The Day I Tried to Live
This post is about the trials and tribulations of quitting smoking. They say reformers are the worst and it’s only been a couple weeks so I’ll try not to get too high on my horse here, but consider this fair warning.
I started smoking to look cool. Anyone that tells you anything different might be lying, but I really can’t say for sure. I can say with 100% certainty though that it was the reason I started smoking. No one pressured me into doing it. The people in the movies did it and looked cool and I wanted to be like the people in the movies. Sounds sad I guess but that’s how kids think. I was 14 at the time.
I bounced around with different brands for a couple years but eventually settled on Marlboro Reds. Jesse Custer from Preacher smoked them and that was as good enough as any for me. Reds remained my brand for the next 17 years. “Cowboy Killers” fellow smokers would say when they saw me pull one from the pack. It was an uncompromising brand that demanded admiration and respect, just like me. This touches on something I wrote about last time but it really was part of my identity. You don’t buy the same product once a day for 17 years and not have it become a part of who you are. Just not possible.
Smokers in the states (and especially here in Illinois) have gone through a lot over the years, but we always seem to get by. About five years ago they stopped letting us smoke in bars. Jesus Christ you would have thought the world was about to end. Can’t drink and smoke at the same time, why do either then?! But we managed, and kept on drinking and smoking. You smoked less, of course, but it was almost like being back in college where most friendships and bonds are formed outside class in the smokers area.
Eventually you try and quit. We all have. Longest I’ve made it so far is six months, and that was because of a girl I was dating back in my early twenties. After we broke up I went right back to doing it again. Being a parent slowed my smoking down substantially but didn’t kill it. It sounds sad but you know what did? Going back to school in my 30’s. Kids today don’t smoke. They’re too smart. They’re not being bombarded with it like we were growing up. They think it’s gross and a waste of money. They’re not entirely wrong. I mean I always KNEW it was bad for you, but it wasn’t until it stopped being cool that I stopped wanting to do it.
It was different this time, I could feel it. I actually wanted to quit. I wasn’t doing it because someone was nagging me to or because it was the responsible thing to do. No I was doing it for me and I really was done with it all. The drive was no longer there. It was something I felt self-conscious about actually. So one Monday morning I woke up, threw out the rest of my pack, and started the week as a non-smoker. This is where shit got crazy…
The first few days passed without incident. Most of us have strung together a couple days off the dogs purely on accident at times. The twinge was there, but I chewed gum and kept busy. Started listening intently to Podcasts and eating cheese burgers on my drive home from work instead of driving really fast with the windows open blasting punk and classic rock tunes while chain smoking the Reds. The voice was always there though. “Just stop, you’ve got ten bucks on you. Why suffer any longer? There’s a gas station. Just stop”
As the days went by that voice got louder. Most of us are used to a single narrative going on inside our brains. One voice telling us what to do, speaking our thoughts, bouncing ideas around. Me, I wanted to quit smoking. So who the fuck was this other person in my head telling me to stop at the gas station for smokes? It sounded like me, it didn’t feel overtly invasive, but it’s goals were not my own. Finally one afternoon as I drove into work we had it out, me and this other voice. It was a totally insane schitzo moment but I drove down the Dan Ryan towards downtown Chicago screaming at myself that I wasn’t going to start smoking again and that was it. End of discussion. Crazy part is it worked. Like demons being exorcised from my psyche the urge all be left me completely. The voice stopped, the withdrawl symptoms subsided for the most part and I went on to living a happy, healthy, smoke free life.
For about a month. Then I had a bachelor party to go to.
It was my buddies wedding and I was one of the groomsmen. We had been planning this thing for months. So far I had avoided going to the bars for fear that getting drunk might kickstart the old habit again. Now there was no avoiding it, I was going to the be drunk with a bunch of dudes and strippers and there was no way out. So I bought a pack. Why fight it right? It was just one night. I bought the pack, smoked the pack at the bachelor party and woke up the next day done and over it.
Then two weeks later I had the actual wedding. Same deal, I knew I’d be drinking so why not buy a pack. I did, smoked it, had a few left over the next day so I smoked those too. Was good for a couple days, maybe a week and then found an excuse to buy another pack. I wasn’t back to being a full on pack a day chain smoker, but I was finding more and more excuses to smoke here and there. Then I started bumming off coworkers and that shit is just about as low as sucking dick for crack as far as I’m concerned. “Oh I don’t buy smokes I just smoke other people’s”. Fucking assholes those guys are.
I could feel old habits coming back, but now they brought with them a sense of guilt and remorse. I had come so close to changing my life. It was right there, I felt like I had already done the hard part, and now with every pack I was pissing all over it. Because you CAN have just one, but the problem is it makes it all the easier to have another, and another and another. There’s a reason they say reformers are the worse, and it’s because you need to completely demonize the behavior to keep yourself away from it. Recovering alcoholics will go and on about the evils of drink because to sit there and talk about how much fun it can be when handled responsibly is too much for them. We create these black and white realities for our own benefit because they’re so much easier to navigate through.
So a couple weeks ago I quit again. This time for good. Lasted about a week and then I got struck down with bronchitis. The doctor said it was probably because my lungs kept trying to actually heal only for me to start poisoning them again. They put me on antibiotics and a steroid inhaler for a couple days and it totally helped carry me over that hump where you want to start falling back into old habits.
This time though it’s not about image or health, it’s a matter of principal, of pride. Why the fuck do I keep doing this thing that I clearly don’t want to do? Chemical dependency? Physical habit and muscle memory? Neither one of those are satisfactory answers. Neither one paint the picture of the man I want to be. As masters of our lives and our own destinies we should be able to move through this world three dimensionally, going where we want to go and doing what we want to do. Cigarettes are slavery in so many fucking ways its embarrassing. Maybe it’s a slavery we willing accept because we don’t mind it, but make no mistake you are letting them control you.
At the end of the day though we’ve all got bigger fish to fry. We all die a slow eventual death, it’s not like smokes speed up the process that much. Maybe they keep us sane at work or awake on long drives. Yeah they cost an arm and a leg but it’s a luxury good item. Some people buy Lotto tickets, some buy cigarettes. The process of even attempting to quit smoking is akin to climbing a mountain, and it’s a mountain you totally gotta be 100% invested into climbing. I’m trying to climb that mountain and while I’m not sure if I’ll ever make it to the top, or if there IS even a top, I do find the climb itself to be somewhat rewarding. When you’re fighting a battle you’re not sure if you can even win you have to learn to take comfort in the fight itself.