I tried my first cigarette in junior high in the early 1980s. It was pretty gross. But I figured if I just stuck with it, I might like it some day.
When college came around, I figured, why not try it here and there. By the time I was 21 and old enough to go to bars, I'd also figured out that buying Virginia Slims meant no guy would bum cigarettes off of me. (It worked.)
At my first newspaper job, in a small town in Iowa, it seemed like everyone smoked. I bummed Merits off my editor.
I got pregnant and married in short order, and didn't adjust to marriage well. As I failed miserably as a wife, I began picking up packs of Marlboro Light 100s here and there. I saw my mom smoke my whole life, and it didn't seem like a big deal.
When my son was with his dad, I went out to bars and smoked and drank with fellow 20-year-olds.
At some point around here, I was addicted. I eventually smoked every day.
And I would do it for another 15 years, well into my days at the Chicago Sun-Times (we actually had a smoking room in our old building at 401 N. Wabash, it even grossed me out as a smoker).
As a reporter at the paper, I began to worry quietly about my lifestyle, at times. I had gained quite a bit of weight. I smoked. I used to be cute and wasn't anymore.
I like to figure out solutions to problems, so I went through Weight Watchers the year I married my husband, focusing on losing weight first, then learning to exercise regularly (it came slowly.)
Four years later, in 2007, I decided, after running a couple of 5Ks as a newbie runner, that I was going to run a whole marathon.
I can be impulsive.
I had tried several times to quit smoking up to that point -- cold turkey and Wellbutrin, mainly. The feeling of failure felt heavy. Why was I so weak?
I began marathon training, fretting that I was a fraud because I still smoked. One day, one of the heaviest smokers I'd ever met told me about a program at Northwestern Hospital. Eight weeks of weekly meetings, medication and support.
I was tired of feeling weak and tired of being ashamed. Addiction is like being enslaved. I wasn't born smoking. Why did I feel like I needed to do it to get through the day?
I went through the program, taking Chantix, the prescription medication. It gave me crazy, technicolor dreams. I don't think I had a good night's sleep for the few months I was on it.
It also turns off the pleasure receptors of the brain that LOVE nicotine. It made smoking not fun at all.
When you quit smoking -- and I would guess the same is true for alcohol or drug addiction -- you feel like you've lost something really important. You also feel like total shit for what seems like an eternity. I remember wondering if anyone had ever died from nicotine withdrawal. (No, don't think that's happened). Well, that, and the withdrawal from the ton of chemicals cigarette companies put in cigarettes to keep you hooked.
That last cigarette I had, 10 years ago tonight, I remember as clearly as I remember where I was when the police chased OJ Simpson on a California freeway.
I was in my kitchen, drinking a Cosmopolitan. (I really loved Sex and the City, including the signature show drink...) I smoked my last cigarette, and then took the half pack of Marlboro Lights that I had left and soaked them under the kitchen faucet.
I was done.
It's kind of amazing that it's been 10 years. Since then, I have since had two more children, changed jobs more than once, and run 10 marathons and 50Ks.
It would be easy to say something like, see, if I can kick my addiction, anyone can. But in a way, I had it easy. Right after I quit smoking, the state of Illinois banned indoor smoking, including bars. Few if any of my friends smoked anymore. I was seldom near a smoker at all.
I imagine for an alcoholic, it has to be a lot harder, since we live in a society that really dwells on drinking. If you decline a drink at a party, some people will assume you have a problem or you're pregnant. If you declined a cigarette, well, that's cool, then.
I sat next to a woman on the train today who reeked of cigarette smoke, and felt grateful that I got that help to kick smoking that I did. Not smug, just grateful.