No, I’m not “one of those” former smokers who turns their nose up and lectures at current smokers and makes them feel like they’re a lower class of human being. That’s not really what this is about. This is about relating my own experience, how I started and how I was hooked and how I finally managed to quit … for good.
How did I start smoking? It was when I was 16 years old. I’d dabbled with it before, in part because I had relatives who smoked and I was around them enough to get an interest in what it was like. My maternal grandfather smoked, the hand-rolled sticks with the papers and the tin cans of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco. I’d work with him on the dairy farm that he ran, and sometimes we as kids would sit in one of the barns and stick a piece of straw in our mouths as we held it like a cigarette, and we’d pretend to puff away at it — just like Granddad.
He died in his 70s. I remember the last time I ever saw him. It was in September of 1972, a Saturday morning, and I was 11 years old. I was playing Little League football at the time, offensive and defensive tackle, and I played pretty much every play on both sides all season long. The field we played our home games at was at Salmon High School, which was a short walk from Steele Memorial Hospital. Granddad was in the hospital that morning of my game, and I walked over to see him before my game as I was dressed in my full football uniform and cleats. He was the one who pushed me to never give up no matter what I did, and I wanted him to see that — no matter how hard practices and other kids were on me — I hadn’t given up on the game of football, in fact I’d gotten pretty darn good.
Granddad was suffering from emphysema. My last memory of him was seeing him underneath an oxygen tent. I went on to play my game that morning — I believe it was our last game of the season, and we even had my old school bus driver up in an announcer’s stand way above the field calling out names for plays on the loudspeaker. I made a couple of nice tackles for no or little gain on the defensive side, and my name was called out both times. I was thinking at the time that I hoped my Granddad could hear my name called out inside his hospital room.
He died the next morning. He was the closest person to a real father that I’ve ever known in this world.
Five years later, in my junior year of high school in Idaho Falls, I finally pushed beyond pretending I was smoking a piece of straw and somehow managed to get my hands on cigars, and I’d light ’em up and smoke ’em. I thought it was a cool thing to do. From there, I joined the other teenagers in the parking lot who were smoking cigarettes. I thought it was the cool bunch to hang out with.
I remember that first inhale of cigarette smoke into my lungs, and that euphoric rush I felt in my head as the nicotine kicked in. That’s all it took to get me hooked.
I stayed hooked for over the next 12 years. At its worst, it was a two-pack-a-day habit. It averaged more like one pack a day. Through a year of college, on through just under a year as a radio disc jockey and sports director, through the next nine years in the high-pressure and always-filled-with-adrenaline world as a newspaper journalist, I had the habit in a big way.
Bad things would happen, I’d witness traumatic scenes, and I’d light up. I’d wake up in the morning, and I’d light up. I’d go out drinking (did I ever mention before that I used to be a hard partier?), and I’d light up even more. Just before going to bed, I’d light up. The worst, though, was after I’d eat a meal. After I’d finish eating, I HAD to light up. That’s when the habit was at its worst, aside from the hard drinking times.
It was the smoking after eating habit that made it harder to kick the overall smoking habit. Believe me, I tried to kick it too. I’d try “cold turkey,” didn’t last. I tried chewing tobacco for a while to stop smoking and decided that was just too nasty. There were times I’d stop for maybe a month or two, and I’d just fall right back into it … usually when I’d go out drinking, or — the worst — after I’d eat. I had lady friends who would urge me to stop smoking, and that didn’t help.
Then I met Amy in 1989. Sweet Amy. We got engaged to be married in early November of that year, after just a couple months of steady dating, and she begged me to quit smoking. Even that didn’t help, although she was thinking it did.
Then there was the day Amy walked into the place I was living at the time, and she could smell cigarette smoke in the room. Amy looked me square in the eye with her Bambi-like brown eyes, took off her engagement ring, and held it out to me.
“It’s either me or the cigarettes. What’s it going to be?” she asked in her very firm way.
How many of you have ever looked into Amy’s eyes? They’re hard to resist, when she’s demanding or when she’s “begging.”
I gave up smoking, right then and there. Cold turkey. The habits were gone. The hard-drinking days were already gone, which helped. The other times when I’d light up — well, having Amy be so willing to hand me back the engagement ring I’d given her and give me that choice, that was the final habit-breaker.
My choice was made. My choice was Amy.
I did light up a cigarette one more time after that. It was the night of August 18, 1991. That was the day my first child, Curtis, was born. I went home from the hospital that night, missing my Dad and wishing I could have shared that experience with him, and I was hurting a bit. I sat on the back steps of our single-wide trailer home, pulled out a pack of freshly bought Salem menthols, and lit up for the first time since Amy gave me “the choice” before we were married.
After one puff, I was repulsed. There was no rush in my head from the nicotine and all the other chemicals. The only sensation was that awful taste like I’d just licked a dirty ashtray.
I’ve never gone back since. I’ve never had the desire. Not even the slightest twinge of an urge. It just took that dirty ashtray taste.
Thank God. And thank my friend (and now lovely wife) Amy.
Copyright 2012, Daddysangbassdude Media
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