Smoke & Mirrors

I was 20 when I bought my first pack of cigarettes. Marlboro 27s. Two packs actually. It would have been a pretty ordinary night outside of the fact that my best friend at the time had found out some rather depressing news earlier that day.

I was spending some time on the computer browsing the internet and my friend, who had a flare for the dramatic, was pretty obviously distressed about the phone conversation he had recently had. I don’t recall specifically what the ordeal entailed, but I do very specifically recall not being too worried about it. He got worked up whenever he heard bad news so why was this any different?

The next thing I know, his mother and I were delivering him to the hospital after he had attempted to slit his wrists with a kitchen knife. Clearly this was different. Something serious was wrong. His world was about to be tossed upside down from the fallout of this evening.

And over 13 years later what I remember most about that night is that it was the very first night I ever purhcased a pack of cigarettes. I don’t remember what made him so upset. I don’t remember what I was looking at on the internet. I don’t recall what month the whole situation went down in. But I do remember getting into my green ’94 Civic hatchback and driving to what was then a Texaco station at the intersection next to the Wal-Mart and purchasing two packs of Marlboro 27s.

He and I aren’t friends any longer. Some months after the ordeal he stole some money from me and I haven’t spoken with him since. I did, on the other hand, continue smoking all the way up until a few weeks before my 29th birthday.

Before I continue, I should note that picking up the habit of smoking cigarettes wasn’t entirely unprecedented. I had enjoyed having cigars for a couple of years at that point and basically the entirety of my circle of friends smoked, some of them heavily. At the point of me first purchasing cigarettes I had already smoked quite a few of them, but in my mind for a long time the distinction of being a smoker happened the night I showed up at the Texaco and walked out with two packs in hand.

Quitting smoking was a rather different, and rather less dramatic, ordeal. It was December of 2012 and I had gone on vacation to visit a friend living in Sweden. There were connecting flights and layovers and I didn’t care to travel with cigarettes and a lighter anyway. By the time I was in a situation where I could buy some smokes, it was a day and a half later and I was exhausted enough to simply not care.

I made a challenge out of not smoking. First another day, then the rest of the vacation thinking that surely I’d cave and pick it back up as soon as I got home. Well, I got home in much the same shape that I’d arrived in Sweden so I kept the challenge going…and going…and going. As of the time of my typing this, I’m officially one day past 5 years without a cigarette.

Some of the consequences of putting down cigarettes were wholly expected, notably the irritability and the extra five bucks per day (who said all consequences have to be bad, right?). One that was entirely unexpected was weight gain. Since high school I had managed to somewhat miraculously average about 155 pounds in spite of very strict diet of pizza and beer. In what seemed like no time I was looking at 185 on the scale, first thing in the morning before eating, after using the restroom, and while completely naked.

My metabolic rate had basically given me the middle finger and gone on strike so I had to do something. Looking in the mirror was getting to be a bit depressing. This was the impetus for me to eat better and start exercising though I didn’t act on either of those two at the time (technically I did change up my diet a bit, but doing so was ineffective because the changes, and subsequently my habits, didn’t actually address the problem). At some point I bought a pair of Adidas running shoes and some gym clothes and I did make something of an effort, but it was half hearted and did more to make me feel better about myself than anything. I ended up peaking at about 190 pounds.

Close to peak weight.

I did make more of an effort in the weeks before getting married. I cut the calories hard and went trail running every other day for about 2 miles per go. I was able to shed down to about 170 but most of that came back on the honeymoon where we ate pizza literally every night.

About a year ago in the December after the wedding I received a piece of promotional mail advertising $10 per month to join the new Planet Fitness opening close to where Rachel (my wife) and I were living at the time. I went down and dutifully gave them my information and committed to the $10 per month. That afternoon I went and bought a new pair of running shoes to replace the aging Adidas I had bought years before, and that evening I hit the treadmill and ran until it cut off on me.

That one run was all that I needed. The next day I felt like someone had beaten me with a sledgehammer, but I felt better than I had in years. I was hooked. As soon as I had recovered I started hitting the treadmill as often as I reasonably could.

And that was that: I was going to make a runner out of myself.

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