I first began smoking out of curiosity.
When I was growing up my grandma was in poor health but when I reached my mid-teens she became housebound. She developed emphysema, then COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and then one day I walked into her bedroom and her medical notes were pasted to the wall where they read ‘lung failure’.
About ten years ago she was admitted to hospital on Christmas Eve and we were told to say our goodbyes. We had a priest come and bless her. I was awake for more than 24 hours and finally went home on Christmas Day, completely exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. After that I thought she would never smoke again. She lived for another five years after this and continued to smoke through many, many more similar hospital admissions.
I don’t know why she continued to smoke – they say it wouldn’t have cured the damage she had already done but to me that’s like saying you’ve got one broken leg so why not have two? They are probably right that her condition wouldn’t have improved – but it could have stabilised and been managed at emphysema instead of lung failure. Instead she continued to decline and struggle to breathe for the remaining five years of her life, and yes, it was horrific to watch.
So I was curious – what could possibly make someone want to continue smoking when it was making you so ill? I can only imagine that not being able to breathe is terrifying, but not being able to breathe for years? Unimaginable.
When I tried my first cigarettes I was totally unimpressed. I thought it was pretty disgusting and nothing to be addicted to. I didn’t get it at all. Later I tried again with menthols and found something I could smoke. So I smoked menthols for a few years, putting up with the headaches, sickness, nausea, feeling out of breath, shaky, and general feeling of unwell-ness that came with being a smoker. Then I met my partner and he didn’t like me smoking, so I quit. After that I only smoked on and off – when I stressed, upset or abroad where cigarettes were very cheap compared to the now skyrocketing prices of the UK due to laws designed to deter smokers (they work). But I didn’t really quit altogether per say, I always liked to know it was there – if I wanted it, but mostly I didn’t bother. I guess it just kind of tapered off until recently I was wondering how long it had been since I had smoked and realised that it was coming up to two years.
I only really gained an understanding when after many, many years of being eating disordered I desperately wanted to quit and to change but found myself unable no matter how I came at the problem. Finally, I understood how you could continue to smoke whilst being unable to breathe – and then I gained a greater sense of compassion, empathy and understanding – a sort of closeness to her, if you like.
Do I miss it? Yes and no. Some days I really crave it, whilst others I can’t imagine ever craving a cigarette ever again. Mostly when I walk behind smokers and breathe in that second-hand smoke – and it’s not cheating – I feel nostalgia for memories of people and a time now long gone.