter a defense.   Simply put, it’s so that we wouldn’t have to listen to another insufferable sidewalk or smoking-section sermon by nosy, nitpick Nancy NonSmoker about how we’re ruining western civilization.

So here’s why I smoked:  It allowd me as a waiter and bartender to take an unofficial – yet authorized – 5 minute break at work without having to punch out.   It was a social gathering for managers, co-workers and bosses to sit and get to know each other.   It was collatoral.  It was community – if you needed one, you gave one.  If someone wasn’t a smoker and wanted one, you gave one.  If you needed one, you got one.   And individual cigarettes were great for bets and challenges, because losing means you got something you wanted, didn’t put someone at considerable loss if you won, and if you lost, it was .20 cents per smoke.  So really, it was the principle more than it was the winning.   And by lighting someone’s cigarette, you showed that you respected them.   Or didn’t trust them with your lighter.  😉   But the thing is, you (and they) knew.   Non-Smokers will usually never have that experience with each other.

In some ways, it built comradarie when others would walk by and sneer at our death sticks, and proclaim how we are going to “be sick and die” as a direct result.  Since obviously, anyone who smokes could never get hit by a bus, or die from the flu, or be a drunk driver without cigarettes SOMEHOW being the root, or secondary cause.    Still others wished that we would be stricken with lung cancer and we shouldn’t be able to qualify for a replacement lung.  I was actually told that by a co-worker who obviously(!) did not care for my smoky existence.  Wow, bitter much?

I wish that person well.  Their ill-will is hardly mutual.  In fact, I hope that person somehow develops a little consideration and grows a little compassion.  Maybe his parents smoked and the result of that was a deformity that caused a complete and utter lack of humanity and tolerance for others.

You know, that whole “you deserve to die” thing really set me off.  I never looked at an alcoholic and thought, “Gee, I hope your liver dries out like a prune and you have a painful and agnoizing death”.  Or at a pot smoker and though, “You know, I hope you require a colostomy bag someday because you like something I don’t”.   That’s just the ugly side of self-righteous people.     I always hope that people could go through a season of self-destruction (we all do it one way or another) and come out okay on the other side.  Some people do, some people don’t.  But everybody has a time in their life where a destructive habit can cause irreparable harm.   I wouldn’t condemn that, I’d pity that.

Smoking also allows for a little time-out with other people, or a little “pull it together-time”,  or “me-time” if I wanted to be alone.   It was something to look forward to after a flight, or after a long business meeting, or during a long car trip between singing Social Distortion songs at the top of my lungs on the way to Las Vegas.

I love smoking, and quite honestly, I hope there’s a smoking section in Heaven where reportedly, there is no sickness or death.   Assuming I go, of course, since I know there’s definitely a smoking section in Hell, and I doubt that’s the cigarette kind.  But I digress.

People who discover I’m no longer a pack-carrying member of the carcinogenic fuliginosity sorts often ask, “How the heck did you quit?”

How the heck I quit:

This is difficult, because I know my answer won’t help most people, and I wish I had a more conventional strategy to offer the everyday fellow.  But the reality is that my wife quit years before me, and was patient and supportive.  I told her I’d quit when she quit.   Thinking she’d never quit, I figured I was home free.   But then she goes and bumps off the addiction like a mafiaosa does a squealer, and I’m stuck with my finger in my ear wondering how I’m going to match that.

I tried gum, but it was disgusting.  Then I tried patches.  That was useless.  I was still getting nicotine.  Then the doctor tried to put me on those quit smoking pills.  Yeah, when those advertisements say, “people who suffer from suicidal thoughts”, it was an understatement.   That’s some nasty stuff right there.  I got to the point where I just decided that if I’m going to have nicotine, I’m going to smoke.  If not, I’m going to quit.

I was able to conquer lots of lofty goals.  I rocked sales at my job, my marriage is incredible.  My financial stuff was in order, and the only thing I owe today is my mortgage.   I’m a long term loyal employee, got promoted, and then got promoted again.  Life is really good.  Everything I went after in the second half of my life has gone really well.   But I couldn’t quit smoking.   I decided that if I can do all this other crazy stuff and make my life better, I can quit the one thing that would make my life end early.

Then I went the simplest and cheapest route – I went cold-turkey.   I decided that I have a small streak of rebellion left in me.  I can give the middle finger to a pack of cigarettes – and I suppose also to myself for lack of self control – and decide that no matter what, I’m going to win…. against…  me.

I’ve had hundreds of quit dates.  I’ll spare you the history.

