It just keeps getting better
The first day letting go of the cigarette is always the worst.
The resolutions from the previous night already seem a blur. By midday, I was craving the filthy release of the death stick. The rising of the craving was to be expected, but I was armed with deep seated knowledge this time.
I’d experienced the relapse and cleansing cycle enough to know that, within a few days, I’d be enjoying a whole new lease on life. I’d be celebrating heightened levels of energy! Better sleep! Clearer skin, and no smell on my clothes! I was willing to stick it out.
I looked at that smoke free future on my doorstep, with its promise of lightness and self assurance. It flowed in front of me like a cinematic montage. In the early days, I would still perk up, vigilant and alert, when the smell tobacco would greet me in the distance, beckoning me into decadence.
Then, within a few weeks, that same sensation of intolerable fancy would morph into plain disgust. My lungs would have cleared out the toxins by then, and my sense of smell would regain its precision. I’d be able to detect a wondrous paraphernalia of fragrances once again—and rank odours too, mind you.
I was standing in line at the newsagent, ruminating on the progressive flow of healing that I would experience.
There was a delicious sense of certainty in the unravelling of the detox process. After all, I’d quit smoking several times, making me quite an expert in the matter—although, I’d relapsed just as often. There was something in the sway between hedonism and asceticism that always lured me back in. Plenty, empty. Toxic, clean. Sinful, pure. It was a lull that enchanted me.
To hell with balance! What if the harmony that we seek actually lies in the threat to tumble into the void from the edges of opposing extremes?
Feeling emboldened in my valiance, I decided there and then, at the newsagent, that the cleansing would occur just the same — lest my body should fall, this time around. An inner echo smirked and voiced that in dramatic jest. This is how my inner voice would announce itself to me.
Buoyed by the giddiness of relinquishing a bad habit while still percolating under its influence, I proudly bolstered myself up. As ineluctable as the day that rises and that sunshine must follow rain, I WILL recover from the smoking, yet again.
As I emitted that internal announcement, intrepid, I stared at the row of death sticks in their anonymous black packets. They stood there, alluring, and an arm’s length away, absolutely within my reach. Easily accessible, I could pretty much grab them right there and then, and they’d sing sweet toxic lullabies to me.
“Was it tracked or standard?”
The elderly lady behind the counter asked with some tired lament in her voice as she returned from the back storage.
She’d been looking for my parcel.
I had asked for it to be delivered here specifically to avoid paying for shipping fees. I realised now that perhaps, deep down, my sweet trickster inner self had timed this visit to skilfully coincide with the end of my (sweartoGod) last packet of cigarettes.
“I’m not sure”, I answered. “Would the name help?”
I had no intention of being here today.
I was scheduled to come pick this up on Wednesday, when it would have been more convenient. But something had lifted me up from my chair earlier, and I had put on my winter coat with glee as I envisioned cycling through the late afternoon January cold to go pick up my delivery.
The ruse was hardly concealed yet I succumbed to it, just as easily as one succumbs to that first cigarette— the one that breaks the sobriety.
First, you experience it from the outside, alluring as you naturally become, embodying countless iconic ads and movies where the heroine gracefully tilts her head back, inhales big, and blows out a quasi calligraphic trail of smoke, veiling her face with exquisite mystery.
The cigarette, preferably on a ridiculously long holder, is a protective shield for the femme fatale to hide her game in.
Then, you experience it from within. A rush to the head, a slightly sickening feeling, nausea, light headedness, weird woozy. The taste is disgusting and the sensation is physically perturbing, veritably, but with it, the seed is planted, the addiction takes root, and takes over everything, all over again.
“You know, in order to save us these few precious seconds that ultimately end up being quite a significant amount, please make sure you check whether it’s tracked or standard before you come next time,” the elderly lady said, nonplussed, handing me the package.
I escaped my nicotine fuelled reverie, thanked her, and swiftly wished her a good night. I was out, incredulously cigarette-less. Success! How had I so valiantly defied my inner ruse?
It’s a split second decision in those moments, almost like a sneaky dare. In my recovery, I had learned to gently cajole my mind into not buying the substance.
“If you really want it,” I’d tell myself, “you can always come back later, or tomorrow. What is one day or a few hours more if it means you’ll get a sweet poison relief at the end of it?”
As the deadline would loom, the gentle voice would come forward again.
That’s it, she’d say.
You’ve waited this long. Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it great? You’ve done great work here.
By the time she’d finish, I’d examine how I was indeed feeling, and I would realise that, in fact, the urge for the death stick had subsided into nausea, as it often does really unexpectedly, or hunger, and so we’d delay the planned purchase for another few hours.
Sometimes, I would hit a successful streak as I resorted to this same tactic for days, and weeks, sometimes months, until I really, deep down, no longer craved the death stick at all.
Perpetually dangling the carrot in front of my addicted self worked wonders, it seemed. I tricked my own sweet gullible self into healing.
As I lingered at the newsagents this time, I had naturally considered adding the request for a packet of cigarettes, but then, I started playing out the whole masquerade once again. Another montage, but slightly more sinister this time.
“This would be my last packet,” I’d dupe myself.
Evidently. Opening it would feel solemn, ceremonial. I would smoke the first one, and instantly regret it. The toxicity of it would disturb my senses. Seeing the nineteen other cigs in the pack would be demoralising. An arduous task to complete.
