Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cigarettes are my Weakness

We're talking about addiction for the next two weeks here at PensFatales, and when I hear that word, I think of one thing: Cigarettes. I smoked from age 20 to 29, and quitting was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Since I quit eight years ago, I haven't even had so much as a single puff, because I know I'm not a casual smoker. If I were to smoke one cigarette, I'd be back to a pack a day within two weeks. The following is excerpted from an essay about how I quit, to be published in A LIFE IN STITCHES, coming next year from Chronicle:

I loved smoking. Really. I was passionate about cigarettes. I loved everything about them. I adored that first tang of sulfur when the match was blown out, the initial draw, the long middle, that last sour, greedily sucked puff at the butt end of the smoke. I loved that smoking gave me an excuse to sit and do nothing. Seven minutes of silence is precious sometimes. Other times, smoking gave me something to hide behind. Like in all the best Bogie movies, the way a person holds her cigarette tells you something about her, and my smoking said I’m not scared. But of course, that wasn’t true.

I’m not normally a very shy person, but in highly social settings, I get nerves so badly that I have to have something to grip, something to anchor me down. During my twenties, that something was smoking. At parties, I was the one who first got a glass of wine from the host and then immediately went to stand outside with the other socially awkward addicts. There was a bond among us, an agreement reached when we lit each other’s cigarettes with the butt ends of our own. We understood each other. And the fact that we looked like cool kids smoking outside, while we really were just nervous, was a lie we’d keep to ourselves.

I had tried to quit many times before, but I had a pack-a-day habit, and I failed, again and again. I know it sounds stupid, but quitting felt like losing a friend. No, worse. It felt like losing twenty of my best little filter-tipped friends, all standing at attention in my purse, always there for me, ready to get me out of sticky situations, easing the stresses of everyday life. If I quit, what would I hide behind?

It wasn’t until just before my thirtieth birthday, when I gave myself the ultimate bribe, that I gave up smoking for good: If I quit, I could buy as much yarn as I wanted.

Oh, just even reading this now makes me yearn for a smoke. Instead, I'll just keep eating the Halloween candy I bought and then didn't give out, and after I finish my writing (Happy NaNo, everyone!), I'll knit a row or seventeen. Addiction. It ain't for sissies. Got an addiction you care to share with us?


Another Joan said...

Rachael: my mother crocheted a double bedspread on a teeeeny crochet hook trying to quit smoking. It was on their bed for two years before she actually quit for good. Ten years later, after a lovely meal, she said plaintively, "I'd give anything for a cigarette right now." I starting knitting to quit and it took a big red sweater and a lot of funny looks in the bars. Addictions - they are powerful, eh?

Evalyn said...

I'm glad I never picked up a habit like smoking because I know in my soul I don't have the strength of character to quit.

Unknown said...

I smoked the summer I went to France. In Europe (back then anyway) it was the perfect way to meet people. "Avez-vous un feu?" was an easy non-invasive start to a conversation. When I came home, I quit. Looking back on it, and knowing my parents history with cigarettes, what the hell was I thinking? I am grateful that nicotine didn't become my addiciton.

oh, and I can't freaking wait for this book!!!! xo

Mysti said...

I tried to take up smoking when I was 18 to lose weight. I just couldn't do it.

Have plenty of other addictions to make up for it :)

Adrienne Bell said...

Oh, Rachael, I used to love smoking. I know your not supposed to say such a thing, but I did for all the reasons you mentioned above. I LOVE this post.

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