My name is Mars Girl… and, yes, I am a smoker.
Well, a social smoker. One of those people who never smokes until she has a few drinks at a bar or is hanging around other smokers. People are usually surprised when they see me with cigarette in hand. A former coworker once exclaimed, “But you’re so athletic! What about your riding!?”
I had nothing to say. He was right. Adding to the illogic of this nasty habit is the fact that I also have exercise-induced asthma, which also seems to be further aggitated by cigarette smoke.
So why do I do it? Especially when I can go weeks without and the moment I have a beer in hand, I want a cigarette? Because, it’s an addiction and that’s what addictions do.
For me, it’s always been the pleasure of it. I actually like the way they taste (yeah, sick), smell, and the slight buzz they give me. I enjoy the social interaction, the private club with certain people. The smokers — we’re the less uptight crowd, the fun people, the carefree ones. It’s all fun and games until one of us gets lung cancer. Which you have to think is bound to happen, right?
I was dating a guy for awhile who smoked, and, as a result, I was no longer just a social smoker. But this was the second period in my life of full-time smoking. I also did it in my “I don’t care about anything” phase after my husband’s death. I justified it as a grieving crutch and no one got on my case about it.
Ever since I started smoking (back in college), there has not been a single time when I’ve put a cigarette to my lips that I have not thought about what it was doing to my lungs. As Dr. McCoy said in Star Trek V as he watched Captain Kirk climb El Capitan sans equipment, “God damn, irresponsible, playing games with life.” I’ve guilted myself with every drag of the cigarette. I have to be the most self-depricating cigarette smoker who ever lived. Yet, I still did it. Just this one, was my repeated matra. Nothing in moderation can hurt you.
There is no moderation in addiction… Even when you only do it once a week, when you do it in mass quantity that one time a week, it’s just as bad. Plus, it wasnt always just one time per week… As I said, it went hand and hand with alcohol. So if I had a glass of wine, I would often have a cigarette. Sometimes with my morning coffee (another favored combination).
I tried to justify it with the fact that everyone has an addiction of some kind or another. Except I kept avoiding the truth that this addiction cancels out the health benefits of my better addiction of cycling.
I havent smoked in about three weeks, which also coincides with the last time I was at sci-fi night with my group of smoking friends. The real test is not smoking when I’m around them. Still, my renewed, furious affinity to cycling has changed everything. In the last three weeks, my lungs have tasted the pleasure of pure air as I huffed up hills on my bike — and lots of air. My lungs aren’t left with that aching feeling or rasped so much as I struggled for air. My asthma seems to have calmed down a little. I havent woken up on a Saturday morning with a heavy chest and a cough (Fridays were my heavy smoking nights). I can immediately see the benefits of not smoking.
I almost broke down a few weeks ago at a bar… Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone around with cigarettes to bum from and I didn’t feel like paying $5 to a vending machine for the 1-3 cigarettes I would smoke from the pack… or, rather, I knew I would smoke the rest of the pack for the next week because otherwise you feel like you’re wasting it. I have tried that trick before — the old “this is the last pack” trick. Huh. Every pack is the “last pack”. Until you put your foot down and say NO.
I’m saying NO. I’m going to stick with it. Because now I’ve found new inspiration. Every time I contemplate having a cigarette, I need to imagine myself trying to crunch up a hill on my bike (say, Quick Road) with my chest feeling heavy and a wheeze emanating from my air ways. Wheezes are horrible — a noise that says, “I cant give you anymore air, Captain.” I will always have wheezing at some point due to the asthma. It’s never quite so bad, though, when I havent been smoking.
The next test is Europe where cigarettes are sold in vending machines on every corner. My trip to Italy starts next week. You can smoke right in front of the gate in the airport in Europe. I dont think Europeans will ever take up an anti-anything campaign. That’s why liberals like me love Europe — they dont try to dictate to their populous how they should run their lives. However, for a smoker, it’s awefully tempting to buy cigarettes when there is no “non-smoking” section in the restaurant. And you can buy cigarettes from a vending machine outside your hotel.
Of course, it’s up to you to change your ways. No one can do it for you. Our society should not be designed to protect people from their own weaknesses. If you are an alcoholic, it’s up to you to not buy a drink at a bar (or even go into a bar). If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s up to you to not eat at McDonald’s or have that ho-ho. The presence of something is not what encourages you to do it; you have to have the willpower to stop yourself from doing something you know you shouldn’t do. It’s not other people’s responsibility to protect you from yourself. (Isnt this what they teach you in AA?)
I take responsibility for my errorous ways. I have chosen to ignore all warnings and smoke. Now I have to choose NOT to smoke. It’s going to be incrediably hard because I do enjoy it. But I enjoy physical activity a lot more — cycling, skiing, hiking. I’ve decided I need my lungs.
Most importantly, I do not want to encourage a life to end prematurely. I think of all the things my husband would have done if he were granted the years he was supposed to have. He died at the age of 32. He still had things left to do. I’m 32 now and I realize even more that it is far too young of an age to die. My husband would want me to live out as long as I can. I’m not a spiritual person; yet, it gives me comfort to think his essence is still out there somewhere, watching me (it’s hard to imagine an end to all that he was). I know that he would want to see me live the full, happy life he did not get a chance to live. He would not want me to waste it. Of everything I hold dear, my husband’s wishes for me are the most sacred. I would never want to disappoint him.
Kurt Vonnegut called cigarettes “a lazy man’s suicide” or something to that effect in a paper I read by him once. He was not a happy man. In this paper, I remember him describing it as a way of unconsciously trying to commmit suicide because we fear ending it more dramatically. He said that society’s innate problems made this the only way for us to cope.
(Side note: In a later paper, he said that he wanted to sue the cigarette companies because they promised him that cigarettes would kill him and he was in his eighties (at the time) and he was still alive.)
Sadly, I used to relate to this paper on some level. That feeling of wanting to give up because all else seemed lost. In those days, the rememberence of this paper made me feel justified in my method of coping.
But not anymore. I want to live. For every 30 people I see behaving like morons, the one or two I meet who aren’t inspire a hope within me that humanity is not sinking into a toilet. Maybe society is frakked up, maybe the world is a really messy place ridden with war and famon and screwed up politics. But I must remember that buried within us all is a passion for exploration, expansion, and compassion. We do want to better ourselves, but sometimes are too lazy or too scared to do so. I’m starting to believe in humanity again. I hope that’s enough to bring me back to life. And I want to live long enough to see it all out.
As I’ve learned, wanting to live is not enough to make you stay alive (I am sure my husband, who incidentally never smoked a cigarette in his life, very much wanted to live). However, wanting to live will make you avoid unhealthy behaviors. I want to limit the possibility of an early departure from life as much as possible. I can’t control the random (and that is sad, because I’d love to control everything ;), but I can control the things I know to assure a healthier life.
This is my matra, my vow. This is what I need to say to myself every time I think about having a cigarette. The little piece of me that still has hope needs to hang onto life with both hands, letting go of that little cancer stick.
By the way, here’s some interesting facts I learned from the radiation guy at work that should make you think twice about smoking if you do it (this actually prompted my quitting):
* Cigarettes contain radioactive polonium and lead.
* Smoking one pack of cigarettes is equivelent to the radiation dose received from one chest x-ray.
* Second hand cigarette smoke is the equivelant to 12 chest x-rays per year for a non-smoker who lives in a smoking household.
Think about THAT the next time you get an x-ray and the nurse hands you a lead apron and quickly leaves the room while the x-ray is running!