I have received an e-mail request from my daughter, a self-employed graphic designer and photographer who lives, loves and works in Alexandria, Virginia and blogs at www.cindydyer.wordpress.com.
I kicked the cigarette habit in 1967. Over the past forty-two years I’ve told my daughters the story, many times, of how I escaped the clutches of the tobacco devils, a pox on them, and she is urging me to share my secret with others. She suggests Going cold turkey on a hot summer day as the posting title, but I actually went cold turkey on a fishing trip on a cool summer night.
Here is her e-mail:
Going cold turkey on a hot summer day (or something like that)…I’m reminded of the story you tell about how you stopped smoking after so many years…fishing and then going to the store and forgetting to get cigarettes, etc….and how much you dislike smokers to this day (and the way you express seeing a stunningly beautiful woman light up a cigarette—-ruins the entire image, etc.).
In the spring of 1967 after ending our work day on Friday, a co-worker and I loaded up our fishing tackle and our 15-horse Evinrude outboard motor and headed for Medina Lake some 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, Texas. We had to rent a boat at the lake but we owned the motor, having purchased it at a south-side San Antonio location which levied no tax on us—the seller declined to tender a receipt for the sale, so we were always in doubt as to whether the transaction was legitimate. A few months later my fishing partner relocated to South Carolina and I bought his interest in the motor for $32.50,the same amount he originally contributed.
This is not a plug for Evinrude, but that motor was a fine piece of fishing equipment, one that could be configured with the flick of a lever to produce three, seven or fifteen horsepower. If they don’t make ’em like that anymore, they should.
Friday night was our fishing night, year-round, rain or shine, heat or cold, sick or well—we overcame every obstacle (except sickness in his family or mine) to make the outing. We usually left the lake around midnight, but on one very special night early in the spring of 1967, we fished into the wee small hours of the morning, and I inhaled the poison from my last cigarette several hours before we returned to the city. We lived in the suburbs and in our area nothing was open at that hour. Convenience stores (they were called “ice houses” in those days) were all closed and all-night restaurants were rare—I had no place to go for cigarettes.
At this point I did not intend to stop smoking, although I was well aware of tobacco’s effect on health. Of course, I planned to stop at some point—in fact I never bought cigarettes by the carton—I bought only one pack at a time, rationalizing that if I bought a carton I might decide to stop smoking and the money spent on the unused cigarettes would have been thrown away—some really bright reasoning, right?
Somehow I made it through Saturday without cigarettes. Saturday was lawn-mowing, shrub-clipping, car-washing, child-tending and house-keeping day (my wife worked on Saturday), and I delayed going for cigarettes until late in the evening. At that point I began to seriously consider breaking the habit—rather I seriously considered trying to break the habit. I decided to see if I could make it through Sunday without smoking. I was buoyed by the fact that I would, on my way on Monday to work at Kelley Air Force Base I would pass near the Lackland Air Force Base cafeteria where I could get cigarettes (cost on base back then was nineteen cents a pack, $1.90 a carton).
You can probably guess my secret for kicking the cigarette habit. Having entered my second day without smoking, I decided to see if I could survive for two days without cigarettes, so I breezed past the cafeteria without stopping. The rest is history—I kicked the habit by going without nicotine one day at a time—days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years, forty-two of which have passed since my last cigarette, and only God knows how many more years I will have to tell my story of being a non-smoking, non-wheezing, non-coughing ex-smoker—regardless of the number of years I may have, I suspect it would be far fewer had I not stopped smoking in 1967.
So this is my secret—this is the system I used to break a killer habit:
In my brief—very brief—service in the Boy Scouts of America I learned that one can successfully reach a destination—any destination—by establishing and reaching a series of goals. On a 12-mile hike away from town and back, I learned to establish a short-term goal and look forward to its attainment, rather than looking forward to arriving at my destination. On the hike I looked ahead and picked out a goal—a large tree in the distance, or a hill or a bridge or any other object on the horizon, a goal that I could easily attain—I only needed to keep walking, telling myself that if I needed to rest I could rest under that tree or bridge, or at the foot of that hill. And when that goal was attained, I selected another, and another, and another until I arrived at my destination.
That’s my secret, and each of us has the ability to do the same—simply never say never—never say that you will never smoke another cigarette. Set a goal to not smoke for just one hour, then for one day, one week, one month and one year and continue to attain and set new goals—the chain of smoking will be broken and will remain broken if you continue to set your sights on another goal—I have set my sights, after smoking for 22 years, on completing 50 years of not smoking, and when I reach that goal I’ll select another, and if I fail to reach that goal it will be for some reason other than returning to the cigarette habit.
So far there is nothing spectacular or unique about my breaking my dependence on tobacco, but there is a Page Two of my story. In the same year in which I stopped smoking, I reduced my overweight nicotine-saturated body from 175 bloated pounds to a trim 140 pounds, completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree and was graduated by the University of Nebraska, and stood by and supported my wife during her two major surgeries, all without the comforting solace of the smoking habit I had cemented into place over a period of 22 years.
I firmly believe that if I could break the habit without resorting to therapy, nicotine patches, psycho-analysis, hypnosis, joining an anonymous tobacco-oriented group similar to AA—in short, if I could stop smoking under all that pressure without any outside assistance at all, and forty-two years later remain free of nicotine’s grip, anyone can do it.
As an afterthought I will now address my daughter’s statement that my “seeing a beautiful woman light up a cigarette ruins the entire image.”
I must rebut that statement, at least in part—the entire image is not ruined—I still look, but only in fascination of the manner in which the smoker acts, from extracting the cigarettes from the purse, then from the pack, then the lighting, the trip to the lips, the drawing, inhaling, exhaling, flicking the ashes and finally grinding out the cigarette.
All hard-core smokers have their personal way to indulge their smoking habit. Over several years of duty at Kelly Air Force Base, I took frequent morning coffee breaks at the base cafeteria. On many mornings I had the privilege of watching (surreptitiously, mind you) a stunningly beautiful woman enjoy her coffee and a cigarette. She was always alone, and always smoked just one cigarette with her coffee, finishing both at the same time.
Other than enjoying her stunning beauty (surreptitiously, mind you), I was fascinated by the practiced way she smoked. On every draw from the lighted cigarette with her pursed lips, she inhaled deeply and held the smoke for a seemingly interminable length of time. Finally a small puff of smoke escaped from the left corner of her mouth. A few seconds later a second small puff from the same outlet, and a final small puff (same source) emerged after a few seconds more. After those three small puffs, similar to the manner in which Native Americans (Indians) covered and uncovered a fire to produce smoke signals, her mouth remained closed for another thirty seconds or so and then her lips parted slightly to slowly set free the rest of her draw, at least that part which did not remain in her lungs.
I wondered then, and continue to wonder, whether the timed sequence of puffs could have actually been a message, something akin to, Hey, look at me, I’m here, let’s get it on!, but unfortunately I had no Native American (Indian) friends—as a matter of fact, I did not then know, nor do I now know, any Native Americans (Indians).
I’m not making this up—on several occasions I told the person or persons who may have been having coffee with me to watch the smoker. I told them exactly what to expect, from the draw to the exhaling, and I was right-on every time. My daughter is correct—I am affected adversely when I see a beautiful woman light up a cigarette. Although the act does not ruin the entire image, it is definitely a turn-off for me.
Of course at my age and my stage of life, a turn-off is really not necessary, but if it were, the cigarette would do the job.