HAPPY REBIRTHDAY – TO ME

     Thirty years go, January 14th, 1983, was the day of my rebirth. Not in religious context, but as a human being.

     I am a recovering drug addict. Drug of choice: Nicotine. I smoked four packs a day for twenty-seven years. My addiction was so strong I took breaks from sleeping two or three times during the night to grab a fix. I even smoked in the shower, with a burning Pall Mall on the edge of the toilet tank.

     It all started at age sixteen, to be cool with my friends. I was young and invincible. Nothing could hurt me. Little did I know how strong the addiciton would become.

      My life was guided by the nicotine drug. Smoking came during or after every meal, every drink, every (you know). It was part of waking up, going to bed, driving, thinking, walking and talking and a necessary element of my wardrobe. I was a virtual slave to cigarettes. A relationship with a wonderful anti-smoking young woman ended because I couldn’t handle periods of time without cigarettes.

     Morning cough fits raged, a daily regimen. My then wife would hear me gagging in the bathroom every morning until I could not breathe. My lungs suffered as the doctor finally warned I had early stages of emphysema. His quote, “Cancer is bad. But I’d rather treat a cancer patient any time than an emphysema patient.”

     That was a wake up. It still took six more years to finally quit. Here’s how.

     The thought of being cigarette-free was terrifying, like losing my right arm. Smoking was as much a part of me as eating and thinking. It was a psychological hurdle as well, having them a part of my life 24/7 for nearly three decades. But the physical addiction was more powerful than I had imagined.

     First came the four-step filters, that failed. Then hypnotism. Another failure. I tried acupuncture into the outer ear. They made cigarettes taste bad, but the addiction prevailed. I obsessed on the next smoke, the next fix.

     In truth, I was trying the easy way, using devices to do the quitting for me. I had to be mentally prepared to get through the awful cravings and withdrawals. I needed a determined mind-set. My life literally depended on it.

     One Friday afternoon, I asked my doctor to drug me for the weekend. By the time I awakened on Sunday, I was already clean of cigarettes for two days, a head start. I asked my wife, friends and associates to bear with me while I went through mood swings and irritability. For months, I experienced concentration problems. While Still yearning for cigarettes, I knew life was better than death. After a few months, the mind-set finally prevailed.

     That was thirty years ago. Today, I cannot tolerate the smell of smoke anywhere. It reminds me of gagging. I can smell it in people’s hair, their clothes, breath, even on the golf course.

     We know so much more today than years past. Education and advertising has exposed the horrors and risks of smoking to people everywhere, a testament to the power of knowledge. That, plus the skyrocketing cost of cigarettes has created a significant reduction in smoking, down 30 percent just in the last decade.

     Now if we could apply that same education to drugs and alcohol, we might have a safer and healthier society all around. Prevention is far less costly than treatment, health problems and death.

     We are supposed to be the most intelligent life. How utterly stupid we humans are, sucking smoke into our lungs – on purpose.

     I have been with friends, plus my own mother, who suffered long and hard before their deaths, directly attributed to cigarette smoke. It ain’t pretty.

     Teens – pay attention. It will catch up to you, that’s a promise.