Friday, May 29, 2009

My Addiction

I used to smoke.

Years ago when I was 12 we went to an Agricultural Exposition.
More than one cigarette company had a booth set up.
Giving out free samples.
Back before there was an age limit on smoking, of course.
We kids were assigned to visit these booths and get as many free samples as we could.
There were 6 of us ranging in age from 14 down to 7, I think.
We, each of us, scored several half packs of cigarettes from each booth.
My father and step-mother were smokers by the way.
Doing the math, all told, the family brought in the equivilant of 4 cartons of cigarettes.
There was a quite a variety brands, strengths, styles and flavors.
The plethora was stored in a drawer in the refrigerator, to keep it fresh.

I became enamored of the cache.
Eventually I decided to smoke some of this stash.
After all, I had had a part in it's procurement.

Smoking was off limits for us kids.

A definite no no as we were deemed simply not old enough.

The forbidden is ever the most attractive don't you think?

I lifted one of the half packs.
Marlboro Red's in a hard pack, if memory serves.
(it often does, and too well-though it never asks my permission)
They and a lighter went off to the barn with me.
I was determined to not only smoke but do it well.

Suddenly I remember the prior occasion that made me think this was the only way.
(I'm so easily distracted)

I held that pack upside down in my hand and hit it hard against the heel of my palm several times.
I had no idea why, but years of watching others had shown me that this was what one did.
I peeled off the cellophane and opened the box.
Savored the smell of the as yet unlit tobacco.

Have you ever smelled Borkum Riff pipe tobacco?

It is a luxurious thing.
Absolutely delicious in any of it's several flavors(bourbon being my favorite)

My father was a pipe smoker as well.
The rituals of that pursuit are perhaps more addictive than nicotine.

Back to me.

I removed the first cigarette from the pack and held it to my lips.
Carefully I flicked my Bic and brought the flame close to my face.
Set that flame to the end of the cigarette and watched through narrowed eyes as the paper caught fire.
Such a powerful moment for a 12 year old.
I was lost in the flame and forgot to inhale.
I tried again.
Eyes focused on the ember I had created, I positioned my fingers just so.
I waved my hand out to my side just so.
My mannerisms had to be perfected.
I was going to smoke after all, and do it well.
My hand ever so elegantly lifted towards my face as I returned the cigarette to my lips.
Less cautiously this time.
Watching that ember flare, the smoke rise, that controlled burn creeping ever closer towards my face.
Getting lost in it again.
The hardness of it pressed between my lips.
Breathing in.
Tasting the smoke.
Feeling it in my mouth.
It's weight.
It's heat.
The smoke warmed me.
Even at twelve, I appreciated the sensuality of what I was experiencing.

I controlled it.
It controlled me.
My world spun.
Balance deserted me.
My vision blurred, yet my focus sharpened.
I laughed.
I flew.
I was free.

Another cigarette.
The fire.
The flame.
The ember.
Control and it's perfect loss were mine.

Another cigarette.
I was going to do this.
Smoke this pack and be accomplished at this grown up art.

Another cigarette.
Each cigarette smoked right after the other.
Chainsmoking right off the bat.

One elegant hand wave too many.


I had spun completely out of control.

No control?
No cigarettes.
Doesn't pay to look the fool in front of those who control you.

I didn't pick up another pack of cigarettes for 6 years.
The fact that I did demonstrates my addiction.

I chose menthols this time.
Salem Menthol Lights.

After six years the initial experience was the same.
The fascination with the flame.
The pleasure in the sensual feel of the cigarette against my lips.
The joy at the feel of the heat in my mouth.
The high as nicotine found its spot in those receptors my brain had created just for it.

Another cigarette.

What's this?
That sensation was gone.

Still I strove for it.
For a while I could regain it.

The high was gone.
My fascination with the process was not.
Those hungry places in my brain were not.

I smoked.

I smoked until I was seven months pregnant with B.
Admittedly I had cut back considerably.
Weaned myself down to one cigarette a day for months.
Finally I said, "This is it. No more."

And it was.


