Saturday, April 7, 2007

Thank You For Smoking

(Note: Since this is Easter weekend and I have 20 people coming to the house, I'm posting this a day early. I'm keeping Saturday's date on it, just to confuse everyone. Today's entry is below.)

Two things happened last weekend that got me thinking about the smoker's mentality.

First: My father-in-law had to go in for a gastric bypass surgery because it was discovered he has stomach cancer. Wifey was, of course, all upset thinking her father's going to die. We went over for dinner the night before surgery where her mother morbidly kept forcing our kids to sit in his lap for pictures. As if this was the last time they would ever see him. I kept wondering if we would see these pictures perched on the coffin at the wake. Could still happen.

Six year old is very perceptive when it comes to people's behavior and kept looking sideways at me before humoring his grandparents. On the way home he had numerous questions, which I wanted to answer with 'Because Grammy is a bit insane'. Yes, that answer would have sufficed for every question.

Surgery was Monday and all went well. He's already walking around and out of ICU, although he no longer has a stomach. Talk about a quick weight loss plan.

Second: Talked to an old high school buddy who informed me his father just spent the last two weeks in the hospital for congestive heart failure and emphysema.

As you can gather by the theme of this entry, both of these people are long time smokers.

Wifey's father has been smoking for over 40 years. He's 73 and had a quadruple bypass about 8 years ago. He actually quit smoking for 9 months after this operation only to resume once he realized his heart was functioning normally.

My buddy's father has been a smoker since as long as I've known him. That's more than 25 years and counting.

I understand quitting smoking is a tough thing to do. Actually, I don't. I used to smoke occasionally. I was a member of the 'I only smoke when I drink' cult. However, after waking up for the umpteenth time feeling like I made out with an ashtray the night before I was done. Haven't smoked a cigarette since. I do smoke cigars on occasion, but you don't inhale those, just puff on them. And I have smoked other things on occasion, as well, but that's been a long time.

Long time. One sec while I reminisce........

All done.

What I don't understand is the surprise these two (and some members of their family) expressed when the medical conditions cropped up. My father-in-law actually used the phrase 'needless to say we were shocked' when they heard the diagnosis. You've been smoking for 40 years and you're shocked you developed some form of cancer? The only way you should be using 'shocked' is if you didn't get cancer. I told my wife I the only shock I registered was that her father was still alive after all these years. To her credit, she agreed with me.

When my friend's father was released the first thing he did was head down to Foxwoods for a poker tournament. Think he did any smoking while he was there? He's going to be one of these guys who winds up blowing himself up by attempting to light a cigarette while his oxygen tank is still running.

When my buddy (who also smokes) described his father in the hospital bed; hooked up to all sorts of electronic equipment, tubes shoved up his nose, I couldn't resist: 'That's you in 20 years'. 'Fuck, no' he responded, 'I'm quitting tomorrow'. It's always tomorrow.

What is it about certain people that just can't quit smoking? We've all had our experiments with cigarettes. I would bet more than 75% of the population has smoked at some point in their lives. Whether it was a trial run in high school or, like me, the free reigns we first experienced in college. But why are there some people that just can't quit? You know the ones. They always say they're going to quit and even manage to go a few months before it sucks them back in.

Then there are your friends who decide to quit and that's it. They quit. You don't ever see them smoking again. Are there some people that just need it while others are smoking to keep themselves busy? Are the long term smokers chemically dependant on the nicotine or some other ingredient? It has to be more than that, otherwise that gum would be all they need and that doesn't work for everyone. My buddy tried the gum and he said it did 'take the edge' off, but he wound up smoking again once the gum was gone.

I'm guessing it's more simple than that. Most long term smokers are inherently selfish people with highly addictive personalities. Addictive I can understand and, in a way, forgive. It's the selfish that gets me steamed. If you can't bring yourself to quit for your wife so you can grow old together or for your kids because you actually want to see them grow up, then the only reason you are smoking is for self gratification. You are smoking because YOU like it. And you won't give it up for anyone but yourself and only when you're damn good and ready to do so.

Therefore, I have no sympathy for these two. If you willingly participate in behavior everyone knows will, at the least, cause you major health problems or, at the worst, kill you, then you don't deserve my compassion. You knew what you were doing and you knew the risks.

