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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hot Toddy Smells Good

I can't stop smelling my fingers today. They smell so clean and so good. Not all smoky and nicotine-y.

I hardly ever talk about the fact that I've smoked for the past ten years. Why? Mostly to avoid being chastised. I've always hated when people preached at me. "Smoking is so bad for you. You should quit."

Honestly, that makes me want to blow smoke in the person's face more than it makes me want to quit smoking. I've seen it happen to my fellow bloggers. They mention smoking, and suddenly the comments are full of reprimands. Who needs it?

I have smoked since the summer of 1995. I quit a couple times (usually because I liked a non-smoking boy), but I always went back. I won't go into exactly why I started, but I will tell you why I haven't stopped before now.

I never stopped smoking because I thought it would be an act of conformity. I thought it would be like surrendering to the forces of good when I wanted to play with the forces of evil. I thought if I smoked I could be bad.

Actually, I never really wanted to be good. When I was a kid, I was labeled a good kid and always felt like such a goody two shoes. In grade school if I played kickball at recess the other kids made a rule of No Cussing. I know that people find that hard to believe, and now that I'm an adult I'm quite amazed that I had kids like that at my school. But it's true. They considered me to be someone you should never cuss around. Like I was an f-ing (just kidding) nun or something.

My sister always called me "Mary Ingalls" (the obedient and well-behaved sister on Little House) and my cousins called me "The Crown Prince", because it seemed I could do no wrong. When I started smoking, it felt really wrong and really fun. Smoking made me feel rebellious. Independent. Uncontrollable. See, I was "dedicated" to God by my parents when I was a baby. I grew up in church and signed a contract when I was 14 saying I would never drink or smoke in my whole life. I went to a college where smoking and drinking wasn't allowed. Neither was dancing. Neither was going to class without socks. I didn't make a break from organized religion until 1995, about the same time I burst out of the closet.

When I first met CT, who did not smoke, I had only been smoking for a couple months. It would have been so easy to quit. I asked him if it bothered him that I smoked, and he said, "No, I actually think you look cool when you smoke." So, of course, I didn't quit. I guess somewhere along the line (about 3 years later) CT decided that I no longer looked cool when I smoked. Now I had a three-year habit. It was so hard to quit, but I did.

I started smoking again after about 6 months. I missed my cigarettes too much. I started feeling too cleancut and proper and way too good. I wanted to stay bad. I loved the feeling of smoking behind CT's back. Secrets are fun, and kind of bad. I know this to be a fact because in all the movies I've seen where there is a secret, all the hot kids run around looking so sexy and intriguing until someone who witnessed them killing someone turns up to inform them that they know what they did last summer. That's so hot.

Lately, something has changed in me. It is one of those significant shifts in perception that happens, for me, about once a decade. I'm entering my fourth decade this October, and so far I have only experienced three truly significant shifts in perspective my whole life. The first shift occurred when I came out for the first time to a couple friends and realized I was no longer isolated and alone. The second major shift happened years later when I left religion behind. The third time I felt such change was when I found the courage and strength to leave CT.

My fourth shift (oh, god, it just occurred to me that Oprah would call this an A-Ha moment) happened at the end of last year. I have no doubt that I will never be the same. I had to give up someone so precious to me, and it nearly killed me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that. I almost didn't make it out of the dark, but I did. And over the past few months, I've become so strong. Inside I can feel it. I am really strong. I am safe. I don't need to fear the future or fear being alone.

After what I went through last year, giving up smoking is nothing. I've already given up a much harder habit, my need to diminish myself to make others appear stronger.

Lest I give the impression that this whole journey is easy, let me tell you about my morning. As I got ready for work this morning, I looked forward to stepping outside with my mug of coffee and a cigarette, when I suddenly realized I quit three days ago. Damn.

On the way to work I felt so irritated. I wanted to pull into a convenience store and buy a pack of American Spirit yellows so bad. Instead I just sang along with the CD Matty sent to me. But I had to replace some of the words of the song by singing swear words. I was so tense I wanted to chew through the roof of my car. I don't know how else to put the feeling of nicotine withdrawal into words. (When I passed the restaurant where I celebrated someone's birthday with him last August, I felt my heart sink. I realized once again that I've already survived a Herculean task much more difficult than giving up cigarettes.)

When I got to work today, I climbed several flights of stairs up to my office. I think its four flights, but who's counting? I started taking the (70) stairs on the first day I quit, and, though I'm not sure how many there are (70), I know it feels like there are more stairs going up (70) than coming down. Maybe if I substitute a bad habit with a good one, this will be easier. I climb the stairs about four times a day, so I'm not sure how many stairs that would be (560), but it must be a lot.

I have been going to the gym a lot more, and I have been so disciplined about what I eat. I will be damned if I gain weight from this. I used smoking as an excuse to keep from gaining weight for so long, but I really hope that if I exercise more and eat healthier, I can avoid excessive weight gain. Anyway, if I think about gaining weight it makes me feel like I need a cigarette, so let's change the subject.

So now it is lunchtime. I just finished, actually. This is when I would normally go outside and light up. I don't feel the urge right now. I honestly don't. Who knows when the next one will strike (happy hour), but I'll be ready when it does. I can go back to CC Slaughters once these urges pass.

Maybe people will start calling me The Crown Prince again, but, I'm not worried that I'll conform or be too good. I have realized that I can find plenty of ways to be bad without abusing myself. The best part about quitting (besides how good my fingers smell) is the release from shame. For the past few months I have felt frustrated with myself and kind of ashamed because I was a smoker. I never felt that way before, but something changed. I found myself looking away from people who walked by me as I smoked on the sidewalk. It felt like I was publicly urinating or something. In the elevator (not the stairs) at work I would think, "God, I bet I smell awful." I became so conscious of the way my fingers smelled just like an ashtray.

It has only been three days, but I already feel much better. I'm looking people in the eye. I'm taking the (70) stairs, I'm working out, and I'm winning a battle that, for many years, I've been to scared to tackle.

I am still fighting the urge to walk up to people and say, "Smell my fingers."

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