I went in to pay for my gas.
Those single boxes.
Stacked beguilingly over the clerks head.
So colorful.
A siren whispering in my ear.
She's almost three now.

Marlboro Menthol Lights hard pack.
Oh, and a lighter too please.

I waited until she was in bed.
I lit up.

After three years.

No high this time.
A buzz? Maybe.
But those receptors were hungry.
My fascination with the fire remained.
I smoked.

A constant search for another high?
Feeding the nicotine receptors in my brain?
Compulsively controlling a fire that was burning in my face?
Exploring the sensuality of this constant hand to mouth activity?

I don't know.

What I do know is my last cigarette was smoked December 31, 1998.
A minute or two before midnight for the record.
I refused to purchase any more cigarettes when the price went up due to a major lawsuit settlement.
Now that I haven't smoked a cigarette in over 10 years I watch in quiet disgust as other people smoke.
(secretly yearning for just one more).

I have successfully resisted that first cigarette.

I hate being addicted to those damn things.


Huff Daddy said...

My whole family smokes though my mom finally quit. I NEVER had any interest. I despise cigarette smokers and cigarette smoke. With one exception, the sound and smell of a Camel being lit by a zippo lighter. That's my dad. That first billow of smoke though, yuck. And I HATE the smell on my clothes. I never knew I smelledd like that until I left home.

For some strange reason I feel the opposite about cigars.

Nej said...

Luckily, my parents didn't smoke. And neither did my grandparents, or my parents friends (that I know of) I was never exposed to it head on when I was young. I DO remember a friend of my dad's being a pipe smoker. To this day I love that smell!!!!!

I've never smoked, never tried, and never wanted to.....but I used to be a pretty heavy smoker in my dreams.

I can, to this day, remember the feel of it. Strange, eh??

Putting that addiction behind you is a very hard thing to do....congrats!

Huff Daddy said...

When I got divorced I thought about starting smoking just as a way to meet people. ;D

Brook said...

HD-The insidious smell of stale smoke is perhaps the one thing I don't miss-and maybe the morning breath(though that first cigarette with coffee took care of that pretty well ;) There are many many wonderful people who smoke-I have great friends who still smoke, and as many times as I'm tempted so far I have avoided that first one. And that's the one that'll get you. If for no reason except the expense be glad that you never picked up this particular habit. Like you I don't feel that cigars are the same-though I don't smoke/puff on those either.

Nej-Pipe tobacco is luscious. No question. I once saw a woman roll a cigarette with what looked and smelled like my dad's pipe tobacco and was immediately grateful that that was one idea that I had not come up with.
I often feel that some of our dreams are alternate realities. That perhaps we are living another life in them. I've had some that were so mundane, so real in their boring details and physical sensations that upon waking I'm not sure if this life isn't the dream world.

Huff Daddy said...

Oh, don't misunderstand me, I don't hate my friends and family that smoke. That would be A LOT of people. I do glare at smokers in restaurants, not bars though. I avoid those, exercising my choice. NC restaurants go smoke free Jan 2! I can't wait!!!

Brook said...

HD-I know what you mean...really I do.

Jackass said...

Tiff and I's father smoked borkum riff but quit before our youngest sister was born. To this day, I can pick that smell out anywhere.

Brook said...

Jackass-Olfactory memory is an incredible thing isn't it? Amazing how a certain smell can just take you right back there-good, bad, ugly or somewhere in between, it all comes rushing back.

The CEO said...

As you know, I smoke. I started again this past December. I look forward to quitting again. It's not as easy as people think. I was only smoke-free for five years.

Your post was a perfect description of me. Thank you. You know me well.

Brook said...

CEO(Monty!!!!!!!)I know you smoke. And if your experience with addiction resembles mine then perhaps you too can find it in your self to not smoke the next one, and the next one, and the next one until one day you realize that now you resist smoking that first one after all this time. It can happen.

The CEO said...

I will quit again, I can tell you that. It's avoiding smoking that first one after a long absense I fear. I only made it five years last time.

Nej said...

Five years is a long time. You did it once, you can do it again.

Dark Cloud Nine said...

