I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. I smoked cigarettes for about 10 years, starting when I was 17. I stopped at 27 when I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I wasn’t a heavy smoker by any standards – a half pack per day more or less. But it was part of my life and my routine. I started smoking on purpose. My friend Wendy and I bought a pack together convincing the salesperson we were old enough to buy it.
I snuck down alone into the basement of my home and hid behind the mountains of boxes and debris….trying to quickly smoke one cigarette before anyone else came down and discovered me. Inhaling deeply over and over until I felt the nicotine calm me. It was the moment I discovered the cause and affect of cigarette smoking – there crouched under the bare light bulb. My parents think I picked up smoking to be “cool” but that was never it. My friends didn’t smoke and I was never cool. It was purely for the way it made me feel. I had no idea how addicting it would become. All I knew is it helped me cope. Lung cancer didn’t enter my mind. I was 17. I would live forever, right?
It came to mind recently when I met someone about my age who recently went to “smoker’s prison” as he called it. I didn’t ask specifics, but I assume it was a rehab place for smokers to help manage withdrawal symptoms. I also assume he had smoked for decades longer than I had. I asked him if he felt better. “NO” he answered, he did not feel better. Now he was hooked on nicotine gum. “It is so hard to quit” I said. “I remember.” It is not just the nicotine withdrawal. It is the reaching for a cigarette with your morning coffee, with a drink, starting the car. I had a cigarette going whenever I began writing papers in college. To relax at the end of the day…after a meal. “Do you still want a cigarette?” he asked me. No, not now – it’s been over 30 years.
I hope he feels better soon; that his body adjusts. I wonder if the younger people who work for him understand the scope of what he is trying to do. If they have never smoked, it is doubtful. Such a hard road to take by yourself.
I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t quit. Would my daughter have been born underweight? Would she have died of SIDS? I had read that’s what could happen to babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy. That is why I sat in my orange Plymouth in a deserted section of the grocery store parking lot one afternoon and smoked my last cigarettes. I decided then and there to stop. I had just found out I was pregnant. I don’t know if that fear was fully justified, but just knowing it was a theory was enough.
For years after she was born I used to dream about smoking – sometimes waking up trying to inhale a cigarette.
Having children can be a powerful motivator.