I'm leaving the Marlboro Man

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When I was a kid, there were still cigarette ads on television. All the fab movie stars smoked. My dad smoked. Smoking was cool. Yeah, I know it wasn’t “really” cool, but in my little-kid skewed vision of the world, it was freaking awesome. It was what the grown ups did. The Marlboro man did it, and he sure knew how to rock that cowboy hat. I wanted to go where the flavor was. I wanted to ride a horse into the sunset. I wanted to stomp a cigarette out slowly with my heel like Sandy and end up dancing through the carnival with Danny Zucko. I wanted to blow smoke in the face of some douche that tried to pick me up at the bar, like the sophisticated bitches in the movies.

Of course by the time I was a teenager, in the mid-nineties, everyone knew how horrible smoking was for your health. And I can’t deny it, my parents (dad had quit by then) told me over and over and over that I wasn’t allowed to smoke. It stunted my growth (who were they kidding? Shortness runs in the family anyway), it caused cancer, it made my breath stink…they shred every pack of Marlboro Reds they found hidden in my book bag, dresser drawers, etc.  But honestly? It was too late. I think I was destined to be a smoker, if such a thing is possible.

I am not very impressionable. I don’t normally see someone doing something and suddenly decide its cool and that I want to do it. I don’t care about advertising. I don’t care if all the cool kids are doing it (unless it really is something cool)…but the smoking…I can’t quite wrap my brain around WHY I grew up WANTING to smoke. I just did. It appealed to me.

Somewhere in my early adolescence, something struck me in all the things I saw on television…the people around me that smoked…something stuck a chord and I wanted to be one of them. Most kids grow up saying “I’ll never smoke!!!” and I wasn’t one of those kids. I grew up thinking, “Well, I’ll try it and see if I like it.” Not normal, I know.

I have been a smoker off and on for about 17 years now. Writing that sort of disgusts me. 17 years? Its been a long fucking time. I’ve been a smoker for MORE THAN HALF OF MY LIFE.

How much money have I spent on cigarettes, lighters, matches, gum, nicotine patches, lozenges, etc in 17 years? I could probably take a European cruise with all the money I’ve spent slowly hammering the nails into my coffin. Its depressing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know its bad for me. I know that if I continue, I will most likely get cancer – I may get it even if I do quit smoking right this very second. I have quit at least a dozen times (and yes, I quit almost immediately as soon as I found out I was pregnant and didn’t smoke again until Angeline was a few months old). I am always trying to quit.

Quitting is hard. I’ll level with you, the quitting is actually the easy part. I’m full of spitfire and gumption the first few days and walk around bragging about how I’ve quit smoking, cold turkey, etc, and stuffing my face with Twizzlers (because Red Vines suck. There, I said it), gummy bears, or whatever else is within arm’s reach. The hard part is actually STAYING QUIT. Not starting back up again when the headaches get so bad that I can’t focus. When I lay awake at night, tossing and turning, or the nightmares wake me up every hour…or the mood swings make my husband and daughter run from the very sight of me…but once I get through the first few weeks, the symptoms of withdraw ease and I turn back into my normal almost-sane self.

But there’s something else. Something non-smokers or casual smokers will never understand. Smoking isn’t just something we do. Its sort of who we are. Who I am. Or, who I was, I suppose. At a party, the smokers are always in their own group. Even when they finish smoking, have you ever noticed they still stay outside and chat until they start lighting up again? Have you ever noticed how perfect strangers will strike up conversations at the smoking section of amusement parks, movie theaters, etc. What’s a smoker do when they have a drink? Smoke. What do they do after finishing a meal? Smoke. What do they do after sex? Smoke. What do they do when they are stressed? Smoke. Smoking cigarettes is a huge part of their lives, their daily routine…honestly, I go outside in the morning and smoke a cigarette before I even go to the bathroom or brush my teeth. Its almost like a reflex.

Not that this is all anything we’re proud of. I’m not saying that. What I am trying to explain is WHY its so hard to stop smoking and stay quit for good. Why half the people that quit start back again the first time they have a rough day…you get my point. People can quit smoking for years and one day, it hits them and they are back at it, smoking a pack a day like they didn’t miss a beat.

When you quit, everything changes. Not for the worse, of course, but still – change isn’t easy. Sometimes I feel restless. I feel like I am forgetting something every time I leave the house (my cigarettes). At the grocery store, I always feel like I forgot to put something on my list (cigarettes). At the gas station, I check out the new lighters and compare the prices of brands of cigarettes I am never going to smoke. I search my purse for something and I can’t remember what it is…my cigarettes. I feel awkward at the bar – because I am not smoking.

Its like you suddenly have to stop doing something you’ve done at least 10 times a day for the last 17 years – it just completely throws you off. That, more than the physical withdraw is why I always end up smoking again. Its a freaking habit. And you know what they say, habits die hard.

I’m determined to beat it this time. January first, I am going to end my 17 year long relationship with the Marlboro Man. Its over. Done. Like any abusive relationship, I am going to end it before its the death of me.

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