Posted by: mew | September 11, 2009

45 days and counting…

“Herein is not only a great vanity, but a great contempt of God’s good gifts, that the sweetness of man’s breath, being a good gift of God, should be wilfully corrupted by this stinking smoke.”

King James I, A Counterblast to Tobacco

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Okay.  I know this comes right in between parts one & deux of my tale of a creative champion, but that’s just how it happened chronologically.  Last night marked the 45th day of this quit attempt.

How’s it going, you ask?

Well, a woman was smoking quite near me over the weekend, and I suddenly had an insane urge to go up to her and ask to bum a cigarette.  I was paying close enough attention to note that it looked like she was even smoking my brand, and I was trying not to stare at her lips as she inhaled.  (Is it just me, as an ex-smoker, or is there something inherently sexy about that moment?)

I still have moments when my body forgets (don’t know how else to describe it), and I have a feeling in my fingertips like I’m ready to pick one up.  They still know the movements.  My palm can still feel the familiar lighter cradled in it.  I even sometimes find myself holding my pen between my fingers in the old way I used to hold the cigarette.

And I’ve been thinking lately about how I began smoking at all.  It’s one of the weirder how-I-got-hooked stories out there.  I had a dream one night that I tried a cigarette in order to write about it.  One of the characters in the novel I was then working on was a smoker, and I had absolutely no idea how to write about that.  My dream seemed to suggest that I should try one, just to see what it was like and record some details for the work in progress.

So the next night, after the dream, I’m in an Irish pub with a friend.  We’ll call him Chaz.  Chaz is actually a good friend of my boyfriend’s (now an ex-boyfriend), and he’s one of those who smokes only when he drinks.  (I’ve grown to be suspicious of that statement in the intervening years, by the way.  Funny what familiarity will teach you.  But I digress.)

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Chaz takes out a pack of Camel Lights and sees me staring at him.  Intently.  I’ve been told I can stare rather intently when I’m paying attention.

“What?” he says, looking alarmed.

So I explain all about this character I’ve got, and how it bothers me that all these years (I was 28 at the time) I’ve never even tried a cigarette, and I have no idea how to write that, and it’s bothering me.  I even tell him I had a dream basically urging me to try one out.  But I don’t know how to begin, and would he please teach me how to smoke my first cigarette?

This speech sounds like I am just one bubble shy of level; doesn’t it?

Chaz looks at me suspiciously.  It just so happened (and I didn’t know it at the time) that he was the one who gave my ex-boyfriend his first smoke, and my ex became a heavy smoker afterward, and Chaz felt guilty about the whole thing .  So he asks me quietly, peering into my eyes, “You’re not going to get hooked; are you?”

No.  No, of course not.  What an idea!

And then I had my first cigarette.  I started coughing at first, and that might have ended it right there.  But Chaz kindly explained to me what I was doing wrong, how one smokes correctly.  And oh! — but I’m not going to try and describe the pleasure of it now.  (Hey, I’m still a fragile new non-addict.  Let’s not dwell on past highs.)  The important point is that before the night was out, I’d stopped at a gas station and bought my first pack.

Now, I know a lot of people don’t have this immediate reaction.  Many addictions are gradually built.  For me, it was love at first puff.  Or at least a dangerous obsession at first puff.  Which is why I think my addiction was more than half mental.  I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the docs always said smoking was a kind of self-medication.  But that’s not the kind of mental I mean.  I mean that I liked the image of a smoker.  Hell, I dreamed about trying on that identity for the experience.  It’s no coincidence, of course, that I was living six months of the year in a city filled with smokers, just chock full, and that my lover at the time could easily go through a pack a day.  But I really do think I wanted to try on that “self,” and one cig was just not enough to do the job.

For some reason, I wanted to try out the role of Addict.  Which makes me a scary bold, possibly insane person gambling for high stakes — unless, of course, you believe there’s really no proof the world is real, and that the mystics are right after all, or unless you’ve truly internalized the idea that you get exactly one life to live and experience what you’re curious to experience.  But I digress again.

Why have I been thinking of all this?  Because I broke down and lit up.

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A few days before the six-week anniversary rolled around, I held a lit cigarette in my hand and had exactly two puffs before I threw it away in disgust.  It didn’t work at all.  I didn’t get any kind of buzz — and here I’d been hoping for a better than normal one.  The smoke felt raw and unpleasant in my throat.  The smell was terrible, very nearly nauseating.  And I’ve been wondering if that’s because the experience didn’t fit in with my new conceptual identity.

Non-smoker.

Non-smokers do not enjoy smoking, as a rule.

Anyway, I’m still counting it as 45 days without a cigarette.  Because I did not come close to finishing that cigarette, and now I’m caught in some no-woman’s land where even when my body can almost feel the habitual rhythms of smoking in my fingers and lips as if I were enacting them, and my head is urging me to walk over to a stranger and filch a smoke, the one emotion flooding my gut is disgust.  Not anticipation.  You can’t define that as a simple craving, surely.  As Anne Lamott says, “Reality is unforgivingly complex.”

At least now I can write about addiction with authority.  My dream came true.

“When the soul wishes to experience something she throws an image of the experience out before her and enters into her own image.”

— Meister Eckhart

(Oh, and none of these photos are mine.  I think they come from Stockvault, Morguefile, and Morguefile, respectively.  But I’m not 100% sure.)

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Responses

  1. That was an interesting getting-started story. I tried it once – we were all sitting around a campfire and some of my friends were smoking and I wanted to be cool – so I tried it and coughed/gagged/never tried it again.

    I have to say though – I have never really wanted to be a smoker other than that .. but I still think it looks rather cool. 🙂

    Congrats on your 45 days!

  2. I smoked for lots of years. I understand what you are going through. Can just say I’m so glad to be free from the addiction. Usually if I ever have the urge to smoke…a few deep breaths seem to help.
    🙂

  3. honestly, it absolutely makes sense to me that you needed that experience to really know for yourself that you are a non smoker. And now you truly ARE a non smoker. You don’t like to smoke. I think that’s awesome.

  4. Thanks to everyone for your support!

    Brandi, that’s exactly how I felt about that experience — that it was a sort of proof for me that I’ve entered a new phase, a new role. It feels a little weird, though, knowing I cannot go back and find the familiar high, use the nicotine as a coping mechanism. Brave New World 😉


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