“Oh, this, yeah. It’s in case nuclear war breaks out. I gave it up a long time ago. It’s part habit, part superstition. It’s, you know, a writer thing.” –Mike Enslin (John Cusack) explaining the cigarette behind his ear to Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) in 1408.
I have a pack of emergency cigarettes.
I officially quit smoking like six and a half years ago (June 20, 2009; it’s one of the few dates I remember and not because of the significance, but because I have an easy way to remember it) and since then I’ve smoke a few cigarettes, usually in social situations with a certain group of people. I bum one for old time’s sake, smoke it, feel disappointed that it doesn’t have the same calming buzz effect that it used to, and I’m good. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel that craving. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still dream about smoking. It doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten over the habit of wanting a cigarette as soon as I get in the car or after I eat. It doesn’t mean that I don’t really, really want a cigarette when I’m anxious, stressed, or feeling blue. It just means that I didn’t really need that cigarette right then.
But sometimes I do.
I have not been shy in saying that smoking was a form of self-medication for me, primarily to help me deal with stress and anxiety. I never crave a cigarette more than when I’m stressed. I just want that poison in my lungs, I want to feel that exhale of smoke because a certain measure of stress goes out with that polluted air. When I get stressed, the first thing I think about is lighting a cigarette. But I don’t.
Until I do.
I have yet to find a completely successful alternative way for me to deal with stress, anxiety, or depression. This is in no way knocking the methods I have found. Meditating and chanting and yoga and dancing and drawing have all been great and a vast majority of the time, they get the job done.
Until they don’t.
This past holiday gauntlet was just miserable for me for no discernible reason. The only thing I can think of is that my usual holiday blues got an extra boost from the lack of sunlight. Whatever the issue, by the time New Year’s Eve hit, I was at the end of my rope and that thing was tied in a noose. Nothing worked to back me off that ledge. Nothing. All I wanted was a cigarette.
I had one hidden away in my dresser. I’d used it as a prop for a Halloween costume one year and never threw it out. I knew it was in there. I knew it could save me.
Saturday after New Year’s Day, I was going out with some friends. I decided that when I left the house, that cigarette would be coming with me and I’d smoke it in the car on the way to dinner. Sure, I’d probably bum one or two off of one of the girls later on in the evening, but that would be social. This was business. Serious business.
I smuggled that cancer stick and lighter (even after I quit smoking, I’ve always had a lighter around) out of the house in my coat pocket and lit it up as soon as I pulled out of the driveway. I inhaled that death smoke and I exhaled everything that had been clinging to my nerves for the past two months. That old, healing magic was back. I enjoyed that cigarette more than any I’ve smoked since I quit smoking six and a half years ago because it did what they all did before I quit. It made me feel better.
Last week, I bought a pack of cigarettes and hid them in my dresser. Why hide them? Two reasons. One, people will line up around the block to tell you how bad smoking is for you and how disappointed they are that you fell off the wagon even if you really haven’t. Fuck that noise. I don’t expect you to like what I do or even understand it, but it would be most appreciated if you could just shut the fuck up about it. You don’t have to say a word. Believe me. I KNOW.
Two, I know where they are and that’s all that matters. Like a fire exit or alarm or extinguisher, I know where it is and I know how to get to it and I know how to work it when I absolutely need it. It’s that emergency plan they always told you that you should have when you were in grade school.
The next time I feel myself going nuclear, I’ll break that glass.