Seventeen Years of Denial: My Life With Cigarettes – Part I

I distinctly remember sitting in the smoke-hazed basement of a Parma dive bar, circa 2001. On the table in front of me was two packs of Marlboro Reds, one half smoked and one for back-up, with a Bic decorated in pastel scales and moons and stars for my zodiac sign. Topping off the stack of paraphernalia was an inhaler of Albuterol. One of my friends came over and said, “Really? Really, Annette?” gesturing towards the ironic pile of items before me, face contorted into a disapproving cringe. I laughed and said, “Yeah, I’ve got the bronchitis again but that certainly won’t get in the way of my partying!”

Concern about the dangers of smoking cigarettes was oddly absent from my psyche for 17 years. What makes this so strange is my penchant for believing that I am dying from every disease under the sun and that I have operated this way since I old enough to speak. This wasn’t unfounded however, as I was always a sickly person and immediately caught whatever was going around. More than one doctor diagnosed me with asthma, and I suffered from bouts of bronchitis several times each year when the seasons changed.

Growing up in the 80’s, everyone smoked everywhere. In the house, in the car, in restaurants while people were trying to eat their meals, on airplanes, in the teachers’ lounge at school, in the common areas of the mall. When I was little, I’d cry and beg for the adults to not smoke around me. “But I can’t breathe! Pleeeeease!” I’d wail. Who knew I’d grow up to be one of those fools, mindlessly blowing smoke in the faces of children, sick people, old people, innocent people, like my mom and my grandmothers.

A particularly dark nicotine-fueled crime that I committed is one that I block out and put so far in the corner of my mind because if I think too much about it, I’ll burst into a full-fledged anxiety attack. For the first three years of my beloved cat Larz’s life, and then later, my other cat Bisquie, lived in a smoke-drenched apartment. We smoked like chimneys and looking back, it was highly disgusting. I had no fear of cigarettes hurting me because I was in denial. So I really had no inkling that I was hurting my pets. I’m nauseated now looking back. And I fear every vet visit now is going to bring news that I caused my beloved cats damage and pain. For someone who loves her pets and goes to such lengths to keep them healthy and happy, it’s again insane that I smoked around them like it was normal and fine. It’s not, and it’s been shown that second-hand smoke is as dangerous to pets as it is to humans.

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Cigs are worse than Cat AIDS. I know this now. 

It’s typical of a smoker to blame everything but cigarettes for the problems they have that are so obviously caused by smoking them. For years I would say, “I had these problems before I ever smoked! I was a mere tot when the bronchitis started!” I also had no regard for people who had to smell me and my smoky hair and hands and clothes. They were, as far as I was concerned, lying or exaggerating or just simply didn’t want me to be happy. They were all being crybabies and really needed to shut their whiny mouths. There was no way my smoke was bothering them because it wasn’t bothering me. And so that’s a peek inside the rational of a cigarette addict. Like many in the grip of an addiction, it is a dark and selfish place.

Years went by and my smoking became worse, even as laws to inconvenience me and put me in the margins of society continued to pass in Ohio and beyond. I didn’t care though – I’d just smoke at home then. I’d go outside in negative temperatures and freeze and shiver and look ridiculous. I’d miss entire parties, whole conversations and important moments and speeches and the singing of Happy Birthday and the cutting of wedding cakes countless times because I was outside having a cigarette. How sad.

By 2006, my Grandpa who smoked for 50 years, decided that it was time to quit. He said he did it for my dad, who was by this time, puffing three packs a day and we were all worried about him. Funny, I’d lie awake freaking out about my father’s smoking, but never had a concern for my own. The following May, my dad had declared he’d too had enough, and he got myself and a group of his smoker friends together and took us to a smoking cessation laser therapy session. I made it two whole hours afterward without a cigarette, then epically failed by meeting my friends at a Middle-Eastern hookah bar, where my willpower proved no match for the strawberry flavored, fluffy white clouds of cancer that couldn’t fill my lungs fast enough. My father however, never picked up a cigarette again after that day.

I didn’t know it yet, but by the Spring of 2011, my days of being a smoker were coming to an abrupt end.

Retrocatively Embarrassed: My Life with Cigs – Part II will post later this week…stay tuned for the climax and resolution of this compelling saga…

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