Addiction is an impossible thing to describe. If one has never known it, words will not accurately convey the feeling. A person can do all the research they want. Addiction is not facts and figures. Telling an addict their odds of survival will not help. It did not help me, in any case.
I grew up with all the programs. D.A.R.E told me that drugs are bad. My parents lectured about what drugs, alcohol, and smoking could do to my health. As a child, I did not understand why anyone would willingly partake. Even as I got older, I swore I would never start. I have an “addictive personality.” Once I find something I like, I cannot get enough.
I knew this about myself. I have always known. So why did I pick up that first cigarette? It could have been that my wife smoked. She had to smoke outside, so I would sit out with her. I liked the smell. It reminded me of Grandpa.
Then Grandpa died. He lost the battle with his own addiction. Years of alcohol abuse and smoking caught up with him. As a kid I never knew. It was not odd to me that he would go through a twelve-pack of beer almost daily. He was not drunk; that was his personality. I did not know any different. It was not until I got older that I realized how bad that was. We begged him to get help. Dad told him he was forcing us to watch him die. It was all very dramatic.
After years of begging, it finally worked. For about six months, Grandpa quit drinking. He did not quit smoking, but it was progress. We were all very proud of him. Of course, it was all too late. The damage had been done. Not long after, he was diagnosed with renal cancer. It was aggressive and didn’t respond to treatment. It seemed like no time passed before he was gone.
The day of his funeral, I picked up my first cigarette. This was possibly the most asinine response to grief I have heard of. I missed sitting outside with him while he smoked. In my infinite wisdom, I sat outside by myself and lit a cigarette. I did not have to smoke it, but I did. That cigarette turned into three packs a day.
It truly makes no sense, looking back. My grandpa lost his life because of addiction, so I start an addiction for myself? That first cigarette was disgusting. It should have been the end of that. However, it made me feel something. Anything was better than the overwhelming grief. It was not hard drugs, at least. That was something I would tell myself to feel better.
I smoked for years after that. I liked smoking. It gave me an escape from work. I could take a break and sit while I lit a cigarette. The feeling was wonderful. Most of my coworkers were smokers. Occasionally, one of us would try to quit. I tried several times. It only lasted until someone offered me a cigarette. Addicts want other addicts around them. It makes them feel better about themselves. We were all shameless when it came to enabling one another.
My turning point was my little sister-in-law. At ten-years-old, she came to stay with us for the summer. We were in the middle of trying to quit again. We had been doing pretty well this time. A few months took away my desensitization to the smell. I hugged my little sister and nearly gagged. My mother-in-law is a chain-smoker. She smokes in the house. Sister smelled like a month-old ash tray. She goes to school smelling that way. It broke my heart. That is when I truly committed to quitting.
It has been over a year, now. We are still going strong. I do not have even the slightest craving anymore. I have a new job with less stress and no smokers. While I do not like to get preachy, I try to help others quit smoking. I tell them how I did it. I tell them the story about my sister-in-law. I tell them about my grandpa. Most of the time, it goes in one ear and out the other. I understand; I was like that, too. All I can do is hope that eventually, something will stick. It takes patience and understanding. Addicts know they need to stop. On some level, they all know. Every addict has to find their reason, however. I am just glad I found mine.