In Case of Nuclear War…Smoke

nuclear cigarette“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.

The Addict

The same day my Twitter timeline was filled with people rallying around Josh Hamilton falling off the wagon, offering him support and informing anyone that making any joke about it was in beyond poor taste, someone else on my timeline, one of those supporters actually, complained that smoking hadn’t been outlawed in bars in Indianapolis.

And this led me to wonder…why aren’t smokers considered addicts, too?

They’re not, you know. I’m considered a former smoker, not a recovering addict. Why?

Let’s take a look at some of the common thoughts on smokers and smoking that I’ve encountered (sometimes rather loudly).

Smokers are stupid and disgusting. They smell. They’ve got nasty coughs and yellow fingers. They KNOW smoking is bad for them, but they do it anyway. It’s common knowledge. It’s all over EVERYTHING. They poison the air and contaminate other people’s lungs. They affect everyone around them. SMOKERS ARE STUPID.

Alcoholics and drug addicts are viewed like this, though. They’re to be pitied. They have a disease.

Yet they start drinking/ingesting/smoking/shooting up/snorting despite all of the knowledge of how bad it is for you. Alcoholics will reek of booze. Drug addicts will reek of other things, depending on their drug of choice. They all have health problems, some more disgusting than others. Alcoholics drive drunk; drug addicts drive high. They lie to their families. They steal from them. Poor decision making due to drug/booze affected minds leads to fights, rapes, robberies, and terminally offensive/embarrassing behavior.

But they’re not stupid. They have a disease. It’s a shame.

Nicotine doesn’t affect the brain as severely as alcohol and drugs, but it still has an effect. It still affects the chemicals of the brain. It’s still a way to self-medicate, which is what so many alcoholics and drug addicts do.

I smoked to ease stress and anxiety. No kidding. I smoked after I ate, I smoked after sex, I smoked when I drove (which was kind of a bitch because I drive left-handed and I smoked left-handed), I smoked when I wrote, I smoked when I drank, I smoked when I socialized. But I also smoked more when I was stressed. I claimed that the third cigarette on my 15 minute break was to buy me more time, but in reality, I needed the nicotine to mess with my chemicals a little more. Driving somewhere I’ve never been before? Going somewhere I didn’t really want to be? I smoked a couple of extra cigs to “calm my nerves”.

It was no exaggeration. I felt better smoking. The anxiety decreased when I was smoking. During the time that cigarette was burning between my fingers, I was much more capable to deal with life.

In order for alcoholics and drug addicts to achieve and maintain a successful recovery, they have to basically restructure their lives to learn how to live without their drug of choice. They have to learn how to function sober, avoid temptations, and sometimes they end up cutting out people in their lives that are bad influences. It also takes a lot of self-control and willpower.

I had to do the same thing when I quit smoking. I had to learn how to function without a cigarette in my hand or my mouth (I swear my pool game has suffered because of it). I had to learn to cope with stress and anxiety differently. I had to learn how to drive, write, drink, and socialize without my cancer crutch. I had the added hurdle of living with a smoker. I had to pursue my smoke-free life while watching him continue his smoking life, one that I never wanted to give up.

That’s right. If I could have kept on smoking, I would have. I didn’t quit for health reasons. I didn’t quit because I finally gave in to all of the nagging and harassment. I quit because I couldn’t afford it. It was too expensive and I was too out of work at the time.

Like a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, I think of smoking every day. I wish I could go back to it. I don’t because I don’t want to go through the unpleasantness of quitting again. I dream about smoking. If there was an option to smoke without any harmful consequences, I would do it (I’ve considered getting one of those electric cigarettes, but so far, I’ve resisted). I quit smoking about two and a half years ago and I don’t think I’ll ever not miss it.

Now, here’s the thing. I’m not looking to add any more labels to my name or anyone else’s. I’m not going to be going on talk shows talking about my smoke-free life. I’m just wondering why smokers and former smokers aren’t treated with the same kind of consideration as other addicts if we’re all addicts.

Oh, that’s right.

Smokers are stupid.