Beautiful description. I have waned to pick up smoking (I know, I'm weird) but I could not. I love the object cigarette, the lighter, the burn, the movements, the whole ritual, but I am too reasonable and I don't like the taste... oh well... I don't know why I wish I was different.

Your writing was beautiful and learning about you was delicious.

Brook said...

DCN-Thank you(and thank you). So often we focus on the nasty bad for you aspects of smoking and we forget that smoking is a ritual, it is an addiction, it is a function in many peoples life and not all of it is ugly, that there is indeed beauty among the ashes.

Maureen said...

This story reminds me of that family that had the foster kids. Connie was the mom, I'm pretty sure, anyhow...not the point.
I think I was about 9 and they had this girl staying with them. Well, she was older and way cool. She was 13 and her Mom would buy her cigarettes when she went on a visit. Melanie and I went into the woods with her and just had to share in the cigarette experience. Well, at 9 I didn't quite get the whole process and fully inhaled a puff... Gross!! We were being called back to the house when we realized we might get caught, so in our childhood wisdom we ate snow to get rid of the smell!! Yeah, it didn't work! Big time trouble. I didn't try to smoke another cigarette until I was in my late teens.
Thanks for posting your blog. It is so fun to remember these childhood antics, as too often I am at a lost for childhood memories.

Brook said...

Maureen-wasn't it Connie and Tom? And they had an incredible basement and HBO? And a cute son in the basement? Way older than us of course but that didn't stop us from looking. I can just see you and Mel shoveling snow into your mouths trying to kill the smell-you'd have had more luck chewing on pine needles(just saying).

ginstonic said...

I am so glad the last 9 years I have had a smoke free home. My dad smoked, all my husbands smoked, and I am of the generation when you didn't ask people to smoke outside. Even when that became more the norm, I was never able to enforce a no smoking rule in the house (or the car) even when I tried, but you know what a pushover I am. I actually smoked myself for about 2 or 3 months. I tried as a teenager and a few other times, but they made me nauseous, then around my 30th birthday I was out with friends, lit up & they didn't make me sick. It was mostly about the ritual and kept me from biting my nails. Then one day I lit up and the nausea was back. Even at that time I only smoked a pack a week. Virginia Slim Ultra-lights - they looked like mosquito tampons.

No Tobacco said...

Quitting smoking is the MOST important decision you'll ever make in your life, for you and your loved ones. It is better to start Now, because the longer you stay on it, the more damage it will do to your body.

Brook said...

Mommy=you, I know, do not have an addictive anything. I'm thankful for the fighting chance.

No Tobacco-I agree. Our lungs(and bodies) have amazing capacities for self healing. I also think that many(most)people forget that we(addicts) are people. Real people with lives and everything. I am not advocating smoking(or anything-even white sugar-in the addictive sense)but you know-a little compassion, a gut understanding is not a bad thing.
Underwire bras and antiperspirents(not deoderants)are major causes of cancer and death. Where is that outcry? Is it discrimination? Lets practice fair-or at least across the board- sancture of cancer causing products and their producers. You(the person-not the rhetoric)are welcome to check back in on me, my life, and my thoughts and its pursuits)at any time.

Huff Daddy said...

I'm not sure which hit a deeper nerve, your discussion of spam or your past smoking. ;D

Sign of good posting I believe.

ginstonic said...

Oh, my darling daughter, do you really think I don't have an addictive anything? How bizarre. I am not so sure myself, but I thought perhaps you would be so astute as to point something out for me. The human psyche - who we are, who we think we are, who we think others think we are, and who others think we are. So complex.

Brook said...

HD-I know-surprising isn't it?

Mom-you are addicted to coca cola-there, satisfied?

Maureen said...

So Funny - I actually was talking to my mom about this over the weekend - Connie and Tony! And Yes, several cute boys in that massive game room basement - I think the really cute one was Todd - affectionately called "Toad" by the brothers. They were cute, but they were all Boy- remember their bottle of Stench? Such a boy thing... lol

Brook said...

Maureen-Those boys-that basement-legendary. The memories.

Victoria said...

My god totally!