It's their loved ones I feel for. The families who now need to deal with their father's slowly self destructive behavior. The people that love them who now need to watch as they slowly wither away to nothing. That's who pays for all those butts inhaled. The smokers will continue on their way, probably still smoking because they'll now rationalize it with 'Hey, I'm 70 now and already have (fill in your disease here) _________, so what harm is it going to do now'.

Meanwhile, their families are left caring for them, paying the medical bills, emptying the ash trays and cathaders and trying to explain to the grandkids why Grampy needs to walk around with a scuba tank at all times.

Look, I understand the need for vices. I really do. I have a ton of them. I just haven't been able to grasp the need to fill your lungs with poison that, let's be honest smokers, tastes like shit. I dated a girl who smoked, quit for a while, then started up again. I was there when she bummed one off a guy (yes, we were drinking) and the look of absolute disgust on her face when she took that first toke said it all. 'Awww, I forgot how awful these things taste' she said, before sucking it down to the filter.

I'm no medical expert, but it seems strange that some people can casually smoke when they want without becoming a full fledged two-pack-a-dayer while others will smoke until their dying breath. Literally. Why can some drop the habit easily, while others fight (somewhat lamely) to quit even if their lives depend on it?

Answers! I need answers! Sadly, I know there will be none forthcoming.

Today's distraction: 10 reasons you should stop smoking. I would like to add an 11th reason: 'you smell like damp, dirty fireplace 90% of the time'


French said...

As someone who smoked a moderate amount (4-10 a day, depending) for about 10 years, it's all about association. When you're trying to quit, you cannot put yourself in familiar situations that remind you of smoking. You're going to fail every, single time, without question. You have to be smoke free and crave-free for a long time before you can go back to these situations. I've dropped off the wagon recently, probably just because I didn't feel like saying no and partially because I felt like I wanted to have one. People who are emotional smokers will never quit. Ever. That is, those who love to smoke when they're depressed/stressed/angry will probably always do so unless they can find something equally as soothing to take the place of the butt.

I understand your displeasure with those who can't see the forest through the trees in terms of reasons to quit...i.e., their families, children, marriage, etc. In many ways, it's a selfish act when they don't quit/say they can't. Because they can. But in light of the reasons listed above with emotional and situational smoking, there's so much that needs to assist in the removal of cigarettes from one's life. There aren't many people who can do the whole 'quit and never look back' thing.

BeachBum said...

No offense, but that seems like a cop out. You're blaming your wanting to smoke on your environment, when it's a much more personal craving. Maybe some places kindle that need more than others, but when you smoke for 10 years, doesn't EVERY situation remind you of smoking?

If you were to cut all ties to your family, friends and move to a new city, where you didn't know anyone and every place was new to you, would you find it easier to quit? Not trying to be a wise ass, I'm actually interested in your response. I would think it would be harder, as now you are away from your 'support system' which would make you stressed and depressed, which would make you want to smoke.

Don't get me wrong, I'm psyched you're trying to quit. And I know you've actually started to feel better, right? Once your body gets rid of all the tar and nicotine, don't you feel healthier?

Than, once you've started feeling that way, why go back down the road?

French said...

It's not a cop-out. it's the psychological part of the addiction that takes over as opposed to the physical. Physically, I'm not sure there have been too many instances where my cravings have been due to my body 'needing' one or missing the nicotene. Almost every time, it's situational. And no, not all situations remind me of smoking. You'd think that's the case, but it's really just certain scenarios the can make me think of it. I'm a lot better now than three months ago, and as you get through those situations time and again without giving in, you eventually retrain yourself.

I'm not sure about your question of moving away from the support system and all that. Sometimes new surroundings can be all you need to quit, in my opinion. You know, the whole 'fresh start' theory. But that's not gonna work for everybody.

I do feel better. I'm not sluggish anymore, I don't feel like a swallowed a chimney when i wake up in the morning and I no longer have that scent of stale smoke with me everywhere I go. And I don't want to go back, no. But we do all make mistakes and hopefully learn from them.

BeachBum said...

Glad to hear it. My question about moving away was, indeed, about a fresh start. Meaning if you were away from places or situations that reminded you of smoking would you find it easier to quit.

Keep up the good work. If you find yourself slipping too much I'll help you out. Every time you take a drag I'll kick you in the balls. We'll keep doing that until you piss blood.

It's called aversion therapy.

French said...

Thanks, I'll remember that. I've always wanted to piss blood.