Making-and breaking-New Year's resolutions is a grand ol' American tradition. We make all sorts of glorious promises to our families, and ourselves, of the wondrous things we'll accomplish in the New Year, or of the bad habits we'll drop from our repertoire of behavior patterns. Yeah, right!
Typically, by the time the first live coverage of the Rose Parade, or maybe one of the many bowl games, has ended, most of those well-intended resolutions have already ended up in the dumpster, along with trash bags filled with ribbons and shredded and torn gift wrapping paper.
I'm certainly as guilty as nearly anyone on the face of this planet is when it comes to making, and promptly breaking, New Year's resolutions. If I'd kept a list of my broken resolutions from years past, I could easily fill this entire page. Honestly, in recent years, I haven't even bothered with that hoary tradition.
Well, this year I made one New Year's resolution, and it's one that I intend to keep! I QUIT!
Smoking, that is. Well, to be entirely truthful about it, I'm trying to quit. Maybe when a couple of years have gone by I'll feel that I can legitimately, positively, say that I have (with an emphasis on the past tense) quit smoking. For now I'll stick with a more realistic "I'm in the process of quitting," or, "I'm trying to quit."
I started smoking in high school. Back then, it was a cool thing to do. Smoking made you think that you looked more grown up. Smokers weren't ostracized, and they weren't forbidden from indulging in public places. There were even smoking sections on airplanes!
I never turned into a really hardcore smoker; no multi-pack a day habit. But, I'd still go through most of a pack per day. There were periods where I eased away from the cigarettes in favor of cigars and/or pipes (I have a collection of at least two dozen very nice, top-quality meerschaums, a couple of which are worth several thousand bucks each). I truly enjoyed puffing away on a good cigar once in a while. For me, smoking a pipe was a relaxing, contemplative thing to do; kicking back with a good book, a snifter of cognac, a glass of good single malt scotch; or some well-aged cabernet or Merlot; was a marvelous way to spend an hour or two when alone. Ultimately, I'd always end up back with the cigarettes.
As middle age has caught up with me, I've become more and more aware of a shortness of breathe when exercising. I'd really notice it when I'd get away for a few days of camping and hiking in my favorite place, Sequoia National Park. Gasping and wheezing takes some of the fun out of backcountry treks.
Then there was that occasional but persistent little tickle in the back of my throat. Hell, a smoker's cough is a smoker's cough.
Deep inside, I've known that I should quit. I've known that for years. I've known that smoking was hazardous to my health, and hazardous to the health of anyone around me. I wouldn't smoke in the house, wouldn't smoke in a car when my son or a girlfriend was with me-and still wouldn't admit to myself that I had a problem. Denial (no, not de river in Egypt) is a marvelous thing. You lie to yourself, you know you're lying to yourself, and you keep on doing it.
Some of the BS excuses I've fed myself, reasons not to quit, have been ludicrous: I'm getting overweight already, and people gain weight when they quit smoking, so I can't quit smoking right now. Hey, self! Ya ever heard of exercising on a regular basis? Or laying off of some of the junk food? (Nah, that's too logical; it makes sense). Or, I've already lit one up today, I'll try to stop tomorrow...or next week...or one of these days. Meanwhile, I'd keep on stinking up my car, screwing around with my health, and throwing away $50-70 a month on my stupid habit.
But, over the past couple of years, I've become more and more convinced that I really should quit. I kept on making excuses, postponing the inevitable, but at least acknowledging to myself that I had a problem, an addiction, and I must put a stop to it.
Like I said, I've made plenty of excuses for not quitting, and I guess I was just waiting for the right excuse to quit. "Hey, self! How about a New Year's resolution to stop smoking? A new millenium one at that!" Yeah, that works. That's momentous enough to justify giving it a shot. And with an invitation to spend New Year's with my son Rob and his girlfriend at her parents' Napa Valley home (Yes! The heart of California's wine country!), I realized that the first hurdles to my plan to quit smoking would be lessened a little. Rob's got enough sense to have never started smoking. Elisa doesn't smoke, nor do her parents, or her sister. And their home is in the midst of a 20-acre vineyard, several miles from the nearest town. I'd be outgunned, and out in the boonies.
To make what is turning into a long story short, Rob and I headed north a couple of days ahead of time. An eight to nine hour drive when I'm committed to not smoking in the car means I puffed away on just two or three smokes, at gas stations and rest stops, during that 500 mile drive-a good way to start weaning myself off of the things.
And once we'd arrived...well I started relaxing almost immediately. The weather was beautiful, as are the "NorCal" wine regions. The tensions I tote around with me at work and at home seemed to melt away. Lots of times, particularly at the office, I'd go outside, light up, and pace around just to blow off steam. Out in the country, away from almost everything, I didn't feel much need to smoke. Besides, it would be damned rude to go flinging butts around someone else's property.
A few minutes before midnight on December 31st, I went out for one final smoke and, at 11:59 p.m., snuffed it out. I walked into the Drucker's home, handed Rob both the freshly opened pack I'd gotten into a couple or three times, along with the one unopened pack I'd stuffed in my jacket pocket, then told him to do with them as he pleased, just so long as he didn't let me have a single cigarette.
Being away from the normal surroundings helped a lot. The moral support I got during those first few days was incredibly valuable. I've managed to stay clean now for a couple of weeks, and it's getting a little less difficult by the day. I can already feel a difference. I get fidgety sometimes, especially at work, but that's something I have to deal with every time the situation arises. Each and every day, I'm becoming more determined that I'll never go back to the nasty habit.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, if someone called me a quitter, they'd have a fight on their hands. Now, I'm proud to be a quitter! This is one New Year's resolution I intend to keep!