by Lin Stone
"I think the hardest thing I ever did was quit smoking," hundreds of people have told me, some with bitterness -- because they couldn't, and many more with pride at the accomplishment.
I know quitting was hard for me, for sure.
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It took a long time for me to get hooked. But I was determined. And I done it good.
The first time I knew being hooked on tobacco wasn't good was when we were broke, I was out of a job, and the rent was past due. My wife sent me to the store with our very last dollar to buy the baby a gallon of milk; I came back with half a gallon of milk and a whole pack of cigarettes.
Even though she didn't say a word, her mouth twisted as she looked at me.
It made me angry.
Didn't she understand how it was?
I didn't either.
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My mouth twisted too as I looked at the worthless pack cigarettes in my hand.
In a fit of rage I took that pack and crumbled it into little bitty pieces over the trash can, vowing to never, ever let tobacco steal food from my children again.
As the years went by I tried everything to quit: slow withdrawal, total withdrawal, substitution and even kicking myself. Looking back, I think I liked kicking myself best. It gave me the satisfaction of knowing that at least I was paying for my sin.
Nothing stopped me from smoking, not even kicking myself. In fact, I just got hooked worse and worse as I faced the fact I could not quit. The humiliation, the shame of my failure, brought me low because many a time I'd find myself hunting for butts outside of bars, or down off the curb where rich people fling them on their way in to buy groceries.
Finally I got real serious about quitting. I was reluctantly smoking up 2 packs a day by then so I took 4 packs with me and headed out into the desert.
My plan was simple. I would go as far out as fast as I could until my cigarettes were gone. Then I'd keep going until I couldn't stand it no more. (You could do that out around Gila Bend Arizona back then and never meet another human being.) By the time I could get back the craving would be over. It was a good plan.
I went out, breathing the clean air and savoring the smell of greasewood and the blooming mesquite. The clean air gave me strength, confidence. One morning I came to a big tall cliff, almost straight down, and miles around to find a way down. It was the perfect place to quit smoking.
Taking the last part of a pack from my breast pocket I glanced contemptuously at them, and hurled the pack away from me as far as I could fling it. It sailed out, out, and down, down, to bounce and bounce again to where I couldn't even see them.
Long after you kill the urge to smoke
CIGARETTES CAN KILL YOU!
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Oh I was glad, happy to have that habit off my back. I filled my lungs with crisp, clean air and set off for home at a brisk pace.
You know what? It was almost dark by the time I got down off that cliff and found that pack of cigarettes.
As I tore one white cylinder out I breathed a prayer of deep gratitude. "Thank God I didn't throw the matches away with them!"
More years went by and I learned to console myself that at least tobacco wasn't hurting me. All those scare stories about cancer didn't scare me: no sir, not even when I saw Sam Philpot with half his bottom lip removed. Why, he was still smoking, wasn't he? Couldn't have been the cigarettes that done it or he'd have quit. Right?
Then I began coughing up green stuff every morning I woke up. I knew it wasn't the cigarettes that done it of course. And I reached for the first one of the day and dragged deep to stifle that coughing. Only, every morning it took longer and longer to cough all that green stuff up. It just kept coming up from somewhere.
The worst of it was, when I heard a good joke, laughing at it nearly killed me. My lungs would collapse and if the joke was so good I couldn't quit trying to laugh, I fell to the floor until the strangulation got the best of the humor in the situation.
That done it. Killing a poor man slowly with green phlegm ain't so bad, but when you deprive someone of good jokes s/he might as well be dead anyway.
I was working nights alone then. For hour after hour I would consider ways of quitting, and knew I'd tried all of them already. Then one night I was sweeping up the loose cigarette butts when this big man swaggered away from the big ash tray at the door and came over to where I was sweeping where he flung his cigarette down in front of me. "There," he said. "Pick mine up too." It felt like he had struck me in the face with it.
Using my broom I wiggled his butt over to one side and went on around it. His face blanched white as if I had flung the butt back at him. He was so offended he spent the night at the Space Age Lodge just so he could come back the next day and complain to my boss about how rude I was.
The boss let me know about the visit the following night and I brooded over the injustice all night long. I was the one that was rude? Why, HE was the one who had walked away from an ash tray we furnished and flung his cigarette down to MAKE me pick it up, and I'm the one that was rude? Then I thought about all the smokers who deliberately blow smoke at other people, and throw their butts down for others to pick up.
About one or two the next morning I found myself staring at a cigarette in my hand that I was about to light and suddenly realized it had all been a mistake.
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"I am not THAT KIND of person.
I looked again at that cigarette in my hand and realized that it was alien.
It never had been a part of me.
Slowly I shoved the thing back inside the pack, and forgot it.
I forgot about the pack in my pocket too until a week or so later my wife was changing my work clothes over for me and said: "This is the same pack that was in there yesterday."
I glanced at it, seeing it for the first time in weeks. "Oh yeah," I said. "I forgot to tell you; I quit."
It took years for the green phlegm to go away though. Then, it took even more years before I could hear an unexpectedly good joke without risking life and limb.
We think we know the answer. Most smokers have experienced it more than once. Several weeks down the road to quitting for good, then ... one slip and all that effort wasted. All those good intentions made; cravings resisted; plans laid and for what?A few weeks off the cigarettes.
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