Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cigarette addiction

First up, a trigger warning: I'm going to talk about cigarette addiction, which obviously touches on any form of addiction, such as alcohol, heroin, etc. If that's something that is going to be an issue for you, please, scroll down to where I stop talking about it, or go read something else.

When I was 15, I had my first cigarette. I had it in a silly, deliberate and conscious act of rebellion against my mother. It was silly and stupid because frankly, I wasn't going to get in trouble by telling her I had started smoking. And of course, I knew the risks. We were taught all about the risks of smoking in school, complete with pictures of black lungs and the question "If your lungs were on the outside and you could see this, would you really want to smoke?" (which is a stupid argument, because the lungs aren't on the outside, so why the fuck should it matter what I would do if they were on the outside and pricking my vanity?). Now, in my case, it took a full year before I felt like I was an addict, like I really would have a hard time quitting if I tried. This is likely because I wasn't doing a whole lot of smoking at that time. Sometimes I only had smoke a day, other times I couldn't even get a smoke. This wasn't deliberate, it had a lot to do with a lack of funds. Regardless, a year before I was addicted.

At one point, a few years later, I actually did quit. When I was smoking, there were times when I completely enjoyed it, and other times when I didn't enjoy it, and the only reason I was smoking is because of the addiction. During one of those periods when I wasn't enjoying it, I quit, cold turkey. A month after, I tried a smoke again, to test how well it was going, and threw out the cigarette and the pack. It tasted nasty. And I actually did feel better, physically. But at a street dance six months after I quit, I was offered a smoke by someone I was hanging out with, and since it was a social event, I was with a girl I found attractive, and I was in a good mood, I accepted. I wound up enjoying it, and bumming another. Eventually, I bought a pack for myself. I smoked until I was thirty after that, with the occasional attempt to quit which never lasted more than a few days.

When I smoked, I usually enjoyed it. I enjoyed the taste, and the smell. I enjoyed the feel of the cigarette between my lips. The repetitive movement of bringing the cigarette to my mouth, inhaling, lowering the cigarette, and blowing out the smoke was soothing, relaxing. I enjoyed how the taste interacted with the aftertaste of food and toothpaste. I enjoyed how easy it was to break the ice with someone new, simply by asking for a light (assuming you'd seen them smoking, anyway). It gave me a good way to escape from a crowd for at least a few minutes, meaning that I could survive longer at parties and gatherings. Do you get what I'm saying? I enjoyed smoking, in it's entirety. 

Yes, I did have those times when I wasn't as into it, and when I was thirty, I once again used that to help me quit. I was in a period of a few weeks where I wasn't enjoying it as much, I knew that my fiance (now wife) wanted me to quit (though she never pressured me), and I figured I'd try to quit again. I knew myself though, and knew that I would require some help to do so. I made a deal with Michelle (fiance) that if she bought me the patch, I would make an effort to quit. She agreed immediately. Now, I did this not so I could try and blame her if I failed, or some stupid thing like that. I did it to trick myself. I knew that if I simply bought the patch myself, I'd be likely to smoke again when I started wanting the part of smoking that wasn't just nicotine. On the other hand, if Michelle bought the patch for me, I would feel an obligation to her. That obligation would cause me to put forth more of an effort to resisting the urge to smoke, to resist the pleasure I knew I could get. It worked. I quit, and haven't smoked in four years.

But, damn, do I want to. Four years later, I want to smoke. I want to a lot. I miss it. I miss the pleasure, the soothing sensations, the everything. There are days when I don't think about smoking at all, and then there are days when I feel that urge. That urge to go three blocks west, to the nearest SuperAmerica convenience store, and buy a pack of cigarettes. That urge to smack the top of the pack repeatedly against either my hand or a hard surface, packing the tobacco tighter into the individual cigarettes. That urge to open the pack, flip one cigarette over and put it back in upside down as my "lucky" cigarette. That urge to take another one, light it up, and inhale. There's a tension in my chest right now, from typing this, and examining that urge so closely. It's a tension that is, in a sense, reaching for that sensation of smoke being drawn into my lungs. My body wants it, and as I am my body, I want it. Bad.

Sometimes, this can be triggered by specific events. A month or two ago I took clients to a Special Olympics bowling tournament. There were so many people, in a space that was too small for all of them, and so much noise, and I really needed to be away from it all, but couldn't leave. I stepped outside for a few minutes, and there was one of the bowling alley staff smoking. Holy crap, that was one of the strongest temptations I had felt in a long time! I wanted so bad to ask her if I could bum a smoke from her. Almost did. Ever since, the temptation, the urge, seems to be more frequent, and stronger.

So, it's a struggle, and more so lately. I don't really know from personal experience how this compares to alcoholism, or heroin addiction, or other drug addictions. I can only base any comparison to those things on what others have said, or what I've read. My experience with cigarette addiction certainly sounds similar to other forms of addiction. I've heard that nicotine addiction is one of the strongest there is, but I don't know if that's true. I don't know that it's not true. Frankly, I would guess that even if true, other addictions are bad enough that I wouldn't care to try pressing the point at all.

In general, the worst times are when there's some other stress going on, like at the bowling tournament. Those aren't the only times, but they're probably the worst. Although, the other night I was standing in line at the convenience store, and someone in front of me bought a pack of cigarettes. Suddenly, I was so tempted to buy one myself. When I reached the counter, I could almost feel the words forming on my lips to ask for a pack. That was a moment of strong temptation, but I don't remember any particular stress, so I guess bad moments can happen even without stress. I didn't give in.

At this point in time, I think the only reason I haven't yet given in to temptation is because of how disappointed my wife would be. If she were no longer with me, I don't think I could resist the temptation.

A friend of mine once told me that she'd asked her grandfather once when he stopped craving cigarettes, how long it took. He replied, "I'll let you know when that happens."

That sounds about right.

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