8.15 a.m., March 11, 1997. I was ready for work, having a coffee and smoking a cigarette.
Dan walked in the living room and stood before me.
“You see this?” he asked, holding up a smoke. “This is my last cigarette EVER.”
I scoffed. Took a drag and laughed out loud.
“No. Really,” he insisted.
“Are you really quitting?”
He nodded. I thought about it. In an instant, I said to myself, well, it’s now or never.
“OK, then. I’ll quit too.”
I took my time with that last cigarette. I smoked that baby until it was nothing but filter. And then, I took my almost full pack of du Maurier 100s (don’t judge me) and chucked them in the woodstove. I stood there, watched through the glass as the $8 pack burned up.
The next few weeks were really REALLY REALLY hard. I warned all my co-workers and boss. I fought the urge to stab people in the eyeball with my pen. I had weird dreams about having sex with giant cigarettes. I bought the nicorette gum, which tasted like smoke-flavoured barf. I had an endless supply of lollipops, gum, straws and other assorted things to keep my fingers busy. I stopped going to places where I was used to having a smoke. Ironically, that was pretty much everywhere.
I joined the gym. Every day, I’d get on that Stairmaster and climb about 28347632 steps to burn off the frustration of beating an addiction. It also kept me from murdering random people in fits of nicotine-withdrawal rage, as well as keeping me from gaining the inevitable weight that haunts ex-smokers.
I heard people tell me that when I (inevitably) started smoking again to not be too harsh on myself. You know what? All that did was make me think “fuck YOU. I am NOT smoking ever again, just to PROVE YOU WRONG.”
I mourned the loss of that “dirty cinnamon sigh” (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale). Coffee tasted different. Beer tasted different. I was sad. My body revolted. I experienced all the symptoms of withdrawal. So. Oddly enough, I promised myself that I could start smoking again at age 90.
That wasn’t that far away. In a very strange way, it was the one thing that got me through it.
Slowly I started to like being smoke-free. Not ever having to worry about grabbing a pack of cigs to make sure I had enough the next day. The slavery to nicotine was delightfully broken. And as I overcame my addiction, I became stronger, thanks to my gym membership. My biceps and thighs were looking pretty good. I was feeling good. I could smell stuff. I slept better.
My God, it was an uphill battle. But so worth it.
As I embarked on another major journey the following year, becoming pregnant and giving birth to my first child, my son, I knew in my heart that it was the best thing I have ever done in my life. I was so thankful that I didn’t need to go through withdrawals of the nicotine addiction as well as morning sickness.
To this day, though, I still crave the odd cigarette. I’ve had a couple here and there at parties, and enjoyed them immensely. But I will never pick up that habit again.
Until I’m 90, that is.
(Post script. Dan faltered with quitting then, but I, along with my two children, were ecstatic when he quit five years ago, for good.)