A gaggle of teenagers who live at the end of the block sometimes struts down the street puffing away like crazy. I feel like saying, “Kids, don’t smoke.” But they wouldn’t listen. They’d scoff like I did once upon a time.
I quit smoking four years ago. It’s the smartest thing I ever did. The dumbest thing I ever did? That’s easy – starting smoking when I was a teenager.
I quit, cold turkey, for almost six months back in 1987. Like a fool, I started again. All it took is one lousy cigarette, and I was back once again in my chain-smoking mode, sending out toxic smoke signals.
Not a week went by since then that I didn’t vow to quit smoking – maybe tomorrow, perhaps next week and certainly by the time the New Year rolls around. Empty vows. Then, one afternoon, I was sitting at the kitchen table talking to the neighbor lady, Marty. I put out my cigarette, crushed the empty pack of Basic menthols and tossed it into the trash.
“That’s it,” I said. “No more smoking!”
“I’ve heard that one before,” said Marty, laughing.
“Well, this time I’m serious,” I said. “Wanna bet? Ten bucks!”
We shook on the bet.
In the coming days, Marty later admitted she would sometimes peek in my kitchen window to see if I was “sneak-smoking.” She would enter my house, her nostrils quivering, sniffing the air for lingering smoke traces.
A week later she paid up, slapping down a $10 bill on the table.
The first four days were cold-turkey hell. I was light-headed, shaky, loud. I paced and kicked furniture. At one point, guests fled the house, fearing I was about to murder them. I kept having a ridiculous urge to go to the mailboxes at the south end of the mobile-home park. I kept thinking, “I’ve GOT to get to the mailbox! To deliver those letters! Now!” It was only later I realized the mailbox-torment was nothing but the inner nicotine demon prodding me. The mailboxes are next to the grocery store where I bought cigarettes. The demon knew if I got as far as the mailbox, I’d think, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll get a pack of cigs and then quit tomorrow. Or maybe next week.”
That’s my advice: Don’t listen to the devious trickster. He will give you infinite excuses to destroy your resolve. Tell the demon to shut up. After four days of his sly torments, he will leave you alone – except for a rare return visit.
I quit cold turkey because I knew if I used patches or gum, I would foolishly think, “Oh well, I can smoke just one or two and then quit again. Maybe next week.” I wanted my quitting to be a torment so when I was over it, I wouldn’t want to go through that misery again. But whatever works for you (gum, patches, whatever), do try it. If you fail, try again.
I recommend writing a list of the dozens of reasons why smoking is not good: smelly house, too expensive, fire dangers, offensive to other people and to pets, and last but not least – bad for your health. When the demon tempts you, re-read that list and then tell the demon to bug off.
A few times, I admit, I was so tempted to smoke a cigarette – “just one.” But that was the demon again, back for a quick visit. I told him where to go.
My advice to kids is this: “Please, kids, don’t start and you won’t have to stop.”
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.