Tag Archives: smoking

Look, Matisyahu, I don’t know what your deal is, or why the Reggae and not something less awful,1 or what that accent is, exactly,2 or why you decided to shave your beard or how I feel about that, but I do like that one song that was on the radio forever ago, because damn, how many times has a love song aimed directly at God gotten that much radio play?

Not since the heyday of U2, probably, I mean Joshua Tree era stuff, when God was all they wrote about even while pretending it was women, before they traded it in for all this Paolo-Coelho-style dime-store aw-gawrsh-feel-goody quasi-mysticism.

Where was I? Yeah, Matisyahu. I was thinking about him because I was thinking about addiction and suddenly remembered his song Youth, which may be totally forgettable but does have that one line about

beer and cigarettes
To fill the hole in they chest!

which is pretty good.

I don’t know what addiction is like — I mean, I’ve never lived in that black hell of staggering from fix to fix with just enough self-consciousness to be able to glimpse what a wreck you’re making of everything. The closest thing I’ve got is cigarettes and gayness.

But gayness-as-an-addiction I never really got into, for whatever reason: as Fr. T said a long time ago, as a homosexual, I’m a total failure. Because I don’t do the sleeping with men thing, and I don’t do the dating men thing, and I almost don’t do the porn thing; I mean in theory I don’t at all, only nobody is perfect, are they?

And I’ve never done the truck stop thing or the Craigslist thing. Those are life-ruiners as surely as anything you can smoke or mainline; I heard one story from a dude in one of my groups about this guy that he almost ran off to Wyoming to go stay with, but decided not to at the last minute, and then it turned out later that the guy in question was a real live serial killer. Neat!

Cigarettes I was big into for about twelve years, before giving them up last May. I miss them a little but not much.

But I understand addiction the most whenever I suddenly, chest-piercingly, miss all the cigarettes I ever smoked, and all the boyfriends I never cuddled and sex I never had. That moment when, Oh God, what does the next moment look like, and the moment after that? What can I put into myself, or what can I put myself into? All that space in me, all of a sudden, it’s like a warehouse in there, a whole abandoned factory, it’s a planet-sized emptiness.

Occasionally I’ll get a moment like this, maybe while driving down the highway. Good Lord, I will say to myself suddenly, here I am in this moment and here I keep on being, with nothing to do and nothing to regard.

I try switching on the radio but that just populates the void with anxiety. I try focusing on the landscape, penetrating it with my gratitude-vision — thank you Lord for the trees, thank you for their intricate leaves — but it is just boring, boring. How could anything not be boring?

Should I call a friend? But who will I call? I have nothing to say, any time, ever, to anyone. I do not like anything and I do not feel anything, and all of the things and people that I used to pretend interested me are useless.

But it is a fit, and it passes. What is that? Is it just the real-life version of the Total Perspective Vortex? Is it a glimpse of my own utter contingency, the total poverty of what it means to be anything that is not God?

And if so, if that’s what it feels like to see straight, how can anybody stand it? Why isn’t everybody smoking crack every second of every day? I think there are only two possible answers. Everything depends on which one you find and cling to.

The first answer is to become more and more skilled at forgetting that you are nothing — sex, drugs, rock and roll, political activism, religiosity, science, whatever does it for you, man. When one well dries up, find another, on the run till you die. One form of noise after another; anything to drown out the crying of the wind.

The second answer is to learn, finally, that you are the beloved one of God, the one he would give up everything for, sell his blood for; and that therefore, after all, beyond all logic — like the clay the potter picked out of the mud by the river and turned into something beautiful, but less than that because unlike the clay you didn’t used to be anything at all, and more than that because you are destined for deification — you are, after all, something.

1 I like Reggae perfectly well! It’s just that it’s a single, perfectly competent song posing as an entire genre.
2 Jewmaican?

I heard a nice idea from my sister: every time something happens that you’re really thankful for, you write it on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Then, at the end of the year, you read the pieces of paper, to remember all the good things.

I think I missed some big ones — I guess I forgot to keep putting stuff in the jar — and some of the things are on a whole nother level than others (like apparently I was really excited about my new car), but here are my 2013 scraps, not in chronological order but just in the order that I happened to take them out of the jar. They are only slightly expurgated.

  • I got a Jetta.

It feels a little silly that this is the top of the list, but it is a cool car, and it’s bright red besides.

  • I told [x] I was attracted to him. He still wanted to be friends.

This was a first for me. As with so, so many other things, it was much less of a big deal in real life than it had been in my mind. Months later, the attraction isn’t really an issue, and we’re still friends. So.

  • [x] visited me, and we talked more deeply than we’ve ever talked before.

[x] and I have been friends for sixteen years. Somehow we had never rolled up our sleeves and compared scars before.

  • I came out publicly, and received a tremendous outpouring of love and support.

Yayuh. I’m not sorry that I waited so long, because my right time was my right time. But it’s awfully nice out here in the breeze and sunshine.

  • I am attracted to women, and some more than others.

Still true, but nothing to really write home about.

  • I started the SEAL workout with Ryan Gooseling.

Highly recommended.

  • I got my green sash.

Our school goes: white, yellow, green, purple, blue, brown, black. I currently stand at purple-with-a-blue-stripe, or “purple-and-a-half”, but that’s not nearly as close to black as it sounds. Long road ahead of me, and I plan to see it through.

  • I entered the Wu Dao tournament — my first. Placed first in forms, second in sparring.

To be fair, there were only two other guys in my sparring division.

  • [x] was going to leave but decided to stay.

[x] is a coworker who became an unexpectedly big part of my life. If he had quit, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but still, phew!

  • I sat and talked with [x] and [x] about porn and masturbation and homosexuality for hours. Till 2 in the morning. They understood it all.

More scar-sharing, and it’s always cool when straight guys have scars in the same spots as me.

  • After I had quit smoking for a week, everybody at the kwoon clapped for me.

Now I’m at seven months and counting. Dare I say that the hard part is over?

  • I became friends with Ryan Gooseling.

Unexpected blessings are the best kind.

  • I went contact-improv dancing with [x].

Okay, okay, it was fun, but it did have more flailing than I am comfortable with, and I still don’t like hipsters.

2013 saw, oddly, an apparent ending to the kind of misery that I used to think was a permanent fixture in my life. I’m sure the Black Dog will pay me a visit or two in the future, but depression is no longer a defining characteristic in my life.

Can I just say: holy shit, you guys, for somebody who was depressed pretty much every day for about fifteen years, that’s kind of a big deal. Do you even know how good it feels to go whole weeks or even months without wanting to die? Did you even know that could happen? It’s neat!

In 2014, I plan to discover what kind of adventures are possible when your primary goal is no longer just to keep the agony down to a dull roar. I’m excited.

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.