Monday, March 15, 2010

Three Years and Counting

Three years ago today, I smoked my last cigarette.

I don't know how old I was when I smoked a cigarette for the first time. I have a vague memory of being with a bunch of my buddies in an empty lot on a warm afternoon. Someone had a pack of cigarettes — Marlboros, I think — which was passed around for everyone to take one. Then a book of matches was passed around and everyone lit his cigarette.

To borrow an infamous phrase from Bill Clinton, I don't think I inhaled on that occasion. That was a talent I learned at another time. That day, I merely sucked the smoke into my mouth, then let it escape without drawing it into my lungs.

I started smoking (and inhaling) on a regular basis when I was a teenager, which, as I have come to realize, is not uncommon. Anyway, I continued smoking — and the volume of my consumption increased — for years until, for reasons I would rather not discuss here, I gave up cigarettes on this day in 2007.

It was unfortunate, to say the least, that I found myself out of a job 1½ years later. I am still unemployed so half the time that I have been smoke–free has also been the most challenging and most difficult time of my life.

To misquote a line from "Airplane!" I picked the wrong year to give up smoking.

In many ways, I guess, it has been good that I have not been smoking. When I started smoking, a pack of cigarettes cost about 50 cents. According to signs I have seen recently at convenience stores, a pack of cigarettes easily costs 10 times that today — so, clearly, it's been to my benefit economically not to smoke.

People also tell me it has been beneficial to my health, and I guess it has. My physical health, anyway. I must admit that there are times when I haven't been as sure about my psychological health. I often miss the calming influence that smoking had on me, but I remind myself that that was the nicotine — and tobacco companies manipulated the nicotine over the years to make sure people like me got hooked and stayed hooked.

There are definitely times, though, when I wonder if giving it up was worth it.

Anyway, if you're a smoker who's been trying to give it up and you're reading this, let me assure you that I know what you're up against. I've written a lot about it.

And the best thing I can do — besides wish you success — is tell you to hang in there. You may feel like you're hanging by your fingernails from the edge of a long, steep cliff. And you may not feel like you can hang in there much longer. But remind yourself of the money you're saving. And congratulate yourself for not putting your money in the pockets of the tobacco companies. They've already made their fortunes on the lives of hundreds of thousands of others.

Then, if you're married, think about the gift of cleaner air that you're giving your spouse. If you have children, think about the gift of cleaner air that you're giving them.

Think about anything that motivates you. Use little tricks to help you stay on course. You can find lots of tips on smoking cessation at all sorts of web sites. Find a good support group.

Be prepared for anything. Most people who try to give up smoking aren't successful the first time. Some have to make several attempts before they finally make it. And nicotine, I learned, is crafty. It finds out how you're vulnerable and it attacks that weak point.

In my case, it was when I went to sleep at night. It invaded my dreams to the extent that I would wake up convinced that my smokeless streak had been broken. Then I would waste a lot of time searching my apartment for evidence that I had given in to temptation — but, of course, there was no evidence.

I still have those dreams from time to time, but they aren't as frequent nor are they as vivid as they were — so I guess I'm winning this battle.

I still refuse to regard myself as an "ex–smoker," even though my friends tell me I have earned the right to think of myself in that way.

But, as I have often written, I think of myself as a "recovering smoker," in much the same way that AA members think of themselves as recovering alcoholics.

I have never met an AA member who believed he/she had won the battle with alcohol. AA members will tell you that they are powerless over alcohol; therefore, they are always vigilant. The battle is not over for them because they know that alcohol will seize control at the first opportunity.

It is with that kind of reverence that I regard nicotine. At this point, I cannot imagine a circumstance in which I would be convinced that the battle was over and I had won. I've had the upper hand for nearly 1,100 days. That is good, but it could all be wiped out if I let down my guard.

Recovering, not triumphant, works for me. What works for you?

No comments: