An Anniversary

Last night as I paid bills, I had a good look at the calendar. I realized that last Thursday marked an anniversary that I had missed.

I quit smoking four years ago last Thursday.

I had smoked a pack a day for 17 years. I started at 11 or 12, but it wasn’t until I was about 17 that it became a pack a day habit. So really, I was a smoker for more than 20 years. When I first started, cigarettes were just under 50 cents a pack. I remember using lunch money to buy them from the gas station on the corner. Back then, nobody cared if you were old enough. If they did, you could just lie and say you were purchasing for an adult.

As a teenager, my parents caught me smoking countless times. They grounded me, they lectured me, they refused to give me any money. I used to steal from my father’s change box for cigarette money. I spent silver coins given to me by elderly family members that were meant to be saved for coin collecting on cigarettes. My mother once made me sit at the kitchen table and smoke an entire pack of cigarettes until they were gone, hoping that it would make me sick enough to quit. I sat there, talked on the phone and smoked. It was cool. Eventually, they gave up trying to make me quit but they never would sign the smoking pass for school. (In our high school you got to smoke in designated areas if your parents signed a smoking pass.)

About five years ago, I learned that a woman I worked with had quit smoking using laser accupuncture therapy. At that point she’d not smoked for five years. This was intriguing to me. After letting the information rattle around in my head for a long while, I called and made an appointment at this place called Laser Concept. At the time, the only location was in Canada, not too far from where I live.

I hadn’t planned to quit. By that I mean, I never declared May 23, 1998 as the day. Even more strange was that I’d never, ever, not once, tried to quit before. Of course, I knew, just like every other smoker does, that I needed to quit. I made the appointment without even thinking that it meant I would be quitting. That mindset wasn’t intentional but in retrospect it was a great approach.

I recruited Mel to go with me and have the treatment too. She seemed pretty eager, she had tried to quit smoking a number of times in the past. This was before we were together and she tells me now that she went, in part, just because she wanted to hang out with me. Still, she was serious enough about quitting, so nevermind the reason.

The treatment itself was simple. I sat in a chair for 20 minutes while a technician fired a red laser beam at various points on my hands, ears, nose and face. The laser light gun resembled a child’s toy. I felt totally stupid. I thought, “I’m spending 100 bucks for this?” then let it go. After all, I’d spent $100 on worse things than that. Supposedly, the effect of the laser accupuncture would be to release endorphins that “wash away” the nicotine you have built up in your system and “restore you to a pre-addiction state.” As if you had never smoked. Uh-huh. I must admit, I was really pretty skeptical about this working for me even though my co-worker had been successful.

Afterward, I was given fairly standard instructions about dealing with behavior modification for smoking cessation. You know, drink a lot of water, avoid situations that make you want to smoke, rearrange your day so that you are doing other things at times you would normally want to smoke, etc. (Damn, you mean I can’t drink?) I was also given a certificate for a repeat visit to use within six months if I felt the need for a “booster.” They’d told me I would feel very low key, sleepy even, for a while after the treatment. Nicotine is a stimulant, right? Since they had rid me of this stimulant, I would feel very calm. I did too, I felt like someone had slipped me a valium.

I went home and made a list of all the reasons I should quit: It smelled bad, it was expensive, it was bad for your health, etc. I think I came up with about ten, ending with “17 years is too long a time to maintain a bad habit when you should know better.” I re-wrote the list on two index cards and taped one to my bathroom mirror and the other to my dresser mirrror. I worked the behavior changes. It was still hard, even without the physical addiction but probably much easier than it would have been if I’d quit cold.

I went back for the follow-up treatment just before the six months was up. Just to be sure. I was doing okay for the most part but I had taken to holding and puffing cigarettes while drinking. This happened less and less frequently as time went by, eventually just becoming a function of how much I drank. So I tried not to drink that much, which was a good thing anyway.

I consider myself an ex-smoker. I’m no longer addicted to cigarettes. I don’t crave them. I’ve certainly become the smarmy ex-smoker I used to hate. If I’m in a bar or someplace and my clothes or hair pick up the smell, I strip and head for the shower the minute I walk in the door. The smell of it disgusts me. I’m also relieved to not be spending money on cigarettes, which are now about $5 a pack where I live. I can’t imagine spending $150 a month on them. Quitting turned out to be the best 100 bucks I ever spent.

To be perfectly honest, I do still smoke on rare occasions. Usually, only if I’ve drunk enough or if I’m camping and sitting around a campfire and have drunk enough. This equates to two or three times year, about as often as I would use any other type of *ahem* substance I was formerly fond of. Besides, it’s really more about attempting to revisit the past than it is about actual desire for the vehicle (substance) that gets you there. If that makes sense. Even though the damned alcohol has usually taken over in those instances it still feels quite foreign to be smoking anything. It’s about having somthing to hold and puff, at least as far as cigarettes are concerned. (And sometimes even cigars.) I haven’t inhaled since May 23, 1998. I swear it. *wink, wink*