Firstly, I need to directly address my mother:
Ma. I smoked. I’m sorry that I did. It should not serve as a reflection of your parenting skills. And I don’t smoke at all anymore. I promise.
Also, I’m sorry to tell you about this via blog post, but it feels like a safe place. If I was gay, I’d probably come out here.
Kind of related, my gay friend recently smelled me, and told me that he doesn’t think I’m gay. My pheromones were sending him heterosexual vibes. He claims that he can literally smell gayness, which is pretty cool. I wish he had his own reality show in which he smelled Republicans and Catholic priests, but I digress.
In early February of 2012, I found myself in a deep conversation about the nature of love with an obnoxiously British english-teaching-backpacker I met in a watering hole near my old place in Vancouver. His name was Cliff, and I told him all about my breakup from the week before. He was a good listener, and he had experienced his fair share of heartache in every continent that wasn’t Antarctica. We were mid-conversation, when he asked me if I wanted to join him outside for a cigarette. I told him I’d keep him company. He offered me a drag of his cigarette, but I’m scared to put my mouth on the same things as obnoxiously British english-teaching-backpackers I meet in pubs. So he asked if I just wanted my own.
Being newly single, I relished the freedom to come home smelling however I wanted, and that night, I chose Belmont’s. Heck, that night I even bought my very own first pack of Belmont’s in a 7-Eleven along with some Gobstoppers on the way home because in that moment, it felt like a celebration of freedom of some sort.
And then after that, I just started smoking. Every day.
I was a closeted smoker at first because I wanted to make sure that I knew all the moves before I started smoking in front of people. I needed to learn how to open a pack, how to tear away the foil and shake one out like Will Hunting. I needed to learn how to light one in the wind. How to discard of one mid-stride. I needed to learn how to smoke. I’d study how other people lit up at work, and on the street. In the same way that all the non-smoking cast members of Mad Men needed to learn how to do it, I did too.
A few weeks later, I came out of the smoking closet and started doing it infront of my friends and co-workers. And everyone was really confused at first. They were like, “You started smoking? Who starts smoking at 25?” I told them, “Me. I do. I like it. It calms me.” Everyone seemed more or less disappointed, except of course for my smoker friends who were OVER THE MOON. They were like, “You’re one of us, now?!?! This is the BEST!” They accepted me with arms wide open.
But then, as the addiction set in, so too did the guilt. I was like, wait, what am I doing? I’m just a smoker now? For how long? What’s my exit strategy?
I started feeling unhealthy in general, and I’d never really had an unhealthy lifestyle before. I needed to start doing something to counter the smoking. So I joined a gym. I started smoking and going to the gym every day, and for a while, I felt like I’d restored balance to my life.
And because I was getting into such great physical shape, I was able to really settle into guilt-free smoking. And I loved it. When I was drowsy, it made me feel more alert. When I felt wired, it calmed me down. I found that I was suddenly less reliant on alcohol, because the smoking completely relieved my anxiety on its own. And I loved the ritual of it. Of having a reason to go outside and breathe deeply in a reflective manner several times a day. I liked that when I would go out with friends, I had a socially acceptable reason to just leave for a few minutes if I felt overwhelmed. I liked smoking with coffee in the morning. I liked smoking after a midnight snack at night. I found cigarette breaks to be tremendously helpful to my writing process. I liked how it made me feel grounded before and after I performed. I was almost up to a pack a day. And I loved it.
But one thing that happened repeatedly during my smoking year was that everywhere I went, whether people knew me from before or not, they would always say, “You smoke? That’s weird. You just don’t seem like a smoker to me.” And I’d take offense to that. I’d snark back to them, “Yeah. Well. I am.”
I don’t seem like a smoker? What does that even mean? What do smokers seem like?
All summer, I was on the road touring my solo show Tinfoil Dinosaur. After the show, there would usually be a few people hanging out in the lobby, wanting to share with me some of their own experiences with social anxiety and depression, and I’d always ask them to come outside to talk so I could enjoy my post-show cigarette whilst talking with them. And a few times, I could really sense these people being taken aback or disappointed when I would light up and start smoking. I would feel self-conscious, as if I had ruined their notion of me or of my character in some way, which admittedly was probably just me projecting something onto them to confirm my own deep-seeded problems with my new habit, but either way, I felt shitty about it.
And then after touring all summer, a big misstep: I fell in love with the wrong girl. Well. The wrong girl for smoker Sam.
She hated that I smoked. The smell of smoke on my clothes and in my hair and on my hands made her feel sick. Like, I’d go outside for a cigarette, come in, wash my hands for 90 seconds, spray something to mask the smell on my body, brush my teeth, and then re-join her on the couch, and she’d look at me sheepishly and say, “I’m sorry. I can still smell it. Can you change?” And obviously, it’s a pretty shitty feeling when you start to physically repulse women.
But the KING OF THE SHITTY FEELINGS happened one night in Vancouver in September…
I was standing on the street, having a cigarette before my show one night when I feel a tap on my shoulder, and I turn around and it was my Dad. Oh shit.
[Discarding tobacco product that had claimed the lives of both my maternal and paternal grandfathers] Oh Hey Dad!
He was dumbfounded.
And you know that feeling of purification and catharsis that you have when you come clean to your loved ones about something that you’ve been hiding from them? Like, when the cat is finally out of the bag and you feel relieved that you don’t have to keep this secret any longer?
Yeah. It wasn’t like that at all. It felt like shit. Aw man. The look on that man’s face as he realized that he’d raised a smoker. After all the anecdotes and horror stories about all of his dead companions and family members who’d succumbed to tobacco’s addictive nature, here was his pride and joy sucking on the very same damned carcinogenic teat. Right infront of him.
So I started reflecting [over cigarrettes, naturally].
And I guess I just wasn’t willing to live with the guilt of it anymore. My Dad never intervened about it. He never told me to quit explicitly. As a matter of fact, he never really said anything at all. I was 25, what was he going to say? He was quiet about his disappointment, but the voices in my head were louder than ever.
I was just tired of feeling like shit.
I started thinking about quitting. And then I started quitting. And then in Mid December of 2012, I quit. I found exercise, alcohol, and nicotine lozenges to be tremendously helpful in kicking my habit.
And now, I’m just a guy who doesn’t smoke, I guess.
And I feel… better? I don’t know. I almost never feel good, but I don’t think that is related to this.
I do go to the gym less often than when I smoked, though. I don’t care what people say, guilt is the strongest motivator of them all.