Monday, August 7th, 2017
I woke up before sometime before 5:00 A.M. and started coughing. It was a hard, familiar cough. A smoker’s cough. The kind of a cough that sucks the life out of your lungs. Not that the rest of your body feels all that great. But it’s the lungs that are having the hardest time. They’re clearly not happy.
It’s times like these that illustrate, sometimes graphically, that your life is not going as well as expected.
I had been smoking for about ten years. I used to tell everyone that I officially quit smoking in 1988 — and as a reward — I resumed my dubious habit some twenty years later. It had started with “just a puff” of my partner’s cigarette from time to time. But nicotine, that devil drug, had other plans, and soon I was inhaling entire cigarettes. And then I was buying entire packs of Marlboro Light 100s like a real pro. I felt sophisticated and alive under the influence of this insidious, combustible plant. It helped me to think. It helped me to create. It helped me get by when I thought I couldn’t hold on any longer. I took some pride that this habit never went beyond two packs a week.
Such is the justification of those under the yoke of the Phillip Morris company.
Without advanced planning, I decided, with sudden fury, that TODAY WOULD BE THE DAY I QUIT FOR GOOD (I actually thought this in capital letters). Moving through the house like a tornado, I removed anything and everything that would remind me of my soon-to-be-former habit. I knew what was coming. I had been here before, and although the spirit was willing (glory hallelujah), the body was weak (fuck me in the eye). NOT THIS TIME!! OH HELL NO!!! I AM GETTING OFF OF THIS FREIGHT TRAIN TO HELL RIGHT NOW YOU SONOFABITCH!!!!
I’m glad I only have a dog for company; anyone else witnessing this sudden, profane diatribe would have me committed.
What I went through over the next two weeks was just as bad.
I realize now that maybe, just maybe, I should have taken a week off from work to focus on quitting and “staying strong”. If you have ever been around someone who recently quit, this becomes painfully self-evident. It takes a Herculean effort to refrain from throttling the nearest victim — or going completely mad like Shakespeare’s Ophelia from Hamlet. You think she had problems? She never had to quit tobacco cold turkey. I took some comfort in the knowledge that my schedule allowed me to work from home three days a week. At least my co-workers would be partially shielded from my insanity.
I looked at the clock. It was a few minutes after 8:00am and my nicotine receptors were already starting to cry out in pain. I felt a little spacey and wondered if I would get any work done. It’s a good thing I was only thinking about getting through that day. Any more thinking about the inevitable progression of the withdrawal symptoms would have short-circuited my brain.
The day ended, and despite the initial stages of withdrawal, I got stuff done that I needed to do. Every once in a while, I would have to clench my fists and shake them, violently. It was my way of proving to myself that I had the willpower to face what I knew was coming. It was going to get worse.
I had the most vivid, intense dreams that night. You don’t want to know.
The next day, I awoke and immediately thought about lighting up. It was a textbook Pavlovian case. I had to laugh at the absurdity of this. And then I had to SHOUT at myself to hold it together (the roller coaster of emotions alone could tear you apart). I was due in the office that morning. Hold it together, I told myself. I was able to drive to work without erupting into fits of road rage. “You can DO it”, I told myself, repeatedly.
I got through the day somehow, with the support of my friends at work. And then, by some act of providence, a whole week passed. The symptoms were still there, but I could control them better. Did I stop thinking about cigarettes? Oh hell no. I just knew that THIS time, I would be free of them forever — or die miserably.
Another week went by, and I realized that it was getting easier. I still wasn’t “over the hump”, but I knew I was winning.
A month passed, and I realized that I was over it. Completely. I had more energy and certainly more appetite. I felt really good for the first time in what seemed like years. I was very grateful for the support I had during this difficult time. It made the reward — and the journey — even sweeter.
It’s been four months now and I’m never looking back.