My Second Birthday

Today is my second birthday. I turn seventeen.

You might be asking yourself what I mean. (And you might be going “really?” but I wouldn’t blame you if you are.) Today is a very special anniversary for me.

Seventeen years ago today, I quit smoking.

There are some of you out there whose earliest memories of me include me smoking. But I would venture a guess that most of you have never seen me do so, and I would also presume that a majority of you didn’t know I ever smoked. I don’t talk about it all that often.

I started when I was 13, for the most idiotic reason that I’ve ever heard of. It wasn’t peer pressure – that I can understand. But when I was 13 I had very, very few friends and so peer pressure wasn’t a thing that I suffered from, fortunately. (It’s that lack of peer pressure that I largely credit with me never trying recreational drugs as well and only rarely drinking.) No, my reason? I liked it when it was cold and I could see my breath, and if I smoked I could do that year-round. Told you it was a stupid reason. I was an idiot, I confess.

Seventeen years ago today I was driving to Austin from an SCA event in Oklahoma in order to drop my then-girlfriend (now wife) off before driving back to Houston where I lived at the time. I got in a coughing fit and honestly didn’t know whether I was going to pass out or throw up first. I managed to get the car over to the shoulder where we switched drivers and we went to a fast food place for me to get a drink of water and to recover out of the heat. We stayed there about 20 minutes. On my way out the door, I threw away the pack I was working on, never to pick them up again.

The first month was particularly tough, but the cravings eventually subsided, only to be replaced with more frequent snacking. I gained about 30 pounds the first year after I quit. Now when I’m out in public, I do my best to avoid cigarette smoke, since the smell is very unpleasant and can make me nauseated in certain circumstances.

For about 18 years I smoked more or less a pack a day. The math says that’s very roughly 131,400 cigarettes, give or take about fifteen percent on either side to account for heavier days and lighter days and all-around poor memory. It took me roughly five minutes to finish off a cigarette. That equates to a year and three months of me with a cigarette in my hand, or roughly 2.6% of my lifespan spent inhaling tobacco smoke.

The good news is that in the 17 years I’ve been quit, my body has pretty much recovered to the risk levels of a non-smoker in many aspects. There’s still an elevated risk of lung cancer and COPD given enough time, but things like increased risk of cardiac disease have returned to normal.

I try not to live with regrets, but if I could do it all over again, I’d take a pass at the cigarettes. I honestly never really gained anything from smoking them, as all the friends that I eventually made later in life would have accepted me whether or not I was a smoker. I gained nothing and lost time and health and a lot of money to the habit.

I don’t try to tell my friends who smoke that they should quit. There’s enough evidence out there that it’s not good for you without me harping about it too. If you want to quit, you’ll quit. It’ll be hard, but it’s something you’re capable of. If I can do it, so can you.

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