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Picture
Photo taken by Xiomara A. Maldonado 2011
I grab the cigarette from behind my friend's ear before he can stop me. "No!" he yells as I sidestep him. Rolling the white cylinder between two fingertips, I revel in its softness. I smile when a lighter appears in my right hand; and I quickly slide my thumb over its rough metal. I lift the familiar flame, breathing deeply in anticipation...

and then I'm awake, the cigarette left unlit. My son is rubbing his eyes and crying, and I realize I've had yet another dream about smoking.

It's been a year and a half since I quit smoking, but my subconscious clings to the habit, creating fantastical scenarios in which I scheme to retrieve and light cigarettes. I always ignore the urgent inner and external voices telling me, "Don't do it. Think of your baby." Then, when I awake, I feel guilty for choosing to smoke... even though it was just a dream. ...

Friends who remember how anti-tobacco I was my entire life (my sister and I even convinced my grandfather to quit!) are confused as to why I started smoking in the first place. "How did you come to pick up such a nasty habit?" they question me. Usually I smile and say, "I know, I know," in response because I have no good answer. I just decided to try it one day, and then I didn't stop.

For three years, smoking was a huge part of my life. I smoked a cigarette as soon as I woke up and before going to sleep. I smoked while studying, typing and watching television. I smoked after every meal, snack and drink. I smoked to pass the time on walks to and from the train station, the supermarket, my workplace and even the gym. When I wasn't smoking, I felt jittery and could not stop thinking about smoking. Worse yet, I spent the very little money I had buying packs of cigarettes on a daily basis. (Yes, that's the power of addiction: although spending half my hourly wage on every cigarette pack was financially irresponsible, I felt compelled to keep doing so).

When I learned that I was pregnant with my son, I was struck with fear (and not just of telling my parents). I knew that I would have to quit smoking if I wanted a healthy baby who would not be too tiny and whose forming brain cells would not be impacted by nicotine. At the time time, though, quitting was scarier to me than labor. Stopping smoking was not just physically difficult. I felt as if I were losing a friend who was always there for me and never judged me. It was an emotionally MONUMENTAL task.

Throughout the first three weeks after I decided to quit, I kept failing: firstly, many friends still smoked around me (yes, yes, I know the dangers of secondhand); secondly, I yearned for cigarettes like one longs for a lover. So I looked to websites like NYC QUITS for guidance in making quitting easier. In order to reduce triggers, I asked friends not to smoke around me or in their cars before I got into them. For a while I stopped watching television because of the numerous anti-smoking commercials (such as this one featuring a mother, her child and a bleeding brain) that played during my favorite shows. Although these anti-smoking campaigns showed gross images of blackened lungs, amputated fingers and fat-filled arteries, they only made me want to smoke more. (Who in their right mind would create an anti-tobacco commercial that prominently exhibits - think advertises - the lighting of a cigarette?) I would have to close my eyes and take deep breaths, chew gum as a distraction and put a hand to my belly until the overwhelming desire to run downstairs and buy a loosie had passed.

As the days wore on, though, I felt less and less chemically imbalanced and recognized that my body felt significantly better. I was able to walk up hills and stairs without feeling so out of breath (now, I had only allergies and asthma to contend with); and my mind was not consumed with panicked thoughts about when I would get my next pull. Eventually, I could no longer tolerate smoke, even on the street. The smell emanating from the clothing of a-pack-or-more-a-day smoker sitting next to me on the bus made me want to hurl and filled me with shame when I thought about all the people I probably once made feel that way. Every time I accidentally inhaled secondhand smoke, I worried about the tiny lungs that were growing within me.

After my son was born, I realized just how inconsiderate some smokers are (I give credit to the few who take care to lift their cigarettes high above their heads while Equis and I pass). It frustrates me that my navigation of the city is often determined by who is holding their burning cigarette too close to the stroller while waiting for the light to change and which pedestrians' smoke clouds are heading towards Equis' face. I even avoid sitting on benches outside of buildings because a cigarette that someone threw from their balcony fell into Equis' stroller canopy last month, leaving a permanent burn mark there (Imagine if it had landed on my baby instead!) Worse yet, I have had to remove Equis from his swing and abandon certain parks because other adults insist on smoking around the children playing there. For this reason, I fully support NYC's recent smoking ban in parks and beaches in spite of others' arguments against it in the name of "individual liberties." As a mother and now a non-smoker, I firmly believe that both Equis and I deserve to breathe clean, fresh air (yes, that means I would like for us not to breathe other types of pollution too).

"My son saved my life," I recently told my neighbor after she shared concerns about her son ingesting third-hand smoke from her husband's clothing. She almost started crying because she had seen me stand in front of my building day after day smoking cigarette after cigarette and noticed the change. Equis' existence had gotten me to do what I had promised myself I would do for years. I recognize now, looking back on my life as a smoker, that I wasted my time, money and mental energy on a drug that only made me feel good superficially. Do not get me wrong; there are still times when I feel a strong urge to smoke. However, I now rely, not on nicotine, but on my son's smile, a good book and friends to lift my spirits. Ultimately, if it were not for my son, I would probably still be blackening my lungs today.
 


Comments

Siouxxsie
07/17/2011 12:50pm

Thank you for this blog. I know that both times when I found out I was pregnant, it wasn't hard at all for me to just quit smoking at all or during the first few years afterward when I was nursing & enveloping myself in my children, but for some reason, it's like after those first few years go by, the urge/craving just pops out of no where & BAM! I am once again hooked like a dumby. I have noticed anymore though that if I smoke at all, it's maybe 1 a night or sometimes days w/out one so maybe I am slowly sub-consciously stopping due to all the same guilt's you listed above. I hate feeling like such a bad person for smoking & for robbing my kids of their Mom. Thank you, thank you, thank you again for this blog. :0) I'm so glad you quit smoking too!!!

Reply
05/03/2012 1:41am

Fantastic post.. I think every smoker should read this post. Tobacco-related diseases are some of the biggest killers in the world today and are cited as one of the biggest causes of premature death in industrialized countries

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07/02/2012 5:40am

I must thanks for the efforts you have made in some recoverable format this post. I hope precisely the same best product by you sometime soon likewise.

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01/21/2013 10:56am

We can also replace cigarettes to electronic cigarettes.

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07/17/2013 10:59am

Sometimes it is really hard to quit smoking. That is when it is great to have a support.

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08/16/2013 7:15am

It is pleasantly surprising and heart warming to understand the changes that you went through while you had the baby. And believe me, it IS your baby who saved you. I wish all the best in bringing him up in the best way.

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