Quitting Is for Winners

By
May 5, 2005

Nicotine and newsprint stain my fingers. A gentle cough and faint odor keep me company wherever I go. My idle hand busies itself flipping the lighter in my pocket. Cigarettes are my friend.

Truth is, I don’t really want to quit smoking – I just want it to be healthy, but that’s not an option, so…

I’m quitting.

Countless of you have seen me dwelling outside the newspaper office, cigarette carelessly dangling from lip or fingertip, pouring over stories and layouts, wishing for more time; quite a few of you probably depend on my ever-present pack for your own fix.

Please don’t be disappointed it’s now a pack of gum.

See, long before I was eager to fill the hard-trodden soles of a reporter’s shoes, I was anxious to be one of the many punk rock girls I worshipped. I have unintentionally aspired to two of the most unhealthy stereotypes – both coffee-swilling, chain-smoking stress balls ready to go (or is it snap?) on a moment’s notice.

Now I wonder what I will do without half of that familiar smell that lingers on my hands long after I’ve last touched its sources. I’m a little saddened to realize I’m losing a part of myself with this habit, then embarrassed by my attachment to it.

Mom, Dad – Listen up. I should have done as you said and not as you did.

Cigarettes are killing far too many women, and though I’ve been one who willingly smoked knowing the dangers, I’m still not quite sure why I started.

I don’t know when it happened. One day I was nonchalantly pulling every cigarette out of all the open packs I could find, snapping them in half and gently returning them to their original resting place – my way of telling my parents (as my school was telling me) they should quit. Truth is, I wasn’t quite sure why, not enough to argue with them about it anyway.

One day I just stopped returning them.

Before I’d taken more than a handful of puffs here and there, I got caught with a cigarette at school, when I was 8 or 9. My dad told me that the next time I’d have to “smoke it or eat it,” apparently a recent family tradition. My uncle had to do the same with a cigar when they were kids; when he couldn’t smoke it, he was forced to eat it and was, of course, sick for a week. Dad didn’t get it, but I heard my lesson loud and clear:

I should learn to handle my smoke.

It became my mission, an unexpected challenge my parents never dreamed they were making. If I got caught, I wasn’t going to get sick – I was going to blow smoke rings in their faces.

And so I did. I practiced like any good young smoker does; in front of a mirror; with my friends, late at night after the folks have gone to bed.

So now, 20 years later, I’ve been smoking longer than I haven’t, and I’m far too young to be capable of making that statement.

And truly, I’m just tired of it. Tired of the rising prices, stinking clothes and failing health.

I enjoy my life now, and I don’t want to give it up quite so easily.

This is my fourth real attempt at quitting, but this time I swear I’m sticking with it. My birthday’s coming up, another family member was just diagnosed with cancer, and I know that now’s the time.

I knew it when I heard myself chiding a 16-year-old two weeks ago about smoking, why it’s bad, why he shouldn’t, all those things I heard myself and ignored with my supremely blase teenage attitude.

“If I’d known how hard it was going to be to quit I never would’ve started,” I said, subconsciously channeling my father from ages ago. I meant it just as much as I’m sure he did then, and the look I saw in the young man’s eyes was the same I’m sure I returned to my father.

It said, “Let me live my own life and decide for myself.”

It’s hard to argue with that one. But so is the knowledge that if you’re alive and want to stay that way, you shouldn’t smoke.

I hate saying that, feels way too preachy, but I have to if I’m going to win this battle. I think I finally understand why ex-smokers are such a pain tocontinuing smokers. I’m not sure the desire is ever going to go away, so I have to change my approach to it. There are a few ways I’d rather not die, and laid out in a hospital bed rasping through a tube is one of them.

So don’t be surprised if I start yelling at all the smokers, just to convince myself how much I hate it.

Hopefully, I’m putting my addiction to bed with this paper, so if I come begging to you, please tell me no. I really don’t want it, I just think I do.

And if you’re one looking to bum a cigarette, I’ve got a pack of tasty Tropical Twist Trident for anyone who wants it.


Quitting Is for Winners was published on May 5, 2005 in Sports & Health

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