Smoking While Sober
For me, the first addiction was cigarettes. Nicotine. I was sixteen years old when I started in earnest. Inhaling the smoke, stuffing down the feelings even then at 16. The brand I started with was True cigarettes. They were trendy cigarettes in the late 60’s. True had a plastic tip. My best friend smoked Tareyton which had the charcoal filter. My mother smoked Marlboro Gold 100’s in the crush proof pack. I know that because I used to steal them. I have smoked pretty much everything in the tobacco world. From Shermans and the French Gauloises to Drum, Dutch roll your own shag tobacco and the worst being Silons from Israel. Silon means “jet” in Hebrew and you could get ten packs of Silon a week on the kibbutz. Non-filtered tobacco that would get you coughing you lungs out in no time at all. At the end of my smoking career I was smoking Camel Lights filtered in a crush proof pack.
“Switching seats on the Titanic” is a phrase you hear a lot in recovery programs. What it means is there are primary and secondary addictions. If you’re abstaining from alcohol another addiction will usually raise its ugly head. Like the game Whack-a-mole. Whack! After drugs and alcohol it was smoking. Whack! When I first got sober I was probably smoking between 10 and 15 cigarettes a day. Almost a pack but not quite. By the time I have had nine months of sobriety I was closing in on two packs a day. This was insane because I use my voice to make my living.
When I got sober I thought a lot of things would immediately happen which didn’t. I thought I would get a new girlfriend, large sums of money, my career in show business would return. I got none of that. What I got was clarity. “What a rook!” I thought to myself. I get clarity. I felt like I had somehow been cheated. I got clarity, showing me that I make my living with my voice and either I want to use my voice for the rest of my life or I’m full of crap. I can continue smoking and ruining my voice and lungs or I can see smoking for what it is, a secondary addiction. At a year and a half into my sobriety I quit smoking. The clarity is that I can apply the same tools I used to keep me off drugs and alcohol.
Anyone can quit smoking. It’s not easy but it is simple. Once you have gone 72 hours without nicotine the physical addiction is gone. The rest is all mental. My ritual in the morning for the past year and a half was to get down on my knees and ask God to relieve me from the obsession of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. I didn’t think God would mind if I added one more thing, which I did. “Dear God. Please help me live this day without drugs alcohol and tobacco. Your will not mine be done.” That was the prayer but then I needed action. I was taught that, “Faith without works is dead”. I went to work. I did two things right away. I bought organic cinnamon sticks. I needed something to handle the oral and tactile part of smoking. Cinnamon sticks filled the bill. They were the size and shape of cigarettes and you can put them in your mouth, and because they are hollow and you can take a drag on them just like a cigarette. You could hold them between your fingers exactly like you did with the cigarette. This works for the physical and tactical manifestation of the cigarette.
The second thing I did was get a large glass jar. I was spending five dollars a day on cigarettes so I put five dollars a day in the jar. Here was the deal that I made with myself. If I fell off the wagon and went back to smoking cigarettes then I would have to toss a match into the jar and burn up all that money because that’s what I was doing by smoking: burning up money. Within two weeks the jar was cram jammed with a lot of cash. Now in the 12 step program I was working you got rewarded. You got chips for 30, 60 and 90 days of abstinence. I was going to use that glass jar and all that cash to create a rewards system too. I would buy something for myself at 30, 60 and 90 days and stick the receipt in the glass jar. I would get something nicer for six months and 9 months. When I had a year without smoking I would take myself on a vacation. At 30 days I bought a very thick beautiful plush terrycloth bathrobe, and I put the receipt in the jar along with the remaining money. At 60 days high end Cologne and at 90 days shirts and slacks. At six months I put a new sound system in my car. When I had a year off cigarettes I took a first-class vacation to Palm Springs California.
It wasn’t always easy but it was enlightening. At 30 days off of cigarettes I was driving a friend to the airport. On the way back I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s song “Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”. About a minute into the song I was sobbing. It’s a good song but I think it had more to do with the fact that I had spent years stuffing my feeling and now they were surfacing. At times all it needed was a little push by Stevie Wonder.
Another time I was upset because someone wasn’t doing what I wanted them to do. Imagine that! I was angry. Later that evening I was with my friend Jan (who smoked) and I said to her, “How many cigarettes do you have on you?” Not if I could have one but how many because I need to know if I need to stop and get a carton because I was still angry and wanted to smoke that anger away. That was the kind of addict I was. A carton! Her answer was “three” and I had a moment of clarity. There it is again “Clarity”. It wasn’t about the cigarettes, it was about the fact I was spiritually unfit. I was angry, resentful, I was powerless and I wanted to stuff my feelings. Then I saw cigarettes, not as a nicotine delivery device but a spiritual thermometer. I was able to stop and take my temperature. To breath and turn it over. To let go and let Jan have her cigarettes.
One foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, I have walked into a place of self-care. The good news is that you get your feelings back, the bad news is that you get your feelings back. These feelings of joy and anger, peace and jealousy, love and fear at times feel like a rollercoaster ride. The alternative is numbness. I willingly purchase another ticket for the next ride.
Zack Hoffman 2017