Cold turkey

When I step out of the shower and feel the first chill of air against my wet skin, I wake up for the day. Only then can I make plans: shopping to buy, errands to run, housework.
Ideas tumble through my mind but I cannot settle on one. There’s a crack in the ceiling I had not noticed before and beyond it a fine spider’s web pearled with water droplets from the steam. It is winter. The bathroom mirror is fogged. The extractor fan has lost any ability to do its job. I flick it on at the switch and it grinds noisily but has no effect.
I cannot see my image in the mirror, which is just as well. I could not see anyhow. My glasses on the bench have fogged up, too. Without them the world is a fuzzy ball. Yet in my mind I see it all clearly now, the thought unbidden like an apple falling from a tree.
Those cigarettes will kill me. I have to stop smoking.
I have had this thought before but today it feels different. Today it will not go away. Today is the day, I tell myself. Today is the last day. After today I will never smoke another cigarette again. Without the fan the left over smell of my own cigarettes even through the fug of the warm wet bathroom reminds me of the stench of my childhood home.
My throat constricts. I cannot stop coughing and mucus rises into my mouth.
My father died of emphysema, did you know? He died for want of breath. He died when he was sixty-five years old, when his body could not go on against the wretched struggles of his heart to pump blood around his body, and his lungs could no longer take in fresh air and use it to purify his blood.
One day soon the bathroom fan will collapse. My father’s lungs were like the extractor fan in my bathroom. They collapsed. The noise the fan makes now is like the sound of my father’s catarrh. The sound of his hacking cough as it rattles through the hallways of my memory.
And did you know I took up smoking when I was well into adulthood? I cannot plead the excuse of the young, those keen to prove themselves. I had, I thought then, already proved myself. But I took up smoking almost to the day that my father stopped.
I know it pained him to see me drag in the sweet cigarette smoke while he could scarcely breathe under the weight of his own now passive smoking. I should have left the room, but I wanted him to suffer. A cruel punishment to inflict on my father; something of what he had inflicted on me, as if to say to him, there you see, you did it, you taught me and now you must suffer. Reap the benefits.
Do you know I am now officially addicted. I cannot give up smoking without suffering the pain of withdrawal. I know this now. It is an unhappy thought. How will I endure the next few days, the next few weeks without the comfort of my cigarettes?
My body is dry. The towel is wet. I hang it out along the rack. I step into my dressing gown and slippers, then make my way to the bedroom to dress for the day. Sandals, a t-shirt and jeans. My cigarettes lie on the mantelpiece where I last left them. I pick up the packet ready for that first cigarette of the day. My body rises to greet the first rush.
No, I say. Today is the day, not tomorrow. I throw the packet outside my window into the teeming rain where the cigarettes will grow soggy and incapable of offering solace to anyone. I go cold turkey.

66 thoughts on “Cold turkey”

  1. elisabeth, my father wuit after being admitted to hospital ond eath's doorstep. my mother quit immediately upon learning that my father nearly died. i smoked for two years = pack a day – until i woke one morning, skipped the morning smoke and felt … different. better for it. it's a process. it is challenging. it's a good decision. steven

  2. My mother used to smoke so much we called it her sixth finger. I can remember to this day watching her cooking with a ciggie hanging out of her mouth – my siblings and I taking bets as to wether the ash would fall intot he food or she would realise just in time … enough to put you off for life.

    Good Luck!

  3. My mother used to smoke so much we called it her sixth finger. I can remember to this day watching her cooking with a ciggie hanging out of her mouth – my siblings and I taking bets as to wether the ash would fall intot he food or she would realise just in time … enough to put you off for life.

    Good Luck!

