After smoking cigarettes for ten years, I quit cold turkey last fall. I hadn’t planned it that way, but I caught the flu and simultaneously ran out of stogies. Too sick to run to the deli/smoke, I decided to give quitting a try for the thousandth time. I felt better a few days later, so I began concocting statistics to help keep me away from cigarettes. “It’s been 2.5 days, my lungs are good as new!” and “It’s been seventy-six hours, I am no longer addicted to nicotine!” The statistics I recited were in no way grounded in reality, but it worked. I haven’t had a cigarette since October 2010.
It’s been a few months now, and I’m still trucking along. Still, there a few recurring questions I have that show no sign of resolving themselves.
Have I quit for good? 90% of ex-smokers relapse at some point (usually within the first three months). I’ve cleared that milestone, but not by much. I’m only nine months ‘clean’. Even a fetus could accomplish that. Watching people I know fall back into their old habit isn’t necessarily reassuring, either. An old friend of mine confessed to me that after four years of cig sobriety, he’d fallen off the wagon – going as far as to buy his own pack. Which, if you’re familiar with smokers, is extreme. Usually Ex-Smokers just bum cigarettes from Real Smokers to keep up the illusion that they are no longer at the mercy of nicotine.
My friend had never been the type to wake up at 3 AM and creep out to his terrace for a quick smoke before revisiting slumber (not that I know anyone who would do something like that) (Okay, I’ve done something like that, countless times) (Who hasn’t? Don’t tell me you haven’t). By my standards, this friend enjoyed cigarettes the way cats enjoy being on leashes – fleetingly, just for the novelty or perhaps, not at all. If he can’t shake cigs, what chance do I have?
Will my friends ever quit? Not smoking hasn’t turned me into a nicotine Nazi, but there are a few reasons I wish my friends would quit smoking:
- They’ll stop saying, “We still don’t know how the hell you did it.” Everyone I know was shocked when they found out I’d managed to quit. I don’t blame them – I smoked in such a way that, had we been friends, Joe Cool and the Marlboro Man would’ve sat my ass down to have a talk, Intervention style. The “If you can do it, anyone can” train of thought gives me Smoker’s Guilt, minus the fun and the addiction. And I don’t want it! I hope you kept the receipt, please return it at your soonest convenience.
- They will stop leaving me inside of the bar when they go out for a cigarette. Why is it that, when you’re the smoker, you’re Forever Alone? You leave your straight-laced friends sitting at the bar, you feel their judging eyes scald the back of your head as you walk away. It’s 20 degrees outside (because the weather is always uncomfortable and drastic when you’re smoking alone) and someone bums a cig from you without offering the obligatory casual conversation. You return to the bar and one of your friends sniffs disapprovingly, “You smell like… smoke.” Yeah I smell like smoke, motherfucker. What’d you think I was doing out there, playing hopscotch? This is only reality if you’re the smoker, though. If you’re not, then everyone smokes! Everyone except for you. You get to watch the drinks.
- They will save money. I save $91 a week. A WEEK. It’s insane.
- There will be no more of this, “Hold on, I just have to run into this store and buy cigarettes.” I don’t mind the inconvenience – sometimes I need a Diet Coke or toothpaste or Benadryl – but I remember that retched feeling. “MUST – PURCHASE – CIGARETTES – BEFORE – MOVING – ON – WITH – LIFE.” Talk about having a ‘slave to smoking’ moment. Sad.
- They will feel better about themselves. They won’t have to hide the fact that they smoke from their latest cig-hating conquest. They will be able to clear a flight of stairs without peering into Death’s hollow eyes. Their face will not become a hotbed for premature wrinkles. They’ll be happier.
Will I ever stop wanting cigarettes? Four months after quitting, I Quarter Life Crisis’ed the eff out – my relationship and job were both like, “Peace, homegirl! Enjoy your new life being single and jobless! P.S. A cigarette would be fantastic right now, huh?” I wanted to smoke the life out of everything those days, forest-fire status. I didn’t, but months later I still think about smoking on a daily basis. As far as I can tell, these thoughts aren’t triggered by secondhand smoke or alcohol – in fact, I’m still unsure where they come from. Which is why I can’t predict when the cravings will fade. According to my fellow post-cigarette friends, the answer is never.
Will this affect my love life? One day, my roommate began pointing out how unappealing it was to date me during my smoking heyday. As he observed it, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn to suck down a cigarette and then crawl back into bed with my then-boyfriend, a non-smoker. “He never complained!” I protested, and my roommate looked at me plainly and said, “Yeah. I don’t know how. He must’ve really liked you…” That conversation confirmed what I’d already suspected – many of the guys I’d been interested in during my smoking years were likely grossed out by my unapologetic chain smoking. In that way, this could improve my love life. I have one less strike against me. It could also backfire – opposites attract, you know? Maybe I’ll only date smokers now despite having never done so before. I’ve kissed a few, but I was a smoker then so we probably canceled each other out. In some terrifying Gift of the Magi twist, I’ll probably fall in love with a smoker and revert. We’ll both sit around in warped armchairs watching Jeopardy reruns and puffing Virginia Slims into our seventies until one of us dissipates into a cloud of residual smoke.
How much do cigarettes cost? This is my favorite question. When I was a smoker, friends would ring me up to deliver the bad news personally. “Cigarette prices are going up again come Monday. Sorry, bud.” I used to reassess my budget every time the price of cigarettes ballooned. “They’re $11 now? Okay… switching to one-ply toilet paper and ordering the $5 Miller High Life / Whiskey combo until my next paycheck comes. That oughta do it.” Now, it’s like I have cigarette-cost amnesia. My roommate caught me side-eyeing his new cigarette brand a few weeks ago – Mavericks. He defended himself by telling me that they cost $10. “$10?” I thought. “You paid $10 for these prison inmate cigs?” And then it dawned on me – $10 is a steal these days. You know the situation is dire when you’ve reduced yourself to smoking the official cigarette of the McCain/Palin campaign.
I recognize that the answers to these questions are unique to the individual asking them and that, if I’m realistic, some of my fears may be realized. Either way, I’m cool until my next question is, “Can I bum a cigarette?”