Coming Clean

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.


Hookay. I admit it. Today I would like a cigarette. I mean REALLY like a cigarette. Been clean a while. The past three years I’ve been a casual on again, off again smoker. Whenever I feel it’s too much, I just back off. Haven’t bought any in a long time. But I’ve smoked em. New Year’s Eve, after dinner at my friend’s house, on her back deck in the unseasonal forty degree weather, as we listened to the coyotes up on the ridge, their eerie hoots and yowls oh-so close by, we enjoyed a post-meal smoke. That well-placed cigarette hit the spot, I can tell you. And yet it also sounded the ‘too much’ bell somewhere inside. I’d had my fill of indulgence over the holiday, and this cigarette heralded a run of clean living to follow.

It started out well. With my basement cleaned out and a good measure of physical space restored plus aesthetic appeal to help motivate me, I’ve used my treadmill most days. It wasn’t so much part of a New Year’s campaign; I myself never choose to publicly – or privately – proclaim a New Year’s resolution. I am done with the disappointment and the feeling of failure that follows. Instead, I keep some new goals and values at the front of my awareness, encouraging myself to make baby steps towards them. I finally get that as a human, I’m encouraged by tenderness and understanding, and I choose to treat myself with such on the treacherous road to better living. I allow myself failures, and praise myself at small achievements. While it’s perhaps a more realistic approach to self-betterment, it can also provide too lenient a path to casual relapses. Hence today’s search for a cigarette.

I’m not going to buy a pack. I’m fairly broke, and that’s just not right. Can’t do it. Besides – if I did, I’d smoke the whole thing. No. I don’t even want a pack. I just want one. Just one. Ok. I’ve always been able to find just one when I wanted – I know the places to drive past; the homeless guys on the parking lot wall across the street from social services, the ghetto chopper parking lot, the Pakistani-owned gas station, maybe even the working men in their trucks at the local Stewarts shop. Usually, one’s a hit. I always offer a dollar, sometimes they accept, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they even give me ‘one for the road’. Once I even met a very engaging gentleman through my pursuit of a smoke, who I later learned to be a maxillofacial surgeon. I spied him leaving the all night pantry, tapping the bottom of his unopened Marlboro Lights package. After I’d learned more about him, I asked why in hell was a fellow such as he pondering this cigarette, when he’d been months without one? When he, as a doctor, should know intimately the dangers? He too was bothered by an ending relationship, and like me, he too was simply searching for some relief. He’d ended up giving me two, which yes, I did smoke. I often wonder about him. Did he succumb as well? I’d begged him not to, but what a two-faced, flimsy entreat. I was weak, I hope he was not.

This morning I made all the usual stops to procure my fix, but not a one of them panned out. I ended up making some rather desperate attempts at finding one; I asked at the shop where my car’d been worked on. Not one of the men there smoked. Some never even had. Grease under the nails, cute chick auto parts posters on the walls and not a Marlboro between them. I stopped by the other shop in town – greasier and grittier by far – thinking it was done. But no – even Beetle quit six months ago. I heard how he’d shoved gum in his mouth til his cheeks were as big as my head – he wasn’t going to smoke ever again. Even threw his pack out unfinished. Wow. Beetle quit? Geez. Joe gave me a little pep talk – how a pretty girl doesn’t want to go and get all wrinkly… It wasn’t his pitch nor the story of Beetle that really did it for me. After my fruitless yet highly motivated town-wide search I was fairly confident that the universe had intervened. Apparently, today I’d needed some help.

The day is nearly done now. My son sits at my feet, building with his new blocks, singing an improvised, operatic narrative of everything that enters his head. Dinner soon, then to bed where we’ll get down to the really scary parts of Treasure Island. I’m over the hump.

For now, that is.