Confessions of a struggling nicotine dependent
I write this from an attic balcony, with my gloveless hands clammy from typing. It is chilly at the foot of the mountains, with the weather conducive to crawling back in bed, sipping from a mug of hot chocolate, or drawing in the comforting warmth of a cigarette.
Each is an option just as inviting as the other. Succumbing to the lure of slumber means yielding to nothing done. Hot chocolate is the wicked enabler in my battle against the bulge. A cigarette was an unwelcome commodity in my mother’s house, and I have been trying as hard as I can to be smoke-free.
I’m a few months shy of 27, tried my first cigarette at 13, had my first puff at 9. What started from juvenile curiosity became a habit I have been struggling to break for the past decade. I have been smoking for more than half of my life.
Kiss of death
I remember my first puff like it was my first kiss, although it was more akin to a kiss of death. It was during a weekend afternoon at home in Pampanga sometime in 1995.
The air was slightly acrid from the groundswell after a summer rain. During those days, if you sniffed hard enough, you could get a whiff of the sulphuric residue from Mt Pinatubo.
My uncle was slumped against the wall of our tiny garage, defiantly puffing away as my mother admonished him. She rattled off a litany of smoking hazards, railed against his asthmatic tendencies and his being a bad example to her children. And in true Gen-Xer fashion, he simply tuned out.
He flicked the cigarette right into the ashtray next to him and walked away. When he left, I teetered towards the ashtray and saw his cigarette, its embers still smoldering. I grabbed it, perplexed by how something odious enjoyed habitual consumption. I took a puff, nearly choking over the stench that ricocheted through my nostrils. I quickly extinguished the butt on the tray and furtively looked if anybody witnessed my crime.
I attended Sunday Mass later that day, conflicted over what I committed earlier – smug with self-importance at keeping up with the grown-ups, but plagued by Catholic guilt. I might have kept my sordid secret from my immediate authority figures, but not from an omniscient God.
Rites of passage
I would meet the Marlboro man again 4 summers later.
At 13, I was in my junior year in high school, feeling left out by batchmates brandishing their student driving permits. I spent the summer of ’99 with my cousins in Bicol, free from parental supervision, but sourly mourning over not learning how to drive alongside my peers.
My cousins were a little older, a good number of them in their late teens. They had drinking and smoking privileges and would take me out with them. That summer was my rite of passage, where I drank more than I thought I could and puffed my first cigarette.
“Huwag mong higupin ’yung usok agad (Don’t drag the smoke in right away),” a cousin taught me. “Nahihilo ka dahil hindi ka pa sanay (You get dizzy because you’re not used to it)." Drag slowly, and blow smoothly.
Someday, I thought, I’ll be able to blow smoke rings like they do.
I might have been a misfit in school, but I was part of the cool clique with my older cousins. For the first time since my entry into adolescence, I was welcomed. I belonged.
I never intended to pick up the habit, but I had a juvenile fear of not fitting in if my blockmates found out how young I was. I spent a fifth of my daily allowance on cigarettes, smoking as many as 20 sticks a day. I hung out with the cool kids. We lent each other lighters and employed a popular tenet for cigarette allocation – one pack for all, all packs for one.
I met one of my best friends in a smokers’ pocket garden set up in Ateneo during my 3rd year. While burning our lungs off, we labored over the school paper, lamented unrequited crushes, cursed our Math professors, and snarked over passers-by.
In hindsight, sustaining my vice was a result of my avid romanticization of the ties I had formed. What started as a means to downplay my youth became a tool for bonding with people I grew to genuinely care for.
I knew it was becoming an addiction when I found myself having difficulty focusing on school work without cigarettes. If I had readings on one hand, I had to have a cigarette on the other to stay focused. However, I didn’t mind the addiction – I embraced it. Smoking was too convenient, as it served as an instant fix, a panacea for all my adolescent schoolgirl woes.
Halfway through my 20s, I felt a genuine, almost desperate desire to kick the habit, but momentary convenience was a lure too strong to break away from. The resolve to quit was overpowered by my petulant intolerance of withdrawal symptoms. I had become susceptible to the much-loathed smokers’ hack.
I immersed myself in sports and improved from being chain smoker to social smoker. Spending time with workout buddies made me hold off the cigarettes, as it would have been disrespectful to be the lone smoker in a group of non-smokers.
I still carry a pack in my bag, but do not finish it in one sitting like I used to. My progress is excruciatingly slow, but sure. From my usual 20 a day, I’m down to two to three, even going zero on some days. With the price of cigarettes increasing, maybe I should buy a Vape, if cold turkey leaves me too vulnerable.
I've had relapses after numerous attempts to go cold turkey, but was pleased when the Sin Tax bill was passed. The markup on the price of cigarettes has given me greater incentive to quit the habit entirely. As short-sighted as it seems, the hazards and costs of the habit do not seem to outweigh the difficulty of the overwhelming struggle against the withdrawal.
The exodus is not yet over for me and millions of other smokers. Even if I quit and puff my last stick for the day, there’s no assurance I won’t relapse tomorrow. But I’m making a real effort to be smoke-free. Now who’s with me? – Rappler.com