2007-02-22 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

Eleven Years Ago, I Was An Addict Of The Worst Kind
By Charles Rogers

I used to smoke - a lot! No. I mean A LOT! Two, maybe three packs a day, depending on what kind of job I was on. Or depending on what kind of job I thought I should make a big deal of and tell myself how nervous I was or whatever excuse I could make so I could light another cigarette and still appear to have control of my emotions.

Of course, the nervousness would actually be a defense mechanism thrown in because, down deep, I felt guilty. Not necessarily because Mom and Dad said I shouldn't smoke (I was, oh, in my teens). But because - because - I don't know why!

I mean, after all, all that advertising, everywhere, told me that smoking was, essentially, good for me, on top of being glamorous as hell. Every movie ever shown…anywhere…featured smokers and smoking from the most romantic and charming viewpoint. Sure it made me cough and out of breath now and then, but, hey, if James Bond could smoke and still make love and save us from the Cold War, how bad could it really be?

Now, I've always thought of myself as a nice guy. No big deal, but nice enough. I love apple pie and Mom (not in that order); Yankee baseball is my favorite and if a little old lady is having a hard time crossing the street, I've been known to go out of my way to helpfully take her by the hand (or at least give her a gentle push) to make sure she's out of harm's way.

I'm a patriotic veteran of the United States Air Force who traveled the world during the Vietnam conflict as a mobile Air Traffic Controller (there's that nervous smoker excuse) and later, as a journalist, I've traveled and re-traveled the same points. While, I'm not a teetotaler, I don't drink a lot.

In general, my lifestyle has been, uh, acceptable, I suppose, except that, when I die, I'll have to tell St. Peter and his Boss that I've been a hypocrite and have advocated, to one and all, smoking as a way of life. I didn't mean to travel that path when I said smoking wasn't so bad for you. As kids, we were misdirected, don'tcha know. And, of course, by smoking, I was only hurting myself and nobody else (I said, over and over). What the hey, it's my life! I felt invincible! Nothing could hurt me! Maybe others would have it affect their heart and lungs, but not me. Huh, uh! No way!

Then one night my breath began to come in short gasps; then shorter. I couldn't get enough into my lungs and they called the ambulance and, to make the long (I'd looove to tell you all about it sometime) story short, I wound up staying in the hospital for ten days - which gets us back to the reason for this column.

The ten days did the job. For all intents and purposes, it took just about that length of time for me to get rid of all of the nicotine that had become an existence within itself in my body for, well, decades. I'm sure the horrible stains of that horrible drug remained in my body for a long time, but I was "cured." Oh, don't get me wrong. It wasn't easy sitting at home after my illness and not smoking. At times every nerve in my body cried out for just one puff. Every nerve except one. I knew it was either mental or emotional or habitual. But I also knew it was not physical. And it helped. I ate an orange or I took a drink of water or I played solitaire or...anything to distract my mind. The body, minus the nicotine, was taking care of itself.

I had tried so many times before to stop the accursed habit, not realizing how strong the drug is; not realizing that this was the culprit all along. Statistics tell us that 35 million people make a serious attempt to quit smoking each year and something like seven percent make it for a year. The greater percentage relapse within a matter of days. That was me, until that ten-day recess

Lately, there has been even another effort to get people to either stop smoking or not begin. We've all seen the commercials on TV. And some look quite effective. I don't have statistics on their success with people who had been in the habit of smoking two packs a day since the age of fifteen, of course. They say some ads aimed at kids are working, at least as far as having them not start.

No question that quitting the addictive habit is hard right from the beginning.

It becomes easier to quit if you can't breathe.

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