42nd attempt

Version 1:
Q: There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How do they manage to smoke?
A: They throw one cigarette overboard and make the boat a cigarette lighter.

Version 2:
Q: There are three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How do they manage to smoke?
A: I haven’t had a cigarette in 3 days.

Yes, sometimes I feel like this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

,

 

but most of the time I’m just thankful for how nice it is to have all this extra* time† and money‡ to work on goals that matter.

Three days may not seem like much – but it’s the longest I’ve gone in a long time and I’m taking it day by day more than anything. (Also, I was afraid the days would drag but au contraire – they are moving along quite well.)

Thanks to those who have been understanding through all the times I’ve tried before (and even understanding as I went back), and to those who have offered great advice this time around.

*relative
†about 3 hours a day
‡about $200 a month

P.S. The patches smell like puked-up pepper : )

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“Oh my sweet Carolina…”

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I almost bought a pack of cigarettes today.

These past two weeks have been difficult for me not smoking. But I’ll be honest and get something out now: I have bummed a few cigarettes here and there, and a month after we quit, Erica and I smoked at least half of Kim and Andrew’s packs when we went over to their house (and we weren’t even shitfaced). So two weeks ago, when I felt like a smoker all over again, I only thought it was the always-missing nicotine that was back in my system. Instead of accepting that, I thought of all the other excuses that could have caused it in a plan to justify going back: the first time driving to Twentynine Palms without a cigarette; the new drive to my tutoring job; or, I just missed it, man. I have thought that how annoying I’ve felt lately, in all my talking and blogging about quitting, as sincere as it was, would upset Erica and everyone else enough to tell me to just start up again. While I do think the new balance of nicotine in my system didn’t help, I was just looking for a reason to go back.

I was being dishonest again – the same habit of lying and smoking behind everyone’s back had resurfaced, this time as not being honest about why I wanted to go back. I wanted to call my parents and go over why I thought it was hard (the new drive, the excuses) but not give them the truth that I had smoked at least ten cigarettes since I quit. (That’s nerve-wrecking to type.) I even remember feeling angry with dad when I recalled his advice that it was “only going to get easier” – that it wasn’t going to be like an alcoholic, who has to stay on top of their demons every day of their dry life. I thought as long as I could keep from him that I had smoked since I quit, that I could convince him I gave it my best but I was still going back.

That was two weeks ago. Erica went out of town and it all felt like that first week when I quit. It was emotionally and physically trying. I pretty much kept to myself: Did some writing, worked every day. But I spent a lot of time (either busy at the library or idle at the tutoring center) just thinking about it. Obsessing. I would watch for smokers at my new job, since no one really knew me there. I would look into people’s cars to see if they had a one they could throw me while driving (I’m dead serious. I guess James Bond would’ve been the best candidate for that but I never saw him). While I can’t be proud that I didn’t smoke a cigarette (the opportunity simply never presented itself, as I would’ve liked), I still managed to not buy any. What helped was I would naturally imagine myself buying a pack and feeling fucking horrible again (Kevin Stetz’s “never be the same” sang in my head as often as it did when I first quit).

I had a dream a few nights ago that Ryan Adams (one of the musicians I tried to emulate by smoking) had quit. When I woke up, I searched on the internet to find that this was true – that along with him being engaged to (and now married to) Mandy Moore, he had quit smoking at 34 – and I’m pretty sure that’s after almost 20 years of smoking. At first I thought it was God, implanting the dream to help me now but not back in January, when we both quit. But then I remembered I had seen a post of him singing “In My Time of Need,” but the video was titled “In My Time of Not Smoking.” I added him to my list of friends who had quit – along with Erica, Dad, Kevin, Jeff Tweedy.

