By Teh Ben
The year was 1994. It was a mythical time when wearing pagers and gigantic pants were universally considered to be both dope and fly. In those days, we lacked smartphones, so instead we passed the time patiently waiting for EMF to finally craft an even better single than “Unbelievable”.
It was also the year that I was introduced to smoking by my neighbor, but I didn’t need much convincing, since the smell of stale cigarette smoke reminded me of exciting places like hotel rooms, bowling alleys and airplanes. Smoking cigarettes felt like a secret cheat code for entering adulthood a little earlier than puberty had planned for me.
Every time I sneaked outside my parent’s house to have one, I relished getting that wonderful head rush. As time wore on, however, the high was beginning to pay out diminishing returns and instead I discovered that I had developed a deranged attachment to the nicotine. It turns out that Shipwreck wasn’t bullshitting me about addiction during those G.I. Joe PSA’s back in the 80’s.
In the olden days of the nineties, it was completely acceptable to smoke practically anywhere in public. You could happily puff away in restaurants, inside coffee shops, and you could even smoke inside of the mall! (For those of you who are giving me the side-eye, a “mall” is a large building where people congregate and physically shop inside groups of smaller “stores”).
We were sold cigarettes by cartoon camels, bombarded by billboards telling us exactly where the flavor was, and seduced by full page ads inside issues of Boy’s Life. Manufacturers catered to our generation’s adoration for flannel and all things ennui with emo brands of smokes like Black Death Cigarettes. The big brands were introducing a new cigarette “flavor” nearly every couple months, each time using a slightly different mix of rat hair, floor sweepins’ and occasionally, tobacco.
My addiction to cigarettes began in high school and it spanned all the way to middle age. My smoking dependency was made worse by my choice of profession to become a professional rock star/alcoholic. I eventually ended up with a two pack a day habit that controlled me like a caged animal needing to be rewarded by deep frying my lung tissue. Smoking was great for a career in music, as all of the giant holes in my lungs have given me the golden pipes of a sandpaper-voiced angel. Throughout the two decades that I’ve been a smoker, I have been continuously broke, but I still feel like I’ve been a decent humanitarian. I have graciously funded three children of the Phillip-Morris family with three post-grad degrees from Harvard.
On August 16th, 2017, I finally decided I had finally had enough and decided to give up smoking that afternoon on a whim once I realized how much cash I was wasting every month for the privilege of developing name-brand emphysema. The money that was lost was pretty important angle, but my biggest fear was of developing “dick lips” which are those awful permanent deep vertical creases earned from years of puckering. This decision to quit was still bad timing for me, as I was only 35 Marlboro Miles away from getting that esteemed Marlboro Adventures Casket.
There are many methods available to quit, but I decided to go cold turkey because I’m a masochist. I’ve already tried wearing one of those patch things and they made me feel dizzy and throw up. I also know that there are prescription alternatives, but there’s no way I would willingly take a pill that the possible side effect of suicide (which I was already doing that in a very drawn-out way anyways). My bandmates tried to get me to switch out cigarettes with the classy, hipster substitute known as vaping, but that option always looked like nothing but a pain in the ass to me. I found it too difficult to measure out the correct ratio of antifreeze to Sweet Tarts juice, make sure the coil was charged, and have the burner thing all working at the same time. Vaping makes cigarettes look appealing again based on the simplicity of the mechanics of “pull out cancer stick, light up cancer stick enjoy cancer stick”. Vaping is an annoying 13 step process that just ends up making the air smell like somebody blew Willy Wonka.
The first few weeks of the cold turkey method were absolutely awful, but I managed to pull through the horrors of withdrawals with an angry smile, fistfuls of chewing gum and about fifteen boxes of Twinkies. As I made it through each day, I would check back on health and quitting sites to track and compare how my body should be reacting as the nicotine was finally leaving my body. I noticed several things happening to me that were not mentioned anywhere on any of these websites. These effects were documented solely on my own personal experience, and your mileage may vary.
So, if you’ve ever considered quitting smoking, you should definitely do it! Grab your sword, your shield and handfuls of Chewlies gum and fight alongside me on a legendary adventure in giving the finger to Big Tobacco!
