Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quit Smoking. It's Hard.

I wrote this for an english class. This morning. With much coffee. Fragment sentence.

In order to eliminate something that has become a central part of your life, you have to hate it. Hate is a strong word, sure, but so is cancer. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “quit” as “to give up; to cease; to abandon.” When a person “quits” smoking, they are not giving up. In fact, they are doing quite the opposite. They are hurtling forward, chin tucked, into the rest of their life. By quitting smoking, one is removing a deep-rooted need, a personal ritual and a social crutch for which there seems to be no replacement. Life will be upended, temporarily. There will be a sucking void, for which there seems to be no proper patch. The first few weeks will be filled with aching temptation. Every gas station, every bar, every day at work will bring another bout with self-taught instinct. But, there can be no half-measures. To successfully quit cigarettes, you have to bury all those learned habits. You have to destroy any semblance of a smoker in yourself and you can’t, in good conscience, destroy something you love. You have to hate it.

In my case, it started with the smell. In high school, I spent one summer working at a gas station. All day, landscaping and construction crews would pile out of dump trucks and shuffle in. Every crew had the same makeup, one or two fresh-faced kids making gas-tank money and a handful of older guys. The older guys all looked the same, like shit. They smelled like it, too. Their faces were as hard as the work they did and their teeth were as brown as their necks. Part of my job was to empty the towers that customers would extinguish their cigarettes in. The base was filled with water to weigh it down. So, when you removed the top, you would get the collective stench of a couple thousand wet cigarette butts. Splash a cup of coffee on there and that’s how these guys smelled. Most of them were nice guys, but the fact that they used to be young like myself, and somehow found themselves in that form, used to terrify me. As a smoker, you tend not to be able to smell yourself. I think you just get used to it, your brain understands that that’s just how you smell now. Maybe my brain was sick of smelling like an old bricklayer in a dump truck, because I woke up one morning and that’s what I smelled. Something had to change, I thought. I hated the way I smelled.

When you find yourself at one meal a day, because you need the other six bucks for cigarettes, it’s time to evaluate the larger options. At that point in my life, I was making around $200 a week and spending fifty of that on butts. Already, I wasn’t making enough money to pay for the things a person requires to live, like shelter and sustenance. Now, I was subtracting a quarter of those weekly spoils and handing them over to something so unnecessary as to rival the corn dog. I hated not eating dinner.

The last straw was probably when I realized I couldn’t run anymore. Never mind, I meant I couldn’t walk up stairs anymore. Two years previous, I could run a seven-minute mile. That burning in your chest, when you’re running just past your comfort threshold, that feeling like you’re inhaling crushed glass and pure oxygen at the same time: That was the feeling I got walking up a hill. God forbid, I try to sprint somewhere. That would just end in a coughing fit, maybe some lung butter. Everyday, I was a sick person, hobbled by some self-inflicted injury. I hated it.

I had two packs of Newports left in my room. I gave one to my buddy and it didn’t take more than a day for me suck down the other one. Everything I had read told me that I needed to find something to replace the oral fixation with, so I went to Wal-Mart and bought a case of toothpicks and an enormous bag of Blow Pops. I was psychotic, a maniac. I chewed through those toothpicks like they were bubble gum, leaving splinters in my tongue. I had sores in my mouth from the constant lollipops. I couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands. My thumb, forefinger and middle finger on my right hand were raw and bloody from rubbing. I would offer to pack other people’s cigarettes for them. I tapped my fingers compulsively and unconsciously, everywhere I went. I snapped at anything and everyone. For a couple weeks, there was such thing as a stupid question. I got a job at a place that sold pizza, mozzarella sticks and all other kinds of garbage and at the end of the night we were allowed to take home whatever was left over. I gained 15 pounds the first month. I didn’t mind it.

Pretty soon, food started to taste different. Meals tasted like the sum of their ingredients, something that been lost on my scorched taste buds. Girls smelled better. I smelled better to girls. I could keep walking after I reached the top of the stairs, I didn’t have to lean against something to catch my breath. I could wake up in the morning without fear of coughing up an internal organ. I felt great and I had some extra money in my pocket, all of which went to weed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict
Those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war