  4. I have never smoked, not seriously. I’ve played around with it ever since I was a kid – it was illegal and so exciting – but as an asthmatic I had enough trouble breathing without inhaling smoke. I had a pipe in my early twenties. Now that was fun. I spent more time fiddling around with it than I ever did actually smoking it. I found some great grape-flavoured tobacco (I jest not) that had a most pleasant smell. About that time my mate Tom and I would also puff away on cigars – long Churchillian affairs preferrably – when we sat around drinking homebrew and making our comedy tapes. By the end of the night we’d be crawling around under five feet of smog drink as skunks. But I never got hooked to tobacco. Because I never inhaled. I never realised at first that you were even supposed to inhale and when I first was told I thought it was utter madness. It was one thing tasting the smoke – that I could get – but drawing it inside you! Why would anyone want to do something stupid like that?

    So I’ve never had to give up because I never started. I’ve never been addicted to anything bar self-induced penile regurgitation which was about the only good thing about puberty that I can remember. I suppose I was addicted-in-the-strictest-possible-terms to caffeine considering just how many cups I used to drink in a day – ten or twelve was nothing (I would have three before nine in the morning) – but I’ve been drinking decaffeinated coffee for about three years now and I can’t say I struggled. Losing weight was a bit hard at first but, like you, I simply decided one day that that was it and stuck to my resolve.

    I think the hardest thing will be breaking the habit as opposed to the chemical addiction. I know we’re supposed to be able to break a habit in a month or so but after my dad gave up smoking, which he did by moving onto a pipe and then quitting completely, he still sucked on an empty pipe for years. Even when the bowl got broken he hung onto the mouthpiece and whenever he got in the driving seat of his car he’d stick the thing in his mouth until one day he realised how silly it was and tossed it.

    Still, good on ya.

  5. You hit me everywhere at once, Elisabeth. In California, when I was a teen in school, there were already good anti-smoking campaigns in place. I grew up with it. That every adult in my family puffed away like a chimney made me even more resolved not to do it. I didn't want to be like them. When my grandfather died of lung cancer at 68, we all walked outside, my grandmother, mother, aunts and uncles all lighting up in the parking lot as soon as we cleared the hospital doors. Not me. I thought of the man whose last teasing words were said to his oldest daughter: "Ruthie, light me a cigarette." "Oh, Dad, if I did that with all the oxygen in here, we'd be blown to hell." Not "Mary, I have loved you." "Give me a cigarette." As I understand it, it's the most difficult addiction to master. But Steven is correct! It's a process. You do it gradually, as you can.

    All that said, I am no saint, as you know. I am an addict. Most recently it was alcohol. There have been other substances. We do this (or at least start it) because we NEED something I have often heard described as a need to fill up some empty hole in ourselves. That description works for me. It seems to be the how and why of my various addictions. I might recommend a 12-step program because I have found it effective for me, a lifelong addict of one thing and another. We learn in a 12-step to find other ways to soothe ourselves and to let go of the need to "rub it in someone else's face".

    I read other things in your little voyage through your home – ceiling crack, broken fan, being just as happy not to view yourself in the fogged mirror. I attribute some of that to our (almost identical) age. We're weighing the things we feel "should" be achieved vs. those things that are now the only things we want to do. The sight of ourselves grown older just reminds us there isn't much time left.

    Thank you, as always, for your post.

  6. Good luck to you Elisabeth – try thinking it is just this one I am not going to have – I can do that. And then keep doing it. (she says reaching for another TimTam across her leviathan gut …)
    I have never been a smoker but am tortured by the knowledge that my otherwise intelligent son smokes.

  7. It's a hard decision that will save your life, and you know it. Congratulations, you took the first step.

    Your writing, gripping, immediate.

  8. I have never smoked, but I think I understand the addiction. I also think I get the rebellion, the pain.
    I never understood the smoking thing. I have to admit, the smell of smoke was a comfort to me. I loved the smell of my mothers Pallmalls. Unfiltered, and in a red package. They were her thing, not mine. I also loved the smell of the match…same reason, I guess.
    Good luck, on this difficult journey, and good health. Peace, Jane

  9. Wow. I have never smoked a cigarette, but this piece of writing makes me feel as if I have and then tension of quitting is awful. Good luck, Elisabeth. It sounds formidable, but I imagine you equal to the task. Prayers and well wishes and encouragement your way —

  10. My mother was a five pack a day smoker and she not surprisingly died from lung disease. Quitting really is one of the best things you can do health wise. Good wishes to you.

