Dear Lily June,
This morning at around 7:00am I smoked my last cigarette. I know you probably don’t believe me, as I’ve already quit here and here before. It was more like my last last last last last last last cigarette. But I made a promise to you–and to myself–that of all the Christmas gifts I gave you this year, the most important one was going to be the gift of more years with me. Don’t you dare curse me when you have to change my diapers there at the end; remember that I changed roughly two-hundred and seventy million of yours here at the beginning.
I know that I need to quit before you ever see me take a hit and understand what nicotine addiction really means. So help me, if you ever pick up smoking in your teen years, I will show you. I will confiscate your pack a
nd smoke every single one of them in front of you. Then, I’ll force you to spend your hard-earned money on more and more packs for me, and I’ll continue to smoke them until… Let’s begin again, shall we? Seeing as this is my 100th public letter to you, Lily, I’ve decided to do something special. In this blog post, I’ll update my progress with quitting at least once every hour–about as often as I’d smoke a cigarette–to keep me honest. I owe it to you. I owe it to your dad, who’s trying to quit today, too. I owe it to any and everyone who stops by this blog and doesn’t want to think they’re reading the words of a filthy scum liar hypocrite. And I owe it to that company called IF, who produced the fine pack of cards called 52 Ways to Stop Smoking that I’ll be referring to as my aid in this process.
Lily June, know that I love you enough to tackle this cold turkey. Gobble, gobble, girl. Here we go.
Update #1 – Hour 1: Rejecting the Addict’s Logic
According to the cards, three conditions make you want to smoke: relaxation, stress, and everything in between. Ain’t that the truth? I used to tell friends that nothing made me want a cigarette more than watching anti-smoking PSAs on TV. Between their threatened trach rings and tumors, I would get so stressed out at the prospect that smoking was killing me, I’d want to smoke to relax again. This, my dear, is an idiotic addict’s logic.
Update #2 – Hour 2: Raising the Heart Rate
Okay, so I’m reminded by these pessimistic cards that by quitting I might pack some pounds onto my already full figured frame. So what, Lily? A person is more than the weight of their parts. The beneficial side of quitting, to a foodie, is that you can actually taste again. I once read a review of a restaurant your dad and I used to go to back when we lived in Alabama called Dreamland Barbecue.
The reviewer said the ribs were so good, “they made your tongue want to slap your brains out.” I’m looking forward to getting my brain knocked about a bit. In the meantime, I’m popping sugar-free Lifesavers like they’re, well, lifesaving, and I plan to walk around campus on my lunch break. You proud of me yet, Lily?
Update #3 – Hour 3: Wishing for Positive Reinforcement
Okay, each of these cards is starting to feel like a threat. I think of dolphins who, upon performing a trick, are tossed a reeking fresh fish to wrap their little dolphin lips around. (I know dolphins don’t have lips. But I also don’t have cigarettes, so I definitely don’t have sense-making abilities, Lily.) The point is, even dolphins are given a little positive reinforcement.
How about, cards, instead of being pushy little bullies, you stand behind me in the ring, rubbing my shoulders and saying, “You just cut your chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes by 44 percent. Way to go, Champ!”
Of course, I’ll still feel like quitting is kicking my ass. But I know now I don’t need to get my own punches in. I just need to do this Rocky-style, and stay alive while the dying addict inside me pummels my emotions into hamburger meat.
Update #4 – Hour 4: Quitting quitting quitting
I am resolved. I am quitting my quitting of quitting. In other (more clear, less addiction-driven) words, I WILL stick with this. The addict brain whispers into the ear of my ear, Lily, that evil lie over and over: Just one, just one, just one more one more. There’s NEVER just one more one more. There’s always an infinite number of one mores. But not, I whisper back, today. (Even though the cravings have progressed now to the point where I want to roll my own face off from the forehead down and smoke it.)
Update #5 – Hour 5: Identifying Fears
I’m scared I’ll plump up like a hot air balloon. I’m scared I’ll end up substituting food for smokes. I’m scared I won’t be able to talk to anyone without lighting up first. I’m scared I’ll snap at you tonight, Lily, even though it won’t be your fault that I’m quitting. I’m scared your dad and I will engage in our traditional quitting spat. I’m scared I won’t know how to give myself a break at work, a small reward for a big job complete.
