Thursday, September 4, 2014

Last Cigarette - Celebrating Ten Years Smoke Free!

"Yea I know its killing me
Yea I know its killing me
Yea I know I know I know I know I know I know I need a
Last cigarette, last cigarette, last cigarette, one before I go to bed..."

 - Dramarama, "Last Cigarette"

Last Cigarette by Dramarama on Grooveshark

At my worst, in my junior year of college, I was on a two pack a day habit.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  20 cigarettes in a pack means 40 cigarettes a day.  To maintain that level of smoking, I had to pretty much constantly have a cigarette going. And I pretty much did.

My smokes were always within arm's reach of the bed when I went to sleep at night – you know, for those wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night cravings – so the morning routine involved having my first smoke of the day lit and half gone before I even got out of bed.   If it was a weekday, there were the before and after class clutches of smokers to join in with.  I smoked while I walked between classes.  I smoked before and after meals in the dining hall.  I smoked while playing pool in the commons building.  I smoked while I studied back in the dorm room.  If it was a weekend, well, there were parties all over campus, and you couldn't have a drink without a smoke.  Hell, I even mastered the art of smoking in the shower.

Back then, though, most people I knew smoked.  I knew more people who smoked than people who didn't.  It was something we just did.  It was relaxing, stress-reducing.  It was a social activity.  It looked cool and chicks dug it, or so we told ourselves.  Hey, what better way to break the ice with a cute co-ed than to ask if she had an extra smoke – or better yet, to come to her rescue with an extra of your own if she was smokeless and nic-fitting. 

We coughed up black stuff, we hacked and wheezed, we smelled like chimneys, our clothes were permeated with the stench of stale tobacco, our fingers were yellowed with nicotine stains.  And yet we smoked, smoked, smoked and smoked some more.

I had smoked on and off pretty regularly since I’d guess about age 13 (confession: as a third or fourth grader I had experimented a little bit thanks to neighborhood friends’ older brothers and sisters letting smoke some of their cigarettes – usually as part of the pact made with the younger siblings in exchange for their silence around their parents), but it was in college where I became a true smoker.  Never mind my terrible sinuses or semi-annual bouts of bronchitis – smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!

One year, a particularly bad bout of bronchitis brought my smoking to a temporary halt.  I physically could not breath in regular air without launching into an extended coughing fit, much less inhale a lungful of tobacco smoke.  After about a week, I was at my wit's end, decided I was feeling well enough, and broke down and had a smoke.  And another.  And then another.  As coincidence would have it, the bronchitis had run its course, and within a day or two I was feeling much more like myself again.  When I recounted for anyone who would listen that finally smoking was surely what had cured me, my roommate simply shook his head and said, “Bryan, you have no friend in the Surgeon General.”

After college I wound up spending a few years in the restaurant industry – again finding myself among a group of people who smoked.  Heavily.  By now I was down to a more manageable half a pack a day, but still I smoked.  My girlfriend at the time and I lived in a tiny two-room apartment, and we both smoked - she probably more than I, although with a drink or two in me I could still run through a pack or more in an evening if the mood was right.  We’d tell each other that we really should quit; we’d make pacts to quit together, but we never did quit.

Now, fast forward a few years.  That girlfriend and I had split up; I was out of the restaurant biz and doing very well in my marketing career.  Well enough, in fact, that I was ready to move out of that cramped apartment and buy my first house.  As my friends and I were moving things out of the apartment,  I saw a sight I will never forget.  We pulled the sofa away from the wall, and there was a nearly perfect outline of the sofa on that wall – clean wall where the sofa had been, soot- and smoke-stained wall where it had not.  I vowed at that moment that I would not treat my new house that way.  I made a rule for myself that I would not smoke in the new house. I would go outside to smoke.

Over the course of the first two or three years in the house, that's exactly what I did.  There has never been a cigarette smoked inside this house since I've owned it.  I either went out on the front porch or the back patio if I wanted to smoke.  Slowly, over time, without realizing it, I was finding less and less desire to stop whatever I was doing to go smoke a cigarette.  Soon I was pretty much only smoking at work on lunch break. 

The Day came at the end of week's vacation from work.  As usual for me, it was a stay-at-home vacation.  One night I went out on the patio and lit up a cigarette.  After just a drag or two, it occurred to me that this was the first cigarette I had lit up in a week.  Not intentionally, not consciously, it just hadn't occurred to me to smoke; I hadn't needed to smoke. “I don't need this!” I said to myself and crushed out the nearly unsmoked cigarette.

That was September 4, 2004.  Ten years ago.  I have not smoked another cigarette since that day.

I vowed that I would never be one of those militant ex-smokers. I’m of the live and let live school: you want to smoke?  Go ahead, enjoy.  Believe me, I know how good that smoke can be.  You're trying to quit?  Believe me, I know how hard the habit is to break.  But I am living proof that it can be broken – for good.
Ten years smoke free.  That’s worth celebration.