Ammonia, arsenic, benzopyrene, cadmium, carbon monoxide, chromium, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, lead, mercury, nickel, nitric oxide, selenium and styrene.
For the better part of the last 20 years, these are some of the chemicals I put in my body. At least twenty times a day. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. I’m talking of course about smoking cigarettes. Mark Twain once said, “Quitting smoking is the easiest thing to do. I’ve done it myself a thousand times.” How right Mr. Twain was. For most of those twenty years, almost every time I lit one up, I told myself that this was the last one. Absolutlely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt the last one. Until the next time I lit up. I knew the trap I was setting for myself. I knew the horrible cycle of addiction I was creating, but quite simply, I didn’t care. I didn’t care what the risks were, what damage they could do, or the monetary expense. It felt good. I was cool. I was hooked.
You would think I would have heeded to the warning signs from my family. My paternal grandfather died of emphysema. My paternal grandmother smoked everyday for almost seventy years. At 88 she stopped, saying she worried what it might be doing to her. God love her. Twelve years ago my father suffered a heart attack. As he was being wheeled into the emergency room the ER nurse asked him if he smoked. When he replied that he did, she informed him that he didn’t anymore. Prior to that my father had smoked for the majority of his life. He recollects that when he was about 4 or 5 years old he would watch his mother smoke and just know he had to have one. He has described to me on several occasions the overwhelming craving he experienced in watching her light up. It turns out that my grandmother smoked while she was pregnant with my father. Case solved. My father was born addicted to nicotine! Babies are born addicted to crack and alcohol, so why not nicotene? Of course in 1939 no one knew what cigarette smoking could do to a person, so grandma gets a bit of a pass on this one.
I started smoking in college. All my friends smoked. Eventually I picked up and joined the ranks of the addicted. I can recall many a night in college and beyond when that beer tasted so much better followed by that nicotine chaser. After a night of smoky bars and endless packs of cigarettes, what could be better than that first cup of strong, morning coffee? DING, DING, DING, no more calls please, we have a winner! You guessed it, a good, heavy drag on the morning’s first cigarette! I can’t count the times that I would wake up and my chest sore and lungs feeling shrunk from a night of heavy smoking. And it continued and continued and continued. Days became weeks. Weeks became months and months became years. Before I knew it, I had smoked for the better part of 20 years. I don’t even want to do the math on the money I spent. When I first started smoking, a pack of cigarettes cost $1.50. Now, here in Chicago a person is lucky to buy a pack for less than $7.
To make the long story short, I finally managed to quit. But the road to that was long and hard! I tried cold turkey, nicotine patches, nicotine gum and any number of other bizarre and downright silly things to help me quit. When none of these things worked, I would sink deeper and deeper into a funk. Lost in the hopelessness of addiction. That’s right, addiction. Nicotene by far is the single most addictive drug there is. More than cocaine, more than crack, more than alcohol or heroin. Plain and simple. Nothing I ever did would “fix me.” One day I was at the gym (yes, the gym! Despite being a smoker, I was someone committed to a healthy lifestyle (insert ironic laughter here!) I love working out and teaching myself about proper/better nutrition and health. If I worked out and ate well, smoking was ok, right? Right!) and I was heaving and wheezing, unable to catch my breath. Suddenly my moment of clarity. My flash of epiphany. Stopping smoking wasn’t about being “fixed” by something external, this had to be an inside job. The solution had to come from within. I was looking for a magic bullet where there wasn’t one. Once the realization that this was an inside job and I made this commitment with new clarity, then I could employ those external things to help me, they would be tools to help, not be the things that did the actual footwork. I now knew that I had to do it for me. So, I scheduled several sessions with a hypnotherapist which helped to reinforce the confidence in my decision to quit. To help aid me with the physical aspects of nicotine withdrawl I sought the help of an acupuncturist. Acupuncture is a wonderful tool for so many things. It helps loosen toxins and negative energry and release it to aid the body in healing. Personally in me, it brings on a wonderful sense of calm with my body and my emotions. I feel very much at one with myself, and the decision to live smoke-free is not so much a struggle, but a joy and a pleasure. I don’t hack myself to sleep or when I wake up anymore. My taste has returned, and my workouts just keep getting better and better. I take the money I would spend a week on cigaretters and have turned that into a weekly savings account deposit. It’s pretty amazing how that money adds up. Smoking was one of the most stupid things I ever did. Stopping smoking was one of the most liberating things I will ever do!
A Savage War (2016)
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