This is not a PSA. This is just my experience.
The longest relationship I’ve had: Cigarettes. Always there for me in good times and in bad. Of course, they were slowly killing me and my bank account.
When I was a kid my mom would send me to the store with $2.25 to pick up a pack of Merits for her. Although I was heavily anti-smoking, I’d run the errand for her. I could often be found hiding or destroying her cigarettes. This was the 80s. My mom smoked inside the house, in the car, and in restaurants. There were no such things as “designated smoking areas.”
This first changed for me at age 13 when my mom’s best friend from high school visited. She sat on our couch for a week or two chain-smoking. I’d never seen anything like it before. Something about the compulsivity of it sparked something deep within me. Mom was buying cartons of cigarettes which she left out willy nilly, so I lifted a pack of Merits and tried it out. Later that night I was smoking out my bedroom window, keeping my cigarette butts in an old coffee can. My mom started hiding her cartons because my brother – 16 years old, and fully out of the smoking closet – was freely helping himself to her cigarettes. One night I was feening for a smoke so badly I decided to just explain to my mom that I needed a cigarette. Her reaction wasn’t so bad. Probably because she understood the need, the devilish ache from within the smallest particles of blood screaming for a fix. She gave me the cigarette but it was clear she was disappointed in me. She told me to stop. Somehow I managed to.
At some point in my freshman or sophomore year of high school my closest friend at the time had a crush on a smoker. It didn’t make sense for us to loiter outside the “smoking doors” unless we were smokers. Otherwise it would look like we were just stalking the guy she liked. So we geniuses decided to start buying packs of Marlboro Lights and splitting them.
Three key things happened around this time. 1. I started regularly smoking Parliaments. I decided they were my brand because my favorite color was blue. 3. Smoking became outlawed inside all buildings in NY. 4. It became officially illegal to sell cigarettes to minors.
Clearly a power from above was trying to end this before it started, but it was too late for me. I was addicted. I went through my whole life feeling like a dork and smoking made me feel cool. Cool people smoked. I went to great lengths to get my smokes. I lied, cheated, and stole. I braved horribly dangerous storms. I officially declared myself as a smoker to my family. My declaration was met with disgust. Since my mother was a smoker she couldn’t really say anything. Everyone else just kind of blamed her.
Smoking gave me power. It eased my social awkwardness. It always gave me a reason to leave a room. I always enjoyed the social aspect within the smoking community though. We knew each other’s silent struggle between “Damn I want to quit…” and “Just let me smoke in peace.” One time I was outside the mall smoking and this lady said “You know smoking is bad for you.” Smoking made me tough. I scowled back “So is butting into other people’s business.”
When I initially started I smoked half a pack a day. Once i became of age, this quickly escalated to a pack a day; more if I was partying. In my late 20s it became a steady average pack and a half. A few years ago I was smoking at least 2 packs a day.
Throughout my life as a smoker I’ve been susceptible to illness. I have horrible allergies. I often suffered from chronic sinus infections, bronchitis, strep throat, cold, flu, you name it. Throughout it all I always smoked. I would even say smoking made me feel better. Two years ago I almost completely lost my ability to breathe. I went to the hospital and during triage I lost consciousness. They thought they were going to lose me. I was septic. I remember very little from this event. I couldn’t tell you how long I was in there. I was diagnosed with COPD.
I did not quit smoking. I was definitely in denial about this. So much so that I blocked out the diagnosis completely until I ended up back in the hospital. I still did not quit. I suffered frequently from COPD flare ups that I could not get under control with my medicine. I didn’t go to the doctor. I’d just wait until it was out of control, then I’d have to go to the hospital.
I tried quitting a few times throughout my life, but never really wanted to. I tried Chantix on two different occasions, but that made me crazy. The gum was not enough. The patches made me sick and gave me nightmares. I finally committed to the patch last year, because I figured patch-sick was better than dead. After a week I couldn’t get out of bed. I finally went to the doctor. He said I was the youngest patient he’s ever had with COPD. He prescribed Wellbutrin. This made me insane. He switched it out for Paxil. This made me deeply depressed. After 3 months I gave up and went back to smoking.
Before this start of this year I decided to commit to vaping. Some would say it’s the same thing. Who the hell knows what’s really in vape juice or what the long-term effects are? Well to me it was worth trying. I smoked my last cigarette on December 30, 2017 after a 24 year commitment to smoking. As I smoked it I could feeling my lungs crying. At this point I barely had the lung capacity to inhale. I regularly described my lung as two raisins I wished were grapes. I switched to vaping. Three days later I was admitted to the hospital with a COPD flare up. I believe it started when I smoked that last cigarette. It took over 3 weeks to get my breathing under control this time.
It’s been three and half months since I quit smoking. I did decide to stick with the vaping. I wasn’t sure if this was exacerbating my COPD, but everyone agrees it is better than smoking. I see my primary regularly, and I have a Pulmonologist now. He believes I have severe asthma, exacerbated by severe allergies. This sounds better than COPD, even though it still falls under the umbrella of COPD. I’ve taken a huge interest in my personal health now.
I feel a huge difference in my bank account too. When I left NY a pack of cigarettes was $11. My last pack in Florida was about $7.50. I think about the money I’ve paid in medical bills. I wonder where I’d be financially if I had never been a smoker.
I can also smell better now. And let me tell you: Smoking is stinky. I have to go where the smokers go when I vape and it smells awful. I’ve become quite sensitive to it.
Periodically I crave a cigarette. But the memory of that last smoke is really burned in my brains. I think even just 1 cigarette would destroy me now.
I leave you with this little secret I’ve learned: Smokers do get more breaks at work. Every boss I ever had has seen what I look like when I need a cigarette and it is not pretty. I’d lose all control of my emotions. You know what though? It’s not worth it. It never was.
So like I said, this is not a PSA. Just my experience.