The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Coming Clean January 15, 2012

It seems I’ve outed myself. I knew there’d be folks for whom my smoke jones would come as a bit of a surprise, I also knew there’d be those who’d nod to themselves, thinking how they’d been there too… I feel I’m in a netherworld – I jones for that which I disdain. I am, and I am not. At the same time.

I do know what it’s like to pass a decade without even thinking of a cigarette. I also remember a time in the early 90s as a hard-smoking, hard working musician when cigarettes were simply part of the landscape. Yet even then, in the midst of the most decadent time in my life, I would shudder with revulsion at the ‘after smell’ of smokers, out in the real world, away from the proper, cloistered confines of the cigarette.

The other day, at the end of my fruitless and enlightening quest for a smoke I came upon an ironic situation. I’d gone to the town hall in order to clear up some questions regarding a property line. When I joined the assessor at the map, we two mere inches away from each other, I smelled it. She, despite her well-groomed efforts to keep a professional, un-smoking profile at work, was a ‘ten minute break out back by the dumpster’ smoker. The acrid, disgusting scent told me the unmistakable truth. If I couldn’t bum one from the guys at the garage, I could get one from this gal. But then, how would it sound if I said, “Hey, I think you might be a smoker, could I possibly bum one from you?” Seriously. “You kinda stink, but hey, that’s ok, cuz I’m lame too!” I couldn’t do it. I just didn’t want one that badly. Instant perspective. I did shell out two bucks for an enticing color topo map of my neighborhood, but I did not offer it up for a smoke.

I know that tough times leave a human searching for relief, for comfort. Something to take the edge off. I can remember a time in my life when for many years there was simply nothing to take the edge off of. I may have been crazy-busy, over committed professionally, but still, no edge. Now here I am, no overt pressures on me, no relationship to fret over and no professional stress either, yet there’s an uncomfortable edge pushing at me almost each day, worrying me, threatening me, reminding me that I’m not entirely comfortable, at peace.

Yes, it is getting better for me. Much better. But this unresolved divorce and unrelenting poverty still hang over me, coloring my view of things. I’ve seen the sad sacks outside the doors of the social services office, all of them smoking, stinking, smoking. I think “Poor souls, why don’t they just quit? My God, they’re dirt poor already, how can they shell out ten bucks for a pack of cigarettes??”  And then I go home, and realize that I’ve got less than twenty bucks to last the week. I’m feeling that edge again. I can’t do much with twenty bucks, but I can buy a pack of something that will temporarily take the edge away. Even if the feeling is gone almost as soon as it’s procured. Even if. At least. At least it’s something. Something besides that Goddammed edge.

So I understand both sides. At the same time. Fully loaded with all the facts, scientific and emotional. No easy answer. The best one is to distract in the moment of stress, get through it somehow, and congratulate yourself for having made it. Then of course, there’s that edge. Still there. What to do? Humor helps. Yeah, exercise and meditation too. Somehow though, like flossing, it’s easier contemplated than incorporated into one’s routine. At least in the beginning. And I’m still in that neighborhood. Maybe just a bit past the starting line, but truthfully, I feel I’m just getting started on my ‘new’ life just about now. The past three years were a tricky phase of transition, of ground-laying. Now, antidepressants long concluded and cigarettes off the list, I’m ready for the next phase. Ok. But there’s still all this future to deal with. I have be able to negotiate it on my own.

There’s that pushy Mr. Edge to contend with. He’s still here. So I guess I gotta put my shoulder into it now. Get the healthy routines down. Make em second nature. Maybe even throw in a hot bath. I haven’t always been a bath girl, but I have rediscovered them the past couple years. Not always convenient, but still, it might serve to ease the way a bit.

At least it’ll give me another chance at a clean start.