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. ...
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.