The American Cancer Society is hosting their annual Great American Smokeout today, November 18, 2010. If you’ve been looking for a reason to quit, consider today it. Don’t worry – I’m not here to preach to you as someone who doesn’t get it. I started smoking about 8 years ago, oddly enough, while I was playing Rizzo in Grease. (Who thought it was a good idea to give the performers real cigarettes?!) Sure, I suppose I didn’t have to inhale, but I’m a method actor. (Cough cough.) Which is literally what happened after a while. I started smoking “socially,” but don’t you know I just love to socialize? Then I started buying my own packs, and smoking to relieve the stress of my temp job on Wall Street and the stress of my marriage, and yes, the stress of being a parent.
I did quit smoking while I was pregnant, but as the nature of tobacco addiction would have it, I started up again when my daughter was about six months old. I’d only smoke after she’d gone to bed, and never in the house. But then I figured, hey, if I can smoke outside, I can have one while I’m pushing her in the stroller. When my daughter was little, we lived in Harlem, and I was far from the only parent who smoked. My ex (who I was still married to at the time) didn’t make much of an issue about it, so I didn’t really have anyone encouraging me to quit.
And then in January 2008, just a few months after my daughter turned two, my Dad died of lung cancer. Eight days after being diagnosed.
Needless to say, the death of a parent is a huge wake-up call that makes each of us face his or her own mortality. But that didn’t stop my sister and I from sneaking a smoke in the parking lot of the funeral home after the service. In fact, I kept smoking for over a year after my Dad died, because my marriage was falling apart and cigs were a reliable crutch for me. Sucking in that sweet, fiery poison felt like a hug – a dirty hug that I knew was ruining my capacity to breathe, but a hug nonetheless. I needed to know something could reach down inside of me and warm my heart during a time when my world was utterly chaotic. Ironically, because of the pain of my father’s death and the tragedy of my marriage dissolving, smoking seemed like the least dizzying thing I could do to myself.
That is until I slowly realized that walking up the subway stairs was getting harder to do without panting. Even having sex didn’t feel as good anymore. I was losing parts of my voice, and I love to sing. After my daughter was old enough to walk, I never smoked around her or in the house, so I wasn’t forced to consider what second hand smoke might do to her lungs, but I did have to consider my health and longevity. After I got divorced, I knew it was time for me to take my life back in every way possible, and quitting smoking was a huge part of that. So in the Spring of 2009, I started walking – power walking – pushing my daughter in an umbrella stroller. I knew if I was with her and really pumping my lungs I’d have no desire to smoke. And the longer I breathed in clean air, the longer I was able to forgo having a cigarette. I challenged myself to quit drinking and smoking and to workout for 30 minutes every day for 30 consecutive days. I didn’t manage to workout every day, and I had a drink after Day 18, but after 30 days, I did successfully quit smoking.
Now, if you’ve tried to quit smoking, you know it’s a process. Mark Twain famously said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” I won’t say I haven’t gone through little periods of relapse here and there since the Spring of 2009, but I’ve been clean for a few months now, and I feel very proud of myself. I wanted a cigarette SO BAD the other day I could feel it in my veins, but I resisted. Since I spend a lot of time performing in nightclubs, well-meaning friends will still offer me a smoke here and there, and last Friday when I turned a fellow comic down, she said, “Good for you. I’m gonna quit after Thanksgiving.”
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.” That quote has me convinced Macbeth was a smoker. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Quit smoking. I know it’s not easy, but you can do it. You can! If I can, anyone can. Now if only I could quit eating nachos at midnight…