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On quitting smoking: A lamentation

by Brian Clarey

It’s been more than three weeks since I quit smoking — again — and save for a few regrettable lapses in discipline, it’s going fairly well.

As well as can be expected, anyway.

Remember, I’ve been smoking cigarettes for 25 years or so… at one time in my life I would spark up a Camel Light even before I opened my eyes in the morning, fumbling one off the nightstand and drawing deeply to begin the day.

I remember smoking in bed, the way it made my pillows and blankets smell, the inherent danger in the act itself. What a weird thing to do, it now seems to me.

The whole enterprise of smoking seems a little strange to me now, as I wean myself from the smokes.

A cigarette smoker basically maintains an addiction to a drug —a legal one, which makes it pretty easy, like being addicted to Facebook or the elliptical machine or the heady mixture of salty and sweet that has been perfected by our nation’s fast-food industry.

But a smoker proves you can be addicted to anything, even an expensive and heavily taxed product that he knows will eventually be the death of him.

It’s just a bad idea. And smokers aren’t just addicted to the smokes themselves.

There’s also the feel of the box in your pocket or purse… packing it down and ripping it open… the crinkle of the pack as you slide one out. You pop one in your mouth and get it lit without even noticing you’re doing it, and when you finally realize you’re smoking, before you’ve even sucked the last of the life out of it, you already want another one.

That’s how it was for me, anyway. I have “quit” smoking many times; the first, I think, a promise to my parents when I was about 14, way back at the start of the thing, one that none of us truly believed.

I tried again, half-heartedly, in college to save money. I tried when

I was behind the bar full time, a ridiculous proposition in the days when bartenders could smoke at work. I tried again when my first child was born, because of the money, because the smell made the baby cry, because I wanted to live forever to see him grow up.

I still believe these things, but I started smoking again anyway, when I worked for a restaurant manager who tended to give out plum assignments out in the smoking section. It was just business.

I tried when I got married, because it wasn’t just about me anymore. I tried when I started a new job, because new beginnings are good for change. I tried after my 39 th birthday, because I didn’t want to carry the habit into my forties. And I tried again when I got a new car, because why would I want to stink it up with cigarette smoke?

I always went back. Because cigarette smokers are junkies. I was a junkie. And in a way I still am.

I’ve been doing all the right things this go-round: exercising, deep-breathing, drinking lots of water and chomping the holy hell out of nicotine gum, which tastes like an ashtray and is fantastic with coffee.

As an aside: It turns out that, like haircuts, shoes and alcohol, it pays to go top shelf. The generic brand kind of dissolves a little with hot coffee.

But the gum helps, and by a week or so in I’m feeling pretty good: no smokes, with maybe a little weight gain but I haven’t completely freaked out like I have more than a couple times in the past.

I haven’t rationalized the need for cigarettes, which is another technique I’ve employed. And most importantly, I haven’t bought a pack of smokes, because once you do that, I know, you are a smoker once again as surely as dessert follows dinner.

Ten days into my abstinence, I started to have dreams about the smokes, about sparking them with a Zippo lighter, about tapping them into ashtrays, sucking them down until the filter crushed a bit between my fingers, flicking them out of the window of a moving car.

It’s like the cigarettes were beckoning me, trying to convince me to return to the fold. But this time I’m fighting back.

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