My original “For Reals” quit date was March 7th 2011, but I went about 10 days and then broke down and snuck one from my in-laws, who had left theirs out.   I felt so guilty about doing so well and just giving that success up that I couldn’t even finish the cigarette.   I just threw away 10 days of hard work and mind-numbing, jittery and fury-inducing withdrawls.   What was I thinking?!   That defining moment – mid cigarette – was when I truly quit.

I was disgusted with myself that I had a goal that I just couldn’t attain.    And it’s time to reach that goal.  It was the only one I ever set that I couldn’t meet.

And it’s funny when you’re a smoker the things you’ll do to justify another cigarette.  You’ll tell friends that you need them to help you.  And you do, but a true friend will prevent you and discourage you from smoking, and you’ll pin the blame on them if they fail.  Or succeed.   It’s really a mind-game.   How many times I blamed my wife for me being miserable while coming off cigarettes – I shudder to think – it was terrible.    Smokers also talk to cigarettes.  Yeah, like they’re people.  It’s really insane.  I told both my packs and individual cigarettes countless times in no uncertain terms that, “you will not beat me”.   But they did.  They would overtake me and I’d feel like Eddie Murphy ballooning up from Buddy Love into the Nutty Professor,  “You can’t beat me” followed by  “YES…. I…. CAN….” as my feet swelled and my lip blew up 20x it’s normal size.   (Okay, there’s the creative license in this article.  Shaddup, you know it ain’t true).

But over and  over.  They kicked my behind across the parking lot and back again.   You do crazy, goofy OCD things like take “one last drag”, and you put it out a special “final way”, and “scrunch up the pack”, or have a pack there to “remind you of what you used to do” until it’s something that you “just did” again.   Addictions are very finicky things, and depriving your body of something it demands is truly a gut-wrenching season to go through.   I admire people who persevere through cleansing and coming down off of a drug like nicotine, and I admire more the people who don’t succeed, but try and try again.

So then and there, on March 17th, after blowing 10 days of perfectly good withdrawls, I decided.  Without taking a “one last ceremonious drag” (since that didn’t work the first 2,000 times), but just utterly defeated and angry at myself for playing games with a serious goal and throwing away 10 perfectly good days of being smoke-free only to succumb again, I tapped it out unceremoniously and decided that no matter what, I’m going to stick to this goal for a year, just as I stick to every goal I set.   I have a good track record.  In fact, I’d be batting .1000 if I could just climb this hill.

So one year later.   I’m smoke free.   Heck yeah!   And I’m going to keep going, smoke free.

If you’re considering quitting, and you have an Android, try this App:

http://www.appbrain.com/app/quitnow/com.EAGINsoftware.dejaloYa

So check this out.

I would check this every day to see my progress go from no bars, to full green bars.    If you’re a visual person, or a goal oriented person, this is a free App.

Throw the developer a few bucks.  This program (and programmer) probably is responsible for saving my life.

While I can’t tell you this will work for you, tracking progress and relying on statistics and personal perserverence was how I did it.

What I liked about this program was that it also gave achievements, from “the first day” to the first week, from 10 cigarettes, to 100, to 1000.   Reaching that next goal was paramount, and it turned into a challenge.    I didn’t write this article to plug this app, but it helped, so I’m giving it it’s due credit.

People often ask, “How do you feel”?

Sometimes,  you have to consider the source.   Because it can be a loaded question.

Of course, this is usually from the neo-SS non-smokers perspective who are smugly waiting to point out with an index finger and a “Ah-HA! TOLD YOU!” after I tell them how great I’m supposed to feel.    And while I do feel a lot better, it’s a journey of healing – both mental, and physical.   It’s certainly not a destination.   Some days I still really crave one.   But those days get longer and longer apart.

I won’t lie.  Quitting a drug is an exercise in mental endurance.  There is ALWAYS an excuse for falling off the wagon, and it’s up to the individual to stay the course.  Or not to.

The first month, I threw up on a treadmill and on the exercise floor a few times (I *said* I’m sorry, YMCA janitor!), and on the side of my car on the way home after working out.  The locker room and shower areas were not spared, either.  Great.  Mike Muscles is known for bench pressing 400 lbs.  I’m known for barfing on the BowFlex.  I was so hoping that running harder would exert the frustration of wanting a cigarette.  I would smell cigarette smoke in my sweat, and crave one harder.   People wondered why I’d be stomping on the treadmill as I ran or walked.   I wanted one so bad, and I couldn’t give up.   None of these muscleheads were likely to understand, so I didn’t bother to explain or apologize.  I paid my dues each month out of direct deposit, so shut up and leave me alone.   I’m a stompin’ if I feel like stompin’.   And I don’t care if it’s loud.