I’m scared I’ll live. This, most of all, Lily, is a old, deep down fear that I’ve got to get rid of. I WANT to live for you. I want to show you picnics and bike rides and kite runs through the wind. And I’ll need every breath in my lungs to do this. I’m just afraid that wanting to live sets me up for failure. And I’ve always been afraid of failing at anything, even living.
Update #6 – Hour 6: Catching My Breath
I went for the recommended brisk half-hour walk around campus on my lunch break, Lily. Usually when I go for a walk, I do so along a river and take in the sights. Or I do so with an iPad and take in the music. Today being cold-turkey day, I went with nothing but my own heartbeat. Here are my observations:
Campus is a ghost town at this time in December. My lungs are old heavy drawers hard to pull in and out of the dresser. Catching the reflection of my widening waist in the windows of empty offices makes me want to smoke. What is that wind? Where is that wind coming from? Oh, I am the wind. I am wheezing like the ghost that haunts the ghost town at this time in December. Stairs, I dub thee evil. Stairs, I dub thee cruel. Heart, I demand thee continue. My lungs are kites made of brick.
Update #7 – Hour 7: Rejecting Threats
More threats, huh? Et tu, cards? I think the endless stream of negativity–the “see what smoking was doing to you?”–tactic doesn’t work for me.
I remember a urologist, when I was getting painful rescue installations done for my bladder condition, rushing into my examination room. He wasn’t even my urologist. He asked, “Who’s the smoker?” as if I weren’t the only patient in the room. When I admitted it was me, he said, “I’ll see you in five years when you’re back here with bladder cancer.” That smug certainty, even on the face of death, made me crave a cigarette like no other. Bedside manner counts, Lily, whether you’re a doctor or you’re your own caretaker.
Be kind to yourself, especially if you’re your own patient. You deserve patience. You deserve encouragement, no matter the statistics.
Update #8 – Hour 8: Berating My Present Self for My Past Self’s Mistakes (Uh Oh)
Again, the smug tone of these cards is starting to harsh my mellow. Or maybe I’m reading smugness into everything by hour eight so that I can be defensive about everything so that I can imagine I’m imaginarily wounded so that I can justify wanting to smoke to cure all that ails me.
I can’t believe, as the card mocks me for it, that I used perseverance to push myself past what I hated until I loved it. Who does that? Human beings or something? Are we stupid sometimes or what, Lily? Note to daughter: Be BETTER than your mother, ‘kay? It really is that easy.
Update 9 – Hour 9: Recognizing Strength
Okay, so smokers are more likely to have brittle teeth and bones. I think that gets to the heart of any addiction: Vulnerable people turn to substances to distract themselves from their vulnerability, but ironically, the substances end up making them as physically vulnerable as they already were emotionally.
I know I’m heading into my most vulnerable time of the day: Being home with you and your father, Lily. Knowing that I love you and want to quit for the both of you means I’ll feel a great (literally great) weight on my heart when I get to you two. It means I’ll see, in the flesh, what this battle is all about.
I know you’re too young to be disappointed in me if I fail. But I’m too old to keep disappointing myself with this back and forth process. I want you to know, Lily, no matter the odds, you’re strong enough to change your life, on any day, for any reason.
I won’t update again tonight, because my time with you is precious, and I need to stay focused on what really matters. I promise you, kid, I’ll make it through the night. I promise you I’ll make it through your whole life. I want you to read this with confusion and unfamiliarity. I want you to quit reading this letter befuddled and think, “Wait a minute. My mom was once a smoker?!”
Here’s to our hopefully longer future, Lily…
- “111127-A-HN782-207” by U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Pomrenke – http://www.defenseimagery.mil/imagery.html#a=search&s=thanksgiving&n=90&t=0&guid=9277accb5c0b08a5c253564de36c00044fc37067. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:111127-A-HN782-207.jpg#/media/File:111127-A-HN782-207.jpg
- “Dreamlandexterior” by Original uploader was CH52584 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Xnatedawgx using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dreamlandexterior.JPG#/media/File:Dreamlandexterior.JPG