QUITTING

Originally written for The Happy Quitter, published March 7, 2015. Today is my 68th birthday and quitting smoking was the best gift I ever gave myself. Time to talk about it. I’m surprised I’ve never written about it before now.


In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies and the whole world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was pretty easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in, not so much the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “it was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said, and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit off and on for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere – usually an office – where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction which lured me back to a habit I understood was harmful to my health, disastrous to my budget (and getting more costly each day). And made my clothing and hair stink of stale smoke. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes, than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. On some level, I still do. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky. I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering an unbearable desire to smoke.

I am sure right now … after seven? eight? years since I quit for good that were I to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker again. Instantly. It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to the habit of smoking.

It’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

24 thoughts on “QUITTING

  1. Since 1972…you can read a previously posted story: “Pack of Camels, Please.” I loved it. Really difficult to stay quit. Now I am working on the alcohol thing. But what will do me in will be chocolate and diabetes. I am certain about it.

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    • Well, for what it’s worth, it’s 100% certain something will kill all of us. To the best of my knowledge, no one gets out alive. I have nothing left to give up. No negotiating power. The next thing to come down the pike is going to get me. I’m not sure if that’s scary or comforting. Hard to tell.

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  2. I just posted on another site that I no longer read fiction (except one author), and the reason is that when I used to smoke I always had a novel in my hand. Once I quit in 1990 I cannot pick up a novel (except for one author) without wanting to have a cigarette in my hand, which of course means I would have to smoke it. So, congrats and Happy Birthday!

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    • I had a LOT of trouble writing for a while after I quit. It was so much a part of the rhythm of work, it took me a long time to be able to focus. I eventually got past it, but it took a very long time.

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  3. First of all, happy birthday. As to smoking, I quit cold turkey 32 years ago. I was in my office in Manhattan, at a time when smoking inside office buildings was still permitted. I remember lighting up a cigarette and then looking down at my ashtray and seeing another recently lit cigarette sitting in it. That’s when I decided to quit. Right then and there and I haven’t looked back since.

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    • I started late. I was 32 and had dodged and woven through a life full of heavy smokers and never lit up. When I got to Israel, cigarettes were such a big part of the culture, I started accepting them out of politeness … and one day realized I was hooked. Starting turned out to be a lot easier than quitting, but I finally did. I hardly know any smokers anymore. Funny how the times really have changed from when I was a girl and almost everyone smoked.

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  4. An interesting take on smoking addiction, I don’t hear the about the social factor much. We seem to attract a lot of smokers to the workforce at Mecca… in fact, I swear they only reason they apply here is for the extra money to continue feeding their habit. Anyway, back in the good old days when we were a very tight knit crew on overnights, I hung out with the smokers in the smoking lounge (Which was about 1/4 the size of the regular break room that was largely deserted due to the nearly 8:1 smoker to nonsmoker ratio). I also went to Bingo a lot and would get drenched in secondhand smoke sitting there for three hours. Though I never thought the smell of smoke, or the lingering smell that would stay on my clothes bothered me much… an amazing thing happened after Illinois passed the smoking ban in 2008. I suddenly realized just how much better it was not having to smell the smoky stench. On the rare occasions where I am around cigarette smoke anymore, it’s now a purely awful experience for me….

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    • Stale smoke stinks. It only smells good for the first couple of seconds when it’s first lit. After that, nasty. I never liked smelling like an ashtray, but addiction is what it is. And everyone smoked for a long time. Too long. It’s very easy to do what everyone is doing because you are there. Not smart, but easy.

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  5. I did everything except heroin/needles. Booze, drugs, cigs – an 8 year crash course. No moderation. Cigs – 2 packs a day. Were 65 cents a pack (Canadian) when I quit cold turkey in ’78. Dropped drugs about this time also. Lost most of my friends(?) when I did all this. Progressively stopped drinking. None of this stuff mixed with my Spirituality. I don’t regret the experience though – felt I had to do it – BUT definitely don’t recommend it to anyone. Yeah, cigs are very tough. Knew people who couldn’t quit at all. Substances … a hell of a thing.

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    • The legal ones are worst because they are so easy to get. And the social life keeps sucking you back in. You have to quit the friends and the addiction. That is very hard. I know a lot of former addicts of various substances — booze, pills, cigs and any combination you can think of — and all of them have quit. The others are dead. At a certain point, that’s the choice. Quit or die. I quit. You quit. Garry quit. We’re alive.

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  6. “Age merely shows what children we remain.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Never forget the wonderful child in you. Happy birthday! Thank you for a great post, you will inspire many 🙂 Bridget

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  7. I seem to have a few too many addictive genes. I’m a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t touched a drop since Sept 13, 1979. I took up smoking that to 4 years in the USAF when I was in their “Fat Boy” camp to lose weight. I lost 75 pounds in two weeks but came out of the camp addicted to cigarettes. That was 1969. I stopped smoking January 04, 2006 because of congestive heart failure that almost killed me. Funny how you lose your addiction to cigarettes when you can’t breathe! I’ve always been addicted to food although my weight hasn’t varied for 45 years. Now diabetic that’s the last vice I have left and it may be the one that kills me, eventually.

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    • There are many alcoholics in my life. The ones that quit drinking are alive. The others are not. Smoking is I think the hardest addiction to give up. Eating less is easier as you get older. You appetite diminishes with the years and tastes change. Notice how you don’t see lots of very fat people in senior centers? The weight just goes down by itself. Sometime to look forward to, I hope.

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