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Quitting Made Me The Bravest Person I Know

First published in August of 2009, I was reminded of this piece because today, November 15, is the Great American Smokeout . I used to hate this day back then as any addict would hate the mention of giving up their drug of choice. Happily, I wont birth this baby in a cloud of smoke (sorry Eamon).  I was my own hero then and hope I will always be.

A year and a half ago, I, Shalagh Hogan, officially stopped smoking. That’s right, I did it. I ceased to light up . I quit. And let me tell you, I was the poster child for smoking. I was the quintessential, make no apologies, completely entitled to my addiction kind of smoker. At parties, I’d be outside with my fellow smoker whom I found way more interesting than the inside people. We had tales to tell. We oozed interesting conversation… or maybe we were jacked up on nicotine and grateful just to have someone to talk to. We were united.

My smoking habit was a product of my hard-earned neuroses and soothed this as well. Of course, at age fifteen, I wanted to impress the peers and I could afford the $1.25 a pack habit with my babysitting/counter help money. I was a punk and loved the disapproval of everyone, especially my mother. One of my sister’s fondest Shalagh memories is of me emptying my purse abruptly onto a sidewalk frantically exclaiming, “I just dropped my lit cigarette in my purse”.

The thought of existence without smoking was silly. It was my comfort and my friend. When I had a baby and thought my head would pop off, it was no time to quit. And, yes, after delivering my baby, the nurse with the raspy voice mentioned that the baby might be going through nicotine withdrawal too.

And then, a sinus infection from hell that lasted from Thanksgiving 2007 through past New Year’s Day 2008, had me on my knees weeping and swearing to change if my pain would just end. The fear of never being well again as each consecutive antibiotic failed to bring back my sense of smell, had me asking myself, “What can I do to be my own hero?” I answered, “Quit smoking”.

I reread my journal to cull some truths about my habit and wrote fifteen down on slips of paper. I then put them in envelopes accompanied by five dollar bills, the cost of a pack of smokes. Then I got my apparently incompetent doctor to write me a prescription for Chantix, an anti-depressant used as a smoking cessation drug, and that was the beginning of the end. I had a quitting buddy at the same time. My new routine was to sit in a new chair with my coffee every morning and open one of those envelopes and read one of those truths (It will set you free). These were not someone else’s truths but one’s I had “coughed up” for myself. And here are a few of them:

· I don’t specifically remember any of the cigarettes I ever smoked.

· I often chose to run away for a smoke break rather than start creative projects and as an avoidance tactic.

· It’s who I used to be, not who I want to be.

· If I get through this, I’ll be the bravest person I know.

My quit date will forever be February 9, 2008.The even better news was that my husband quit three weeks later. My son has no memories of us as smokers. This is not to say, as a teenager he won’t come in contact with it. My parents were militant non-smokers but my sister and I became smokers. I’ll miss my outside friends at parties. I don’t go to that many parties anymore, however. I started running as a way to keep up my metabolism and but have neither gained nor lost any real weight. I do have pucker lines around my mouth and that is, thank goodness, the only regret I have. I made it out alive.

Keep on keepin’ on

Perseverance. Stubborn single-mindedness. That’s what I can be made of. Holding on until the knuckles whiten.  A first marriage that went on and on. Self definitions playing out beyond a comfortable exit.  A shop that was opened at exactly the wrong time but stayed open for a year and a half. We all are guilty of not seeing the exit signs. Enter a new beginning. Contrary to my expectations, my blog-gable life starts now.

But my site’s URL was shalavee.com/wp. Note the extra w and p at the end. The additional anxiety of fixing this was not what I’d envisioned, and paid too much for, as I began my life in the (we) blog-asphere. Again I am indebted to an It guy. This round was Robin’s. He held my hand as we copied.checked, and did until my integrity was saved. Shalavee.com is the address again. Although the passwords will be the death of me.

I find it funny how sometimes we just have to fight to be ourselves. As a child growing up with the name Shalagh (pronounced Shay-la), I had to fight to be me. Correct the authoritarians on the pronunciation of my name and essentially the address of me.  I did the same to my kid. Gave him a funny Irish name that will have him correcting people throughout his life. And establishing who he is in his own mind.

I had a dream last night that I had some presents, maybe x-mas presents, that got taken by a girl who had a sister. The sister didn’t know what was going on but I knew the other one had taken them. We searched everywhere and finally I asked her for them in a way that I hoped she’d know I’d forgive her. She brought them down from the upstairs. I was happier. Presents are otherwise known as gifts.  Among my gifts,  writing and sharing my thoughts with the world. I have held back from sharing these and enjoying the outcome. And I may be ready to forgive myself for not getting here sooner. Meanwhile, I build a palace from ashes.

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