Something about that feeling had a time stamp on it (probably the same fake/celebrity thing that helped me start in the first place) and I obsessed over smoking for most of that workday. Erica and I talked that night and it hit me, the base reason why this has been so difficult for me: I let all of my support do the quitting for me. Those first few weeks, when it was impossible, I couldn’t have done it without my father’s talks or my mother’s prayers. Or Erica just saying “stop” and her quitting with me. But that was it; I never spent any time alone reinforcing what I had learned. I ignored Kelly’s advice to meditate and be in touch with myself, the person quitting. And as the chemical left my system, I let my guard down. I smoked a few. Obsessed over the idea that I could manage some sort of healthy habit. Then I realized that was a fantasy – something that I swore I wouldn’t live for.

So why did I almost buy a pack today? I was at the gas station and I just told myself to buy a pack, that no one would know -without thinking. I thought of the one I would smoke as I went to Mecca, but when that became three I reconsidered and stayed outside with the gas pump. But it came over me again almost as easy as saying fuck it, and I went inside and said, “Pack of American Spirits, lights” with a new green mini-lighter in my hand. He rang up the lighter but then stalled while searching for the yellow pack – typical whenever you buy American Spirits outside of a cigarette shop. He even touched the stack of Lights but didn’t know they were American Spirits. Although it took only three seconds, it was enough time to look at myself and wonder what the fuck I was doing. I slid the green lighter back and said, “You know what? It’s cool, man,” and the cashier didn’t even seem to mind. Serendipity.

So no, it’s not every day – I won’t have to deal with this every day, like my grandfather, who got upset when he’d see a beer billboard. But, unless I deal with this honestly and more maturely than I have, I will be looking at my old habit – every day. I know that I don’t want this in twenty years, but I need to be honest and accept that that means I need to be done with this now. I still listened to Heartbreaker today, for the first time in months, and it feels like what happened was the last of that former me. I am grateful for quitting more today than ever before.

A smoking year

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I quit smoking 11 days ago. Although I only smoked for 16 months, it has been a strange and hard 11 days.

The first two days were easier than I imagined – really, I was excited,  like a test (common with any new challenge), but I was still confused as to why I was quitting. I really didn’t want to quit. I felt I had been had: I told my parents a week before and they were (reasonably) disappointed; Erica quit while she was out of town (remarkably with no sign she’d pick up again); and the idea “I can quit anytime” was something I had not heard myself say in a long time. When I first started smoking I not only could count how many cigarettes I had a day, but I recognized weeks and months as they passed. And as I hid my habit, I even hid it from myself and never considered myself a smoker. But when it came time to quit, it felt like I had waken up and been a smoker this whole time. For the first time, I was surprised I was smoking 10 cigarettes a day (which now, I think, is my surprise that I had started smoking at all).

There was something about the third and fourth day that was incredibly hard. For the first two days, I was out sick with a head cold, which was the only true stress of quitting those first few days (“I’m home alone, sick, can’t I just have a goddammed cigarette?”). But I stuck through it and actually looked forward to returning to work, thinking that with something to do other than being sick, I would have my mind off quitting and I would breeze through it by the end of the week. The first day back to work was surprisingly miserable. I wasn’t stressed at work, although I had a mounting headache from caffeine deprivation (I had to drop coffee at the same time), and actually had plenty of busy work to do. But no matter how much work I had, I could not take my mind off her – this long and lovely lady I was now leaving. I know that sounds a little far fetched, but I spent so much time even before I started smoking romanticizing cigarettes that quitting was actually heartbreaking.

And the effect was noticeable. I was sleeping in late, eating like an idiot, and just a mess. How I appeared on the outside (had anyone seen me) was true of the internal struggle that was wrecking my brain. I went back and forth between angry at and grateful for my parents pushing me to quit (which I quickly had to battle out when they had told my brother – I went from “How dare they?” to “Kelly’s on my side now, this is good.” in a split second). I thought of all the ways I could lie about this – I had, after all, kept it secret for more than a year, and that was half of the fun anyway. I even remember consoling myself that someday I’ll smoke again, when all the people who love me and depend on me drop dead. I love all these people, but that was a genuine promise that I thought I needed.

