Having reached an auspicious day, well into the double digits since I began my very own, proprietary smoking-cessation program, I am now prepared to offer the following conclusion regarding the results of my effort: What the hell was I thinking?
Okay, that’s less a conclusion than it is an admission that, under different circumstances, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – he of crack pipe and empty beer steins – might have been my sympathetic ‘amico’ (to use the common parlance of his alleged associates).
Permit me to elaborate.
Some weeks ago – at about the time of a visit from my Charlottetown-based daughter, her husband, and their two young kids – I began to feel edgier than usual about the fact that, while the rest of the health-conscious, civilized world had ‘butted out‘ long ago, I was still sucking back a regular complement of cigarettes daily.
All of which may have been considered normal behaviour in a 22-year-old college boy, circa 1983. After all, at that time, my father smoked, as did his friends and associates. Hell, from time to time, even my doctor lit up in his own consulting room. “Where’s my manners?” he once chastised himself. “Can I offer you one?”
But, nowadays, it remains pretty much inexcusable conduct, especially for a man (a grandfather of three, with another due in March, no less) approaching his 53 birthday. So, the question, for me, was not if or when to quit, but how.
“Everyone’s different,” a friend who is a former smoker advised.
“You’re not being helpful,” I complained.
“What I’m getting at is that you should expect to fail spectacularly.”
“Did I mention about that whole helpful thing?”
“What you must do is get right back at it. . .Never stop quitting.”
My father, who must have quit a dozen times before he stopped altogether many years ago, says going cold turkey was, in the end, the only way he licked the habit. Others I have known have slapped on the patch or chewed nicotine gum, though with only varying degrees of success.
“Everyone underestimates how insidious this stuff really is,” someone I know once wrote, though I am paraphrasing from memory. “I remember this one time, when you could still smoke on airplanes, I was trying to quit. So, here I was chewing some nic-gum when all of a sudden I was overcome with this horrible feeling of anxiety. I spit out what was in my mouth and whipped out a smoke. It was only later when I realized I had actually developed a momentary fear of flying just so I could have a cigarette.”
Another chum, a fellow journalist (naturally), quit drinking booze in his 40s and once said it was the hardest thing he ever did. Until, that is, he tried quitting smokes. “Wow,” he recanted. “Now, that’s tough.”
Or, as Mark Twain reportedly quipped, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” Then again, as Brooke Shields once observed with utter seriousness, “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”
The physical addiction to nicotine aside, it’s the psychological associations that more often bring down the lonely, sojourning quitter who pines for his best friend, now absent: the first coffee-of-the-day smoke, the pre-work-focus-the-mind smoke, the post-work-pre-dinner-cocktail smoke. The list is endless.
In my case, there was no easy way through it, around it or over it. I would dramatically reduce my daily tobacco consumption by several orders of magnitude. I would smoke only at the very end of the evening, during which I have no previous association with cigarettes.
I’m down to four a day. It’s been that way for weeks. Next week, I’ll be down to two. And, then, the week after that. . .
I’m fine. Really, I am.
I’ve taken up knitting, and needle point, and crocheting. I like to whittle toilet-roll holders from the branches of alder trees. Mostly, though, I like to walk aimlessly, for miles each day, muttering to myself.
Muttering things like, “What the hell was I thinking?”