Monday, September 26, 2011
I’m Thankful I’m Unchained But I Miss Chains
Two years, two years today I smoked my last Parliament. For those who did not sell off their Philip Morris stock, I apologize.
I miss cigarettes. Not enough to start smoking, or probably more accurately, the longing for cigarettes does not tempt me to open the pack and light up. Smoking is an intensely pleasurable vice, tobacco is a uniquely favorably experience with nerve-soothing, mind-focusing benefits. The act enhances innate sensuality. Sadly, there’s a downside you’ve probably heard of: No matter how much stress it alleviates, smoking “may” be hazardous to your health.
Two years ago, I had a heart attack and my last cigarette was in the emergency room parking lot of Liberty Medical. I wrote about that and other musings about smoking here.
I keep an unopened pack of those 20 cylindrical friends in an ash tray on a bookshelf in the hovel. It’s not so I can constantly prove I can resist temptation. So, why? I don’t know. A marker of a turning point in my life perhaps, or my idiosyncratic taste for odd objects with hyper subjective meanings? Maybe I fear that a desperate hour will come and I will need a cigarette then, but so far those moments of anguish, panic or dread have not been sufficiently desperate for me to light up one of my long time, ever stalwart companions.
Maybe I keep the pack just so I can take a new picture when a cigarette reverie reveals itself for the blog. Sometimes you can think too much about something. Sometimes thought doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer. I don’t have an intellectually justifiable reason for keeping the pack or the ash trays or an explanation as to why an unopened pack helped me break my addiction to nicotine beyond the inexplicable fact that it works for me.
Ashtrays. I have a collection of hotel ashtrays. Back in the days before the anti-smoking fascists took over America and hotels became “100 percent smoke-free,” you could smoke in hotel rooms. I was doing a lot of business travel back in that day. Sometimes you had to request smoking or non-smoking – and if you accidentally were booked into a non-smoking room and called the front desk the clerk informed you just to open the night table drawer and you would find an ashtray. I habitually left with the ashtray, which I assumed was complimentary, just like unopened soap bars and television set (kidding!). Several have the glass H (Hilton) at the bottom. I wonder if they’re worth anything on E-bay.
They’re probably still used in smoking friendly nations. I have a friend, an ex-smoker for longer than I, who informed me while traveling in a Mediterranean country; she smoked a pack of cigarettes during the two weeks or so. She’s going through a tough time with her marriage. I was shocked, she shrugged it off. Back in Bloomberg’s Manhattan, where cigarettes cost $13.00 a pack and lighting one up in a public park is a misdemeanor offense, the urge for her to smoke not yet resurfaced.
Not me. I know I’m an addict. Being addicted to alcoholic, or cocaine or an opiate or any substance that also induces euphoria is obviously a more severe affliction, but nicotine addiction is still an addiction and thus involves a wide range of psychological issues that must be addressed through nearly incessant self-examination. It is an effort of varying degrees that I have to make every day, but it is also makes one sound whiney and boring. Nonetheless, I cannot fathom even the idea of nonchalantly smoking a casual cigarette, or even taking a single puff of a friend’s cigarette. I loved smoking too much, and as a addict I know how easily I could slip off the wagon. I hated being in intensive care more than I loved smoking.
The most virulent anti-smokers are ex smokers, and I will never join that camp. Why should my personal issues be a reason to reduce somebody else’s personal freedom? I like the smell of cigarettes, and would like to see smoking reintroduced to bars, workplaces, airlines and public parks. Good lord. It’s sickening how Americans are always willing to take away freedoms from groups other than their own in the name of majority rules. For a parallel, look at the history of Jim Crow, and how Apartheid laws in the South became more and more far reaching until the Brown V Board of Education ruling. The very idea that you cannot sit on a park bench in Washington Square Park and have a cigarette is a perversion of justice. The health hazard of second hand smoke is a myth, and its use to justify a retraction of personal freedom appalling.
On the other hand. sometimes I see folks light up and while I am envious of those wonderful, delicious fumes filling their lungs, I don’t miss being actively addicted to nicotine. I miss smoking, but I don’t miss standing in the rain because I needed a fix. I am glad about being out of the cycle of overwhelming anxiety that is created by and only alleviated with that blessed puff. Every winter, we all get colds. As a smoker, you have those times where you take a shot of Day-Care or Robitussin so you can clear the mucus, soothe the throat and breathe freely long enough just to have a smoke and ease the nicotine Jones; before the cigarette is finished you are lost in a fit of coughing and congestion. Those moments I don’t miss.
What I hate the most about being an ex-smoker is that I think about and talk about smoking incessantly. I used to just smoke. Life is not about paradoxes, it’s about living with the inscrutable contradictions inherent in existence. I’m thankful I’m unchained but I miss chains.