The Cheek of God

I definitely inhaled . . .

Tag: quitting smoking

Hump

This just in, from the No News is Good News department . . .

It has been 60 days, six hours, 53 minutes and 24 seconds since my last cigarette.

I have posts afloat in the syrup of my mind about books I haven’t finished but want to, things I am doing (and not doing) with regards to my schooling, and an open letter to a national chain restaurant. Once they gel, I shall expel them in this space. For now, this is what you get.

A relevant aside:

My friend tells me I am now officially “over the hump.” Despite my often vociferous protests to the contrary, I am, somewhere deep inside, beginning to agree.

A question:

Besides that unsettling euphoric feeling you experience when you crest a hill and begin the descent down the other side, how else can you tell when you’ve officially cleared whatever hurdle lies upon your path? Your experience might echo and validate my own, so share away . . .

[Flickr photo is by notsogoodphotography and is protected]

The Elephant in the Blog

The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.

~ Nikos Kazantzakis

She sat there, in her normal spot, my La-Z-Boy chair at the foot of my bed in the corner of my bedroom next to the window that faces the sunset, in her typical manner, legs folded under and one elbow perched on the soft and cushiony armrest, at or around the usual time of day, in those desirably peaceful and yet mindlessly frantic moments that precede the closing of eyes and the dreaming of dreams, so her presence did not startle me.

No book sat open in her lap. No tales of wizards and witches on broomsticks or teenagers with wings or drawings and words inside and outside boxes about a little boy named after a theologian with a tiger named after a philosopher for a friend. No mystery for me to hear her unravel or adventure to watch her ride upon or joke for me to get, again.

I stopped cold, the smile on my face gone with the realization that she sat there crying. Staring at me and through me and beyond me at the significance and meaning of me. At a place without me. So she cried, tears so big, from a place where tears store up over time before overflowing uncontrollably and torrential.

She said she doesn’t want me to die.

How do you talk about something so top-heavy with what-ifs? In one scenario, the words eventually dead end upon the bone-shattering rocks of some imaginary torment, conceiving the inconceivable, and we are left staring, at nothing, our minds at the end of the world, with eyes so wide our muscles ache. Or, if we can manage to staunch the flood, we take control of the words, the careening thoughts, and steer them along an alternate route, away from fantastic and horrific speculations, and back to reality, toward what can be accomplished. Each avenue have a fecundity all its own, and it takes skill to recognize the divergence and bend that fork back together.

To allow the tears to flow, even as we wipe them away.

***

Smoking has become the elephant in the room around here. I stare at it on occasion, point to it and ask you to do the same, and then we move on. I write posts about wanting to quit, you encourage me to do so, and then we move on. I move on. And keep right on smoking.

Ignoring the elephant.

Sometimes, you see it. You ask me how it’s going. And then I either lie and say it’s going great, or I say something completely meaningless and void of any manner of conviction, like, “Well, it’s hard, but I’m trying.”

Read: I’m still smoking.

One thing I’ve learned about smoking is that there is no real discernable and immediate consequence for not quitting. For continuing to smoke. Sure, my lungs are working harder and my joints are stiffening and my heart is pumping faster, but that shit doesn’t happen overnight and is quite manageable in the short run. If given less than a moment’s thought, each of those things vanish under the rug that aging pulls over us when we’re not looking. While we’re busy doing other things.

Like blogging. It may sound cliché, but it is an honor to write for you. You don’t have to read my blog, but you do. You make your way here, read my ramblings, sometimes comment, and then move on, a few minutes each week that add up to one big smile on my sagging face. But you’re not stupid. You know the elephant is there. You ignore it as well, and forgive me when I do the same.

Can I be completely honest with you?

It’s time to stomp the fucking elephant.

I’m tired of writing about smoking. About how much I hate it and love it and can’t live with our without it. At the same time, I’m tired of ignoring it. Of brushing aside your kindness.

Of trying to dry my daughter’s tears, only to see them spill over, again and again and again. She cannot ignore the elephant. She refuses to do so.