  11. Nicotine is the most physiologically addictive drug devised by man; don't expect to quit that habit from sheer willpower alone. There are ways now with both pharmaceuticals and psychological help, of which I am sure you are aware.

  12. Good for you to quit, Elizabeth. And if "cold turkey" seems appropriate in your situation, well, good for you, again.

    I smoked a pipe off and on for about 15 years. Quit one day in the early 1980s. A long time later, I decided to try my pipe again. The nicotine practically drove me crazy. Haven't tried that again.

  13. Congrats on taking the biggest step of quitting – actually doing it instead of just putting it off until tomorrow – and I know you can do this. You're my hero, Elisabeth 🙂

  14. I smoked a bit as a teen, but never became addicted. I've never been addicted to anything of a chemical nature. Of an emotional or psycological nature? Well, that's a different story.

    Good luck in kicking the habit. And whatever you do, don't watch the ending to Now, Voyager.

  15. It is a good decision to give up smoking, Steven, and one I took over twenty five years ago now when I fell pregnant with my first daughter. That said I chose to write this post in the present tense because of the immediacy it offers. It has obviously given people the impression I'm struggling with this decision right now. The events are true, and I can write about them now because I once managed to give up smoking cold turkey.

    I hope you don't feel betrayed that I'm not now a smoker, you and everyone else here who has offered me their best wishes.

  16. My mother used to smoke, too, Jane, not so much that I'd have said the cigarette was her sixth finer. That honour went to my father, a three packets a day man. My mother kept her smoking down to three or four cigarettes a day, morning and afternoon tea and after meals. I took up smoking as an adult I'm ashamed to say, but actually managed to give it up cold turkey as I describe here after only a few years.

    I always thought it ironical that everyone of my eight brothers and sisters bar one, smoked and that we have all managed to give it up, but we also all managed to smoke in front of our father after he had finally given up, but not soon enough for him. By then he had emphysema.

    Thanks, Jane.

  17. Oh dear Jim, I thought you'd be one who'd maybe realise that despite the present tense, this post is about the past.

    I don't see myself as a smoker these days, though I still dream about smoking from time to time, and unlike my husband, who as a reformed smoker, cannot tolerate being near smokers. I still love it. The stolen whiff of cigarette smoke when it's fresh brings back such bitter/sweet memories.

    I can imagine you with a pipe in your mouth, Jim, but these days there are very few people I know who still smoke, other than a few young folks, friends of my daughters who took it up in the bravado of adolescence and are already longing to kick the habit.

    It's a horrible habit, one of the worst I think besides hard drugs because of the immediacy of the damage it does, and its addictive quality.

    That's why I wrote this post in the present tense for the immediacy.

    Even so I'm grateful to you and everyone else for their kind words of encouragement and hopefully like everyone else who visits my blog you'll be pleaded to know I made it after all – cold turkey.

    I haven't had a cigarette for over 28 years, except in my dreams. I can truly say now I'm a nonsmoker, but the memories linger long.

    I'll post off GM's book this weekend. I've only just now managed to get a copy. They don't stock GM's books for long in bookshops, even in Australia. More's the pity.

    Thanks, Jim.

  18. Leslie

    I reckon most of us have addictions of some type or another, even the addiction to avoid addictions. One of my addictions is writing, not a bad addiction you might say but it depends on the perspective from which you're coming. As I've said earlier in these comments, I've kicked the smoking habit despite writing here in the present tense as though my struggle is only now beginning. I have overcome the smoking habit, but I still struggle with others.

    I appreciate your struggle with your addictions and admire your perseverance in trying to overcome them.

    Thanks, Leslie.

  19. Isabel, I smoked once, my husband too, all of my siblings bar one and my parents. I'm relieved to say that none of my children or their partners smoke.

