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A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Smoking My Life Away

Catherine St. Denis

Reprinted from "Tobacco" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 3 (4), pp. 13-14

stock photoMy throat is killing me, I’ve got no groceries in the house and I’ve got three cigarettes to my name. Even though I’m sitting here telling myself that I have to quit smoking, that I just can’t afford to smoke and that it’s killing me, I know I’ll go and buy more cigarettes today.

This is my definition of addiction: wanting to quit, hating smoking, feeling like it is killing me—and still doing it. In my opinion, addiction is craziness.

I was an addicted, full-time smoker by the time I was 13, and in my twenties, I smoked through three pregnancies. My partner smoked as well, and our three babies were exposed to all the smoke our home was steeped in. Now, as I look back, I feel such shame about making my children inhale all those chemicals for so many years. What an unhealthy start to life!

If I could just smoke and not worry about the consequences, I would be okay. I am so clear that smoking brings me down physically, emotionally and financially. And, unfortunately, I am keenly aware of the dangers of smoking. I come from a family with a long history of addiction to tobacco, alcohol and prescription medication, and with high incidence rates of cancer, heart disease, hypertension and obesity. I feel like a time bomb, with cancer just waiting to explode in my lungs or elsewhere. So I worry and create a huge amount of anxiety about smoking.

This anxiety brings with it a heavy sense of failure mixed with anger and disappointment at myself for being unable to quit. I tell myself constantly that if I were “more” or “better” or “different,” then I would have the character to quit smoking. I would never say to any of my friends who smoke that it’s their lack of character that keeps them addicted. But when it comes to myself, I am much harder and more unforgiving.

During my twenties I began to want to quit smoking. I had been a two-pack-a-day smoker for many years and, even though I was young, I really did feel the effects of smoking. My throat was constantly sore and inflamed. I tried to quit on several occasions, but only lasted a few days each time. Smoking two packs a day since I was so young had made smoking a normal part of who I was. I have always felt like an ‘innate’ smoker—kind of like I was born to it; like it was part of my genetic makeup. Maybe the constant example of smoking in the household made me feel smoking was just the way to live.

What’s hard for me to believe is that I have smoked for 19 out of my 42 years. I did successfully stop smoking once for seven-and-a-half years and once for three years. Both times I quit because I couldn’t stand the damage I was doing to my body, my kids’ bodies and our bank account—many times we could barely afford decent food. I used smoking cessation gum and will power to stop. Because I receive such a limited income, the gum and the will are, in my opinion, the only avenues open to someone in poverty who wants to quit smoking.

In 2006 I tried to quit five times; I also had five smoking relapses. Cigarettes help me manage bad feelings. They calm me—and yet, they add to my anxiety. But I’m committed to beating smoking this year. I am no longer at an age where my body can so easily manage illness; the stakes are getting higher. It’s not just the physical concerns about smoking, but also the anxiety and self-abuse I dish out because I’m knowingly cooperating in my death from cigarettes. This gnaws at me.

I need to quit smoking to confirm that I care enough about myself to want life and health over sickness and addiction. In 2007 I want to feel proud of myself. Today, as I write this, I am on day three of not smoking. Today, I am showing myself I care.

About the author

Catherine lives in Vancouver and is a member of the Mood Disorders Association of BC. She has raised three children and is now learning to raise herself . . . with care


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