I smoked my first cigarette when I was 13 years old.
Now, one might associate the image of a 13 year old smoking as also wearing
far too much make-up, sporting a tank-top showing off barely-there breasts,
possessing bitterness and anger far beyond her years, maybe even a high school
boyfriend whom she made out with listening to Marilyn Manson or at least
Nirvana. NOPE! Not me. I was going to a Catholic School, playing soccer on
the weekends, piano on Thursdays, wearing braces on my teeth, and hoping that I
wasn’t lip-synching to my Bette Midler cassette too loudly to wake my parents.
I wasn’t considered cool (shocking, I know) or badass. And I honestly don’t
remember the exact moment when I took my first puff. But it happened, that’s
for sure. And what’s also certain is that it eventually, as it does for so
many, turned into one b!*(# of a habit.
By 18, I was “a smoker,” and was on average up to roughly half a pack a day
(usually more during certain tech weeks). How many times did I try to quit?
How many different reasons and opportunities did I give myself? Each one a
failure, followed by an overwhelming sense of defeat and shame. Something
always gave; stress, coffee, alcohol. Occasionally failure came with a defense:
“Well, such-and-such glamorous person smokes, maybe it’s not so ugly.” or
“Lots of relatives have smoked, maybe it’s just in my blood and I should accept
it.” But I always eventually wound up back at the same mental place: I don’t
want to be a smoker anymore.
I will quit for the New Year.
I’ll quit when the semester ends.
I’ll quit for my birthday.
I’ll quit after the holidays.
I’ll quit for the New Year.
I’ll quit for Lent.
I’ll definitely quit this birthday; I will not have a cigarette in my
I’ll quit once the show is over.
I’ll quit for the New Year.
And FINALLY, by the end of graduate school, I unexpectedly found myself… I
don’t know how to describe it except ‘some place new.’ I won’t go into details
about what the accumulated circumstances were or the soul-searching that had
taken place; let’s just chalk it up to one door of life closing and another one
opening. After so many unsuccessful attempts, whatever gave me the balls to try
to quit again during the final semester of a graduate program (when I was
finishing a thesis, getting ready for showcase, closing a show after doing 2
shows back to back, and moving to New York!!!), I can only assume was willful
determination. To start, here are a couple of aides I produced for myself:
1) A note on my iPhone entitled “Reasons Not to Smoke”, some of which were
‘You don’t realize how it makes you smell’, ‘Joy ~ studies indicate smoking
attributes to depression’, ‘Whiter teeth’, things like that.
2) I wrote a note to myself that I taped to the back of my bedroom door:
Choose Joy. Don’t smoke today. Be healthy, kind (to others & yourself),
I started out lasting about 3-4 days, then I’d cheat; one, maybe 2. That
went on for a couple of weeks, then I’d make it through a 10 day stretch. Then
I realized how strongly alcohol triggers a craving and weakens inhibitions…
Yowza… CHEAT. I completed my program and made the move to NY. Things went well
for about a week and a half, then OOPS. Dammit, I didn’t want to smoke within
this new beginning! I SUCK! Ok, well… I’ll just throw the pack away. That’ll
be my punishment.
Yeah, I thought the image of $13 going into the garbage along with 19
cigarettes would produce the desire to not “throw my money away.” 3-4 packs of
that later, I thought ‘Ok, well…. Maybe I’ll just keep a stash inside the
apartment. I won’t smoke in public, but if I’ve had a few drinks and I know
they’re there waiting for me at home, I won’t buy. Hence, I won’t constantly
throw money away.’ The problem with that? You guessed it… they were always
readily available at my fingertips when I was just hanging out in my room
completing submissions or watching Netflix. SO, I went back to the
The sense of failure and self-deprecation was taking its toll. Months and
months of attempt after attempt with no success. Something else needed to
happen or change in order for this to work. So I thought ‘What about instead of
punishment, I try something positive… Like forgiveness? What about accepting
the fact that old habits die hard? I’ve had this habit for a long time, and
it’s going to take some time to break. I’m human, slipping is natural, but as
long as I keep trying, I’ll get there, even if it’s slow going.’
The holidays were approaching, and I started setting weekly goals for myself
every Sunday. The goals I set cover all aspects of life, from career to
personal well-being to ways to help others. One of my goals from the start of
this practice was always, ‘Don’t smoke this week!’ One week, I made it to
Thursday. The following week, I made it to Friday. After that, Saturday.
Then… I made it! One week. A whole week and not a single puff!!! Holy cow, can
I make it to two weeks?
Nope… cheated that Wednesday. Damn Malbec!!!!!! Ok, alcohol
seems to be the main trigger, let’s take alcohol out of the equation as much as
I started keeping a bag of Skittles at home. One beer would bring on a
craving that would set my teeth vibrating to the point I wanted to lick the
nicotine from beneath a derelict’s finger nails. Day by day, moment by
moment, Ruttle, just get through this moment. You can do it, you can do
it!!!! I’d arrive home, chug water, chew ferociously on a small handful of
Skittles, and then right away brush my teeth and get into bed falling asleep to
Netflix as a distraction.
I think I had made it through ALMOST 2 weeks when on January 10th, some friends and I celebrated Pat Benatar’s birthday at our local watering hole. I cheated. The next day I said to my friend Leigh who had been in attendance, “Please, stop me next time!” She replied meekly, “But I’m afraid you’ll get mad at me.” “LET ME get mad,” I said emphatically.
“If I’m craving, it’s because I’ve had a few, so I won’t remember it anyway.
And if I DO, you score points for being a good friend.” BUT, in my own attempt
to be a good friend, I thought It would be nice if you never had to put her
in that position.
And so far, I haven’t.
Friday will mark a month and a half anniversary: Nil, nada within the last 6
weeks, completely puff free. After all of those attempts to quit, I honestly
can’t believe I’m here. Now, part of the Sunday goal is “CONTINUE not to
smoke.” It remains part of the weekly goal because I’m not foolish enough to
let my guard down and assume I’m in the clear. I’m still taking it day by day,
craving by craving. Who knows… perhaps January 10th of 2014, my friends and I will be celebrating Ms. Benatar AND the 1 year anniversary of my last cigarette. BUT, I’m not setting that goal. It’s too far away. Just like a scarf is crocheted stitch by
stitch, a career is carved audition by audition, I think this habit is only to
be beaten one day at a time.
AND… I am also taking note of the fact (get ready for some life-encompassing
theory folks!!!) that my victory came after I changed my tactic from punishment
and self-deprecation to patience and forgiveness. Guh-guh-what?!?! It used to
be that a cheat was followed by ‘See, Failure-of-a-human-being? You’ll never conquer this.’ But once the post-cheat message became, ‘It’s ok, you’re human and you’ve been
smoking a long time. It’ll take some time to quit. Just try again.’, I reached
those two weeks. Then, all of a sudden, 3 weeks arrived. And so on and so
forth. The cravings, though not of much significance anymore, aren’t 100% gone.
But at least I can enjoy that Malbec by itself without my head spinning around
like Linda Blair. And Skittles are still atop the fridge… JUST in case.
The Kettle Black on 3rd Ave in Bay Ridge.
Brooklyn at its most Brooklyn. Awesome
atmosphere, and a vibe you won’t find
anywhere else except the Ridge.
Paul and Jimmy’s ~ Wonderful Italian on 18th
Street. Affordable, and wonderful ambiance.
Otto ~ Another Italian restaurant on 5th Ave
and 8th Street. Great prices, great portions…
I also happened to be in great company...