Quit ’em if you smoke ’em!

Relapse all you want, brain. I’ll just quit again. I could do this all day.

2020 has been the worst year of my life. As it has been for millions of people. That’s one of the relentlessly awful things about the year: it won’t even let me be uniquely miserable. Oh, you think you’re sad? Get in line, buddy.

So after three or four years without smoking,1Without Instagram as a daily diary, I don’t know exactly how long ago anything was anymore. I’ve had a few relapses. A long one at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when things were the worst. A one-pack bump in the road back when this year’s California wildfires first blew smoke into the East Bay. And now I’m in the middle of another relapse, again triggered by the wildfires that turned the skies in the Bay Area post-apocalyptic.

I don’t mention the wildfires because we were directly affected by them; we’re fortunate in that we’re completely safe. And obviously, I’d never equate a few days of reduced air quality to what people are going through after losing their homes or worse. But perversely, breathing in the smoke seeping through the windows always makes me want a cigarette. That raspy feeling in my throat that never goes away, the weird gurgling in my chest when I wake up with a coughing fit, the thin layer of ash that seems to cover everything and stick to my fingers: ah, I remember this, and I think I… miss it?

For about a week, I’ve been dreaming about smoking. Or more accurately: sometimes dreaming about smoking, and sometimes dreaming about whatever it is I tend to dream about but in which I’m playing the role of a person who smokes. The most alarming was having a standard-issue dream, suddenly noticing that I’d been smoking a cigarette, and thinking what the hell did you do?

I can’t blame everything on the smoke. Election anxiety, and general despair over the state of the country, have been particularly fierce over the past few weeks, and I hit a low point. At least a solid week with insomnia, no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, completely unable to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes at a time. Also, we watched an awful anime with a character who smoked a cigar throughout, and the next thing I knew, a switch in my brain had flipped and I was a smoker again.

As somebody who’s over-thought everything his entire life,2Although now that I think of it, is that really fair to say? the thing that never stops being weird is how anti-intellectual it is. I know that it’s gross, I know that I don’t need it. I know that my life is better in every conceivable way without it. I know that it doesn’t actually calm me. I know that it’s worse than a waste of money. I know that I can’t have just one or two; for me, it’s either nothing, or one every hour without fail. I know that it stains my mustache a repulsive shit-yellow-brown color. I know that I feel worse in the morning. I know that I hate the recurring cough. I know that in the middle of a pandemic for a respiratory virus, it’s the stupidest possible time to be doing it.

But even while I’m thinking that, my motor center has driven me to the 7-11 and has me paying for a new pack. It’s like the decision-making part of my brain communicates with the part of my brain that actually does things via automated customer support line. Thank you for your message. We appreciate you and value your input. While we fully intend to go buy cigarettes and start smoking them anyway, we’ll take your concerns under consideration. Please do not reply to the message.

The one positive is that I finally found something that helps me quit. I smoked for over 20 years, and I made several attempts over that time using nicotine patches, Wellbutrin, and my insufficient willpower, with nothing lasting more than three months. But finally, Chantix worked so well for me that I don’t even mind linking to a drug company’s website. No discernible side effects, and no need to quit cold turkey as with the patch. The first time I tried it, I’d heard it described as blocking the receptors that are activated by nicotine, so that you get no pleasure from it. That made me imagine some kind of A Clockwork Orange scenario, in which I’d find them nauseatingly repulsive, but that never really happened. Instead, it simply seems to just shut up the part of my brain that has me out buying cigarettes despite protests from every other part of my brain.

I’m also encouraged because I did manage to quit earlier in the year, after one pack, and with no assistance, and no setbacks. I think that simply knowing that I can quit and that I’ve done it before, for at least three years, helps a lot. 2020 may be a horrible year, but maybe it’s the year I can shed all of the toxic BS dragging me down.

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