The Seven Year Itch

What causes a person to take up smoking again? The confession, part one.

A little after 8:30 in the evening, I took Shoshana out for a walk in the park. There are certain evening hours when I especially love to sit there on the bench and chat with my new friends while Shoshana roams around the bushes.

These new friends I have made recently are members of an Addicts Anonymous group who meet almost every evening at the shelter in the park. They are brave people, grappling every day with an addiction to light or hard drugs through the 12-step program, praying to God to give them the strength to accept what they cannot change and the strength to change what they can.


At any rate, at nearly any given moment one of them can be found in the park, smoking a cigarette. But it's not their courage in mustering such tremendous strength to change what they can that makes me like them so. Nor is it the fact that one evening, after a brief consultation, they decided that I "really look like that woman from that television show, but a prettier version." Not even that has any real connection to why I suddenly found myself showing up at the park just at the time of their meetings.

It mainly has to do with how, in the past four months or so, I have found, to my surprise, that I harbor a special fondness for smokers, particularly those who smoke Winstons, Marlboros and L&M Reds, although I'm ready to compromise on anything that isn't menthol.

I wanted to begin this column with the line, "Oy vey, I'm smoking again," but as it turns out I'm writing it on the first morning after the first night I quit smoking. The last time I quit smoking, seven and a half years ago, in the month of April, it took me almost two months of mourning and wailing before I could bring myself to write the first column that was dedicated to my kicking the habit. This time it took me a little less than 12 hours.

A quick summary of the previous episodes: For about 30 years I chain-smoked what, by my conservative estimate, came to about half a million cigarettes. In other words - I spent about NIS 500,000 in order to choke myself about once every 20 minutes on a cloud of poisonous and carcinogenic gases and to lay the necessary groundwork for an array of illnesses, including emphysema, from which my mother died too young.

Even though when I first started smoking I only thought of it as a step toward joining the world of sophisticated adults, in the ensuing decades there were long periods in which I despised myself for this habit that had become an addiction, and I briefly quit a number of times using all the different methods - until I finally really quit "for good" seven and a half years ago.

I shed oceans of tears when the permanent smoke screens were removed from the weeping little girl who had now had her cigarettes taken from her too, and more vast lakes of tears when I discovered how much weight I'd gained. And I had to try all sorts of weird diets to get rid of those extra kilos.

A normal person might have said that the suffering I'd already experienced was enough to make me never go back to smoking. And maybe that same normal person might also have remembered how easily I become addicted, and how I'm not the kind of person who can smoke just one or two cigarettes a day. But seven years and several months after my last cigarette, at a moment of crisis in my life, I naturally accepted a cigarette from someone who had no idea that I didn't smoke. I smoked the second cigarette in a "social" setting - at a television studio where everyone was smoking and everyone wanted to offer a cigarette. It started with one cigarette before the first program.

If you must know, I nearly passed out when I smoked the cigarette. Remember the dizziness and the choking feeling next time you want to smoke, I told myself, sure that after this experience I'd never want another first cigarette. But the next day I smoked two or three - though of course I didn't buy cigarettes since I still wasn't ready to admit to myself that I was smoking. On the third day, I smoked three from Hila and one from Michal the makeup artist, to spread the risk. On the fourth day I must have smoked six, but then, on the fifth day, there was no show and so I found myself getting friendly with my Addicts Anonymous buddies, who unwittingly took on the role of my dealers - just like the ones who once helped push them into addiction.

Of course, the problem that supposedly drove me to smoke was not solved this way. Now I've just added another much more serious problem to it - the problem of having taken up smoking again. Meaning, in essence, that I've failed. Seven years of my lungs clearing out all the junk that built up over the years has gone right down the drain, and again I find myself belonging to a group that I'm not sure I wish to belong to.

As long as I wasn't smoking, smokers - especially the smart, good-looking ones - seemed to me to be happy people. Obviously, it wasn't the smoking that made them that way, but their attractiveness or sense of humor or intelligence. But as soon as I went back to smoking, I didn't think of myself as one of them, but rather as a smoker of the nervous, unkempt type, and not a particularly skinny one either. Still, this is what I've been telling myself for the past three months: Cigarettes don't make you thin and don't calm you down; it's just that without them, you get nervous because you're addicted to them. These are the thoughts that led me to join a group to quit smoking, which I shall describe next time.