And watch where you walk.

I got angry episodes a lot.  (Anxiety plays a part here also, so that’s not your “typical smoker”, but for mental illnesses particularly with anxiety or depression, smoking becomes a very relied upon crutch).   And it was scary, because I’d be someone who is NOT ME.   I’d be angry at things that I’d normally be happy about.   But I’d trudge on, and wish for the “bad feelings” to go away.  It took about 4-5 months before they did, and it was truly like fighting myself.   Work was difficult.  Family was difficult.  I didn’t want to go out in public.  Everyting had a potential to set me off, but I still had to hold it together.    Many times I had to walk around the block for the most menial of “interruptions” or “confrontations”, which were probably to the normal person, just regular questions by family and friends.

Sometimes, I just gave up and went to bed.  It was either that, or smoke.  And each day was further from the addiction.   So slept I did.  Some days I slept 24 hours.  I marveled at how much my body was repairing itself, and how much better I felt every time I got up.   I also wondered if my body was craving that fo 10 years and was finally taking advantage of it.   I didn’t question it.  I just allowed it.

My goal in the first 6 months was to walk 2 miles at a time.  I’ve done it quite a number of times, but it really does hurt.  Only now can I do it comfortably, where I’m not gasping like a goldfish out of water.

I also had the fortune(?) of my in-laws, who live with me, smoking (outside of the house, of course).   I think the ability to be around it and not have one was the hardest thing to learn, but it has also gotten me in the habit of turning them down, and being around it without having to have one.   I wish they would quit, but I’ve benefitted from being around smokers.   People don’t understand that even the mention of a cigarette can have a profound rush on someone who is desperately trying to quit.   Since there’s no escape from reality, and reality is that smoking is attainable, affordable and avaialable, it really can throw someone off their game.   The hardest thing was NOT thinking about smoking at a time when smoking is something I did every time I thought about it.

So I ate.  I ate healthy stuff, I ate junk food.   I ate chips, carrots, finger foods and burritos and whole pizzas.   I was working out, so at some point I can eventually even out.   I hit the punching bag until my knuckles bled, and for someone who types for a living, that got old real quick.   My gut is hanging a little low these days, but I’m clearly healthier (and happier) without being tied to cigarettes.   My blood is healthier, my lungs can breathe in deeply, and every morning, I clear my throat with impressive results.   I still cough up black stuff, but my body is on its way.  One of my best friends complimented me on my build and chest.  That was one of the nicest compliments I ever got.   I thought I was getting big.  She told me I was finally filling out.

Maybe it sounds dumb, but I feel more solid, and I’m building muscle.  And it feels good.

So Smoke Nazis, I suppose you win the argument. I do feel better, and I’m much happier as a non-smoker.  But I will still disagree that banning smoking is the answer for society.  People need to be free to smoke as they are to drink alcohol or ride motorcycles or go to loud rock concerts or partake in other risky behaviors.  It’s human nature, and it doesn’t make us bad people.  More importantly, we aren’t really bothering you as much as you think we are.  People need to come to grips with themselves, rather than having government or laws dictate their morality.   And you need to worry less about stupid crap like secondhand smoke and focus on far more important issues facing the world today.   You can waste time telling me how smelly my addiction was, or you can do something worthwhile today in the here-and-now.

“Just quit”, while brilliant and witty common sense and wisdom in your point of view, are the words of an ignorant idiot for someone dealing with a disease like addiction.   Show a little faith in people and humanity and encourage your fellow man.

We know it’s killing us.  Really?   You think we haven’t heard it before?  We don’t know?  Don’t be stupid.

So I’m going to stay the course.   Will I ever smoke again?  Probably not.   That’s a quick downward spiral.    I’m tempted to think I could handle it.  After all, “I went a year, so I can do this”.   But that’s the logic of a fool.   Dogs return to their own vomit, as a fool does to his folly.  (Prov. 26:11)   I would be wise to remember this first year, and how fresh and painful it was to quit.   The minute I forget how hard it was, it becomes easier to think that I could just do it again.   And I can’t.   It took me years to get to 20 days smoke free.  YEARS.

I’m happy to have walked away alive and given the chance at a better life, and assuming I don’t get hit by a bus, I’m going to likely live significantly longer.  The odds are good that I can undo the damage I’ve done. My heart is healhty (even got it tested!), and my lungs are spotless (also tested).

