Confronting any addiction is not easy, especially when your addiction sits on the borderline between the bad habits considered socially acceptable (drinking too much coffee and alcohol – for international readers, bear in mind my point of reference is the UK and Ireland), and those considered unacceptable (recreational drugs). Being a smoker brings you into this borderland; on more than one occasion I’ve sat outside a college bar with my beer and cigarette and smelt someone, perhaps the person I’m chatting to, lighting up something else nearby. Smoking in public makes you (much) more likely to be propositioned by drug dealers. The other side of smoking has been sitting with my aunts over a kitchen table in Ireland, gossiping, talking, arguing, with a dense cloud of tobacco smoke hanging over the situation, and a couple of packs of straights being handed round.
I have been smoking on-and-off since I was 18. It started with straights, social smoking, bumming cigarettes off my friends. Then I was buying rolling tobacco, then I was the one being asked for cigarettes and teaching people how to roll. The typical story.
My relationship with tobacco has been one of love and hatred. In those moments of stress, revision, thesis, exams, breaking up with my ex, that little hit of nicotine goes a long way to making things feel better. It is as much a social lubricant as alcohol, letting you strike up conversations easily with others. The hatred comes behind this: the smell on my hands and clothes, the bad taste in my mouth, the expense, and, finally, hearing from my grandmother at the start of January that my estranged father has been diagnosed with lung cancer. It hit me like a train.
I started to quit smoking on the 9th of January. Since then I have smoked 10 cigarettes (a small concession to myself), and hope to keep going for now. It has been as much about avoiding the situations where I feel a desire to smoke as not buying them, about hiding reminders like old lighters, and choosing to have friends over for dinner, have coffee or lunch rather than going drinking. It has been easy and it has been hard.
I only hope I can do it.