    When I was little it seemed quite normal to smoke. It's not considered so 'normal' now. In fact my mother tells the story how after delivering one of her babies, the doctor offered her a cigarette.

    It's hard to imagine such things happening now. We learn from harsh experience. Unfortunately the cigarette companies have a vested interest in resisting such knowledge from experience. They seduce the young and vulnerable.

    Thanks Isabel.

  20. i used to teach "stop smoking" classes for the american lung association. smoking is, in fact, harder to quit than heroin. most people who quit do it more than once, before quitting for good. and it's not physiological. it's the habits, the associations that come along with cigarettes, that trigger the need.
    all that begs the question, where does the need come from, to indulge in any addiction? what propels us to any self-destructive behavior that (potentially)lasts a lifetime? how badly do we want out of where we are that we will risk illness or death? now that hurts.

  21. Hi Janice of Jablog, thanks for the encouragement. I might have needed it years ago when I gave up smoking in fact, but then again, I might not. I was pregnant at the time and I remember giving up smoking as relatively effortless, though there had been one try earlier before I was pregnant when I failed to kick the habit.

    Even after my daughter was born it was easy enough to stay off the cigarettes though I often had the fantasy in those days that if I were desperate I could go back onto them. Thank goodness I've never been so desperate.

    Thanks, Janice.

  22. As far as not smoking is concerned, Ms moon I've been very successful, but as for my other addictions, I can't say I'm as successful. At the risk of getting too far into the current confessional I'll leave you guessing what they are, but an addiction to feeling guilty is one of them.

    Thanks, Ms moon.

  23. I think for those who are not seduced by the pleasures of smoking in the first place, Just Jane, it can be hard, as you say, to understand how powerful and intoxicating smoking can be.

    For those like you who have never succumbed, I say good for you. I hope in future generations there will be many mamy more like you.

    I'd love smoking to become a thing of the past rather like painting our houses with paint laced with lead. We don't do it any more and we know why.

    Likewise we know smoking kills and yet still heaps of people take it up. It's a tragedy that it's still encouraged by the cigarette companies and the hangers-on with their vested interests in reaping a profit irrespective of the cost in human lives and health.

    Thanks, Just Jane.

  24. Thanks, Elizabeth. I'm glad you can pick up on the tension associated with giving up smoking, despite not being a smoker yourself. It is a killer – pardon the pun.

  25. My father was a three packs a day man, but your mother took on five, Laoch. Now that is frightening.

    Imagine the costs for all of you: your mother's lungs and hip pocket but also the passive smoking for the rest of the family and those other subtle things like the stench of her clothes and the smell throughout your house as a child.

    It must have been horrible but, as I've said earlier, it was one of those things we simply took for granted in the old days.

    Thanks, Laoch.

  26. Robert, as I've told others above, I wrote this piece in the present tense about a past event.

    I can say now I gave up the habit by willpower alone and without the benefit of the pharmaceutical drugs available these days, but I was pregnant and the hormones and desire to protect my baby made it easy to stop and to stay off, especially having watched my father die of emphysema-related heart attacks, ten days after my first daughter was born.

    Thanks, Robert.

  27. I can't imagine what it would be like to smoke again Rob-Bear having quit finally. I imagine a terribly dizzy head, but I have a friend who gave up smoking and then went back to it ten years later only to stay on it right up to the present time. Sadly I think she's not about to give it up either. She may well be one of the casualties from smoking.

    I hope I stopped soon enough to miss that fate, but you never know. The effects of smoking can linger a long long time, however quickly the immediate effects leave your system once you give up.

    Thanks, Rob-Bear.

  28. I hope, like others Phoenix, you can now understand that my heroic position taken many years ago during my pregnancy is not quite as heroic as this post might suggest.

    As I've said to others here in the comments, Phoenix, I wrote this post in the present tense about a past experience.

    The story remains the same in essence – those impulses towards my father and his smoking – but I gave up under more congenial circumstances: my first pregnancy. I have managed to stay off ever since.

    Thanks, Tracy- Phoenix.