6) Week One – You Become a Time Lord
You’ve done it! You’ve decided to take that crucial first step, which is the hardest one to take. After the first 5 hours or so of depriving the body of vitamin N, something weird starts happening to both time and space. Your body and mind beg you to just have one cigarette. This single directive makes your perception of time begin to bend, twist and lengthen like a limber Ron Jeremy awash in a sea of oiled-up naked people.
Suddenly, you are gritting your teeth permanently and sweating through several days which seem to never end. A basic work day morphs into a 27 hour battle against co-workers who have no other itinerary or reason for existing other than to piss you off. Eventually, you realize that having 38 available hours in a day is pretty awesome. Now that you have all the time in the world, you begin planning all great stuff you are finally going to start working on. However, now that your reward system has been removed from your creative cycle, you decide that doing anything is a complete waste because everything fucking sucks anyways.
A small amount of depression can creep in pretty easily during the first week, and managing your stress can feel like an unsurmountable task. You may not be accomplishing a whole lot with all of this new time on your hands, but it is still kind of cool because it feels eerily similar to how you perceived the passage of time when you were a little kid. This effect holds a fair amount of nostalgic value, even if all you wanna do now is break stuff.
5) Week Two – Surprise! Routines are Much Easier to Break than you Think
I am a creature of habit, and when you smoke as much as I did, lighting one up becomes ingrained with every aspect of your day. Driving to work in the morning? After my first turn northward, I would roll the window down exactly 4 inches and light one up right after shifting into third gear. Every meal or snack was finished with a slow and enjoyable smoke. I felt like cigarettes would be an engraved part of every detail of my routine forever, all the way to my Juggalo-themed early funeral.
But during the second week of quitting, I started to feel more comfortable driving my car without feeling the urge to smoke. If you’ve smoked inside of your car for any amount of time, I recommend using an odor neutralizing bomb to start making your car smell a little less like musty cat and ashtray. Eventually your car will not be a scent trigger for you to smoke anymore, but no matter what, that gross smell can still linger around. This might make selling your vehicle to randos on craigslist a little more difficult than normal. Just tell them it comes with a free hidden Humphrey Bogart air freshener.
Just like driving, tasks at work that you would sneak a smoke in while doing and breaks begin to get easier to do without relying on your crutch. As an added bonus, not having to go outside during a snowstorm to smoke is pretty awesome too.
4) Week Three – Your Mouth Becomes a Carnival of Terror!
You’ve made it out of darkest part of the woods! Your odds for success have improved greatly. Now you just have to deal with your body taking drastic steps to heal itself after decades of abuse and neglect, becoming most obvious with all things, your mouth.
Years of smoking absolutely destroys the circulation in your fingers, toes, and gums. Once you go into recovery mode during the third week, your hands feel fuzzy all the time and your teeth and mouth start to become extremely sensitive to hot and cold (especially liquids).
Once your mouth has been recalibrated to feel somewhat normal again, everything inside there begins to bleed. It turns into a tap that cannot shut off, filling your stomach and esophagus with quarts and quarts of acidic joy and rainbows. It turns out those microscopic warning labels on the sides of the packs are not joking about that whole “gum disease” thing. From what I’ve researched, the only cure for gum disease is to have a robot sear off the bacteria under the gum line with a laser. I can’t wait to hear and smell the sizzle of my tasty face bacon.
All these years, I’ve put off seeing a dentist so I don’t subject them to having to inspect and work on a damp ashtray. Now, with my little blood geyser problem, I’m scared of subjecting my dentist to scenes from The Shining. I am aware how bad prolonging this is, and I promise that I will adult and get this taken care of by a professional in the near future. Once all the poking and prodding is done, be sure to look for my next PopLurker article “Five Awesome Terminal Diseases I Got from Avoiding Modern Medicine for Twenty Years”, coming this fall!
3) Week Four – Taste Becomes a Mind-Blowing Obsession
Your mouth has finally stopped hurting every time you put something near it. Now, when you put food inside it, something incredible happens. You can finally taste what foods are supposed to actually taste like! You begin embarking on a journey to try everything from the five distant corners of Flavor Town.
