January 28, 2010

Quitting smoking

If you’ve never felt it, it is hard to describe. Every day, I would find a different word for the feeling. Most days, I thought of it as being a kind of itch. A longing existed in my chest and in my mind. From the first rush of gas I would wait for a finger of smoke to slowly rub down the groove of the esophagus, and then branch once at the bronchial tubes. Then more and more branches until the lovely chemicals crossed the barrier from air to blood. A quick route through the body and the itch is scratched from the center all the way to the extremities.

The itch does not go away. It comes back and needs to be scratched. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty times a day or more that itch came back. I smoked two and a half packs of Camel Special Lights a day, enough so that all the new hires at the KwikTrip learned my name their first week. The minute I walked in the door, they would pull two packs from rack behind the register to ready my purchase. If I did that here and now, the cost would be $22.50 a day. Such a frequency works out to over eight thousand dollars in a single year. The good news is that I no longer feel the itch.

No, I no longer feel the itch, but getting rid of it was one of hardest things I’ve done and one of the things I’m most proud of doing. Friends and loved ones and coworkers had been marveling at how much I smoked for years. I was barely able to afford it, but as an addict the cost did not matter to me. I took a sort of pride in smoking so often, and embraced the possibility of the early death awaiting me. One of my favorite jokes was that the warning on the pack was more like a fortune cookie that you knew would come true: heart disease, emphysema, and lung cancer. I grew older.

Stains on my fingers and teeth were no longer points of pride. Empty pockets did not pay the bills; stairs were not climbed because the effort was too great. There was no epiphany on a sunny day, but eventually I realized I needed to quit. I had too much pride and self-respect to continue. I first tried through force of will. On a cold Monday I decided just not to buy any. That Tuesday I bought more cigarettes. Later that year, I stopped for a month. I found excuses to start again. I sought help with loved ones and coworkers and doctors. I took the right pills and sucked on cough drops and suffered and the itch faded. I could not be happier, but I could not have done it alone.