I started smoking cigarettes when I was eighteen. I didn’t smoke in high school because I was in athletics and I didn’t know anyone my age who smoked. I was sheltered in a good way.
After high school I wasn’t in sports anymore. Now I worked at a place where everyone my age smoked – and not just cigarettes. But the bad habit I’ll focus on here is cigarettes. I loved smoking cigarettes. I felt high every time I lit up my morning cigarette. I loved the taste, I loved the smoke, I loved the gestures, mannerisms, and rituals about smoking. I’d study how everyone else smoked, figure out who looked the coolest, and copy him. I even loved blowing smoke rings.
Smoking got me in with the cool people at work, as a sort of camouflage for what I was – an insecure naïve young man who didn’t want to be as nice as he was. I smoked from the time I was eighteen until I was forty-two. I finally stopped partly for health reasons, partly because I wanted to set a better example for my children, and partly to make a sacrifice to God for Lent. I was a serious Catholic when I stopped smoking cigarettes on Ash Wednesday in 1998.
I haven’t smoked a cigarette since. Maybe God had something to do with the length of my quit – fourteen years! Certainly my wife didn’t help. She kept smoking. Once she left a lit cigarette in the car ashtray and went inside the gas station leaving me alone in the car with her burning cigarette. I didn’t smoke it, but I think she wanted me too. She missed her smoking buddy. In time our oldest son took my place in the nicotine brigade.
But my smoking career was not over. Around 2003 I flew out to the coast to meet with my editor about a manuscript of mine he had interested a publisher in. The night I got into town I sat with my friend the editor on his front porch. He gave me a cigar and I lit it and smoked with him. I liked it. Smoking cigars was a statement for me – it was an act of triumph and accomplishment.
I couldn’t believe someone was finally publishing my manuscript. I was happy, proud, and grateful. I came back home and started occasionally smoking a cigar on the weekends. It was wonderful. I was able to go the whole work week without smoking. After work on Friday I’d buy some cigars and smoke them until Sunday night, then stop again for the work week. I maintained this routine for many months.
Eventually though I started smoking in the week, then I started smoking every day. I fought it, and went back to just smoking on weekends for a while, but it was a losing battle. I tried to quit on Ash Wednesday, but couldn’t. I prayed to God and his saints to be able to quit, but I kept smoking cigars, about three a day.
Funny thing is I also started working out. The more I worked out the more I wanted to reward myself by having a big ole cigar after my workout. I smoked cigars – and inhaled them too, buddy – for eight years. On January 2, 2011, I quit smoking cigars.
I know I can’t move to smoking a pipe, or chewing tobacco, because I’ll just get addicted to it and do it daily. So I’m smoke free again. I can laugh without coughing. I don’t sound short of breath on the phone. I don’t gasp for breath when I’m talking. Food tastes better. I look better. I’m more focused on what’s actually happening around me. I can be near someone and not wonder if I reek of smoke. My teeth aren’t brown anymore. I don’t have burn holes in my clothes, or on my furniture or inside my car. Best of all, my children are proud of me. I know you are supposed to quit for yourself, but I quit for them.
So I’m off cigarettes and cigars. I’m proud of quitting cigars, but I’ll never turn into a nicotine nazi. I don’t begrudge smokers their smokes. God bless ‘em, I remember what it was like feeling like an outcast. I don’t want the smokers I know to feel that way.
Quitting cigars did not have a religious angle like quitting cigarettes did. It seems I was able to quit cigars without a lot of pleading to heaven. In fact I left heaven out of it, and was able to quit anyway without appealing to the saints or praying novenas. I didn’t quit for God this time. I quit for my kids, and yes, for myself: I want to stick around to see some grandkids and I don’t want them to remember me as stinky ole Grandpa who couldn’t play with them without hacking up a lung on the living room carpet.
I’m not happy every day I do not smoke. Quitting smoking put me in touch with my feelings again, and that hasn’t always been comfortable, especially after a vicious divorce. But it is better to live life completely and know what I feel and why, than to shroud it in a cloud of smoke and a rush of nicotine. After five long years of nastiness and loss quitting smoking is even more of an accomplishment for me because I am once more saying yes to life.
I feel humble because I know how hard quitting smoking is, and I’m happy I was able to do it. I really don’t want to start up again, and I know one puff is all it would take. Today I choose not to smoke. Like Steve Winwood sang, “I’m back in the high life again.”
A website that continues to offer me tons of support for staying quit is: http://www.quitsmokingmessageboard.com/