Everything tastes so vibrant, so alive, especially the flavor of very dead animals. At one point, I swear I could taste colors and sounds. I had gotten one of those boxes of cheap fundraiser chocolates at work and when I ate those, I swear I could hear the neurons in my brain popping as I soaked in the magic of salted caramel like it was the first time I’d ever touched candy before. That afternoon, if you told me that the wallpaper in my office was snozzberry flavored, I would have licked a hole through the drywall without a second thought. Your new obsession and re-imagining of food and flavor becomes an all-consuming obsession, which, unfortunately leads to…
2) Week Five – Surprise! You Get Fucking Fat
Throughout my life, I have weighed exactly the same since I was sixteen: 176 lbs. I spent my teens and twenties being infamous for not gaining an ounce of weight after eating amounts of food that would make a sarrlacc pit puke. Around the fifth week of being smoke-free, something horrific happened to me in the shower. Instead of practicing my sick Yoga Flame fighting stances, I looked downwards and noticed my body had taken on the shape one of the aliens from Explorers, complete with a massive gut and complete lack of distinction between torso and ass. I used to look like Billy Idol, and now I looked like a fucking Minion.
Even more terrifying, I noticed that I was starting to “jiggle” whenever I walked down stairs. I ENDED UP GETTING BOOBS JUST LIKE MEAT LOAF IN FIGHT CLUB. The dadbod gut thing is gross, but growing bouncy breasts thing is still almost too much for me to process. Currently, I am trying to muster the nerve to shop inside Forever 21’s “over 40 training bra” section.
I seem to have leveled off at about 45 pounds heavier than my normal weight, which might not sound like much in reality TV terms, but the rapid addition of 23% of my body weight in lard has been excruciatingly hard on my joints, knees, and back. My energy levels are quickly depleted from that extra energy being used to lug my tubby ass around. I think the hardest part of all this rapid weight gain is that it makes me actually feel my age.
I know if I start making more positive changes to my lifestyle might start to rectify most of these problems. I am in the process of cutting sugar intake and grudgingly shopping for a gym, but I consider myself decently blessed though. Not having to do anything physical while retaining the body of a 16 year old for 24 years was still a damn good run.
Anybody know where I can buy some of those spinning tassels?
6) Week Six – Who Doesn’t Smell Like Barbecued Buttholes? You!
If you’ve been repeatedly using an odor sanitizer on your car this whole time, and you have set fire to all your old clothing (that doesn’t fit you anymore anyways), you will get resting bitch face whenever you get a whiff of tobacco smoke. Whenever you are working and a smoker comes inside to give you something at your desk, you get grossed out by how gross they smell. Sometimes this can be the perspective you need to see how gross you used to smell, and serves as a really convincing reason to never, ever go back.
Your sense of taste is back, and your sense of smell is improving as well. While the flowers, trees and the smells of spring are awesome, you also get all of the reverse effect whenever somebody on the light rail douses themselves in AXE because they are on their way to a hot date.
Some of these side effects can appear to be negative, but it’s important to stress that no matter what, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to for your body and overall health. Smoking kills 480,000 human beings a year. Don’t let your epitaph read “Here Lies Bob, #367,001 out of 480,000. He was a pretty cool guy most of the time”
Now that I’m close to 8 months without Vitamin N, I promise that I will never go back. I like the extra cash, and the time I get to spend with my kids instead of spending hours out freezing my ass off in the garage. I figure after having inhaling over a quarter million cigarettes, I’ve had my fair share already.
TEH BEN’S TIPS:
- I quit on a weird day- a Wednesday. This gave me a weekend away from work during the hardest and most crucial third day of the quitting timeline. If you can put yourself in solitary or a rubber room during this day, you will have a better shot at success.
- I refrained from drinking for a couple months. I am aware that good scotch and smokes go together like peas and carrots, so I waited a couple months before I picked up drinking again. There are just some vices aren’t meant to be tamed.
- I refused to be near anything that had any nicotine in it at all. No cigars, no secondhand smoke, and no chewing tobacco (that shit’s gross anyways) because I know that if any of that found its way into my bloodstream, I’d be right back at the gas station buying a carton, and right back at square one again.
- But, most importantly, give yourself a reward at the end of that dark twisted tunnel. I decided to put all the money I wasn’t spending on tobacco towards something special. I decided I needed a faster, crazier, stupider sport bike! I don’t really feel like I’ve learned much as I’ve traded one habit that will kill me over the course of several years for one that will kill me in an instant with one errant roll of the throttle or swerve of drunken bus driver. Sometimes setting aside a reward can help you keep focused on accomplishing your goal of becoming smoke-free.
…and getting to live long enough see my kids grow up is pretty awesome incentive, too…
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