Overcoming Addiction

They say that every cigarette smoked takes ten minutes off of one’s life. If this holds true, then my battle with addiction has robbed me of approximately 45 seconds of my life. For over 20 hours in May 2011, I struggled to conquer my addiction to tobacco and regain control of my life. Although it was a long and arduous fight, I naturally came out on top and now have another thing about which to brag.

It all started during my Long And Glamorous Career in the Entertainment Industry (see Chapter 8 for more details) where everybody and their mother smokes because nobody seems to have put together that cigarette smoke plus vocal cords equals bad news. I had always felt a certain allure towards the idea of smoking even though I knew it was terrible for one’s health. The media has done a fantastic job glamorizing smoking to the point where even I, an educated, upper middle class consumer and a product of one of the best public school systems in the country, had a strong urge to try it out.

One night I met with an old friend from high school who was a social smoker. We were sitting on the edge of the pier at Lake Kittamaqundi reminiscing about days bygone when she pulled something out of her purse and asked me if I wanted to smoke it with her.

“Is that weed?!” I asked, disgusted.

“No,” she replied, “it’s a Black & Mild. They’re so good.”

Spontaneously and without any peer pressure, I agreed to experiment with this strange new thing to which she began to introduce me. To me, marijuana and crack cocaine are tacky as hell but somehow in my mind I rationalized taking a few puffs off of the cigarillo because I was bored and rebellious, quite a dangerous combination.

She pulled out her lighter, lit up, took a few puffs and deposited the cigarillo into my hand. Unsure what exactly to do with it, I put it to my lips, inhaled grandiosely and was thrown into a subsequent coughing fit. She explained to me that smoking was less “gasping for life” and more “casual inhalation”. Heeding her advice, I tried again and this time was able to take a puff without experiencing pulmonary arrest. Over the next fifteen minutes, I went through the motions of “smoking” several more times until they began to feel less unnatural.

As much as I wanted to pretend that smoking that nasty piece of shit made me feel cool and grown up, it just tasted like burnt meat and a vanilla Tootsie Roll (I love candy but even I absolutely hate vanilla Tootsie Rolls). Nevertheless, doing something grown up and rebellious automatically made me cool so I decided that I should do it again some day. Also, I secretly hoped that smoking that single cigarillo would make me lose 25 pounds like everybody else did when they take up smoking.

Afterwards, I doused myself in approximately fourteen spritzes of air freshener and cologne because I was too scared of walking into my house reeking of tobacco. Not that my parents would have been mad (or probably even noticed) but I feel like I would have disappointed them by doing something so stupid and reckless. Unsurprisingly, I tend to get very worked up in my head over situations that are a) hypothetical and b) unlikely to actually happen so I worried myself into a tizzy about my parents flipping out that I had smoked (another sign that I probably should not have done it). Needless to say, they did not even notice.

My second Black and Mild episode occurred at the the next day with Cara Marie Antico. We met for lunch that afternoon and I excitedly divulged the details of my initial foray into tobacco only for her to excitedly exclaim that she, too, is a gran aficionado of Black & Milds. Ecstatic, we rushed to Royal Farms and purchased a lighter and two more cigarillos. I was not even carded by the cashier which, frankly, ruins the entire idea of being a badass grownup rebel. But, I digress.

We hurried to the park and found a cozy bench next to the lake and immediately lit up – or, attempted to. It only took me about ten minutes to light the cigarillo once I finally figured out that lighters do not work very well when it is windy. In the midst of our conversation, I remembered reading that morning (I did my research!) that one of the main reasons that people smoke is to achieve the “high” affected by tobacco that consists mainly of lightheadedness and also a sense of calmness and detachment.

I tried and tried so hard to feel relaxed and lightheaded. Still feeling nothing more than my regular lucidity and thirst (and becoming annoyed that I was feeling nothing), I lied and remarked how great and relaxed I felt. Cara Marie agreed.

Over our ensuing casual conversation and my exaggerated lies, she noticed that I was not swallowing the smoke but instead just exhaling it. Subsequently she then taught me how to actually smoke and swallow. I could not quite figure out how to swallow the smoke and without choking so I decided to cut my losses and pretend. After I began to do pretend real smoking, I had to lie even harder about how great I felt and became more annoyed that I was not feeling so fantastically, orgasmically superb.

Nonetheless, with each jogger or elderly couple or park ranger that passed that bench and saw me smoking I felt about ten times cooler and more grown up even if I was fake smoking, lying about it and then laughing really loudly to look cool. For somebody who is image obsessed, this was the ultimate high (even if it was not at all affected by tobacco and completely contrary to societal values of 2011). In that moment, basking in the summer sun and feeling my lingering second degree sunburn intensify, I officially decided to be a smoker.

Later that night after my show, I was conversing with one of my favorite actresses whom I respected and looked up to when I decided to casually bring up my new affinity for tobacco. I shared a heavily embellished version of my glamorous and exciting day spent smoking half of a cigarillo. Her response was emphatic: “That shit is gross and disgusting and you should not be doing it.” Because it is rare for everybody to not agree with me 100%, I was caught off guard and forced to take pause for a moment.

Shocked, I decided to take her words to heart and do some serious soul searching as to why I really wanted to smoke. I then remembered that smoking makes you age prematurely and smell bad and that smokers cannot breathe well and therefore cannot do P90X. Suddenly, I envisioned myself as a fat, stinky old toothless slob waddling around sucking on cigarillos and wearing a white beater and gym shorts (photo credit to twelve years of health education from the Howard County Public School System).

And just like that, I decided to better myself and overcome my addiction.

Would I take it back if given the opportunity? Absolutely not. My struggle with addiction taught me valuable lessons about beauty and self-preservation that I otherwise would not have learned. Additionally, I have been able to share my story and inspire other smokers to kick their destructive habits (I think). People love to hear about things that I have done that make me better than them; I have learned how to effectively use my life experiences as a motivational tool. Because I, after all, am a giver.

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