  29. I like to think of my lungs as no longer damaged, Antares, but you never know as I've said earlier where a few years of smoking can take you damage wise.

    Thanks though for all your good wishes.

    My husband stopped smoking at the same time as I did though he had been a smoker for several years longer. When he had a heart attack several years ago one GP suggested the smoking may have contributed. Personally I think it was the stress of his job but you never know. These things are so complex.

    Thanks again, Antares.

  30. I haven't seen Now, Voyager, Kirk and I won't given your warning, but you've set my curiosity racing.

    And given that as I've explained to others here, my habit is in the past, despite writing about it here in the present, I may yet take a peek.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  31. I read this earlier before there were any comments, and wondered was it a fable, reality or here and now, and therefore did not comment, as I could not think of anything which seemed to fit the piece.
    Smoking is a dire addiction. I have been free of it for about 25 years, I think, and it took a couple of years before the smell of smoke became horrid to me. Sugar is more difficult to abandon completely, I find. It goes straight to my inner binger.

  32. Thanks for the kind words, Anthony. I feel that honesty might not be quite the right word given the time lag in the presentation here as written in the present tense while the event happened in the past – artistic licence, you might say. But still the sentiments apply.

    Thanks again, Anthony.

  33. I agree rraine, the question of what it is that induces us to smoke in the first place is important.

    Why indeed? I think first of Freud's ideas on infantile unmet oral needs as a contributor. You'd know something about Freud. He died from cancer of the jaw, a consequence of decades of smoking.

    I suspect most of us have unmet oral needs in one form or another, but how we attempt to meet those needs varies, as do the resources we have at our disposal to help us on our journey.

    Thanks, rraine.

  34. I'm glad that someone read it as other than straight reportage, Persiflage. I have felt apologetic. I do not want to mislead people, but I'm often intrigued at how different people read differently into our blog posts.

    I agree with you that smoking is ghastly and so glad that you too have been able to get by without the dreaded cigarettes for twenty five years.

    As for the sugar, well that's a different story and one I might explore in another post somewhere down the tack.

    Thanks, Pesiflage.

  35. You know I swithered about adding that final line, I really did. And now I feel embarrassed that I’ve been caught a second time. And, if I’m being honest, a little annoyed. Not sure who at as yet, me or you. Have I let you down, or let me down or both? What’s running through my mind is The Boy Who Cried Wolf and the fear that I’m going to start questioning everything. I’ve started doing that with another blog I read now that I’ve realised that most of the autobiographical writing is faction. I care about her but I don’t care about her characters; we reserve that quality of caring for the living. As regards you all I can say is that if I’d known you twenty-eight years ago I would have cared because even at twenty-four I was still that kind of person. Now if the radio had been on in the background playing Men At Work’s ‘Who Can It Be Now?’ I might have gone to see when that was released. Some clue would have been nice.

    Thanks for getting the book for me. That was really sweet of you I have to say. I’m just finishing off the longest novel I think I’ve ever read – 433 pages (yes, I know there are much longer ones) – and all I have to say is that no novel needs to be 433 pages long.

  36. I have just now sent a long response to you Jim and it has disappeared into the ether. Curses.

    All that inspiration, down the drain. I wanted to say, don't be embarrassed. Please don't. I should perhaps signpost more, but I enjoy the element of surprise, not to trap but to set people thinking.

    My previous comment, the one that is flying through the ether was much better, but it's too late for me now to write a more lucid account, so I'll try again tomorrow.

    Thanks, Jim.

  37. I've been away from the blogging world for over a month now, working the 12-step program. My addictions are quite psychological in nature, but the program that hits home to me the most is the Adult Children of Alcoholics.

    I guess I'm saying – I hope you have a support system in place. This is a tough one.

    You sound very determined and now you've told everyone about it so you've got all of us behind you.

    Live long and prosper.

    Run and be free.

  38. Hello Elisabeth,
    Thank you for visiting my blog – I'm pleased to meet you too. Melbourne is a great city isn't it?

