Addictions: easy to get, hard to kick

Steve Hammer

Man, I need a cigarette. But I must not. I cannot.

The first week of my battle against my cigarette addiction has had mixed success. I've cut back from two packs a day to less than one, but it's still not enough.

Addictions are funny things. You don't realize you have one until you're in too deeply. And when you try and get rid of it, only then do you realize what power it holds over you.

For way too many years, I've relied on cigarettes as a reward, a punishment, my only love and my biggest source of hate. I've awoken and coughed for what felt like hours.

Since my column last week describing my desire to stop, I've received dozens of supportive e-mails.

Here's one example: "Most sincere wishes for success in drop kicking a very difficult addiction. It's tough; but, any time a public figure makes a public statement about his commitment as you did, there is much hope. In addition, because of your public profile, you have a great chance to influence others ... to literally save their lives. In spite of all of your other hard work and excellent columns, this could be your greatest public service.

"You may want to lose the cigarette in your picture when it no longer is a part of your life (or put a second one in the other side of your mouth if you just want to look goofy)."

I heard from a member of the Department of Health, offering the state's resources in my quest. Long-lost friends sent their best wishes.

I still want a cigarette, though. I have the gum, I have the inhalers, I have patches. What I don't have yet is the willpower.

I was doing really well until Thursday. I'd almost cut back to zero and then personal stress intervened.

"Come to me," the cigarettes said. "I will ease your pain, get you on your feet again. Relax. I need a little information first. Just the basic facts. Can you show me where it hurts?"

I confessed my pain to the cigarettes and they seemed to understand. I lit one cigarette after another. It was hard to breathe but I was back with my best friend.

And then my real best friend came over to visit. "I hate the expression on your face when you're smoking," she said. "You have this defeated look on your face, like you're giving up on life. Why are you destroying yourself this way? Don't you care about yourself? Do you want to lose me?"

I looked at her face, and its infinite beauty, and I looked at the pack of cigarettes. I lit up the cigarette. She began to cry.

"What do you get out of these things?" she asked. "Happiness? Solace? Safety?"

"I don't know," I said. "Comfort?"

"Think about what your lungs must look like," she said. "How can you write so vividly about the volcano of cigarette butts in the ashtray and yet keep smoking?"

I thought about it some more.

I thought about when I began smoking. I was listening to the Clash and getting trashed on Boone's Farm apple wine with my college roommates. Someone had a pack of Marlboros and gave me one. I fell in love immediately.

Soon we were inseparable, my love and I. When I ran out, I'd smoke butts from the ashtray. I'd comb the house for change to buy a pack when I was broke. I smoked after eating, while drinking and at the office.

People entered and exited my life but the cigarettes stayed. I thought I was in love with the cigarettes but they did not return my love. They took their toll.

"I will quit smoking for you," I told my supermodel girlfriend.

"Fuck that," she said. "Quit smoking for yourself. Don't factor me into it." She is a very strong-willed woman, an irresistible combination of Hillary Clinton and Scarlett Johansson. I know I should listen to her.

And I've tried. Every night last week, she came over to visit. I'd hold off as long as I could but when I got stressed, I'd light a cigarette and we'd fight about it. And then that would lead to other arguments.

"How can you help me if you can't help yourself?" she asked. "What kind of role model do you think you are? You love the cigarettes more than you love me."

"That's not true," I said.

"You've known them a lot longer than you've known me," she said.

I realized the truth in what she said.

But I still wanted a cigarette.

At one point, she took a scrunchy, that hair thing women use, and placed it on my wrist and told me to look at it whenever I wanted a cigarette. All that did was incite a small wave of interoffice gossip and bewilderment about why I had a scrunchy on my wrist.

I still smoked, but I felt guilty about it. The scrunchy didn't work. The possibility of a slow, painful death doesn't work. The possibility of losing my love over it works only slightly.

I have a problem and it has to stop. Now. As of this writing, I have no cigarettes and no money to buy them. After I cash my check, I will drive by the cigarette store. I hope I have enough willpower to resist.

This is the battle of my life and I hope I'm up to the challenge. My thanks to all who have offered support, but this is a war I must win on my own. Wish me luck.


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