***

I took my last drag on Sunday, June 27th, 2010, at 10:02 PM. Before I took it, I stopped and thought about the import of the moment. I asked myself if I could follow through. If I could do the thing I have decided to do . . .

If I ever smoke another cigarette, then I will delete this blog.

Since that moment with my daughter, about a month or so ago, I’ve been laying a foundation. Preparing for this moment. I have a plan, it’s working, and I’ll perhaps share with you some of the things I’ve learned in the coming weeks. For now, I give you a date, and a promise. In case you missed it . . .

If I smoke another cigarette, then I will delete this blog.

The entire blog. I know how to do it. Have only seriously considered doing it once. And now, all these years and posts later, I can’t imagine ever hitting that button. But I will. Because I figure that if I choose smoking over blogging, then there is something very wrong with me. And I needed a choice. A real one. Something I could make happen. And I don’t see this as a punishment. A negative thing. Instead, I see this as an opportunity to keep doing the one thing, besides smoking, that brings me pleasure. A measure of fulfillment. A million reasons to celebrate life. And the consequences of my choice are discernable and immediate.

I imagine some of you will think I’ve set myself up for failure. That I have set before me an impossible task.

You might be right. But it had to be done.

Or you might be thinking that, at some point in the future, I will find some loophole in my logic and take up smoking again. While if/then statements are generally hard to refute, any proposition has its logical limits, and a skilled bullshitter can find a way. I know this, for I am the king of bullshitters, and I am getting better at calling it on myself.

Simply? I had to choose. Life is about choices, after all. And for choices to have meaning, they must carry some weight.

I will blog. And I will not smoke. I am:

I made a badge. Isn’t that special? I made an even bigger one as well:

I must be bored. Or maybe serious . . .

***

Oh, and Amanda?

It’s on. I get to pick, though, so stay tuned for Songs for Amanda, coming soon . . .

[Flickr photo is by exfordy and is protected]

Tentative

This past Tuesday I made it through an evening at work without smoking a single cigarette. So, naturally, I immediately went out and celebrated by buying a pack of Camels and lighting one up.

Baby steps, we’re taking here.

It’s been a week of recognizing triggers. The Chantix has done a surprisingly fine job of cutting the physical craving for cigarettes. But those moments when I really want a cigarette haven’t gone away. So I’ve been analyzing them. Like when I’m driving, something I’m doing a lot more of lately. Not many things beat the moment I strap on the seat belt and reach onto my dashboard for the Bic and the Turkish Silvers. Or when I spot over the horizon the little house with the cross painted on the fence that marks the point where, if I light up as I drive by, I can finish a cigarette off just as I’m pulling in to my driveway, fling the butt out the window, and mash the button on my garage door opener, all executed in one fluid and familiar motion. Each moment is so perfectly timed and comfortably routine. There are myriad trigger moments, numbered well up into the double digits, spread like shards of glass upon the roadway of my day. I have a list, so I’m not being hyperbolic.

I spent the week reminding myself that I will live through each and every moment either as a smoker or a nonsmoker. The latter option is gaining ground.

The most disturbing (re)discovery I’ve made about myself this week is a rather avaricious unwillingness to share my successes with those around me who would benefit the most from any positive change in my behavior and rejoice the loudest. It happened Tuesday night. As I walked to my car, having skipped the smokers meeting for the first time in two and a half years and actually leaving with the crowd, I reached for my Blackberry to call my wife and give here the good news. But I hesitated, thought too much about it, and didn’t. I’ve spent many futile years trying to persuade her to lower her expectations of me. She refuses to do so. So, I reasoned, if I dared to share this bit of triumphant news, she might get the mistaken impression that I’d somehow kicked the habit for good this time. Tooting my own horn usually summons the hounds of hell to drag me back to the dregs of depression and failure. I’ve lived my life making others proud of me by acting instead of being. And maintaining a modicum of success over the long haul hasn’t ever really been my style. Doing so, and for the right reasons, only leads to greater success if you’re not careful . . .

