Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Confessions of a Nicotine Junkie

It’s March 4th, 1997, I’m seventeen years old.  

 

My twelve year old beagle wasn’t looking too good when I woke up this morning.  She seemed to have trouble breathing, and couldn’t lie down properly. I don’t think she slept much.  I convince my mother to let me stay home from school.  She obliges and we decide if the dog isn’t doing better in the afternoon we’ll take her to the vet.

 

Three hours later my dog was dead.

 

Lying in my arms while I sat on the kitchen floor, her last gasp of air as she looked up at me helplessly. The last faint flicker of life left her eyes as they closed for the final time.

 

I’m a wreck. I’ve had to deal with death before, but this one hit me pretty hard.  I couldn’t stop shaking.  

 

I sat in my room, playing Nintendo 64, blasting Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” album.  I’m trying to occupy my mind with something other than the last helpless glare of a friend I’ve known since I was five years old.

 

My Mom knocks and then opens my door. She can see I’m not doing any better.  She reaches into her pocket, pulls out a pack of Marlboro Light 100’s and says “this will calm you down”.

 

I reach out and grab one.  I flick a lighter and take a puff.

 

I feel the hot tar filled air scratch down my throat. It takes every ounce of concentration not to cough it up.  I take another drag. This one easier.  I feel my hands tingle and my heart race.  

 

My Mom was right.  

 

With all my attention spent trying to inhale without coughing, my mind wasn’t focused on anything else.

 

I feel relaxed.  I feel calm.

 

While the gut wrenching feeling of loss left after several weeks, my need for cigarttes didn't.

 

Thanks a lot Mom.

 

It’s December 18th 2009. I’m thirty years old. 

 

After a marathon session of Modern Warfare 2, I cough incessantly.  My chest feels like someone’s sitting on it and my room reeks not only of defeat from the thorough ass whipping I just received, but of stale cigarette butts.

 

The ashtray on my desk overflows.

 

I reach for my pack – one cigarette left.

 

I think back to my first quit attempt.  December 2004. My Father was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer.  I’d like to say that was the catalyst for my cessation attempt – sadly it wasn’t.  I was unemployed and cigarettes were $5 per pack.  I was smoking three packs a day.  I couldn’t afford a $15 a day habit.  I decide to quit.

 

I gained thirty pounds in two months.  Seriously, two months.  Thirty pounds. I would wake up in the middle of the night and bake cookies.  I would buy huge bags of skittles and eat them in one sitting.  

 

Ya see, nicotine triggers the “flight or fight” response in your system.  Not only does your pulse increase but through the “liberation of nutrients” your body burns fat, and release sugar reserves to aid your muscles. 

 

This is why when you quit, you crave sugar.  

 

This is why anytime I’ve started smoking again, I lose weight. 

 

This is why I could go an entire day at work without eating and not think twice about it.  

 

This is why when I quit I can’t get to work until I shove a large coffee with tons of sugar and a donut in my face.

 

This is why whenever I really want to lose weight I think about smoking again, until I realize that cancer burns a lot of calories too, as do tumors, emphysema etc…

 

So back to this pack with one cigarette left; it’s a showdown – a Mexican standoff.  Akin to any spaghetti western or the end of a Tarantino movie.

 

I think to myself “I hope you’re the last one”.

 

I’ve said that too many times.

 

I grab my lighter, sit back on my couch and light her up.

 

After you quit, you go through a few weeks of self empowerment.  You’ve overcome. You’ve won.

 

Then you realize that it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be and decide that it’s okay to just have one.

 

The problem is I can’t stop at one.  Sure I can that one time.  But a few days later I convince myself that I just had one a few days ago, why not another one now?

 

I’m halfway done with my final cigarette.  I think about all the times I’ll get off a plane and not rush toward the exit to grab a smoke.  I think of all the people and friends I’ve met due to our mutual feeling of being ostracized by smoking in the corner outside.  I think of all the times smoking has helped me figure out a complex problem. As with any break up, I think of only the positive.

 

They have a name for this type of behavior and it’s not addiction:  it’s being a junkie.

 

That realization – that I was no better than a junkie scoring H on the street is what finally kept me from going back.

 

It’s been eighteen months.  Not a morning goes by that I don’t sip my coffee and think how awesome it would be to sit outside and enjoy a smoke.

 

Not a summer night goes by where I don’t think about smoking a cigarette while enjoying an ice cold beer on my patio. 

 

I often think to myself that I’m extremely lucky that I never tried anything more dangerous.  I’ve often responded with “I have a hard time saying no to anything that feels good” when someone would ask me why I smoked.  After thirteen years, smoking stopped feeling good.  Thankfully I was allowed thirteen years to come to that realization and not cut short sooner from something more deadly than nicotine.

 

While I’m probably ten pounds heavier than I was before I quit, I can walk a flight of stairs without gasping for breath, and I can truly enjoy a meal by really knowing what it tastes like and not quickly finishing so I could get to my post-meal smoke.

 

I take the final puff and I don’t think of all the money I’ll save or the extra life I’ll live by never taking another drag.

 

I think back to my dog, a friend I had for over twelve years and how she left me.  I think of my addiction to nicotine which I had for over thirteen years.

 

My dog’s been dead for over fourteen years.

 

I quit smoking eighteen months ago.

 

I miss them both.

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