I smoked my first cigarette at age 10, in the raspberry bushes across the street with my friend W., who had stolen his father’s pack. We hid the rest under a bush for later, but that night in a fit of penitence I came back and snapped them all in half, then mixed them with sand for good measure. When we met up to smoke some more, I pretended to be as surprised as anybody.

I didn’t smoke again (except cigars, which don’t count) until I was about seventeen. I had been just sort of wanting a cigarette for a while, no particular reason, just wanting to check it out; when lo and behold, I stumbled across an unopened pack in a parking lot, cellophane still on it: Marlboro Ultra-Lights, I’m pretty sure.

These days I’d have to smoke three of those to feel anything (ultra-lights, pshaw!) but back then a few puffs would send me pleasantly reeling; so that summer I’d go for a walk each night, taking the pack (which fairly tingled with verbotenheit) with me. Eventually my mother found the matches in my jacket pocket, made a guess (I probably stank) and confronted me.

So I agreed not to smoke, except I smoked anyway, because here was a positive pleasure in what was already a fairly lonely life. It didn’t really pick up until my 18th birthday, when I quit my heinous summer job as a Kirby salesman and bought the first pack that I didn’t have to beg anybody for. I finally asked my mother to remove her injunction against tobacco, since it wasn’t doing anything but make me feel bad, and she relented.

Smoking became a part of life. After meals, after Mass, after class; and then also before meals, before Mass, before class; after a movie, before a movie. After and before anything at all. Something to look forward to in the morning, something to close out the evening. By senior year I was well past a pack a day.

I marked time with cigarettes, the way we mark time with sleeping. If our bodies didn’t need sleep, we’d still want it, to prevent life from becoming one long blur: we need lines, demarcations. Life without smoking, like life without sleep, was a kind of nightmare.

Most people had only two forms of bodily consumption to enjoy, eating and drinking: I had three, and wasn’t eager to part with any of them.

Some time after college came my first serious efforts at quitting. The most success I had was the three months when I stayed with the order in Peru, when I didn’t smoke a single cigarette…okay, a single one. I managed to separate myself from the group during a trip to the market, bought a half pack, finished my chores early, and smoked behind the chapel like a fifth-grader. Then I had to confess it.

When my stay was done, Padre F. dropped me off at the airport; as his pickup pulled away, I walked to the newsstand — trailing clouds of glory from my three months of prayer, service, poverty, and soul-searching — and bought a pack of Camels.

Last Saturday I sparred after Kung Fu class for the first time in months. I didn’t do badly, and learned a few new tricks, but had to bow out early because I was puffing and blowing too hard to continue. The rest of the class, from fifteen years younger than me to fifteen years older, continued on. I was still riding the rush of a few good matches, but losing my breath — when the rest of my body is healthier than it’s ever been — made me feel frail and a little sad.

As I write this, it’s been 43.5 hours since my last cigarette. The last couple days haven’t been that bad. I am twitchy and achy and feverish and disconnected, but it’s not that bad. My little brother described it pretty well in a sympathetic text message: “For me [quitting] always felt like all the interstitual fluid in my body was becoming mildly acidic.”

And it leaves you wanting…something, something like smoking, something slightly forbidden and mildly painful that makes you feel an immediate difference. Like sticking your finger in an electrical socket; that might be an appropriate substitute.

I know if I start again I’ll just have to quit again. I know, also, that after the physical addiction is gone, the psychological addiction will linger. Meh, like they say, one day at a time. I can’t wait to take on my Sifu without wheezing like an invalid. I think I can feel the difference already.

22 thoughts on “Forty-Three Hours and Counting

  1. Christine

    My mother’s whole family smoked, before people realized how bad it was. She quit smoking out of sheer willpower when her father died of lung cancer. He was only in his 50s. She saw the long, slow, painful way he died and decided that she would do everything possible to make sure that never happened to her. One trick she used was to drink a lot of milk, because she always hated the taste of a cigarette after drinking milk. I know some people chew gum when they get a craving because it gives them something to do with their mouths. If you have any tricks like that, be sure to use them. And there are lots of things out there now to help with quitting smoking, which you can consult your doctor about, if you don’t mind getting medical help for beating the addiction.

    Reply
  2. Gillian

    what a familiar feeling, I myself struggle with quitting every single day. i have *technically* been a quitter for over 2 years now but recently i have sliiped into the habit of smoking when i drink….and i find myself drinking more….that cannot be good. be string sir and resist that temptation! God Bless

    Reply
  3. mikell

    Speaking of additions, I was leaving noon mass today and as I was driving out of parking lot a young man as walking down the street looking for a ride. We looked at each other with SSA and I sped way. Neither of us wanted sex I guess but I was afraid of myself. I could have giving him a ride but doing the chairitable thing I think I should have done, I would have for a straight guy. Was I wrong? What would have done?

