The man I loved was either a cigarette or a doughnut.
I wondered which, while I held a cigarette between my fingers—the second cigarette in 2019, and it was already September—and thought about the nature of addiction while sitting outside on the balcony, ashing into a potted plant.
I knew I could smoke just one. I smoked just one a couple times a year.
But if I ate a doughnut, I’d eat a dozen.
The man I loved had a pull on me that felt a lot like a doughnut, but I really wanted him to be a cigarette—something I didn’t have to quit completely. Something I could keep in my life, at least occasionally.
I loved the feel of the paper filter on my lips, the way it stayed dry until halfway through my inhale and then was just wet enough to make the smallest popping sound when I pulled it away. I loved the tiny flick of my thumb when I ashed. I loved the tendril of smoke that drifted from my face into the autumn evening and changed form and dissipated.
But I couldn’t quit the man I loved, which probably made him a doughnut. It probably made him crack. It made him heroin.
I was miserable until I heard from him, and then euphoric because I did. When a friend told me I looked like I’d just taken a hit straight through my veins when I got a text from him, I knew I had a problem. I had a bigger problem when I went through withdrawal every time he ignored me—I couldn’t get out of bed, some days. I couldn’t stop crying. Sometimes, I watched my right hand move on its own accord, like it had dissociated from me, as it picked up the phone to check, again, if he’d written.
The worst thing doughnuts did was make me ill. But loving this man made me want to die.
So I stubbed out my cigarette in the plant and flicked the butt into the grass, re-entered my house, and looked up the 12 steps of addiction recovery.
And promptly rewrote them for myself:
Step One. I admitted I was powerless over my addiction—the smell of his neck, the grip of his hands, the way my blood raced when he was near, the way my skin ignited when he touched me.
Step Two. I believed a power greater than myself led me to him.
Step Three. I made a decision to turn my life over to my higher power—no, to him, only him, and he would save me.
Steps Four, Five, Six, and Seven. I made a fearless moral inventory, admitted the nature of my wrongs and defects, and asked my higher power to remove my shortcomings—but not this man. I could not breathe without this man.
Step Eight. I listed everyone I had harmed, and the list was me, me, me, me, me.
Step Nine. I made amends to me, me, me, me, me. And I didn’t care. I didn’t want it.
Steps Ten and Eleven. I continued my personal inventory and sought prayer and meditation to bring me closer to the man I loved. Not God. Not my higher power. The love I felt and the pain I embodied were all I needed.
Step Twelve. Had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps and carried the message to other addicts. No, I didn’t.
When I was a teenager, I spent a year receiving hospital treatment for an eating disorder. The doughnut, then and now, was no joke. A doughnut wasn’t heroin but my inability to control my eating—as well as relinquish control—toggled between extremes. I was great at starving, but I was excellent at bingeing. I was no good at purging though, so I was stuck with the calories I consumed.
It wasn’t a choice. It was a compulsion. One either indulged until sickness and death, or one walked away completely. That door must be opened or closed.
I was safe with a cigarette. It was neither.
The man I loved wasn’t a cigarette. I wished he was—I wanted to pull on him gently, as softly as a breath, until he entered my lungs and chemically buzzed my brain. I wanted him to speed my heartbeat—just a little. I wanted him to smolder at the edges and glow when I made him catch fire. I wanted him in my mouth and on my tongue.
I wanted him to permeate my body.
I wanted to be able to casually toss him away like he tossed me away. I wanted to be chill and cool and disaffected and untouchable and hard as glass and tough as nails and indestructible. I wanted to be everything a woman was when she flicked her cigarette.
But I was not.
I decided to add Step Thirteen to my personal list. It went like this:
Forgive yourself. The world is hard. Your heart is big. You fell in love, and that was beautiful. But he didn’t, so let him go. Forgive yourself and let him go.
That’s the step I’m working on now.