    I really enjoyed reading your post, it was both interesting ad entertaining. I understand the pangs of giving up smoking – tried a couple of times, nearly crawled up the walls. Haven't smoked in the house since 1996. When I think of all the money it costs me, I wish I didn't smoke, but as Doc said, giving it up for hte wrong reason doesn't work.

    Anyway, good luck with your vow, hope you are able to do it.
    Melbourne Daily Photo

  39. I know that children of alcoholics have a hard road to hoe, Kass. My mother drummed it into us when we were growing up: sons of alcoholics become alcoholics and daughters of alcoholics marry them.

    I hated this mantra. It seemed so scripting. As it is my mother's fears/expectations so far have not been fulfilled, as far as I can see at least, though most of my siblings including me drink, and some to excess at times.

    Because of this prediction, I find I have a deep wish to prove my mother wrong. Besides I have never been quite satisfied with the simple label of alcoholic.

    I'm not saying that alcoholism does not exist. It does. But I sometimes wonder whether it doesn't become a cover up for other difficulties and experience.

    Most of our addictions what ever form they take, I suspect, are quite complex.

    Thanks, Kass and good luck with your program.

  40. It's interesting More-than-meets-the eye, that you see my writing as factual.

    I'd argue that's because it is factual. But not 'faction'. I don't like that term. I see my writing as more like autobiographical fiction.

    Thanks for visiting here.

  41. It's lovely to see you here Blossom Flower girl. It's good that you've managed to stay off cigarettes for fifteen years. You too can now rate yourself as a non-smoker.

    Thanks, Blossom Flower Girl.

  42. It's all right, Elisabeth, I was just joking. I thought the ending to Now, Voyager was more well-known than it probably is. The reason I brought it up is because the ending romanticizes smoking like nothing else I've ever seen in old movies, and that's saying something.

  43. I'm relieved to hear, Kirk. The romanticisation of smoking continues today. Even as we cover the cigarette packs with black and diseased lungs some young folk particularly manage to see it as 'cool' and glamorous.

  44. Dear Elisabeth,
    addictions are terrible. No matter what the addiction is to.
    Fortunately, smoking is not for me, never liked it and never will. But I so easily succumb to other temptations, that I know are bad for me. And I can tell you that in that moment when I do, I find a perfectly sane reason in my head that justifies it totally.
    To break a habit, of any kind, takes a lot of conviction and determination. And it takes finding the absolute reason for not doing it – you might have found yours thus good luck with sticking to your goal.;)

  45. Thanks, Zuzana. I'm responding here, out of order, but you will understand what it all means by now.

    In any case, I'm very grateful for your on-going support.

  46. Elisabeth, I have not read the comments. Though I would like to, if I had the time this morning. But I want to read the next two posts. I have missed reading here, but I have saved them to savor.

    This beautiful write is wrenching and moving beyond belief. The fan, your father's lungs! These images and connections in your family history, your break with cigarettes that were a punishment to your father but have become a punishment to you, so so significant and wondrous. I am stunned. I look forward to the next installment …

  47. It's fascinating to me, Ruth, that these posts can cause such consternation, this business about what is fiction and what not, the timelessness of things and the wish to nail things down.

    Thanks for coming back to these posts. I'm about to put one up about my thesis topic and I tremble at the thought, but something tells me, it's worth exploring.

    I value the response from so many people, and especially yours, among others.

    I prefer to play around with ideas rather than look for absolutes.

    Thanks, Ruth.

  48. It is assuring to read that you successfully tossed the habit. I did too. Thirty five years ago, but I still suffer mild emphysemia, evidenced by shortness of breath in the pool where once I churned along happily for ages but now stop at 50 metres for a 'breather'.
    Of course if I had not gone 'cold turkey' back then I would not be here now to read and smile at your blog!

  49. I'm glad you managed to go cold turkey, too, Stafford. Otherwise, as you say, you would not be here to share in this blog conversation and that would be very sad indeed. Thanks, Stafford.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *