Friday, April 13, 2012

Battle Against Addiction

Photo by gameanna
by Chloe West

I sat silently on the front stoop at my old house. I usually don’t even call it mine because I had really only lived there for a few months. Slowly, I lifted my cigarette up to my lips and inhaled. I watched almost cross-eyed as the smoke floated out of my mouth and into the night air. It was warm outside, and whether I was just on my porch, outside a restaurant, at a park, or hanging out with friends, I enjoyed just sitting and letting the smoke fill my lungs.           

People were always so surprised to learn that I smoked. I always had my own cigarettes and never had to bum one from someone. I usually didn’t smoke around others who weren’t smokers, and I never took smoke breaks with the other servers I worked with at Outback Steakhouse. While even after a few hours at work it was hard to breathe, I’d light one up as soon as I arrived home. I’ll never understand how smoking helped me to breathe and calmed me down when I was stressed or angry. Nor how hard it was to breathe when I needed a cigarette. I would have thought that smoking itself would make it harder to breathe—which I suppose it did in a way.           

“When did you start smoking?” or “What made you start smoking?” are questions that I would frequently hear.           

“Not long,” I would always say. “Just a few months,” although it had been “just a few months,” for an awfully long time. “It’s the restaurant,” I’d explain. “My job makes me smoke.” This was almost the truth. It was a big part of why I’d kept smoking. A few people knew the real truth of why I had started smoking, at least more than before. It was a stupid reason, really. I smoked for the very first time when I was 15, but really only did so every one to three months, if that. I was never addicted. Just the beginning of this year I began smoking a lot more, starting out at maybe a pack every three or so weeks. About a cigarette a day, if that. I had just broken up with my boyfriend and he hated cigarettes. While we were together, whenever we fought I would ask someone for a cigarette, just to silently get back at him for whatever he’d done wrong.

Then, when we broke up, there was even more reason for me to want to get back at him. Plus, the people I had started hanging out with smoked, and eventually I began to smoke more and more. A pack every three weeks at first. That wasn’t so bad. But my job started to get worse and worse, and I started to get more and more angry at things—my ex-boyfriend, my friends, my co-workers, customers, bad drivers.           

Then a pack every week and a half or two weeks. One on the way to work, just in case, and one on the way back because I always needed it. Then over the weekends, I’d smoke at least three or four more with my friends. There was no question about it anymore; I was addicted. Just as someone could become addicted to exercise, work, or cleaning, I would feel crazy without it.           

A pack a week. Or less. This became normal once I’d moved into my old house, or at least the few months I lived there. I stayed up until four or five in the morning and smoked a cigarette at least every other hour from about 10 or 11 when I got home from work.           

I smoked even more whenever my friends were all smoking or we were partying. Before I’d tried to hide it from family, afraid that they would look down on me, but by then I no longer cared. I would arrive at my mom’s house, smelling like smoke and she’d beg me to quit. She had been a smoker once, as well. My dad found out shortly after, I’d even smoked in front of my younger sister, and I’d had a conversation about it with my grandmother while visiting her.           

“I used to smoke too,” she began softly. “One day I’d had to go to the doctor and he asked if I was a smoker, which I answered yes. He asked how much I smoked and I answered not much. Then he asked how many is not much and I told him ‘Oh, about one or two a day.’”           

I was shocked at her answer. I would not have thought one or two a day was ‘not much.’            Grandmother continued her story. “He then said, ‘Well why would you wanna do that?’ and I realized he was right. I went straight home and threw those cigarettes away and have not smoked since.”           

I was leaving the next day, on her birthday. Then she spoke louder, more rough. Just like her normal Grandmother voice, harsh, cutting straight to the point. “I want you to quit for my birthday.”

 I looked at her, wide-eyed. “You mean your birthday next year, right?” I asked, hopeful.            

“No,” she scolded. “This birthday.”

I reluctantly agreed, with absolutely no intention of following through. Why would I quit? I thought to myself. I don’t want to quit.           

A few days after I’d arrived home, I was sitting on my porch, smoking again. I was texting my new boyfriend and asked him if he smoked. No, was his reply. Why? said the next message. I almost didn’t want to admit that I smoked, afraid that it would turn him off. And in a big way, his not smoking was a factor in my almost wanting to quit.           

A month or so later, I was smoking the last cigarette I’d had in a pack. Suddenly, when I finished, I decided that I was not going to buy another pack. I was going to quit. I was going to give my grandmother her present, and no longer have to worry about smoking in front of my boyfriend, and my parents would appreciate it. It would lower my increasing chances of diseases that can be acquired from long-term smoking. I had never planned on smoking for a long time—always planned to quit when I finished college—but it would be so much harder to quit then. I triumphantly threw my empty cigarette pack in the trash.           

Day one was not so hard. I had only smoked one cigarette—my very last one—the day before, but I was fine. Day two was increasingly harder, but not as much because I’d had that day off from work. Day three, however, was torture. I was closing at work, and the late crowd is the absolute worst. They arrive way too soon to closing time, they always want items that we don’t have on our menu, and they take way too long to decide what they want. By that time, I’m always just tired anyways, and their indecisiveness frustrates me.

After we closed I walked around the restaurant, searching for someone who might have a cigarette. I can’t do this, I thought. As much as I’d wanted to, there was no way I’d be able to quit smoking. A girl I was working with that night told me that it isn’t good to quit right away like that, and that I could have some of her cigarette when we left. When we were both walking to our cars, however, I didn’t follow up on her offer. I got in my car and drove home. I can do this, I chanted in my head.

After that night, I enjoyed telling everyone how long it had been since I’d smoked. My mother was ecstatic and my dad seemed so as well, although not as high-pitched; as soon as I had told my mom, she screeched with excitement.It had been almost two weeks since I had quit when I went to dinner with a friend. We sat in the smoking section because she was still a smoker. She was talking about something, but I was zoning, staring at the cigarette in her hand. Suddenly, I just grabbed it and took an extremely long drag from it. As I breathed out and handed it back to her, we were both startled.“Sorry,” I mumbled, embarrassed and disappointed in myself for slipping.

I barely count that time, still claiming it had been two weeks since I smoked. It was one hit, and barely had any effect other than almost making me cough.Although I still wanted to quit smoking, I envied everyone I saw lighting up a cigarette. One day, walking out of the building after class, I watched someone light a cigarette and decided that that was it, I just could not do it. I drove to the gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes, almost regretting it by the time I got home.

“I did a really bad thing,” I told my sister as she walked out to my car. “I bought a pack of cigarettes.”

They were still unopened, just sitting in my car, still needing to be packed. As soon as I walked in the door, I told my mom as well, “I did a really bad thing.” She asked what it was, but my sister answered for me.

“Well, give them to me.”

"What?” I asked. “I just spent money on those!” I was not willing to give up my hard-earned pack of Camel Lights.

“How much?” she asked.

“How much did I pay? Like five bucks.” Of course, it was more than that, but I was rounding down a little.

My mom walked across the living room, grabbed five dollars out of her purse, handed it to me and repeated, “Give them to me.”

“They’re all the way out in my car, Mom,” I objected. My sister grabbed my keys and ran out to my car before I could intervene. Apparently, I just wasn’t meant to keep smoking.

I managed another week or two without one, but one day after work I called up a friend and begged for a cigarette. It had been almost a month since I’d smoked, not counting my little slip-up, but I was desperate. I picked her up and drove around in my car. She lit one up, but didn’t offer me one yet. I just drove, my hands tightly gripping the steering wheel. Finally, she asked me, “Are you going to smoke one, too?”

I hesitated, almost having decided against it. But here was my chance, my opportunity to smoke just one more time. Just once, I thought. Just one won’t hurt. So I said yes, and she handed it to me. It took way too long to smoke and it was absolutely revolting. It made my head turn and my stomach ache. But when she offered me the short of her next cigarette, I accepted.

I did a very bad thing.

I lay down on the couch, not feeling well at all. My stomach hurt and my throat was sore, not used to inhaling anything other than air. My head was killing me, and I just lay there, tired, head spinning, regretting my cigarette and a half. After that night, I could very easily say that I have officially quit smoking, never to start back again. Sometimes I still think about it, but never act upon that, knowing how detrimental it is. It still makes me slightly jealous, or at least nostalgic, seeing others smoke. I almost miss having that small bad habit to do while sitting outside, enjoying the weather. And although it is still hard for me to breathe when I get stressed, and I often have to stop moving and just breathe deeply, I’ll get over it sooner or later. I promise myself to never take up my worst habit again.


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