I Couldn’t Quit You.

March 20th, 2016 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve known no other friendship like the one I had with cigarettes.

I was carried through life by four inch rolls of non-additive tobacco, buoyed along the streets, brought in and out of meetings, waved into introductions, and comforted in goodbyes. Cigarettes saved my life, my sobriety, and my sanity. They were the friend who always picked up the phone, the lover who always came over after hours. When cigarettes eventually began to hurt, I only craved them more. The further I dug my claws into them, the further they dug theirs into me. “This,” I said, “this love I will never let go.”

Cigarettes are that friend that makes you look a little cooler and sexier than you actually are, just by her proximity; that friend whose glow is bright enough for others to bask in. The crackling of burning tobacco and the swift flick of a lighter are still some of the biggest turn-ons for me. What’s a party without a drink in one hand, and a cigarette in the other? What’s a summer night, leaning close to a new crush, talking until the sun rises, without an endless pack to draw out one thin smoke after another? What is more seductive than making eye contact over a lit flame? The sweet taste of the filter between my lips, the tobacco’s honeyed smell—reminders of the potential that one small stick contains. Yes, the potential power. Cigarettes did for me what I could not do for myself. They were my strength, my confidence, my intrigue.

And they were a constant source of underlying anxiety. I relished my image of a smoker but I was desperately afraid of being seen smoking by employers and my family. I was in the business of image management. I was the bright, young woman with a passion for organic food and crafts. And I was the misunderstood, emotionally unstable, chain-smoking writer. The two could never meet. The mental real estate this occupied was enormous.

My first cigarette was a Virginia Slim. Alex Messler, a half-Japanese 14-year-old private school kid with a faded blue streak of hair gave it to me. We were standing at the apex of the traffic triangle in Union Square. A minute before I took my first skeptical drag, I was passionately against smoking. It was an idiotic way to slowly kill yourself and alienate the people around you. But when I was offered a cigarette, I forgot all about my convictions and accepted it as if it had been a twenty-dollar bill. It was the spark of a new friendship. A week later, I had my first full cigarette. A Capri Slim. So thin to hold it now would be like holding a rolled up gum wrapper.

That waif of a cigarette pushed play on a tape that would not stop for another 10 years: When can I have another? Where will I have another? What are my chances of getting caught? How can I buy my next pack? What else do I need to give up to keep cigarettes in my life?

Perhaps this all seems quite ridiculous. There are worse things to be addicted to, right? And everybody is addicted to cigarettes. This addiction is totally unoriginal, as far as addictions go. Imagine if I was addicted to rubbing my naked body against brick walls. What an interesting story that would make. But we don’t choose who we fall for. Or what. Or how hard we fall. Perhaps I developed an insatiable hunger for comfort as a child in response to my turbulent home life. Perhaps I was born seeking it. But by the time I was offered my first cigarette, the stage had been set. Enter comfort. Enter reassurance. Enter relief. Stage right.

In Twelve Step Programs, that hunger is often referred to as a “god-sized-hole.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe it myself. I felt empty, without fuel for a long drive. A friend once called it her “inner-scratchiness”: a cavity that clawed at my chest from the inside. I had no conception of what was supposed to have gone there. The physical experience of this void was a manifestation of the constant emotional discomfort I had only ever known. I guessed life did not look like this for everyone. But where did I get that slice of serenity that made all things fit? To be clear, cigarettes did not make everything fall into place. What they did do, however, was to provide me with pocket-sized companionship that I could draw on in moments of discomfort (read: all moments).

I told myself that I would quit when I had it all together, for then I wouldn’t need their constant reassurance. I first imagined that age of “having it all together” would be age 15—a year after I had started smoking. That would be enough, I told myself (I was 14 and was completely naïve to the angst adolescence had to offer). Fifteen came and went—my parents divorced that year and there was no way I could break it off with my best friend. So I pushed it back to 18. After all, it made sense to quit when I was in an entirely new environment at college. While David Sedaris went to Tokyo to quit smoking, I would go to Trenton, New Jersey.

As I had hoped, I didn’t have a shred of connection to home at my college— ninety-eight percent of the student body came from New Jersey, with a sprinkling of students from Pennsylvania, Delaware and upstate New York (I was the only student from Manhattan: a point that my ego seized upon). Except for my carton of Lucky Strikes, shipped from Russia, I was connectionless. My plan? I would sit outside the two main dorm buildings, smoking, waiting to be talked to. Cigarettes became my gateway friendship: the group that I later would form would be comprised entirely of smokers and that was our main campus activity. To quit then, if I had had any desire to, would have been (forgive me) social suicide.