So if I get hit by a bus and die, I’m going to be totally pissed off.  My last thougths will be my family, my beautiful wife, how she’ll be rich with that asanine insurance policy I have, and think of the thousands of cigarettes I could have enjoyed without consequence.  But I don’t go where there are a lot of busses.  So I better stay quit.

But I’m placing my bets on life, and my goals usually pan out pretty good.   Because if it turns out I don’t get made into a street-pancake by a bus,  I don’t want to carry around an oxygen tank on little wheels.  I want to die of natural causes.

Like stage diving.  Or a blogging overdose.

So here’s my parting advice.  

If you smoke and don’t want to quit, then don’t say that you do, or should, or might.  Just smoke.   And have one for me.   I’d love to join you, but that’s my history, not my today.

If you don’t smoke, be supportive and positive.  Don’t get discouraged.  Encourage.  Maybe you hate smokers because someone you know is suffering or died from it.   I don’t blame you, but this isn’t the time for your rage or story.  Helping someone quit smoking isn’t about you.  It’s about them.   It’ll be about  you another time.  Let people know you’ve got their back.  If you can’t do that, learn a little compassion and get out of your ego-centric self-importance.   Your reward for not smoking is that you’re healthier.  Take your advantage and have some pity for the guy or girl who picked up a cigarette and wished he/she didn’t.

Also, for the militant parents:  Your baby isn’t going to die because someone on the street walked by with a cigarette and you got a whiff of secondhand smoke.  I hotboxed that crap for hours pre-puberty  in an Oldsmobile station wagon in the 70’s with my parents from Chicago to Michigan every year, smoked for over 12 years and I STILL have a cholesterol level you’d envy and a healthy heart.   Your whining and outrage is lost on me.  Try to be bigger and understand that conquering addiction is harder than enduring your dirty looks and muttered comments over secondhand smoke.   Quitters are looking for your acceptance.  Don’t take your hate on other smokers out on someone who is trying to quit.

If you do smoke and you want to quit, get support and get tired of it, because excuses don’t last long.   I hope everyone has an awesome support, whether it be a friend, an App, prayer, or a support group.   For those trying to quit, it can be done, but it’s really up to you.   You need to be broken and tired of it.   And failing is your fault.  You just can’t blame anyone, but like me, you probably will (and be sure to say you’re sorry.  I have a list of people who I owe apologies to!).   We’re taught to say we want to quit, but we have to be willing to sacrafice pleasure to actually do it.

“If it is to be, It is up to me” needs to be your mantra.  Adapt it, learn it, love it, live it.  Then track yourself, reward yourself, and do something nice for yourself when you beat it.    And mention it to others.   People know it’s hard to quit.  People who have quit will give you even madder props beacuse they’ve been there.   You’ll be surprised at how many people have beat the addiction, and will be proud as you work your way to that status.   Even the most staunch and obnoxious non-smoker will even eek out a “way to go man [ahem]”, speaking out of sheer ignorance for what it really takes.   That’s okay.  There are millions of us who DO know, and who CAN sympathize, and DO get it.

I’m not there yet.  I’m still not.  Someday.  But this is a good start and I’ve come a long way to a new lifestyle.   I know I can’t give up.  Even a  year later.

Thanks to my wife, who loved me if I smoked or didn’t, for standing by my side and holding me up without one disparaging word, regardless of my decisions, and for doing it 12 x 365 times and until I got this thing right.   She gave me that support, freedom and flexibility to see that it was truly up to me.

–ANP

P.S.   There is a happy ending to this story.  My dad is turning 70 next month.  One of the first Demas men to break past 60 AND 70 in our family, I’m super proud that both he and my mom quit and visit the gym a few times a week.   Hopefully, this is where the cycle ends.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Year-Long Reflection Of An Ex-Smoker. Why I Started, How I Quit, Who I Blamed, and Why I Still Crave One.

  1. Not_the_Anth#1

    Good read, thanks for sharing.
    I have quit several times for a couple of years at a whack and then find myself picking it back up. I hope that you will be able to stay quit. It is a battle that you will have to wag for the reat of your life. The days that you want a smoke get further andd further apart, but they never really went away for me.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Anth. All I can say is WOW…..this is so INSPIRING for me and many others. And I am proud of you and your courage and strength to keep looking toward your goal. Awesome…Awesome..Awesome 🙂 Love you my friend ❤

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