A Letter to Myself as a Smoker, One Year Ago Today

Hey man,

You don't know this, but tonight you're going to go outside for a cigarette, and that will be your last one ever, or if not ever, at least for a year. Tomorrow morning you’re going to wake up and decide to skip your morning smoke, because you’ve been telling your wife for weeks that you mean to cut back, and then, when you’re sitting at your kids’ swimming lessons, you’ll decide to be done smoking for good. Believe it or not. Some crazy and irreproducible brain chemistry formula, some unexplainable pinball of synapse firing will finally accomplish what you’ve attempted for seventeen years.

My old smoking porch, now just a porch

So, dude, enjoy that cigarette. Have two. Finish the pack. Because smoking is three minutes of pleasure, 40 cents a cigarette, 4 cents a puff, lit up as many times a day as you can afford or as the guilt will allow. It’s stinky, dirty, toxic pleasure, no doubt. Some people get a little spurt of dopamine from running down squirrels in their cars, some people get a kick out of beating up nerds or grandmas or nuns or whatever. It’s all perverse pleasure, but it’s pleasure nonetheless, and there have been plenty of times, many many times, where I watched people smoke this past year and thought of you, you lucky fucker, with one more cigarette in your future, and thought about how you better appreciate the ever-loving, honest-to-goodness shit out of it. It’s all we’ve got.

One year from now, you’re going to sit in a café, a few pounds heavier than you are now, and watch two ladies smoke at one of the tables on the sidewalk, and you’ll suddenly understand what they mean when they say addiction is mental illness. Up until that moment, you won’t care. What the hell difference does it make what addiction is? Addiction is an affliction of the weak or unintelligent, unfortunate and sad, but ultimately a decision, an act of free will that carries rewards and consequences to be weighed and factored.

I used to set my pack on that shelf next to this taxidermied squirrel, then I'd come outside and say "Hey squirrel buddy, mind if I bum a smoke?" It was awesome.

You’ll start to figure this out tomorrow morning, and understand it more and more over the next 365 days, but that’s not how it works at all. It’s mental illness because you are not yourself. You believe things that are not true, that feel real because of broken circuitry. Yes, you chose to smoke every cigarette you ever had. You chose to smoke in front of your three-year-old, even after he asked you what that white stick was, and if he could try it. You chose to step outside during naptimes, playtimes, during your wife’s labor because you purposely “forgot” something in car that needed retrieving. You chose to excuse yourself from the hospital waiting room while your dad was in surgery to have part of his lung removed, the cancerous part, because he chose to smoke an uncountable number of cigarettes. You chose to have that first one in the mall parking lot behind the store where you worked in high school, just like a little kid chooses to jump from the tree that he climbed, it doesn’t look so bad, you can handle it, it’s no big deal. You alone made all those decisions, but the tool you used was broken. The first time you smoked, it was broken because eighteen-year-olds are stupid. Every time after that, your brain was damaged by nicotine, which made you feel deeply and forever that smoking was good and important, and life without it was simply unimaginable. Picture life without your legs, or your ears, or your junk. Do you want to live that life? Would you choose that? Of course not, so please, please, slide out another Marlboro and step outside and suck it in. The shaking won’t stop until you do.

A Wisconsin smoker's view, most of the year. Why did I quit again?

Sorry man, you’re all nervous now. My intention is not to make this any worse than it will be. Quitting smoking is about as hard as winning an Oscar, and deserves it’s own little thank you speech, so here is what you’ll be grateful for this year. Your wife, because quitting weighs about a thousand pounds, and the most you can carry is five hundred. She’ll shoulder the rest, which is downright saintly, because she can’t understand how your sick and broken brain works and what it tells you about smoking. She’ll just keep offering backrubs and sympathy and rewards. Your parents, and your dad especially, because he fought hard and lost some big battles with cigarettes, but he hasn’t smoked in over a decade. Your own kids will give you some powerful reasons to quit. A handful of students will provide some unexpected reassurance, your coworkers will too. Some British guy named Allen Carr and his materials will make a huge difference, as will everyone on the r/stopsmoking Subreddit. And green tea, because making it is a little ceremony much like stepping into the garage, and it’s got antioxidants and caffeine and just enough placebo power to make it seem like it’s helping.

So, wow. Tomorrow man. It’s going to be a big day. Lots of people, smokers and non, won’t recognize how monumental, how incomprehensibly huge tomorrow will be. They don’t matter. I matter, and trust me, you got this.

Now smoke up, and I’ll see you on the other side.


Eric RasmussenEssay