The Big Lie
I’ve been addicted to nicotine since I was 13 years old, when I started smoking cigarettes. Well, actually, since I was a fetus, because my mother smoked (and drank) when I was in her womb. It was 1959/60 and if the medical establishment knew about smoking’s bad effects, they weren’t saying yet. I was born underweight and looked like a plucked chicken. No wonder; I needed a nicotine fix. And a drink.…
Growing up, meals were eaten in a smoky haze. The house was always smoky. My mother was a heavy smoker and it eventually killed her—lung cancer at the age of 58. Just a few years younger than I am now. I wasn’t smoking at the time.
I have quit more times than I can count. Sometimes for a couple of months or years—I think I’ve gone as long as seven years once. But inevitably, something happens, and I turn back to nicotine. I say nicotine because it is the addictive substance and that’s what I’m after. The vehicle doesn’t matter. I don’t smoke cigarettes. When the pandemic hit, I started vaping rather than going back to the coffin nails. A little progress, considering the alternative.
Vaping, for me, is better—it doesn’t stink (I use a custard-flavored vape juice), I don’t smell like an ashtray, I don’t get sick with colds, bronchitis, and the like, and I can do it inside. When vaping is not an option, like when I’m away from home, I use a nicotine aerosol. It’s a product made by Nicorette, and is available everywhere except in the US. It’s like breath spray and it’s horrendously expensive.
I didn’t intend to continue vaping, but here I am, with the next Great American Smokeout looming on November 17. It would be a good time to stop, but I can’t say now whether I will. However, I can say I’m moving in that direction.
When I retired this past summer, I started walking again and I recently began taking yoga classes which focus—among other things—on breathing. I am aware of how shallowly I breathe most of the time. Now that I’m aware, I can feel how inhaling smoke promotes this shallow breathing. I’m learning how to breathe the way people are supposed to.
Yes, quitting is incredibly difficult. But after the first three days, nicotine is out of the system. If I can make it to three weeks, I start feeling better. After six months, my lung function has so far returned to normal. I’ve done this a dozen times. I know I can do it again.
So why don’t I? Well, addiction is complicated. It doesn’t listen to reality, the pleas from loved ones, or the knowledge that it will eventually kill you. Addiction is all about right now—this moment. If I can’t think of a word, I’ll hit my vape—and there it is. Addiction lies to me; it says I wouldn’t have thought of that word without it. It tells me it keeps me sharp; it tells me that I need it to function. It is a lie that becomes a deadly habit.
So I’ve learned to stop listening to the lie. For me that means just stopping. Picking a day, committing to it, and following through. Then come, pardon the pun, the “buts.” But my therapist said that maybe I shouldn’t try to make too many lifestyle changes all at once. But I’ll gain weight. But I just bought $200 worth of vape supplies. The buts are just more lies packaged differently.
So I can’t say now whether I’ll actually stop on November 17. It appeals to my rebel nature to do things when other people don’t. If everyone likes a certain movie, book, or new restaurant, I don’t watch the show, or read the book, or go to that restaurant just because they said it was the thing to do. I do things my own way, in my own time. This can be construed as another “but,” however, it is a truth about myself that I know. So I can use it to my advantage and quit November 16. Or November 20. Or tomorrow. Or right now.
The larger truth is to know that I need to just stop, whenever and however I can. Once I let that truth in, the rest is just inconvenience. Yes it is hard, but not that hard. After all, I’ve done it a bunch of times already. One day, one moment, at a time. ▼
Beth Shockley is a retired senior writer/editor living in Dover with her wife and five furbabies.