But these are baby steps, right? Remember those? Each one a teetering and tentative smile-bringer, a harbinger of hope worthy of much feting and photography. Scrapbooked moments we look back on and remember as the genesis of something greater.

So I’m gonna let it all hang out for a moment. Wear my successes on my bloggy little sleeve for a bit and see how they glisten. Since the day I almost died . . .

  • I’ve quit drinking sugared pop. I’m hanging with Mountain Dew’s unsweetened little brother now.
  • I’m taking my medication regularly. Yet another thing that I’m making room for in my daily madness.
  • My average glucose has dropped from a deadly 250+ to a more respectable 120.
  • My doctor actually smiled at me the other day . . .

This has happened before. A different doctor, who eventually told me not to come back until I got serious about my life, told me not to get discouraged because things were going well for a change. He knew me better than I knew myself back then. I guess I’m getting serious now . . .

[photo credit]

On Dreams, Driving and Diversions – A Smoke-Free Weekend Recap

In my dream I was sitting in class listening as the professor droned on and on about this or that. Then they came in and told me I had to report to the student union to sign some waiver. Apparently word had gotten out that I had quit smoking cold turkey and needed to sign a statement absolving the university of any responsibility should I suddenly go berserk and . . . well . . . do what insane people do on college campuses these days. This form was quite thorough. I had to agree that they were warning me that quitting smoking cold turkey was dangerous and irresponsible – quitting should be only done under the direct supervision of a medical professional – and that should I begin exhibiting behaviors ranging from mild (falling asleep in class or receiving lower grades) to extreme (watch the news and fill in the blank here), then the university, its professors, my fellow students, or anyone else associated with my educational career could in no way be held liable, in either the legal courts or the court of public opinion. In this day, when fingers (and guns) are being pointed with intent to harm, I wasn’t shocked it had come to this. I signed the form, handed it back in to the distracted and overworked secretary, and was escorted back to class.

Then I woke up. This morning . . . in my bed next to my wife . . . having gone more than two days without a cigarette.

I laughed at the stupidity of it all.

The amazing thing about this whole experience is that no one in my family even noticed I wasn’t smoking. I drove in to town with my wife the morning after I quit and didn’t smoke in the van, something that drives her crazy. I didn’t stop to buy any cigarettes, and I didn’t smoke any while waiting for her to come and pick me up after class. I didn’t smoke once when my oldest daughter and I drove into town on Saturday morning to pick up a book at Barnes & Noble, some groceries from Wal-Mart, and breakfast at IHOP. She didn’t even notice that, for the first time in years, I drove with the window up and she didn’t have to ask me to close it because the wind was bugging her. To drive anywhere without smoking is damn near impossible. I can mark the miles and the ETAs by how many Camels I’ve smoked or even how much Camel I have left before I must fling the butt out the window. Driving=Smoking.

And yet this cancer, this pesky, persistent weedy habit that has eaten away at my family – they didn’t even notice that it had been eradicated. But maybe that’s the way it goes. They’ve become so used to me killing myself one puff at a time that they didn’t even notice or care anymore. And it’s not like this is the first time I’ve ever tried to quit. I’ve made those sweeping, all-or-nothing promises addictive people like me are prone to make and then gone back to the trough when the going got a bit rocky. So there’s pain there for them and I’m a fool to expect them to speak up and congratulate me for my stellar efforts when they probably realize they will be short lived – just more of dad’s bullshit. Still, while they were all good at pointing out my habit when it bothered them, they didn’t notice the clean air when it subtly blew into our home. I probably sound bitter, so hold on while I slap myself and get over it . . .

That’s better. Sorry for that little pity party. I’m such an idiot.

But I’m damn good at Guitar Hero. “You Rock!” the game reminds me at the end of every number. So, since I need to feel like I rock on occasion, I’ve played GH a lot this weekend. Between that and all the movies I’ve watched (some twice), the diversions have been myriad and miraculous. I’ve attempted to reconnect to my family even as I’ve fed my inclinations to pull away, to pull inside, and fight the battle alone. I’m like William Hurt’s character in the movie The Doctor – I’ve kept my arms up for so long pushing people away that I have no idea how, or effort left, to put them down.

