Remember when smoking cigarettes didn’t cause cancer? I mean like back in the 40s and 50s when everyone, men, women and children smoked with no anticipated health consequences? Doctors prescribed cigarettes to pregnant women to help calm their nerves. Teachers smoked in the classroom. Movie star sex appeal amplified with every drag. God, even monkeys smoked. No emphysema, heart disease, gum disease, yellow teeth and fingers, wrinkles, coughing, bad breath, none of it. Just smoking. Tobacco on fire and into your lungs. No issues, no problems, just sweet, sweet smoking.
In the back of my closet I have pictures and posters. It’s the middle-aged mom version of an 8th grade locker. Here I keep a black and white photo poster of a 1950s couple in a diner. I love diners. I grew up in New Jersey. Diners are kind of our thing. I also grew up when people smoked in restaurants. The poster ooozes romance. The two in the picture are at the counter, and very close. You see a reflection of the woman’s coy smile in a mirror. The man’s arm is casually at her back, lit cigarette in his hand. Because there is smoking, I can’t hang this poster in the main living area of my home. I can’t celebrate it openly, so I keep it in my closet. You see, I still love smoking, especially back in the old days before it caused cancer. Everyone was so cool and confident back then. They were sexy and in love. They dressed impeccably and knew exactly what to say.
I’ve been craving a cigarette lately. It’s been over 12 years since I quit, and I honestly hate smoking, but I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to take a drag again. I have friends who still smoke, not many though. Vaping is more popular. They vape indoors even! They vape with the self assurance of a 5 year old and a candy cigarette. It smells like candy too. I’m so curious, is it really like tobacco, or is it like candy? It’s right there in reach, I could just take it, give it a try. I’m a grown up, I can make my own choices, right? It’s not like I’m a smoker. I quit. Is vaping even smoking? Damn I miss smoking.
Twelve years and I’m still suffering from the effects of smoking. Not just the craving of addiction and the wistful wish that it won’t cause me harmful health issues, but decades of smoke in my mouth sickened my gums. I have what’s called “deep pockets” and that’s not in the fortunate financial sense, ironically it’s the opposite. (Just ask a rich dentist!) I basically have gum disease no matter how many times I brush, floss, mouthwash and make regular dentist appointments. I have fucked up my mouth for life.
My kids don’t know I smoked. I’m too embarrassed to tell them. I smoked for twenty years, most of the time I was a pack-a-day habit. I never wanted to be a smoking mom, I didn’t want to be that example. I didn’t want to have to put the bottle of milk down so I could tip my ashes. Something didn’t feel right about packing a lighter alongside diapers and wet wipes when I headed out. I shudder at the thought of smelling like a butt tray while cuddling with babies. Lucky I found a way to quit before my kids came to be. There’s literally dozens of ways to stop smoking, and I tried at least six of them before I found a plan that worked.
My kids are 7 and 11 now. If we see a character in a movie smoking, I’ll add “You don’t see the daily dry cough they have!” or “That’s an over $50 a week habit – that’s an hour at Chuck E Cheese for the whole family!” But I still haven’t told them why I know these consequences so well. They don’t know the real reason why I hound them to brush their teeth, floss and mouthwash. They don’t know the real reason why I handle small items between my index and middle finger with nimble dexterity. The don’t know the real reason why I have a poster in the back of my closet of a fantasy time when smoking wasn’t a sad poison. And my kids certainly don’t know that whenever I picture myself as a cool, confident, beautiful person, as someone dressed to perfection, sexy, even flirty, I’m smoking. No amount of nostalgia will fix my gums, curb my occasional cravings, change my history with cigarettes, or stop smoking from causing cancer. It’s not that my kids will never know, I’m just too ashamed to tell them right now how much I love smoking.
Jenny Hasted is a grateful person in long term sobriety and founder of the Cecil County Recovery Sangha. She lives alongside the Chesapeake with her family.
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