Even with shit to do, I did myself a favor and stayed inside that first day off (still day three). I wasn’t afraid that I would buy a pack (or the proverbial carton I promised dad I would buy if I ever thought I could afford to smoke  just one pack), but the truth is, I didn’t know what to expect. It was an honest fear I was facing, just how starnge and different the world was without the guarantee of a cigarette. I mean, there was the uncertainty of going to a gas station (and there were at least two dozen on the drive back from work the previous night), but I was really just trying to reanalyze, well, everything. My schedule was different, I had to listen to new music (for all the association I had with so many albums) and wear different clothes (it was odd to find that I had associated smoking as a fashion accessory, I mean, my god). I just wanted some coffee but knew I couldn’t (god, I was nervous about my first cup of tea the other day). Orange juice tasted like what I would imagine LSD tastes like. All of this culminated to me at home wondering who I was – and ultimately asking myself, who the fuck do you think you are, Sean?

The second day off came a bit easier and I went into town. Naturally the girl at the gas station asked me if I needed anything else when I paid for gas, and to the tune of “You need cigarettes?” and it felt so great to tell her no, really without thinking. I found that small victories like that were critical in those first days and I reveled in every one. Just listening to Sly and the Family Stone (completely different than my cigarette albums) meant a lot and really helped me drive across town when I really needed to. I felt alive, even when I ended the night lying on my back, sobbing and listening to music. I let go that night – of all the guilt I had carried, lying to my parents, drifting away from the responsibility of self. Yes, I knew what I was doing was wrong, but it certainly didn’t feel that way, and part of me was angry that this was wrong. I wanted it to be a vice I had, but not something I was ashamed of.

I think that was the first day I started questioning why I started in the first place, and really, why I had associations with so many things – music, fashion, film. I remember I started smoking when I had a short-lived and ill-advised reenactment with my ex-girlfriend last year, but it’s really a blur as to whether I started with her or if I had discovered it on my own and she just happened to smoke when I called her again. I secretly bought a pack last summer when I was working on a story and the main character had a cigarette for the first time in years after some trauma in his life. I know now that this was just an excuse, maybe something excusable, because I was curious about smoking already. But by the time I was dating my ex-girlfriend again, we were both smoking and drinking coffee like we lived in Seattle, ’92 – and considering my connection of cigarettes and music, that was very real at the time. But by my second day home alone I had all my cigarette albums shelved, collecting dust for a day I’m more stable to listen to them. By then I felt I was at a point I knew I could not return on.

And I also knew by then that the reasons why I started were not enough to start again: It was all a fantasy, man. It had a good, solid run, sure, but I wouldn’t say it was a good part of my life. And this idea that I might smoke later in my life when no one needs me, I mean, c’mon! Who wants to live like that? I started because I wanted to either be a rocker or a poet, or because I knew I was young and I thought I had the right. But by the fourth and fifth day, I knew it would never be the same and I could never return. That I didn’t want a fantasy to lead my life was enough to never smoke again, and that I knew it would never be the same was just reassurance.

When I couldn’t come to this on my own, like in the days before, there was my family. I thought mom and dad telling me how I could do this was just staple and it really took me sometime before I allowed that confidence to be mine. My brother just listened and I discovered most of what I’ve written here in my dialogues with him. I took comfort in Ryan Adam’s struggle to conquer drugs and alcohol, and read an article that just mentions Jeff Tweedy quit smoking and celebrated with him. The irony is that I shared not only a lyrical passion for tobacco as they did, but also the same brand. And I was already reading Richard Lewis’ memoir on his drinking problem (The Other Great Depression), and just as I was quitting I was getting past his early life and into his problem and all the people who wanted the best for him – and how much better he realized he was out of the shadow of his addiction.

My dad reminds me, even today, that, unlike alcoholics, I will not have the struggle of daily temptaions once I get this behind me. Once I accepted that, and reanalyzed the reasons I even started the habit, I still had the fear of not smoking, which was very real, even if fantastic – the outright denial pissed me off and I felt like something was stolen from me. Then I read something Richard Lewis wrote: “I inexplicably felt that there was so much more to me than this fear I was having about not drinking, ever again.”