“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” Mark Twain
I am on round 2 of trying out the e-cigarette. It’s been weeks drawing off of this strange, electronic mock cigarette you have to bother to recharge and rejuice, but this time it is working. I am 100% sure I will never go back to cigarettes. Okay, maybe 99% sure would be more realistic. I also don’t plan on vaping forever. It’s just too ridiculous. (But then so is smoking I guess.)
I am going from a one cigarette/day habit to an occasional session on this e-cigarette with a very mild amount of nicotine in its juice of only 3 mg. Whatever that means. But I’ve heard it can be in the 20’s so that’s how I know it’s mild.
I want to share some memories of years past, from my long career as a smoker. Because quitting can be a serious bummer! Not just because of the dependence on the nicotine coursing through the veins, or sensation of drawing the smoke into your lungs or familiarity of the habit itself. I myself in some ways see it as a long-lasting relationship with a friend. A friend that made my lungs super tight and my breath pretty bad, but who has also seen me through some of the most devastating, dull and loneliest times in my life.
Smoking While Young
The first time I began to smoke I was 14 years old. It was the summer before I started high school when I started to convince a chubby little friend of mine to steal cigarettes off of his grandma who he lived with. We passed a lot of those dusty summer days just loitering on the streets. So I guess plain old boredom compelled us to start.
With high school drugs and drinking entered the scene as well. The best companions to smoking. My friends and I would roam around like greedy little Oliver Twists, bumming a cigarette off of every opportunity we sniffed out. I remember a man tossing a group of us an entire pack of cigarettes, like a bone to a pack of eager dogs. We praised this great benefactor and dispersed the pack merrily between us. This was in the food court in the mall, back in the days when you could still smoke in there.
My father was a heavy smoker. He rolled his own and there was a white plastic container in his office that held all of the cigarette tubes and a little hand-injector gadget you used to push the loose tobacco in with. I remember anxious moments not just stealing, but having to make my own before I got to steal it. With this stuff sitting around in bulk amounts, it wasn’t nearly as obvious had I been removing them singly from a pack. At some point I started getting my own packs, before my parents even knew that I smoked. One day I stood in the doorway to my father’s office to tell him I was going out. He glanced at my pocket where the obvious bulge of a pack was showing. “What’s that?” he asked me. “My wallet” was my quick response. But he knew what it was. And I knew he knew.
Smoking While Depressed
I quit smoking for quite some time during my first severe depressive episode. Because I was simply too depressed to even be interested in doing that. I was eventually landed in the hospital. I’d been in there for some time before a young woman was admitted for what turned out to be a shorter stay. She dressed well and was in her last year of law school. She wore nice jewellery and easily gave it away to other patients who expressed admiration at it. She liked to go down to the gift shop and buy things. I passed her room once to see her in a gown, heavily sedated. One sunny fall day when I had been granted some sort of pass, she talked me into going outside with her for a smoke. I timidly followed. The sky was blue, air fresh, and I watched the sun halo her head as she handed me a D’Maurier and said with a note of humour “and this is what we call the outdoors.”
When I was well enough to be released, my dad came to pick me up. I got in the car and closed the door. He silently handed me a cigarette. And we drove away from that terrible experience.
Smoking cigarettes was my first human act as I re-entered the land of the living. I didn’t even attempt to quit for years after.
During later depressions, while passing the time in those dreary, static, painful and endless days, the only activity enticing me out of bed was to go outside for a smoke.
Smoking While Pregnant
While pregnant with my daughter I would develop a case of such uncomfortable constipation I would never have believed it possible before. Life could not go on until I pooped, and a cigarette did the job very well. I would sneak onto the back deck of my parent’s house to guiltily partake. I would push the vision of my fetus entrapped in a chamber full of carcinogens out of my mind and focus on the relief this would bring. Sometimes my mother came out and stood there, arms crossed, eyes narrowed disapprovingly, like I was self-aborting right there in front of her. But the cigarettes worked more efficiently than the other ways I tried to solve this most desperate condition.
…and Still Smoking While Mothering
When my daughter was a brand new infant, cigarettes sustained me in the brief pockets of time I could escape her needs. It would seem that every time I went to seek some kind of nourishment to put into my own body, her hungry screams would break out directing my attention to bottle prep and feeding her. Smoking was faster, and became my little moments of self-indulgent reprieve. Standing on the porch but still cracking the door open every few seconds to have a listen for her cries. Because those days the crying never stopped echoing around my brain.
I would find myself in a very similar position, about 9 years later, my daughter finally asleep in her bed and me sneaking out of the apartment to have my much deserved puff. Still in a somewhat vigilant state, listening for the sound of a door opening and an accusatory little voice asking, “Mom? What are you doing?!” Because my reason above all reasons for being done with this unhealthy habit is for her.
The rest of it is instances in time, with different people in time, some times while being social and sometimes completely alone, feeling a range of all human emotions; anxious, stressed, terrified, broken hearted, lonely, hopeless, or whatever I was feeling, but often with that old reliable cigarette between my fingers. I do know that all of this would be very hard to identify with if you have never been a smoker. Consider yourself one of the lucky ones. But also consider maybe not being so critical of those who do.
My dad, with his recently diagnosed lung disease, and I sit at my parent’s dining room table puffing away on our e-cigarettes. We inhale and then exhale the ‘smoke’ through our nostrils and inhale and then exhale plumes through our mouths and then suck it back up through our nostrils. We work on perfecting our O’s. I puff quickly on mine until my whole head is obscured by a cloud of Pearberry Citrus. These could’ve saved so many lives, he reflects.