Odd Thoughts: Going weedless not an easy task

Tomorrow is Weedless Wednesday.

If there’s a smoker in your circle of acquaintances who has been thinking about quitting, now is as good a time as any to offer support and encouragement.

But don’t nag. Nagging doesn’t make it easier. And anything that doesn’t make kicking the tobacco habit is a waste of time at best, and more likely is counterproductive.

Stopping smoking is hard.

I can remember the day I stopped like it was yesterday – it was at 2:30 in the afternoon on Feb. 4, 1976. I had six cigarettes left in my pack, and I threw them in the garbage can in the corner of the agricultural students lounge at UBC.

(Note to prospective quitters – I had tried quitting a number of times before, always beginning with finishing the last cigarette in my current pack, and failed every time, until at the advice of my father, who had stopped after many attempts years earlier, I sealed the deal by actually throwing some away.)

A buddy of mine pulled the discarded pack out of the trash and asked, “Do you mind if I have these?”

“Go ahead,” I said, “if you don’t mind dying of cancer.”

“Anyone can quit smoking,” he said. “It takes a man to face cancer.”

We both laughed.

I’ve fallen out of touch with him, and I have often wondered if cancer – or any of the other manifold deaths that smoking can visit on its victims – ever got around to testing his manliness.

I was lucky. I had a special incentive to make it permanent this time.

In addition to my dad reminding me that smoking is not just a personal health choice, but a choice that impacts everyone around you who will join your suffering a horrible death, I had a girlfriend who threatened to leave me if I didn’t quit smoking… and then dumped me two weeks after I threw away those six butts.

I decided I’d be damned before I was going to give her the satisfaction of seeing me with my lips on a cigarette that I had thrown away for her.

If that doesn’t make any sense to you, it doesn’t matter. The point is, I was angry enough that it helped me through the first few weeks of intense craving – until the breath I hadn’t realized I’d lost started showing hints of recovery and I started feeling healthy enough that I was able to force myself to believe that the benefits of quitting outweighed the desire – the absolute need – for another puff.

You might have noticed that my account alternates between “quitting” and “stopping.” That’s because you will try to quit, but you can never do more than stop.

I don’t know if my addiction was – is – stronger than that of most other cigarette smokers, but the intense craving for another cigarette stayed with me for months, perhaps a year, before it settled into something milder.

Whenever the aroma of a particularly well cured cigarette wafted my way, it was all I could do to keep from falling off the wagon. That stayed with me for years. In fact, it still can hit me – nearly 39 years later – although now maybe only one or twice a year.

At least the nightmares ended a long time ago. For years after I stopped smoking, every eve of the anniversary brought me the same nightmare: I had mindlessly accepted someone’s offer of a cigarette before I realized what I was doing… then I’d wake up in a cold sweat, sniffing the air for evidence of my soul-breaking transgression.

And then relief: it was just a dream!

If you know someone who’s trying to quit, they need your support: nothing holier than thou, just a friend’s encouragement.

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