Someone offered me a cigarette this morning.
It was a former coworker of mine who works just a block away now. I didn’t really like her when we worked together and have gone so far as to avoid her side of the street if I see her around the neighborhood in which we work. But, today she caught me. We were actually fairly close once, despite the fact that I didn’t really like her, simply because she was my smoking buddy. When she called me over today, she just wanted to chat while she had her morning smoke break.
Twenty years ago, when smoking was much more popular, a smoking buddy was really just a buddy. I knew so many people who smoked that it didn’t occur to me that they were important individuals. Fast forward to any time after the year 2000 and things were a much different story. As people quit smoking more and more, it became harder and harder to find that special someone to share in my addiction.
Smoking buddies are very important for people like me. I wanted to smoke, but I had a hard time just standing around for five minutes doing nothing. It’s something that I did as part of an activity: walking, driving, taking a break, playing a game on my phone. It’s how I made friends at college, grad school, parties, and work. Smokers understand that it’s better to stand outside and talk while you smoke. Therefore, they are rarely surprised when a smoker stranger walks up and starts conversing. It’s expected that you would rather talk to another smoker near you than stand and smoke by yourself.
We are a tribe. The outcasts who must brave the rain, heat, and snow in order to get what we need.
Imagine the surprise on my ex-coworkers face when I had to tell her that I’ve excommunicated myself. She had noticed that I didn’t pull out a cigarette when we started talking and then offered one of her own. When I refused, she looked so let down. As if I told her that I had rejected a piece of her along with the cigarette.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I wanted to. I wanted to so badly. My fingers itched to take what was being given. I could smell it, taste it. But I said, “no.”
I had my first cigarette when I was eleven. I became a monthly smoker in high school, a daily smoker in college. I was a “half a pack a day”er for the better part of ten years. I really enjoyed it. For a long time, I wasn’t even interested in quitting.
Eventually, however, I did the math and realized I couldn’t afford the habit. My friends that smoked quit and my friends that didn’t smoke became more adamant that I stop, too. I realized that my singing voice was gone, my teeth weren’t as white, and that people could smell it on my jacket. I tried to quit at least once per year for about five years, never making it past six months. Until November of 2012.
I’ve never actually had a problem quitting nicotine. The times that I quit, I had my last cigarette on a Friday and holed up all weekend. If I got in my car, I would want a smoke and drive to a gas station to pick up a pack, so I avoided driving until I had a couple of days under my belt. I never used a patch, gum, hypnosis, etc. Just quit cold turkey and then waited to see how long it lasted. My problem is not nicotine. It’s smoking. My attachment to my smoking routine always made it hard for me the first few weeks after quitting.
It was after the initial hump that things got much harder, however. It’s the times when smoking creeps up on me that have always been the worst. When I am leaving a bar and catch a whiff of someone outside on the street; when I visit family and my brother’s pack of cigarettes is sitting on the counter (taunting me); when a friend asks me if I want one. Just this scenario happened today, when this woman whom I used to know stopped me on the street this morning and innocently assumed that I still have a habit.
In times when I am surprised by the prospect of access to cigarettes and I’m in the mood to want one, the urge is almost irresistible. In the past, this is the thing that has always done me in. I cave and have just one, then I bum a few more and, within two weeks, I’m buying a pack and starting the cycle all over.
Why is today different? Well, for one, I said, “no.” But, that’s not really it. I’ve quit smoking more than half a dozen times. This time, the difference is the reason.
Over the course of my life, I’ve heard so many people talk about this sort of situation and say, “You have to want it. No one can quit for you so you can’t do this because of other people.” You’ve heard it, too. People say this sort of thing about every addiction: overeating, alcohol, drugs…
Until my latest attempt to quit, I’ve always done it for myself. This time, however, it took two people to achieve success: my partner wanted me to stop and I wanted to do this for her. It may seem silly but, I loved smoking more than I loved myself. In finding someone that I love more than myself, I was finally able to attain my goal. I simply do not love myself enough to fight my addiction. Caroline, though? I love her more than anything. Certainly more than smoking. Any serious request from her will always be met with my very best effort to meet that request.
Every time I have an urge to backslide on my promise, I see her face. And, it’s enough.
Someone offered me a cigarette this morning and I said, “no.”