The American Spirit Blues. ~ Greg Eckard

Via on Mar 5, 2012
Government & Heritage Library, State Library of NC

“Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” ~ Mark Twain

In late January, I wrote a post on elephant that garnered about three thousand hits.

There are articles with more than a hundred thousand hits, but it was still the first real time my writing had been read by a significant number of people who were not my college professors. In the article, I discussed my satisfaction with quitting smoking cigarettes.

Well, I started smoking cigarettes again. I’m not sure what happened — I had a rough week and for some reason it seemed like one little puff was the answer to all my problems. Addiction is a difficult thing to understand if you’ve never experienced it.

The best I’ve ever been able to describe it is this — certainly, as a child, you remember having a favorite food, probably something you would eat until you were sick if you had the chance. Imagine having a huge bowl of that food inches in front of you, with your parents out of the room, being really hungry, and having to sit there and stare at it indefinitely. Nicotine is a powerful drug, and every gas station sells it.

I have abstained completely from smoking cigarettes for periods of time, long enough to start getting cocky about it. And then smoking seemed like a good idea for some reason, and then I had to tell the people who encouraged me to keep with it. “What made you start again?” They always ask. I’ve never had a good answer to that question.

When I was 18 and told myself it would be okay to buy a pack, I swore I wouldn’t be smoking past 25. After the mid-twenties, the body’s long term ability to recover from tobacco smoking quickly begins to recede.

Smoking cigarettes definitely has its appeal to me. There’s a calming ritual to it. Cigarette smokers seem to be disproportionately creative types, who I find myself drawn to. There’s a sort of communal spirit to it as well. It’s frowned upon to ask money for a cigarette or refuse a few lines of friendly conversation while taking one. Smoking areas are located outdoors at places like concert venues, where the music is at a conversational level. Oh, how I love the smoker pit!

There’s a lot of folk wisdom about good ways to quit smoking, but little of it is scientific. Doctors recommend setting a quit date to psychologically commit to and prepare for as well as enduring the discomfort of cold turkey, which decreases the chances of getting reeled back in.

The reality is that nicotine withdrawal is less uncomfortable and shorter lived than a common cold. But feeling tense and high-strung for a few days is nothing compared to having to adjust to a tobacco-free lifestyle. Many of my closer friends are cigarette smokers, and a lot of the best time I’ve spent with them has been going out for a smoke while everyone else was warm inside.

My grandfather quit smoking in his fifties because his health demanded it, but still thought about smoking on occasion into his old age. I’ll never be completely free. But he certainly lived a much longer life and could do more because of his health. Quitting smoking is the least I could do to thank my body. It’s done a lot for me. It may be easier to meet the small, dwindling fraction of people who are smokers, but sometimes excusing myself for a cigarette around nonsmokers makes me feel further from the rest of humanity. My life is at stake.

Maybe after I finish this carton.


Greg Eckard is an editorial intern at elephant journal. He studied History at Occidental College. He plays keyboards for Shiftybox, a local band, and has been a music enthusiast from a young age. Also an aquarist and amateur magician, he has lived in Boulder for three years. Friend him on Facebook, follow him on twitter, or view his fledgling blog.

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7 Responses to “The American Spirit Blues. ~ Greg Eckard”

  1. oz_ says:

    First suggestion: stop buying by the carton. ;-)

    I tried to quit at least twenty times – serious tries, I mean. The number of half-assed tries were in the dozens. The last 4 or 5 times, I used Chantix. It helped. A lot. The last time, I had planned to, and then started a once-to-twice daily yoga practice the day after I quit that I've maintained for over 7 months now. It helps that the new friends I've made at my yoga studio do not know me as a smoker, even though they know I was in my BY (before yoga) days. The yoga itself helps. It really feels good to be doing something this good for and to myself – and when I think about smoking, there is a part of me that recognizes that if I did, I would not be demonstrating the kind of care and love for myself that I am practicing.

    Perhaps that's the main point – would a loving parent give their kid a cigarette? Can you be a loving parent to yourself? You do this when you set boundaries with other people – this is a way of showing you care about yourself enough to take care of you. Perhaps looking at it that way, you can practice boundary setting with yourself. I don't honestly think I would have successfully quit had I not – finally – decided that I was going to start giving a shit about me, and trying to be the best friend to myself I could be.

    I dunno what will work for you, if anything, dude. But what wound up working for me was just not giving up on giving up. If you slip, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, pick a new quit date, and try again.

  2. christine says:

    I get it. I quit for 2 1/2 years. 2 1/2 YEARS. I was a non smoker when my dog got stabbed by some lunatic, I was a non smoker when my husband left me to raise our 5 year old twins alone. I had done it, I was free. And then one night I was out with friends and a few drags didn't seem like a very big deal. I could handle it, I had this thing under control. A few drags turned into a few more drags which turned into a few cigarettes which turned into I'll just buy a pack and smoke here and there which turned into, oh shit! I'm a smoker again.

    I've been smoking again for six months. I plan on quitting next week. Will I? I hope so. It was one of my proudest accomplishments and since smoking again I feel like I have let myself down. No one else. Just me. Most people don't even know that I'm smoking again so when I do quit, I will do so in secret. It will be better than smoking in secret, I tell myself. Being proud of myself in private has got to be better than loathing myself in private, right?

    You're not alone. And now I know I'm not either, so thanks for that. Best of luck to you (and to me).

  3. Ashley says:

    Good luck everybody!! Be compassionate towards yourself and forgive your setbacks, but keep a clear goal in mind. You CAN do it, and your body will thank you!

  4. notavictimanymore says:

    Thank you for sharing your struggle! I am in a similar boat. I started smoking at 15, and quit when I was near 25. I am 28 now, and have recently started smoking again. Everytime something extremely stressful happened like my partner at the time being arrested during a protest, my grandmother dying, my dog dying, I'd pick it up for a bit. But it never lasted as long as it has this time, after the same partner that was arrested and I split up. I don't know why this is different, why I let this be the thing that broke me, but it was.

    • notavictimanymore says:

      And I'm a yoga teacher, so I'm feeling all sorts of guilt about it. Not to mention my mother suffering from heart problems and strokes, and my uncle dying from emphasema from smoking. You'd think I'd understand the risks and not even pick one up. But you are right, addiction is a nasty demon, and it's a lifelong battle. The best we can do is to use our tools and practices to really understand why we're smoking again, and be compassionate to ourselves and patient with ourselves as we make whatever choices are most appropriate to us. You wouldn't have written this if you didn't want to do different. The intention to quit is there with you, as it is with me. We'll get there someday. Much love to you!

  5. Seychelles Pitton says:

    Thank you for your honest account on starting smoking again. I can totally relate, except I am celebrating the fact that I have not had a cigarette in over a year. Before I quit, I had been a smoker for over 10 years, and I am 26. Even when my mom passed away a couple of months ago, I sat next to my "pack-a-day" brother watching the sunset on the beach and refrained from joining him in having a smoke. I used to be the girl who would light one up at the beach, to enhance the enjoyment of watching a sunset. But today, I can honestly say that I don't miss it! Maybe moving to Hawaii had something to do with it… best wishes to you brother.

  6. [...] main character, a devoted yoga teacher who had just finished teaching an exhilarating class, was craving…a cigarette! Very un-yogic, but, for better or worse, very real and human. Photo: [...]

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