This was the 1st story I told in my storytelling class. I thought maybe I would tell this story the night of our performance but it's terribly long & could probably be broken down into several stories. I read somewhere that David Sedaris said he sat down to write about his relationship with smoking and he ended up with around 10 different stories. I don't know if I could write 10 stories but here's the start of one...
Everyone has a vice. Every single person has something that controls them just a fraction more than you control it. For some people it's lying, drinking, biting one's nails, working out (I consider it a vice), gambling, collecting things to the point of hoarding. Mine is smoking.
I have a love/hate relationship with cigarettes. I've been surrounded/exposed to them all my life, even in utero. Yep, my mother smoked while she was pregnant with me. I have photos to prove it. Honestly, I don't know if people back in the 70s knew just how horrible smoking was to your health. Just by looking at the way everyone dressed, we can pretty much agree their decisions weren't always the best. I do partly blame my shortness on her smoking during pregnancy - way to stunt the growth of your only child, Mom. I still love you. Both of them are now ex-smokers, my Mom having the easier & less stressful time of quitting then my father. She quit when I was a toddler using acupuncture while my father had a pretty nasty battle quitting. I think I was around 7 or 8 when he finally quit for good. I remember during that time the house and cars were always littered with bottles & bottles of seltzer in all sorts of flavors. To this day, I think this why I've never liked seltzer because I associate it with my Dad's smoking.
Not until a decade later in high school did I have my 1st personal experience with smoking. I was 15 & had a part time job at a local stationary store. We sold cigarettes & one day I decided to 'take' a pack (yeah, I stole them - I couldn't obviously buy them). A pack of Marlboro Reds were all mine. To all you non-smokers out there, Marlboro Reds are not the "easy, yeah I'm gonna smoke for the 1st time" kind of cigarette. What the hell did I know? A combination of peer-pressure, curosity & rebellion in me made the choice. I had to go with the Marlboro Man. I did always have a little thing for cowboys. Waiting until my parents were both out of the house, I made my way towards the kitchen which led out to our deck. It was mid to late February or exceptionally cold & snowy for March because I remember I didn't want to go all the way outside (and also feared being seen by noisy neighbors). I remember thinking 2 things as I opened the pack of cigarettes: the first was "wow, there's a lot of packaging that goes into these things" and the second was "I'm not quite sure I know what I'm doing or how to do it." So as I stood halfway in & out of the house, I lit my 1st cigarette & took my first drag (not that I knew what I was doing). It wasn't so bad - I didn't cough my brains out or drop dead from a blood clot. I thought, this is pretty good. Honestly, I don't think I enhaled at all, because a few drags later I finally felt this sensation in my chest that felt like I had just swallowed the lit cigarette whole. My chest ached & burned and I started coughing. I probably looked like the choking victim in those "How To" posters in schools & restaurants. Needless to say I didn't finish my 1st cigarette but that burning & coughing didn't deter me from trying it again.
I smoked in High School & college although my smoking at this point was more a casual & social thing. My smoking didn't effect my ability to compete in swim meets or play soccer. In my mind, smoking wasn't really changing me, especially not my health, at least not that I could see.
I have gradually become a more frequent smoker. I hate to say it, but yes I am in fact an addict. (This is why I prefer calling it a 'vice') For me, it does wonders for stressful times, although that's not a valid excuse. It's just an excuse.
A little over 10 years ago, my Dad came down with a pretty bad case of Bronchopneumonia. While respiratory issues tend to run in my dad's family (when I was younger I was always guaranteed to get strep throat twice a year & at times bronchitis) this specific instance changed my dad's health permanently. He now has severe asthma & always has to use inhalers and other breathing devices & constantly is taking an array of other medications. He has this constant cough, that makes him sound like he's choking, but it's because his lungs are so compromised that they're not getting in enough oxygen. He pretty much is internally drowning. He gets winded from just walking & the cold weather just makes it worse. He's had to go to the ER several times just get his O2 levels up. I'm pretty sure if he doesn't die from the stress of working for a major TV network for 40 years, he'll die because of this.
I know his health issues weren't solely caused from his smoking (allergies also run in the family and his are pretty moderate) but I'm not ignorant to realize that smoking hasn't contributed & greatly impacted the severity of them. You'd think that it would make me go through my apartment & immediately get rid anything relating to smoking. You'd think I'd be completely against smoking and had given it up years ago or possibly not even want to start ever. You'd think.
Quitting something is no easy task - especially when it's something you enjoy. I've tried several times, with patches, gum, medication. Most attempts were careless, weak and didn't really get me past a week smoke-free but my most recent attempt had been successful - 4 months I went without smoking. And I did miss it at times, but I had been successful in quitting for more than a week's time. I got my sense of smell back which I didn't know had really gone away to begin with. There were no more standing out in the cold in mid-December or running to the store late at night to get a pack and honestly I didn't miss that. I had survived not smoking for 4 months. But my well-known friend called stress slowly crept back into my life & I buckled. Just like a typical addict.
There isn't just 1 way to describe how smoking makes me feel anymore. I love it one minute and can hate it the next. It's become so second nature and you have no idea how much that bothers me. It bothers me that something so small & disposable can have such control over me at times. Lately I've been trying to tell myself how stupid that last sentence sounds and it shocks me how unfortunately real it is too. I've been doing better at cutting down (save for the occasional night out or a more recent stressful couple of weeks) and I know that's not as good as quitting... but who ever liked a quitter?