It was never the nicotine that I was addicted to.
At first, it was kind of to fit in. There was the group of kids standing outside the dorms, puffing away, and it looked so comfortable. They would stand there, off to the side of the main doors to the dormitories and I always heard laughter. So much conversation going on. And it wasn’t all about school. They talked about life. Some of it was gossip about who was sleeping with who or rating the latest movie, but often I’d pass through the cloud of smoke and hear something philosophical.
This is what I imagined college students would be like.
And then I started dating C, who was a smoker. He was part of that crowd. So I started to be a part of that crowd. And it just seemed natural to pick a cigarette out of his pack and start puffing away. Even after we broke up, the habit remained.
The second year of college, the smoking led to a friendship that probably would have still grown without the shared habit. We had classes together, but it was the smoking breaks where we really started talking and developing a bond.
Most of my fondest memories of that blossoming friendship are seeped in the haze of cigarette smoke. It was back when we could light up before dinner sitting in Olive Garden, and again after our plates had been cleared. It was when you could walk around every part of the casinos, the lights and bells invading your senses, a trail of smoke following me. Every memory of being in a bar is hazy, something always lingering in the air above me. Road trips were calculated in how many butts would be in the ashtray by the time we got to our destination.
That habit followed me after college too. I would go a few months, every once in a while, without so much as a thought toward cigarettes. But I always returned to them. Sometimes to mirror the person I was in a relationship with, or as a welcome companion to a late night drink, or because I told myself it would calm me down. There was always some reason to return.
And then I was sick for several days. The mere smell of the unlit cigarette made me nauseous.
I was pregnant.
And I hate to admit that I never smoked another cigarette.
I did slip for a little while, after the baby was born. After I was done pumping breast-milk every 2-4 hours for 9 months. There came a time when I would leave the baby with his dad, slip outside and walk to the other side of the apartment complex, and have a smoke in the dark where nobody could see me and the only person judging me was myself.
And I’ll give you every excuse in the book.
I already hated myself. The cigarettes just gave me something concrete to blame. They gave me evidence that I was a bad mother.
I just told my husband (also a smoker) that I relied on those 10 minutes to be away from the baby, they were my reason to get a break.
I wrote in my journal that I was craving a piece of my life that wasn’t about being a mother. I’d rushed into motherhood with an unplanned pregnancy, and this was my desperate cling to the carefree and irresponsible self that I would never be able to return to.
But that day came when I knew that I had to stop. I knew, just like we all know, how bad it is for my health. How bad it is for my kid’s health. So I made the decision. I’m not even going to let myself finish this pack. There was probably half a pack still left. I left the baby and my husband in the apartment while I went to my usual smoker’s area. I sat on those steps and tore each remaining cigarette to pieces. I dumped the remains in the trashcan. I took a deep breath, and I walked away.
I’ve never looked back.
This was written in response to The Red Dress Club’s RemembeRED prompt, based off an image of cigarettes in an ashtray.
I wanted this to go a certain way, but I feel totally unsuccessful. Maybe it’s my mood. Maybe it’s the inability to concentrate. Anyway, please provide some constructive criticism. I really appreciate it.