*we put the "mmm" in communism


This is the personal blog of Tim. Here, Tim writes on anything he has enough inspiration to finish a post on. That usually ends up being matters of science, pop culture, technology, religion, and philosophy.

This blog is around nine years old, which is over a third of Tim's current age. Back in 2003, it was called "Of Tim: Tim's life - or lack thereof", and it was as bad as you might expect the blog of a freshman in high school to be. Tim hopes that his writing is a little better, these days.

Tim welcomes any input that you, the dear reader, might have. Comments are very much appreciated, especially if you have a dissenting opinion. If you'd like to learn more about Tim, you might want to see his facebook or google+.

Also: Tim is a very avid consumer of various sorts of music. You may be interested in his playlists!

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On a regular basis, the subject of whether or not I'm still smoking comes up among practically all of my friends (because they're the kind of friends that care). I've legitimately quit twice since I started nearly three years ago, and made dozens of half-hearted attempts here and there (usually at the behest of a lady). I feel like it's time I discussed how I even started, what's kept the habit going, and how I perceive it as an individual and at a societal level.

I could try and say that it began because of the setting, and that might hold merit. I was in England, surrounded by people far beyond my age and wisdom who were introducing me to ways of thinking and living that I'd never before considered legitimate. I was an immensely curious teenager, impressionable and overwhelmed with new experiences, thoughts, ideas, and alcohol. Nights out to the pub were inevitably peppered with smoke breaks, and my curiosity demanded to know. But that wasn't where the habit started.

There's a specific line that I believe every regular smoker passes between infrequent use (only when drinking, for example), to that gradual introduction of smoking as a part of the daily routine. I'd only had perhaps half a dozen cigarettes during my entire stay in England, but I decided it would be fun to bring back a 400-pack from the duty-free at the airport. After getting home, I didn't open the pack for at least a month. I was wary of the addictive aspect and figured I'd just save them for a special time, pulling them out once every week or two. Which is what I did, for a while.

What pushed the process forward was that most devious cocktail of stress and boredom. At the time, I wasn't sure things were going to work out with my girlfriend, and I was supremely unprepared for the level of anxiety that can result when considering the end of something as good as first love. I am by nature an over-thinker, and hyper-analyzing matters of pure emotion is perhaps the worst possible approach. One night, finding that even after a long run I couldn't get my mind off the problem, I figured I'd see if a cigarette would help. And it did. It helped a lot. Days of constant, relentless stress instantly disappeared. For fifteen minutes. The uncertainty of the relationship continued on, however, and I eventually found myself smoking one or two every night to put myself at ease. Even at this point, however, I'd say that the addiction hadn't set in yet. Smoking hadn't become a necessity or a part of my daily routine.

That didn't start until I discovered smoke breaks at work. My co-workers - whom I was just getting to know and like - were mostly smokers, and they didn't even mind sharing. Eventually I started bringing my own, which led, most critically, to having cigarettes on me all of the time. That's when it started. Having them in my pocket, I found myself with 10 minutes of spare time all over the place. Before and after classes. Closing time at work. Watching a download finish. Waiting for someone to come over. Talking on the phone. It's amazing how much time we spend waiting on any given day. At my new rate of consumption, I went from smoking a pack every 2 weeks to a pack every 3 days.

It didn't take long for me to realize that it'd become a real habit. Oddly, it wasn't when I'd finished the carton of 400 I brought back from England, perhaps because I never had to think about whether or not I had any left. No, the moment that it became evident was when I found myself panicking because I only had two cigs left in my pack for the remaining 8 hours of my day. I started trying to estimate how long I could last before I smoked the first of the two, and I found myself more interested in driving to the gas station to get more, than in daring to smoke less. Worth noting: this was before taxes had gone up, so they were only $6 a pack (compared to $10-11 now), and I was living at home and working a lot, so money wasn't a concern. Regardless, at this point I'd become aware that it was a bad habit and that I needed to stop. It would be a year before I even made it past a week of quitting.

