I used to be a smoker. I smoked for about 12 years – I was a junior in college when I started, certainly old enough to know better. Worse, I grew up with my Mom being a chain smoker, and my sister and I both hated it. So how I went from being a non-smoker to smoking a pack a day seems really hypocritical, but I must have been pre-disposed to it or something.
No one – especially not my family – ever knew I smoked. When I started was right when my Mom decided to finally kick the habit for good. It was really difficult for her, so I felt like a jerk being all like, “Hey! Guess what! I smoke now too!” and throwing it in her face. So I smoked in relative secret.
I quit about four years ago. Truth be told, my ex, also a smoker, really wanted to quit and pushed me into it. I wasn’t sure I was ready at the time. There is a mental component to having cigarettes that I was always fond of – maybe it’s because there’s always been a part of me that gets really overwhelmed in social situations, but I liked the idea of escaping (a bar, parties) to have a cigarette. First, you do your best bonding in the cigarette circle – smokers always seem to have stuff in common. Second, if no one was out there, I enjoyed the solitude as I would puff away. I always maintained that I couldn’t be terribly physically addicted, because I could go for exceptionally long stretches without a cigarette (hiding the habit from most everyone you know will often put you in that situation). I always held the belief that I would eventually go back. In fact, I’d tried to quit once before and did go back. But, something clicked for me that last attempt. I went on the patch, and as soon as I was done, cigarettes were just different to me. The second hand smoke smell, which I used to think smelled great – was suddenly revolting. Part of me still misses the habit and excuse to slip away, but now I hate the smell and am one of those people I used to hate who walks by smokers with my hand in front of my nose and mouth so as not to catch any of the second-hand smoke. Any time I did try to take a puff, the taste was so revolting to me I immediately gave up. So, I was cured!
A few years ago, still missing the physical routine of smoking and wishing there were some reasonable substitute, I started smoking clove cigarettes. These were actually my “gateway” cigarette in college – I enjoyed them so much that I started smoking for real. This last time, I would mostly just smoke them socially or when I was having a drink. I still sort of miss that habit too, but my lapse into cloves was right before my stroke. I also take birth control, and having a blood clotting disease, being on birth control and smoking is pretty much suicide. My desire to live is much greater than my desire to smoke, so it was easy to say good-bye to that habit once and for all.
Today I realized I may have replaced my addiction with something more innocent but also sort of disturbing. I chew a ridiculous amount of gum. Orbit gum, to be specific. Spearmint, Sweet Mint, and sometimes the fruity Citrus one. Every day that I am at work, I sit at my desk and chew gum. Part of this is to avoid bad breath, but I think the other part is the physical addiction of having to be doing something. It also helps me not snack on junk food. Maybe sometimes I just do it because I’m bored. When Target has a “gum sale,” I will buy the 3-pack packs (they’re usually 2 for $3) and spend about $20 on gum to keep in my desk drawer. However, I hate when gum loses its flavor, even remotely, so I’ll chew a piece for a few minutes, then spit it out. I also hate having gum in my mouth before a meeting and when I’m on the phone (it’s unprofessional, gross and rude!), so I spit it out then too. Additionally, I have a weird thing about not chewing gum in the bathroom, so I’ll also get rid of it before any restroom trips.
The result of all of this gum chewing/spitting is that it takes me no time at all to go through a 14-piece pack of Orbit. In fact, I think I can just about go through one pack in a day or day and a half. The people who empty the trash at night must think I’m disgusting. My other revelation is that I’m going through a pack of gum at the same rate I used to go through a pack of cigarettes. Which, I suppose, besides being gross for the cleaning people and potentially leading to TMJ in later years for me, really isn’t hurting anyone. I mean, at least it’s sugar free.