Addiction, Seven Years Later

I started smoking when I was sixteen for the same reason thousands of teenagers do: to look cool in front of my friends. The first pack I bought were Camels, unfiltered. Let me tell you, that pack lasted me longer than any pack I bought since. I’d only light up around my friends and only when they did. I’d take a couple puffs, mostly just holding it. I smoked the second pack a little faster and–well, you know how it goes.
I quit for a couple weeks when I was nineteen, but I was working at a restaurant at the time. While it was perfectly okay to ask for a smoke break, asking for a break earned you a quizzical expression followed by a resounding denial. I started smoking again out of self-defense.
Here’s how good of a smoker I was. If I was on my way to work, taking route A, I knew at what point of my commute I needed to light up to be able to smoke a whole cigarette. I knew this for every place that I went to on a regular basis for every route that I could possibly take.
I was on my way to work one day and reached that critical point, so I lit up. A series of revelations hit me. I didn’t actually want that cigarette. I was just doing it out of habit and knowledge of those critical points in my commute. I didn’t put the cigarette out right away. I thought about it and concluded that I didn’t want that cigarette or any other ever again. Smoking was just a habit and whatever reasons I had to start and keep going no longer existed. So I pitched the butt and resolved to quit.
Over the next couple of days, I continued to take smoke breaks. I’d go outside, light up, and stand there holding it. I concluded that I was serious about quitting and so gave my unopened packs to a friend.
Over the next couple weeks, all those receptors that had been created in my brain as a result of flooding it with nicotine for nine years went into withdrawal. Here’s my grocery store analogy. There’s a line of customers and only one cashier working. Naturally, other lines are opened up. Things flow again at a good pace. As long as there are customers, there will be cashiers for them. But then, the customers stop coming. Now there’s a store full of bored cashiers that are whining because they have nothing to do. The whining intensifies, turning to anger at their uselessness. Eventually, the manager reassigns them, which makes everyone a lot happier.
I went cold turkey, deciding that using the patch or the gum would just draw out a long, painful process. There were times during those first couple months that I couldn’t remember why I’d decided to quit. But I stuck to it, remembering being in the car, on my way to work, and realizing that I didn’t want to smoke, that it was only habit. I held onto that and it carried me through.
I thought that, eventually, the urge to smoke would fade into non-existence. But it hasn’t. I still want to smoke. Sometimes it’s because I’m stressed. Sometimes it’s because I smoked for so many of the years that form a person’s perception of themselves that it’s still a residual part of my self-image. Sometimes it’s just for no reason, a sudden craving like for Chinese food or a desire to watch a certain movie.
I suppose that’s what addiction is. A desire that always exists and a choice that always needs to be made.
I wrote a story, “Dahlia,” posted on this blog. The link is to your right. It’s a fantasized conversation between me and my muse. It’s mostly self-indulgent, heavy-handed tripe, but it does have one good bit of dialogue, which is why I leave it up.
He lit a cigarette, took a long drag, the tip burning angry. His voice was smoke, hanging blue in the air. “Does it matter?”
She bowed her head, hurt. Instead, she said, “I thought you quit.”
“Only in the real world.”


2 thoughts on “Addiction, Seven Years Later

  1. Loved the end of this!!! Well, you certainly have my nicotine addiction and the subsequent yearning to quit nailed. And thank you, now I want one. : / But you’re right, it’s an ever-present desire and a constant choice that needs to be made. Wow, I just pretty much said what you said there. It’s a damn fine point though, and an encouraging one at that: the power is in our choice.

  2. This is excellent! Most of my smoking was habit. Although, at a previous job where I had a windowless, basement office, smoking at least got me up and outside where I could see the sky and feel less like a troglodyte. Hardest thing about quitting was what to do in the spaces usually occupied by smoking.

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