So what’s left of me? I’m broken and weak right now, but I’m doing it.

Tomorrow begins the true tests. I jump back into the routines of school and work – two arenas thick and cloudy with smoking triggers and an enabling cast of characters also unaware of my decision to quit. Despite all prose to the contrary, I’m feeling good about quitting and plan on doing it for however long it takes.

Thank you all for your comments and encouraging words. They are appreciated more than you know.

There Is No Try! – Eulogy for a Habit

The moment I hit “Publish” and send this post into the blogosphere – a moment that will have come and gone by the time you read this – I plan to walk out to my garage and smoke my last cigarette. It’ll be a Camel Turkish Silver, my brand of choice, and I’ll enjoy it immensely.

Saying goodbye to smoking won’t be easy.

I’ve been telling folks for several months that I’m “trying” to quit smoking. But in the words of that intelligent and sagacious green Jedi, “Do or do not! There is no try!” So, like a good Padawan, I’m doing it.

I first lit up when I was a freshman in high school. My friend Dave had a cousin who 1) had easy access to cigarettes and 2) lived near a pool hall, so starting was relatively easy. Nothing beats shooting pool with friends, drinking an icy cold soda, and dangling a smoke from your lips. We were badass back then. But then we got busted. I don’t recall how my parents found out, but I will never forget my dad forcing me to chain smoke some unfiltered, manly variety of cigarette until I puked. Much fun! Either because of that experience or the lack of money, I didn’t smoke again for quite some time. Oh, I’d occasionally bum a smoke from someone and give it another try but it never stuck.

Then one day, just over four years ago, on a particularly boring drive to campus for my Human Anatomy & Physiology class, I pulled into a convenience store on the corner of Crescent Avenue and State Street and bought a pack of Marlboro Ultra Lights. Reasons for doing so include:

  • I had weight loss surgery two years prior and was running out of things to with my hands besides eating while driving.
  • . . .

Funny . . . As I write this, I can’t really think of another reason. I could make up some bullshit about wanting to try something different, or how I desired to experience the joy that could be found by smoking in front of the building between classes, or how I needed something to do that was sneaky and daring and mine-all-mine, but it would sound like . . . well . . . bullshit. Maybe it’s just that simple.

Anyway . . . it stuck – big time.

I have since become a very good smoker. Almost two packs a day when I’m on the road a lot. Smoking in the car is an inexpressible pleasure; the wind in my face, the bass pounding the back of my seat, and ashes flying out the window and into the slipstream.

Nothing beats the feel of warm smoke in my lungs on a cold, winter morning; it mingles with the steam from my coffee and helps me open my eyes and get in the mood for the busyness of life.

Cigarettes have been there for me when times get stressful, like just before a big test or when a paper is due in less than an hour. Last semester, I took a philosophy course which required extensive reading and an explication paper once a week. My favorite time of day for sixteen weeks was those few hours on school mornings when I’d go to Bob Evans, order biscuits and gravy and coffee with cream, set up my office in the corner of the smoking section and smoke and read and write about Descartes or Kant.

When I’m home, smoking gives me at least one chance every hour or so to be alone in my garage or on my porch and think and hear only the tiny sounds of my tiny town instead of the roar of the circus I leave inside the door.

Yes, I will miss smoking.

But saying goodbye is something that must be done.

Now.

What will I not miss about smoking?

  • Aryn’s “No! No Smoke-oh!” chant.
  • Zoe’s plea for a pinky promise I could never give.
  • Ethan’s coughing as he sits in the seat behind me on road trips.
  • Ty’s innocent, spontaneous looks of disgust and the way he tries to plug his nose without me noticing when he’s in my car with me.
  • My wife’s worried expressions that seem to crop up more often lately.

Am I quitting for my family? Some would suggest that this is a bad idea, for only when we do something for ourselves will it actually stick. I started smoking for me and it stuck quite easily. And now I am choosing to quit for me. Maybe it’s just that simple.

I need to wrap this up . . . I’m dying for a smoke.

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