Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Smoke got in my eyes

photo credit: Bildergrund Grace via photopin (license)

I was once a smoker. Not heavy, but it was enough of a habit to qualify as an addiction, though I know many will get up in arms over what an addiction truly is. For me, to wake up in the morning and want to have a smoke in the car on the way to school or work, maybe two, then one or two after, then one in the evening and before bed, would equate to at least a habit. And not only that, it was the emotional need that made it real.

It started in high school. My friend *Kacy pulled me into her father's camper in their front drive where we proceeded to pull cigarette butts out of an ashtray on a little card table. She told me she'd smoked many times before (her father was a heavy smoker) and that he'd never found out so it was okay. So we lit up. And it was nasty. But I was exciting. Later on I'm about seventeen, and on Saturday nights my friends and I like to go park outside the old elementary school in our small town. We start lighting up more and more because Kacy has access to these cigarettes, or maybe she buys them because she always got by with stuff like that, but it wasn't just about the smoking, it was about being together and talking and just being chill when the rest of the world was so not chill. I didn't actually inhale, for me it was casual and no commitment. Then one day I inhaled.

Kacy lent me a cigarette to take home, and one afternoon I locked myself up in the back bathroom with the exhaust fan on full cycle. My first intake ripped my chest apart, like sharks biting the tender flesh. I felt sick, and the fan did nothing. My mother, who came home later and detected the telltale odor straight off, was none too pleased. Amazingly, my sister took the heat for me, saying she'd been the one to light up inside the house. I guess to her it didn't matter--she and mother had been arguing for years about practically everything, so what was one little cigarette? Indebted and grateful, despite our years of fighting each other over stains on designer sweatshirts and leg space in our double bed, I thanked my her profusely, swearing I'd never get mad at her or smoke in the house again!

I smoked in cars. In bleachers at football games. At parks, lakes, and walks through town.

By eighteen, smoking had become not only a habit, but a comfort. Life was hard. Society was mean. The future was uncertain, but as long as I had a cigarette I could make it through. My friends and I would laugh about our coughing fits, we'd wave our hair out to get rid of the smell and spray on perfume to mask the funk. I took to wearing all black, to being an intellectual, an artist, a rebel, and smoking went along with all of that.

But then one day I noticed I wasn't breathing very well, and that the effect of having a stuffy nose and clogged lungs left me with panic attacks. Instead of being a comfort, I was left jittery and ill at ease. And sick. Sore throats, headaches, dry mouth, yuck. I was 23 and starting to think about what it would be like to feel healthy again, to breathe again. Those emotions, that mental and physical need, that loneliness, pulled at me, and yet another side pulled back: to be free and clean.

Inside a battle raged over whether I was succumbing to society's need to control us weirdos, us outsiders. If I quit, wouldn't I just turn into Basic Becky with a twinset and no edge? No drive?  What's life anyway if you don't live it a little dangerously? Despite all that, I decided to quit, if only to find out if the grass was truly greener.

And it was. The rift left by the absence of cigarettes created a desire to build up my health, which included buying new sneakers and exercise clothing. I went out to a track every day and walked for at least an hour. Something I didn't mention was that a boyfriend and I had broken up the night I discovered he was a manipulative cheater asshole. The truth was, I'd been addicted to him as well. Every night I craved his smell, his touch, his conversation. Alone in my car I imagined what it would be like to talk to him again, to kiss him, to know once again that there was someone in my life who loved me--even if it false love. But his cheating was unforgivable. During our last phone call I perceived a haughty boredom on his side, most likely caused by my utter and complete admittance that I needed him more than he needed me. After hanging up, I decided no man was ever going to make me feel that way again. I never did go back.

So, it's clear I was in a transformation. A cleansing. It was literally do or die, and I decided to do. To live. Once I made that decision: that I didn't need any him, or things, or opinions to rule me, I was free. And it was beautiful.

Freedom is beautiful.

I truly believe that each of us are put on this earth, not to succumb and conform and lose ourselves, but to find, to be, to search, and to live. Dammit, we're here to live. If a person wants to smoke, then smoke. It's calming. We need vices, and each of us should be able to do want we need in the time we need without judgement. And then if you want to quit smoking, then quit. Do it for yourself. I didn't use any patches or pills, I just decided to be healthy FOR ME.

What big decisions have you made in your life that took courage and created big change?

Thanks for stopping by!

*not her real name


  1. I am glad you quit, Amy. You want to live a long and healthy life for your children. I grew up with a dad who smoked 2 packs of Lucky Strikes a day. He started smoking at age 9 and quit when he turned 80. He coughed horribly every morning but lived to be 93. He was the exception. I have been to too many funerals where the cause of death was lung cancer or COPD. They were all smokers. Watching them die an excruciating death makes me fear so much for my youngest daughter who continues to lite up. She never does it around us, but the smell of her breath, clothes and hair tell the tale.

    Every decision we make has an effect, even the smallest of them.

    1. I hope your daughter will be able to quit one day soon. I know you must worry about it a lot, especially after seeing what your father went through. Sending you both good health. xx

  2. I started smoking at about 10 years old, and continued for another 50 years. Here in France I always smoked un-tipped Gauloises (very strong). One morning I said to myself that I would never buy another packet; and I haven't. I had no problem at all stopping.

    1. It's interesting how when one makes up their mind they can do pretty much anything. Good for you, Cro!

  3. She never does it around us, but the smell of her breath, clothes and hair tell the tale.



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