Phantom Cigarette

Vincent Avatar

Lego Man 1998

Wikipedia defines “phantom limbs” as “the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached to the body and is moving appropriately with other body parts.” It also describes “phantom pain” occurring when the “missing limb causes discomfort… described as a burning or similarly strange sensation.”

I never wanted to quit smoking. I wanted to cut down. It’s just that one thing lead to another and my situation made It happen quite naturally for me. My wife and eldest son are asthmatic, so I did not smoke around them. I did not smoke on the weekends or in the evenings. Professionally, my responsibilities made it difficult to afford the elevator ride downstairs for a cigarette. In most cases, getting downstairs took longer than smoking the cigarette. Inevitably, I felt it was just a waste of time. I made the most of the morning cigarette I had on my walk from the subway station to the office. And in the evenings, I savored the cigarette from office to the subway.

The decision to quit completely came when I almost blacked out from the workout in the martial arts class I started three months ago. Even now I still have problems keeping up with my classmates. I tire easily and am always struggling for breath.

The last cigarette I had was on my way home from a Last Town Chorus/ Camera Obscura concert in August. It was a Parliament.

My first cigarette was a Newport. I was 12.

I started college smoking Newports and graduated on Marlboro Reds. In grad school, I smoked Camel Reds (which were very hard to find back then). I was smoking Camel Light and then switched to Parliaments before I quit.

Three weeks ago I started having vivid dreams that I was smoking again. The dreams always ended with my being frustrated at myself for ruining months of work at not smoking. When I woke the frustration became relief (it was only a dream) followed an unsettling sense of anxiety (the dream seemed so real). Some mornings I would swear I could smell a hint of a match strike.

The other thing that has unsettled me recently is the realization that I haven’t been smoke-free that long. It occurred to me while talking to a coworker about being smoke-free. I counted the months and realized that I had deluded myself into thinking I hadn’t had a cigarette in a longer period of time.

I loved smoking. I am not going to deny myself that fact. I loved the crackle of the cigarette when I first light it. I loved the tingly burning sensation in my nose from the first inhale. And that feeling of release and unburdening when I exhaled. I even loved the smell of a room tainted slightly with cigarette smoke.

However, I am glad I quit. I enjoy food more. My senses of taste and smell seem to be sharpening. My stomach is also more settled. I suffered from all sorts of digestive woes. And if I went through the mood swings described by many of the online “quitting” sites like the one maintained by the National Cancer Institute, I did not notice and my friends and family were supportive and tolerant enough not to care.

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