5 Years

Five years ago today, I quit smoking.

Well, to be honest, it was the second time I’d quit. Or the 187th, depending on your point of view.

The first time I quit, it lasted four years. I blame my sister - she started sneaking cigarettes when she was out and the smell of smoke on her clothes when she came home was more than I could handle. I know she's rolling her eyes right now, suggesting that perhaps I take responsibility for my own failings and I'm just kidding - my mother and I both tease her a lot about all the years way she nagged us to stop smoking and when we finally did, she started. With my present understanding of how deep my addiction is, I'm sure that I would have cracked eventually, but I cracked when I did because around the time my sister started smoking, someone broke my heart. I’d tried drinking, but feared barfing too much to really get into it and when the wretched feeling needed to drown itself in something, the scent of cigarette smoke did it. For a while, I just had a puff of one of her cigarettes, then I progressed to bumming one. Or two. And then ended up buying my own pack. “Just until I felt better”, y’unnerstand...

The second time I quit (many years later) was a very long process. All smokers know that smoking is bad for you – there’s this great quote in a book called Only Forward where our protagonist is told in that very sanctimonious way non-smokers have that smoking is bad for him and he goes off on a nice little rant. I’m paraphrasing because it's been a long time since I read it, but I believe it goes something like this: "it’s as if non-smokers believe that smokers only smoke because they don't know that it's bad for you and if they tell you, you will say, completely astonished, 'oh my God! Thank you so much for telling me! I'll stop right now' and never pick up another cigarette again". Brilliant, just brilliant. I’d been thinking about quitting for a very long time and even quit several times - lasting 14 hours, 19 hours, 21 hours, but always, I broke down. For months, I quit every night, only to start smoking again in the morning and while I repeated this agonizing process day in and day out, I did a lot of thinking about why I smoked, believing that there had to be something more to it then simply liking it (which I did. Very much). In the end, I did figure it out and then I quit. Cold turkey, using only willpower, quite possibly because I was phenomenally stupid/stubborn, refusing to use any cessation aids – if I’d done it before by willpower, then dammit, that’s how I’d do it again! (yes, I like doing things the hard way – why do you ask?)

The thing that helped me most as I made it through first the physical withdrawal and then the emotional one was something Ken said. He'd been struggling with the demon weed, as well, and once said something about dealing with the craving to smoke by telling himself that it was the addiction that wanted a cigarette, not him. Learning that the overwhelming, frightening, all-encompassing need that feels like your body and soul will break into a thousand pieces unless you smoke right now is not what you want. That what you want is buried deep underneath the mountain of need and if you can remember this, hold on to the knowledge that this is not you who’s speaking, it is the addiction roaring, screaming, blaring it through a bullhorn, making it hard to focus and listen to the new silent whisper underneath saying "you don't want to smoke anymore". This round of quitting was the first time I really understood why addicts go to meetings - I can't remember how many times I wished there was a Smokers Anonymous in my neighbourhood.

But quit I did and so far, have stayed quit. I regularly get all cocky and confident in my non-smoker status, forgetting about cigarettes, tobacco, the joy of making smoke rings and passing my quitting anniversary without realizing it and then something will remind me that it is still there. Every now and again, The Demon, as I call it, pops up again, whispering seductively. The last visit was a couple months ago, when I picked up a pack of cigarettes for a friend and opened it, just because I wanted to see what it felt like (in retrospect, this was clearly the demon working its evil ways). Taking off the cellophane, crinkling it in my hand, then pushing open the pack and letting loose that first whiff of tobacco felt so familiar. Then I took off the golden foil on the right side of the pack and lifted the neat row of dusky orange filters towards my nose, inhaling deeply, awakening something deep within, inhaling, then exhaling with a satisfaction I haven't felt in years. And then I gave it to my friend and actually backed up in a very much 'get Thee behind me, Satan' moment. So it's still there and I suspect that it will never be gone completely, that I will have to be careful for the rest of my life.

But so far, five years. It's a personal best.