I Quit and Now I Breathe

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I was a smoker for nearly 12 years. That's insane to me. I never thought I would become addicted.  I warn kids I see smoking that it will eventually control their lives. They don't believe me.

Hunched over, hugging myself, when I smoked, I was a little a ball; a smoking nervous wreck. I used it as a means of escape: Escape from work. Escape from a party. Escape from family. When I smoked, I was in my own bubble where actions had no consequence and instant gratification was a treat I always deserved. It was "me time". I told myself I needed it and that it was good for my health because it calmed me down. I have low blood pressure and I joked that smoking brought it up to normal. 

Quitting took a full year of re-training my brain. I decided I wanted to quit. This is key. You have to want to quit. So many people told me to read "the book" but I didn't. Instead, I gave myself rules. I told myself: No smoking until after breakfast. This was an eye opener: I often smoked in lieu of eating and I felt better eating breakfast first. I felt better realizing that I could find the time to decide what to eat, to make it and then to eat it. Truthfully, many times after I established this rule, I would go downstairs and smoke immediately after. Once I got better at following this rule, I tried to adhere to it for all meals of the day. It was strange to force feed myself just to be allowed to smoke a cigarette after. Realizing my brain prioritized smoking over food was helpful to the cause. 

I stopped smoking while walking. I would tell myself that once I got to my destination I was allowed a cigarette. Man, did I hustle to get places after that rule was enforced. 

Mindlessly smoking was a tough one. Sometimes I would look down and be smoking but not able to remember lighting up or making the decision to smoke. Sometimes, I would start smoking then realize I had tossed my cigarette mindlessly somewhere not remembering when or where. If someone else was smoking, I would smoke. A rule I established was: Unless I was planning on smoking, I didn't smoke just because it was an option or offered. I broke this rule many times.

The more focused on quitting and stopping, the more I recognized the idiosyncrasies of an addict. This helped me too. I began to cut down. I would tally my cigarettes day by day and week by week. I went down from 15 a day to 10 to 5 over four months. Then, I was stuck on 5 a day for a long time. One before work, one after work, one when I got home and inevitably there would be more that I needed. I did need them: I was still addicted. 

Finally, a little over 3 months ago, I got firm with myself. I told people I had quit so that I was forced to adhere lest I be found out. By this time, I could smell it on other people and knew that I had smelled bad for 12 years. It clung to the air in my house. I opened the windows. I washed everything. I hid the beautiful vintage ashtrays. I threw out all the lighters. Before bed, I would sneak outside and in the dark. I would smoke half a cigarette, overwhelmed with guilt and pleasure. 

Finally, a big change in my life happened and it was the turning point. I smoked half a cigarette a day for 2 weeks and that was that. I have been smoke free since an unknown date. I'm not counting. It's been a little over 3 months. 

Now, my "me time" is spent cooking and then eating. I am off-duty to the world. I don't answer my phone, I turn up my music, I listen to the food and I breathe. 

Mex I Can

I feel like for my entire childhood, my mother was in the kitchen.

When we got home at four, we dropped our knapsacks at the door and plopped down on the couch, brain dead from a long day at school.  This was before remote controls, so one of us would squat with our face two inches from the screen and turn the dial while the other would whine, " No, go back! That one". Mom didn't interfere or take sides. She let us sort it out, but we both knew she was she was there, in the kitchen, listening.

Most days, Mom would bring us an after school snack. It was usually 'soldiers' (a peanut butter and jam sandwich cut into four long rectangles) or cheese and crackers. She probably put cucumber and carrot sticks on the plate too...but I don't remember. 

When we spread out our books and paper on the dining room table, Mom was cooking dinner in the next room. We would holler our questions and she would holler back answers. If we called her ("mmmaaaaaaaam"), she would leave her cooking and come help. 

Dinner was difficult for Mom. My sister liked cheese and hot dogs and was pretty fussy. I was a self-declared vegetarian from the age of seven, and my dad was the pickiest. I don't remember watching him eat. I remember my mom having small portions. I remember sitting across from my sister and making faces. The big square table where we sat down to dinner was too big to kick my sister under the table (though I'm sure we tried). 

If we had food left on our pates, Mom would divide the plate and tell us to choose a side and eat it. If we still couldn't, Dad would tell us we were not allowed any cereal or snacks later and that if we were hungry, we would have to finish our plate. 

When we had finished, it was custom (and required of us) to say, " Thank you for the lovely meal. May I please be excused?". We said it every night for my entire childhood and into my teens. 

In high school, Mom worked, so we got home before her. We'd drop our knapsacks with a thud and plop in front of the TV. She would get home, take off her coat and march on ahead to the kitchen. I remember being upset that she didn't take off her shoes when she got home. It never occurred to me she was in a hurry because she was racing against the clock of hungry growing hormonal teens.  It never occurred to me to get dinner started. I would look in the fridge and there would be "nothing to eat" and she'd open it up, spend an hour cooking/pulling rabbits out of hats and would always offer us a (healthy and satisfying) feast. 

Towards the end of high school, I would sit on the barstool at the end of the kitchen counter and watch her cook. 

When we had eaten everything on our plates and were ready to leave the table, we would thank our mom for dinner - often in unison. 

Now, in my 30s, I live alone. I work during the day and when I get home I'm exhausted. But what do I do? I march on ahead to the kitchen with my shoes still on and dive into making dinner.  

Cooking for one is hard. It's hard to tell yourself you are special enough to fuss over. But you are. I am.

I have been craving Mexican. I can't eat onions, garlic, wheat tortillas, beans or dairy, so you can imagine making Mexican seem authentic and satisfying is a challenge. But I did it. 

Because of Mama.

She taught me that it is possible to whip something up from nothing if you're got the right momentum, vision and chutzpah. 

 

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P.S.

I did go to cooking school. Cooking school taught me the rules and techniques. Mama taught me how to love to cook, how to show others you care by cooking for them, how feeding people creates a deep bond, and that sharing food can be the greatest gift given or received.