In my Origin Story, of Sorts, I said I started smoking around age 13 and kept on going for 20 years. That’s almost exactly right. I finally quit1 as long as you, like me, don’t consider vaping to be smoking in 2011. But, that wasn’t my first attempt to quit the white-sticked devil. No, like almost every single smoker before me, there were many half-attempts, false-starts, and relapses.
My first time quitting was right around Freshman year of high school. The summer before, if I recall correctly. I didn’t really have the access, none of my friends were smokers, and it wasn’t really “doing it” for me. I would’ve been fine, I think, not smoking ever again. Then my mom met a fella (Chuck) who had a daughter (Brittany) and they moved in with us and she was a smoker and thought I was some never-done-anything-wrong kid and I needed to prove I used to smoke by way of “look, see, I know how to inhale. And I don’t cough”. Taking a few drags off of one cigarette when she went out back to smoke turned into bumming a cigarette here and there turned to “can I buy a pack from you?” (because her dad bought her cartons as part of her allowance), and within a few months I was up to about a half-pack a day.
The day my mom found out I smoked, her brief “speech” was mostly about her disappointment, and ended in two rules :
1. No smoking in the house
2. “I’m not buying your cigarettes”
I was elated. I can smoke on my own back patio, without being grounded? Fuck yes. I think my source for cigarettes was just asking Brittany to ask her dad to buy an extra few packs of Marlboro Reds for me. From that time forth, I smoked every single day of my life until I was around 27 years old.
Trying to kick a 2-pack-a-day habit cold turkey is no easy feat. But I thought I was up to the challenge in 2005. I went almost a month straight. My buddy and I were quit-buddies, and we were doing it. Then my girlfriend at the time lied about her mom dying so she could marry her ex, my mom went into intensive Cancer treatment and asked me to pray she lived another year, and I was working for Vivid to launch an all-new modern website for their 1000s of members, while helping two different teams come up to the new USC 2257 compliance standards. To say I needed my nicotine was an understatement. This is the curse of trying to quit : there’s never the perfect time. Kinda like breakups when there isn’t one big “fuck you” moment. Sometimes, you drive it ’til the wheels fall off 2in the case of smoking, I guess that means “you die of cancer”?.
I caved. As did my quit-buddy. This time I switched from Reds to 72s. The little short guys. Thinking maybe that’d help. Nope, I got to almost 3 packs a day instead. So, I switched to 100s. That slowed me back down to between 1.5-2 packs a day. Understand : I smoked in my apartment. I smoked in my car. At work, they didn’t care about breaks, and the patio was 10 feet from my office. There were very few times I couldn’t smoke, so there were very times I didn’t smoke.
Let’s visit 2008. I was in (yet another) “time to get healthy!” kick. I was going to the gym (kiiiiinda). I was, well, I wasn’t eating right but I was eating righter (like El Pollo Loco instead of McDonalds). And I was like “okay, let’s get this smoking thing kicked!”. I think a friend of mine3 or some stranger whose posts I enjoyed reading, maybe? made a post about how hypnosis was the only thing that ever worked. I thought “fuck it. let’s do that!”.
I’m a skeptical motherfucker, and I still don’t know that I believe in hypnosis. I do, however, know that placebos work even when people know it’s a placebo and I wanted this to work, so I was ready to jump into anything I could.
He walked me through the basic process : I relax, he walks me through a scenario, I’ll remember everything, but I’ll have convinced myself to quit. Sounded simple enough. I slipped into a state of relaxation easily enough, and I can recall just absolutely clearing my mind. Normally, I’d be thinking “is this mothafucka trying to mess with my head?”, but I was trusting and calm and listening.
“Imagine a stairwell”.
I thought of the outside stairwell at my last apartment in Hollywood, the stairwell where I’d often light up on my way to street level to join the madness of a night on the Hollywood Strip.
“As you take each step, you’re walking away from any connection to cigarettes”
As he said this, a human-sized cigarette (a cartoonish one – complete with little arms/legs, a mouth, eyes, etc – here’s a rough example) was standing next to me, smiling and laughing and being very friendly and jovial. My little Cigarette Buddy and I reminisced, the hypnotist’s voice was fading away, and I “heard” the cigarette “talk”
“Heyyy man… look at this journey, eh? God, this is fun. We’ve had some great times, haven’t we?”.
My mind wandered back through the years. Every memory I walked through – good or bad – there was a cigarette involved. The day my niece was born? I got the call while having a cigarette break. The day my 2nd niece was born? I was high in my apartment, just having a cigarette. Every great conversation in my adult life, I was waving a cigarette around pointedly. The number of women I met by just having been outside smoking, and/or having a lighter at the ready, and/or just having an excuse to stand in one spot long enough to strike up a conversation. I’d never not smoked a cigarette after sex. Hell, I couldn’t remember the last meal I had that wasn’t immediately followed-up with a cigarette. I’d even had photographer friends shoot me smoking because “you look so sensual when you smoke” – it was part of my sex appeal. It was part of me. Being a smoker was who I was.
As I reached the final steps, I heard the hypnotist’s voice…
“As you reach this final step, just about to leave the stairs, it’s time to say goodbye”.
I turned to my Cigarette Buddy, giving him that look you give after you just had the mutual-break-up convo with someone and you’re both like “well, this is where we leave it, I wish you well”. He looked a little sad at first, but as I went to embrace him for a goodbye hug, he started smiling and then he hugged a little harder, and said “we both know this isn’t where it ends”, and I – in my little fantasy – pushed him away and kicked him in the balls4 or, whatever, the space between “his” legs.
I went home that night, and I had absolutely no desire to smoke. I even tried, just to see. As I lit up the cigarette, I almost threw up. Fuck that cigarette! He’s not winning this fucking battle, that goddamn manipulative asshole!
That lasted about 4 days. Then, on a whim, I asked my roommate – who smoked menthol cloves – for one of his cigarettes. Part of that thinking of “well, they don’t have nicotine” (they do) “..they’re not addictive” (they are) “and they don’t really count” (they do) “…I can satisfy just having something to puff on while I work” (I did). Over the course of 2 weeks, that deviled stick slithered its way back into my life in the way of menthol cloves I bummed, to full packs I bought, to “well, I guess I smoke Marlboro Menthol 100s now”.
And so I did. Back up to 2 packs a day within about a month.
Then, in 2011, I discovered vaping. I worked in a high-rise office building and I only wanted something to depress and decrease my urges that had me taking a 20-minute roundtrip every time I wanted a cigarette, a little cig-a-like vape stick did wonders for that. After about 2 weeks, I noticed I only took one smoke break a day – usually during lunch.
One Friday night, I came home from the office and sat down to relax and work on some personal projects. I noticed I only had 1/2 a pack left. Groaning to myself “fuck, I’ll have to get up and go get cigarettes later”, I just went right into my project. On Sunday morning, I woke up and looked at my nightstand and saw that same 1/2 pack of cigarettes sitting there. Untouched. I had gone an entire weekend without so much as the desire to light one up.
Since that day, December 4, 2011, I still haven’t had the equivalent of the cigarettes left in that pack. I think I’ve smoked maybe 5 cigarettes in these (almost) 7 years.
So, fuck you, Cigarette Buddy. That’s how this shit ended.