    Reply
  4. Kate

    Man, I just love, love, love your writing. Can’t stop saying that, sorry. Good for you for trying to quit smoking. It’s the right/healthy thing to do, but I know it’s tough. Hang in there! Good luck!

    Reply
  5. Deanna

    I’ve been reading your blog for few months now but haven’t commented before. I just wanted to say I like your writing and that I’m praying for you – for the graces and strength you need to quit smoking.

    Reply
  6. Potamiaena

    You are amazing. Your “heinous job as a Kirby salesman” would make anyone want to smoke! LOL! I like the way you express yourself. Your writing makes me want to read more!

    My mother smoked, and still does. She is 86. She cannot sleep laying down, cannot sleep over 6 hours (needs a cig), cannot take a deep breath, cannot walk fast and always has stuff dripping out of her nose and stinks. The absolute worst was when she was in her 60′s. She would cough SO BAD in the mornings that you thought she was going to die. It was so painful to hear. She couldn’t go on a trip as no one could be her roommate. It wasn’t fair to wake them up too.

    Growing up with a smoker made me NEVER want to smoke. My mom would stick the cigarrette out of those little triangle windowsin the 1969 Ford LTD, and all the smoke would blow in the backseat to me. At least that is what I thought! I often thought about smoking to control my weight. I just couldn’t do it.

    Why don’t you take the $$ you are saving and put it in a piggy bank and take a trip when you are smoke free for 6 months.

    Also, say a Rosary every day for strength. You are already stronger than you think you are. Praying for you!

    Reply
  7. TheresaEH

    Quitting smoking is easy, I had done it a hundred times ;-)
    I smoked for 30 years and enjoyed it very much.
    I quit cold turkey Ash wednesday 2004. But since New Years day 2004 I had been praying at 3pm ( Divine Mercy chaplet) for the grace to do so.
    Keep going, with God’s grace you can do it eh!!!! Just think of all the fun you can have being one of *those* ex-smokers eh ;D

    Reply
  8. Mark from PA

    Congratulations on quitting smoking. Good for you. Your lungs will be forever thankful. Try night to get too stressed and pamper yourself in other ways a little bit. I never smoked because when I was young I thought that it was for old people. I didn’t want to get old too quick. Anyway, hang in there my friend and God bless you. Warmest hugs – Mark

    Reply
  9. Dolores

    Recently returned from visiting my bro who has started smoking again after several months using the patch. He said that life had been more stressful than usual and a couple of cigs a day seemed to take the edge off. As one who never started, I didn’t say too much and am hoping that he will get back on the wagon sooner than later.

    Reply
  10. momofthree

    Everyone here who is addicted and wants to quit but is afraid they cannot must know that my father quit at the age of 65. He had smoked since he was 13 and was up to two packs of unfiltered Pall Malls a day, every day.

    He is a hardcore, old-school type of man, who still has a substantial drinking issue, but he actually did quit ten years ago. I went to the doc with him a few years ago and the man took me aside and said, “Mary, your father changed the way I do medicine. Before he quit, I had him firmly in that category in my head of ‘people who will never quit’, and I am seldom if ever, wrong about that.” “Oh.” I replied, getting silently angrier by the minute that this dude mentally gave up on people as part of his routine. But I held it together, and later hugged my dad, knowing what an accomplishment it was for him to stop. But at the very least you must all know that if my father can quit, anyone can. I now firmly believe that. And his quitting inspired my brother to quit dipping, and me to be 100% clean about my eating disorder. You can change, and your change will change others….it just grows and grows.

    Mary

    Reply
  11. mariecarolk

    Good for you Steve! Everyone I work with smokes, which is changing a little bit since I know several of them are trying to quit. I’ll group you in my prayers for them :)

    Marie

    Reply
  12. Lori

    I attended a Catholic conference last weekend and Father Michael Gaitley said that we are living in a time of unprecedented grace. He said to just look around – we all know we’re living in a time of unprecedented evil and sin; and so, “where sin abounded grace did much more abound.” (Rom 5:20).

    I thought that was cool. Praying for an outpouring of His grace onto you.

    Reply
  13. jp

    …just listened to your interview on Catholic warrior.

    i just hope that as you quit these, there isn’t a corresponding change in that rich, velvety voice that just floated out of my speakers….

    Reply

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