Life Unpunctuated: A History and a Goodbye Letter
I was going to write, "I didn't start smoking like most people..." but after trying to write a paragraph with that as the story, I realized it was a lie. I was going to say that I started smoking because I was bored, but the truth is that it was the classic "peer pressure" reason. Not an active peer pressure, just the passive act of hanging out with other people that smoked on a regular basis, people that to their credit were probably telling me that I shouldn't smoke, but at the same time giving me a cigarette anytime I felt like trying one. I hadn't chosen to hang out with smokers, it was my work environment, everyone took a break when the smokers took a smoke break and so I spent a lot of time hanging out with the smokers just not working.
After starting for real, I never really stopped or accelerated. I was a pack-a-day smoker for about a decade. During that time I really only ever smoked three brands: American Spirit Lights first, then Parliaments during film school(cliché I know), and then Camel Lights(now Blues) once I started working. When I started with the American Spirits it was really just a way to lie to myself. I told myself that if I was going to start this "disgusting habit*" I should at least smoke something that isn't full of a bunch of extra crap. I also smoked mostly for it's novelty. Parliaments were a transition to smoking as a stress coping mechanism. Not that film school was all that stressful, it was at times, but when I wasn't smoking as a way of taking a break I was smoking because I was stressed about something and I needed some time away to think about it and recenter myself.
When I started my career as a grip smoking Camel Lights it almost felt like a badge of adulthood or "in-ness." When I would work with a new crew, which at the time they were all new crews, I knew a little bit of what I was doing but not everything and somehow smoking/being a smoker felt like a way of saying, "Look, I'm one of you guys, I do the same things as you guys do, you can trust me and bring me back for the next job." Then as I started putting in day after day smoking became the thing I did in between setups. For those of you not familiar with a film set workflow, it's a lot of hurry up and wait. We rush around lighting a "setup" and then we sit around and wait for them to shoot that setup and then we rush back in and change it around into a new setup. A day on set is nothing but stopping and starting, action and cut, working and sitting around. That habit bled over into my life off of set: finished paying your bills online - smoke a cigarette, just finished watching a movie - smoke, about to go to bed - smoke. Smoking was my punctuation. It was the comma during a long sewing project. It was the exclamation point after beating a video game.
I should quit
The first few times I tried to quit I lasted about a week. I went cold turkey in a week that I had a few days in a row without work. I basically spent the first two days lounging around the house playing video games, watching movies, sleeping, and doing anything to keep myself occupied and in the house so I wouldn't think about the withdrawal symptoms or be tempted to stop at a liquor store to buy another pack or maybe just a swisher sweet. Those attempts almost always ended my first day back at work. It just didn't feel right to do a setup and not step out for a smoke afterwards.
I've got a reason
The most recent time I tried to quit I only lasted a few days. It was the first time that I think I identified the punctuation problem. I thought about it and I legitimately couldn't imagine a life unpunctuated. Did people really just go from activity to activity without taking a break in between? I just couldn't fathom not smoking, but I had a reason. Without making you groan or get all weepy, my reason was my niece. When she was born, I told myself I had to quit for her, I didn't want to be the "smoking uncle." I didn't want to set that example for her. Unfortunately, she is on the other side of the country, and for her first year or so she wasn't very clever so I could hide my smoking by going out on the balcony where she couldn't see(so therefore I didn't exist anymore.) By her second birthday it became clear that my grace period was up. I took the advice of my slightly older and much wiser sister(who is former smoker) and sought out the counselling program offered by the motion picture insurance.
Quitting, With Help
My first visit to Picture Quitting was exactly what I expected it to be: "smoking is bad, science, science, research, your body, nicotine, science, Nicorette, Nicoderm, Chantix..." It was also a few things that I didn't expect. My counselor suggested a lot of behavioral ways to help kick the habit. I won't go into detail here(Ask Me!), but suffice it to say that I felt good about continuing with the program. I had two or three more meetings(over the phone) with my counselor and every time I would talk to her she would ask me if I decided what kind of medication I was thinking of using when I quit. At the time I was actually against using anything. I had quit before by going cold turkey, I could just do it again this time. I needed her for the moral support to stay quit, not to tell me how to quit. But she was insistent enough(but not pushy) that I decided to give the patch a try. It was the nicotine replacement that seemed the least like smoking and it seemed easy enough, what can I say, I'm lazy. Quit day came and went and it wasn't that bad. It was then that I realized what my counselor had been trying to tell me, but I was too dense to listen. Quitting the behavior is the important part and the patch lets you focus on that first and then later once you have new behaviors, or rather a new way of living, you can focus on the chemical part. Of course she was totally right.
For over three weeks now I've been learning to live as a non-smoker and that entire time I haven't felt the chemical addiction at all. Over that time I've become really aware of how much I smoked and the role that it filled in my life. I learned that sometimes my urge to smoke wasn't just a chemical urge or a need for punctuation but it was a way of avoiding things. I like driving and I like being in my car. Often when I would get home after work I would sit in my car for a while. I would tell myself that I wanted to listen to more of my audiobook, and that was partly true. I was also staying in my car and smoking more so I could avoid leaving the car. I was comfortable in the car and I liked being comfortable. Smoking one more cigarette gave me another 5 minutes in the car. There have been a few pretty strong urges over those three weeks but nothing I couldn't handle. Now that I'm not a smoker I've been enjoying the freedom that comes when you don't constantly feel the need to go outside, to get away from everything(another huge trigger for me). I look forward to discovering more of what I was missing out on as a smoker in the future.
Author's Note, Apology, and a *
I really didn't want this post to be preachy, I'm sorry if it came across that way. I just felt the need to share my experience with anyone that might be interested. I also want to address the * from the second paragraph. The phrase "disgusting habit" is one of many catch phrases that non-smokers use when talking to or about smokers/smoking. I'm sure you could play a few rounds of Scattergories with that as the topic and still not come up with a comprehensive list. I really hate those phrases and not because they're all so negative. I hate them because it's so easy to ignore them. When you are a smoker and someone asks you, "Are you still killing yourself?" it just goes in one ear and out the other. The only thing that I think ever got through to me as a smoker was just the simple question, "Have you ever thought about quitting?" I think it's the fact that for a real smoker it's not just something you do, it's how you live, it's part of you.
Even though I don't want to be preachy, I also don't want to write this post and not make myself available to talk if you are thinking about quitting. I'm still learning how to live the life unpunctuated myself, but I can tell you more about my experience and if you need support I'd be more than happy to call you every few days to make sure you're doing okay. Hit me up on my contact page.
Picture Quitting- www.picturequitting.org