(KATHERINE ELMORE)The time has come to quit smoking...again. I'm quitting tomorrow. That's right: July 10, 2008. I've quit multiple times, sometimes for long stretches, and always come back to it. But this time, I will honestly have my last cigarette.
I always hear about people who have this one moment of disgust and say, "That's it. I'm tossing the cancer sticks and never looking back." These stories often involve a hole burned in an expensive suit, or the seat of a new car. Sometimes it's the long, tortured death of a loved one from a smoking-related illness, or the sight of some poor stranger sucking smoke through her tracheotomy hole.
For whatever reason, I've never had that moment. I've burned holes in everythingfrom my own body to my daughter's jogging stroller. (Oh, close your mouth, she was nowhere near it at the time.) My grandmother died of lung cancer at age 58, and it was every bit as horrible as you might imagine. Holes, the threat of death, the shame, the furtive efforts to cover it up with Febreze—no single one of these things has ever moved me to become a total nonsmoker. I imagine the daytime talk show explanation is that deep down, smokers don't think they deserve better, and I would have to agree that they most certainly don't. Uh, I mean we don't.
I started smoking at 16, and there have been some dark times in my life in which I smoked three packs a day. Until recently, my husband smoked with me, sharing packs of Camel Lights. Jason, who is easily motivated by the cost of things, got a prescription for Chantix after paying $5 for a pack at a gas station, and so far hasn't looked back.
I average about five cigarettes a day, all stolen moments huddled in my garage, away from windows where the neighbors can't see me. Given the chance, I'd probably smoke more, but since I can't risk being seen driving my Volvo wagon with cigarette smoke pouring out the windows or show up at my daughter's private school smelling like a cheap motel room, the opportunities are few and far between. Smoking at or around work is obviously outI pretend to be a nonsmoker, and my coworkers pretend to believe me. Most of all, I can't let my daughter find outever. Needless to say, shame is one of many motivators behind my decision to quit smoking tomorrow.
I flirted with the nicotine patch in the 1990s and quit for a few days at a time, but I don't even count those attempts. I think of my only really successful effort to quit smoking as when I found out I was pregnant in 2001. In addition to cigarettes, I gave up coffee, alcohol, lunch meat, fish, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, and cats. I bought a digital thermometer and heated my food to an internal temperature of 170 degrees. I took prenatal vitamins and drank gallons of low-fat milk. I spent months with a red, chapped nose before my doctor, after a drop of my snot landed on his Italian leather loafer, finally told me to "take a Sudafed for God's sake."
It's amazing how a nicotine addiction can trick your brain into making anything sound rational. When I told my doctor that the hormones were making me crazy, he said stress was bad on a pregnancy and offered me a bottle of Prozac. My abstemious mind said, "What, put drugs into my body? But what about the baby!?" Then I heard my real self say, "Can't I just have one cigarette?" He said if I needed one cigarette at the end of a long day, I should go ahead and smoke it. And hell, have a margarita while I was at it. It was with great pride that I told the delivery room nurse that I'd totally skipped the margarita. She wasn't impressed.
When the baby arrived, I thought that was absolutely itI'd quit for good. After reading something about how smoke can flake off your clothes (apparently the smoke-flakes cause SIDS), smokers were banished from my home. I became one of those ex-smokers whose righteous indignation would be worthy of the Old Testament. That lasted for a good 18 months.
Then, you know how it goes. Smoking became, "Well, we're on vacation..." or "We have a babysitter..." or "One with a cup of coffee..." until the inevitable "I'll just buy my own pack." And so it begins again.
Thursday is my busiest day of the week, so I'll have plenty of distractions tomorrow when this whole thing goes down. I've stocked up on nicotine gum (cinnamon flavor is my favorite) and brushed up on my deep-breathing exercises. I'm looking forward to dumping the burden that is smoking and its many demands on my time, space, money, and anything else it can get its nicotine-stained hands on. Starting tomorrow, things are going to be different.