October 17, 2018 10:27:04 AM
Not that I am counting the days or anything, but I walked away from one of my oldest relationships 142 days ago. While my friends can't stop slapping me on the back for the break-up -- they said they knew all along ours was a toxic relationship - I confess that I'm feeling a bit guilty about it and I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it.
On May 28 -- Memorial Day -- I quit smoking, ending a relationship that goes back to when I was 12 years old. Forty-seven years ago, I smoked my first cigarette. I can't think of many things I've done that long.
At the start, it was more of a flirtation than a relationship. I'd sneak a cigarette out of my dad's pack and steal off in the woods to partake in what seemed to me then a revolutionary act. I was that sort of kid. If you didn't want me to do something, you had better not mention it. There would be all sort of bad behaviors that I would ignore without a thought, but the minute I was told I shouldn't do something -- or better yet, that I was forbidden to do something -- my waking hours would be devoted to figuring out how to do it.
It was that way with smoking. It was also that way with drinking, too, and we all know how that turned out.
Through my teen years, I'd smoke a few cigarettes a week, but by the time I reached my 20s, it was a full-blown habit. Conservatively -- and I'm rarely conservative by any definition of the term -- I've smoked a half-million cigarettes over the past 45 years. By the end, I was smoking two packs a day. When I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I smoked a cigarette before going back to bed. I was about as badly hooked as any person could be.
When I started smoking, a pack of cigarettes cost probably $1.50. By the time I quit, a pack set me back $5. I figure I spent at least $75,000 on cigarettes. What was I thinking, right?
Like most long-time smokers, I had made efforts to quit before. Usually, those efforts ended within a few days.
Until a few months ago, the longest time I had managed to go without a cigarette was 34 days in 2007.
That time, it wasn't my decision. The state of Arizona, more specifically Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, decided I would quit smoking. Sheriff Joe banned cigarettes from his jail facilities, so I spent 34 days at Durango Jail awaiting my sentence for DUI. Jail inmates couldn't have coffee, either. I was convinced that Sheriff Joe laid awake nights thinking of ways he could make inmates' lives more miserable because, let's face it -- a miserable, angry, bitter prisoner is just the sort of person who want to turn back out into the community.
We inmates understood his motives, so the minute I landed at Florence State Prison, where smoking was permitted, I bummed a cigarette from a guy in the exercise yard, lit up and blew a kiss-my-posterior smoke ring in Sheriff Joe's honor.
Now, things are different and it surprises me how relatively easy quitting smoking actually was. For the longest time, I reflected on those long ago futile attempts at quitting as proof that I was incapable of quitting.
But on Memorial Day, armed with only a vague hope that I could quit, I stopped smoking cold turkey, the same way my Dad quit when he was 50. I had intended to quit when I was 50, too, but it took another nine years for me.
I'm not going to say it was easy. The first couple of days, all I wanted to do was to curl up in a fetal position and hate the world. My thought in those first few days was that people who are quitting smoking should be allowed to murder someone, just to take the edge off.
But I survived the first week without the aid of homicide and soon the cravings changed. I tell folks my cigarette cravings are sort of like labor pains in reverse -- they become less frequent and less intense as the days go by.
Now, the cravings are but a fleeting thought. My only regret is that I didn't quit sooner, but I'm not going to complain.
But I do feel a bit guilty. My friends constantly ask how I'm doing and tell me they are proud of me. It seems odd to me that I'm complimented for not doing something most people have enough sense not to do in the first place.
But they mean well, and I do appreciate their support.
If I can quit smoking, pretty much anyone can, I figure.
So give it a shot. What's the worst that can happen? You might surprise yourself. I know I did.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
3. Editorial cartoons for 4-19-19 NATIONAL COLUMNS