Here, I'd like to expound more on why it's so challenging to quit. Sure, there's a chemical aspect, but the physical dependency ends within 3 days (usually 2 for me). It's the psychological aspect that holds such fierce power. Cigarettes are like furniture. You don't really notice furniture when it's there, but the second it goes missing you know something's gone awry. The difference is that with furniture, eventually we adjust what we expect to see in the room and the void where the chair once was becomes normal. As far as I can tell, that never happens with cigarettes, even when accompanied with a complete change in habits and behaviors. I've had conversations with multiple people that quit cold turkey for years, but were never able to completely put it out of their mind. Reminders exist everywhere; a huddle of people smoking outside a bar, a villain in a movie always with stogy in hand, smashed butts filling up gaps in the sidewalk. Mirror neurons are a bitch like that - just the image of a cigarette brings back memories of relief and relaxation, accompanied instantly by a longing that can only be satisfied by nicotine.

Then comes life, with its inevitable onslaught of unknowable twists and turns. Never able to forget about them in the first place, cigarettes are the first resort when combating situations of great uncertainty and drama. When shit really hits the fan, it barely feels like a choice. Knowing that for a mere ten dollars, I can have one less thing to fight, which might even make things easier? That's a great deal - until the next day, when I don't need them, but I still have them. Hey, I paid ten bucks for these, I can't just throw them away. And so the cycle perpetuates.

The last component to the addiction is the role of smoking in culture and peer groups. It's hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger - but not if you're both smokers. Smoking provides an in-road with all sorts of people in all kinds of places. Smoke breaks are an incredibly easy opportunity to get to know people. I've had great, lengthy conversations with gas station attendants late at night that wanted to step out for a break. When I moved into this house, I met my neighbors while out back for a smoke break, and a saga of events echoed as a result for months afterward. There's even something about the motions of lighting it up, taking a drag, the exhale, the flick of ash - the whole process seems to make conversation far more casual. By having a reason other than just the presence of others for being somewhere, and with a literal timer on how long the conversation has to last, an immense amount of social pressure is eliminated. If the conversation's not that great, the cig provides a reasonable and graceful escape from the engagement. That's hard to replicate.

A friend once suggested to me that in prehistoric days, carrying the fire was a position of responsibility that held power and respect, perhaps explaining part of the affinity for smoking beyond the chemicals. Smoking certainly holds a social power, even as it is frowned upon in the public sphere. Rebellious characters throughout movies, music, literature, video games, and art are often smokers. Depending on the context, it can represent a rejection of authority, a hedonistic perspective on life, a resignation to impulsiveness, or just indicate a hard-boiled quality of character. The destructive, addictive, and iconic nature of the act lends itself toward value associations, whether we're aware of it or not.

All in all, I don't regret my decision to start. Sure, it's been a colossal money sink, a bottomless well of anxiety and frustration, and an assault to my health - but I'm wiser for it all. Before, I didn't get what drove others to smoke and to keep smoking, but now I can say with certainty that I truly understand. This understanding came at a price, but with renewed conviction and clarity of focus, I'm confident it's a chapter in my life that I can bring to a close. It might haunt me for eternity, but so do a lot of other things about life. I'll learn to deal.
posted by MC Froehlich at
Anonymous danielreid said...
Thanks for writing that - I don't I'd ever heard you explain it before.

Part of me wonders, given the progressive nature of the dependency, how is it that you coped prior to starting? This is me really curious. That is, was the quality of life so different before?

I won't reference myself, as I have faith and religion, which is a different can of worms not entirely related to the current subject. I have met many people who never smoked, place no faith in a higher power, and yet have found other methods for coping.

It leads me to ponder on the subject of coping, and how different people find different ways to do it (some cost more, some cost less). You've certainly done a terrific job laying out the benefits of smoking. Anyway, I'll stop rambling now ;)
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Gas station attendants who smoke.

What's wrong with this picture.

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