After all, I’d been sitting at home, warm and slightly bored, when the ruse had struck my brain earlier. I was now outside, alert and in the cold, my body occupied with warming itself up. A death stick was no use for it right now. Plus, my body engine had probably had trouble warming itself up of late precisely as a result of the death sticks. They clog up the veins, don’t you know, thus impeding blood — and effectively: heat — from circulating with ease.
Don’t take my word for it though. I’m not a doctor.
I’d stare at the nineteen other cigs and arrange them in my little metal box.
They’d keep me company for three or four days. The first day would still be fun, exciting, like the lead up to Christmas. As I completed my duties, the church would ring midday and I would take out a cigarette. It would be disgusting, but the toxicity would swell in my organs like a glamorous perfume, overextending to all its peripheries.
With each task completed, with every dreadfully banal moment of my day, I’d have an opportunity to punctuate it with a cigarette. In the absence of meaning, we create it the best we can.
I would either smoke on the terrace and start trembling within two puffs (I never bother bringing a coat outside) or I would indulge in the kitchen. This would then require extensive incense burning and aerating to diffuse the smell.
The second and third day, I might start having my first of the day earlier and earlier. Then, I’d renounce on meetings and workout sessions under the excuse of needing “to rest” but I’d smoke instead.
I’d anxiously smoke before and after phone calls. It would become positively maniacal, augmenting in toxicity and need, until one night, I’d go to sleep and realise, disappointed, that all that my day had entailed was smoking, and filling the moments in between smoking with something.
All of this predictable parade rushed forth in super fast motion as I eyed the packet, still in front of me. The exchange with the elderly lady allowed me to escape the torment of having to chose. Instinctively, I embarked on the wave of the next moment arriving, the motion of it embarking me, and we said our goodbyes.
I left the shop positively cigarette-less. All for the best.
I remembered that on the bike ride to the newsagent, a playful little voice had perked up.
Can we get some crisps too?
Maybe some beer?
I remembered the note I had written myself the evening prior, as my intentions for this week.
“Pause cigarettes. Pause alcohol.”
I was sufficiently well acquainted with my little addicted inner devils to know that if I voiced the intention of eradicating them altogether starting tomorrow, they’d rebel so instantaneously and immensely that I would hardly have survived that same instance at the newsagent. Hell, I would’ve bought my next packet even earlier than that.
I knew by now that taking it one step at a time was the solution. So, pausing was the right choice of a word. We’re just taking a break, I whispered. For one week. That should keep everybody at peace.
This squealing inner voice started up enthusiastically as I exited the newsagent.
So, now that we HAVEN’T gotten cigarettes, does that mean we can go and buy crisps? And beer?
“Fine,” I muttered, unlocking my bike and heading towards the neighbouring supermarket.
I entered the place with my inner voice skipping with glee.
Displayed at the very front of the store were the last of a frangipane filled puff pastry cake, an artefact of a vaguely religious celebration used as an excuse to fill our bellies with comfort.
Remembering a past visit to this supermarket, the voice squealed :
Can we go look at the CRAZY breads?
This place had a vast in store bakery. She was referring to the monstrous, cheese, herb and meat filled slabs of cooked dough that adhered only loosely to the denomination of breads. It was late in the day however, and the store only had a few sweaty pretzels wrapped in plastic, as well as some ordinary baguettes. This was all terribly unexciting stuff for the inner voice, who was clearly out for a full on rampage.
Can we go look at some CARBS?
Not skipping a beat, she led me across the aisles to the savoury section. Pizza dough, fresh pasta, frozen pizza and an infinity of cured meats. My inner voice seemed to absolutely disregard the fact that I’d been meat free for three years now. Not skipping a beat as I emitted that thought, she directed me to a spot where large tubs of artisanal hummus lay. I’d been cutting back on that too, mainly due to cost.
“You can show me all these fancy things”, I told her gently.
“But, in the end, you know me. I just want a plain old bag of tortilla chips.”
A tad disgruntled, she started leading me to the back aisle. I agreed to pick up some store brand cookies with the melting centre, just in case the nicotine withdrawal symptoms called for a sugar rush.
Do you want to see if they have fancy pants overpriced crisps?
In spite of her youthful glee, this inner voice did know me quite well, and in her awe-filled spree, she rightfully recalled my penchant for ridiculously overpriced organic snacks. Especially those colourful vegetable crisps.
We made a detour by the organic aisle, with the over the top packaging and the ridiculous price tag.
I smiled at myself acknowledging how much this supermarket trip was pretty much turning out to be an escapade with my inner child. She was tugging on my proverbial skirt, looking ahead. She lived for the moment, stopping in awe at the sight of strange delicacies and colourful packaging. I delighted in her innocence, her simple demands. We kept each other good company.
Returning to the back aisle, I found the tortilla chips. I also found some salt and vinegar rice cakes that would act as a memory of Britain, and picked up some cranberries too. Go figure.
The voice was mounting in excitement.
And now : BEER !!!
The alcohol aisle was predictably right next to the crisps, and I blindly ventured forward. In that moment, I remembered the instant headaches caused by recent instances of solitary beer drinking, and the vortex of soul heaviness that they provoked. I didn’t enjoy them anymore.
“Non-alcoholic good for you?”
Ok — the voice said, in a way that hinted that she might not even comprehend what alcohol was. Bless.
Finally, armed with my beer and tortilla chips and cranberries, I headed for the checkout aisle before my inner voice could hijack me into further shopping.
I added some mints to the pack, just to fulfil that vexing oral fixation that would inevitably occur as the teeth and gums would suddenly crave the death stick again.
I was going to nip it in the bud, I reiterated to myself, as I exited into the darkness of a wintery 5pm.
For one week.