So the “age” then became 22. I calculated one year (legally) drinking and chain smoking would give me enough memories of my friend to draw upon throughout the duration of my smoke-free life. Not even halfway through my 21st year, I pushed the age back to 25. Cigarettes and I had really hit our stride. Alcohol provided a constant honeymoon for my cigarettes and me. The key was to keep drinking. Since there was no longer had any legal-age barrier, I drank compulsively (“alcoholically,” is the apt term I later learned). Never have I felt as at ease as I did when I was drunk and chain smoking. It didn’t matter if people were around—drink in hand (and more in the bodega bag at my feet), I was only concerned about sucking face with my smokes. I felt completely free and alive in my self-centric world on an East Village stoop.

I barely made it to twenty-two. I had hit a bottom with drinking and had to put down the glass. Like a good friend, cigarettes stepped in to pick up the slack and if I could have smoked one in each hand, I would have. A pack of American Spirit Lights was my magic carpet that brought me to twelve-step meetings, to my retail job, and back home, waiting in the garage with the ignition on while I slept. My life got very small and very quiet when I stopped drinking but the volume of my thinking became deafening: the neighbors were banging on my door, telling me to turn it down. Cigarettes sifted my thoughts and my feelings, allowing me to sit through some while pushing down the rest.

Quitting in sobriety brought up the very real and very familiar thoughts of suicide. If they go, I go, I reasoned.

This is not a drill.

My relationship with cigarettes was the kind of on-again-off-again relationship you pray to never be in. You see couples go through it and you can’t imagine how they possibly stay together, even though you can’t picture them with anyone else. I have tried to storm out the house on cigarettes after late night fights. I have wasted countless dollars tossing barely smoked packs on impulse-quit attempts (this happened so frequently that I took to leaving them on stoops instead of in trash cans so at least the $12 pack wasn’t wasted but rather regifted). I have broken them in fits of frustration and roughly inhaled them in make-up sex.

“I can’t quit you.”

But really. I couldn’t.

And then one day in October, when the air was crisp and brittle leaves dragged along the concrete, I stopped. Just like that. I woke up with the knowledge that I would be successful this time. It was like someone had suddenly stopped the tape and all of the noise cut off. I wish I had a different ending to this story—truly I do. “I woke up and didn’t have the desire to anymore” is the kind of spiritual magic nonsense I scoffed at. It can’t be personalized and recreated. There are no formulas or steps to pass on. Except perhaps this:

There is a moment when that thought comes you. It says, gently, “it’s time.” This isn’t a new experience—people in all fields and subjects have written about that little (it’s always described as little, isn’t it?) voice that nudges you through a window of willingness to do whatever it is your afraid of facing—quitting cigarettes, writing a novel, leaving the person you thought you were going to marry.

I thought I would spend my life with cigarettes. I thought we would grow old(ish) together, sitting on a porch, drinking whiskey, with the whole day ahead of us. I could not fathom a world in which I would be comfortable enough standing in my own skin to let my little cancer-causing friend go. I could not conceive of a life where I didn’t need a barrier of lit tobacco between you and me to feel safe.

In hindsight, we always know when the relationship is over before it ends, don’t we? Learn the language of instinct. Do all that you can to provide a chamber for that confident little voice to resonate in. Listen for that moment when the mistakes you’ve made and experiences you’ve had finally culminate in a quiet strength to face the unknown. Cigarettes are predictable. What they disguise is infinitely more terrifying and beautiful than I ever imagined.

Does someone else’s drinking bother you?

December 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Short answer: yes.

Yes, I take it personally. My thinking operates under the assumption that your heavy drinking or drug use is making up for what I lack. If I were enough, you wouldn’t need drugs and alcohol to feel better. Drop the middle from that sentence: If I were enough, I could make you feel better. Therefore, I am not enough.

This logic has very little to do with the limits of human potential. This logic does not account for depression, alcoholism, bipolarism, dysmorphia, i.e. having little (nothing) to do with me.

“Why am I not enough for you?” I asked my ex-boyfriend once, as he left the bed to pack a bowl. “Why do you have to get high when I’m here?”

He looked at me, incredulous, his lighter held like a question in his hand. “If you don’t want me to smoke around you, I won’t.”

I corrected him. “I don’t want you to smoke when I’m here because you don’t want to.” I want to be your drug. I want your cup to run over with me. 

Put me back into that slope-ceilinged, smoke filled room, with the axe body-spray and the carved wooden pipes. Put me back there and I’ll stand on the other side of the question: Why am I not enough for me?

How can I be enough for me?

Something like this:

 

 

Here’s an old(er) one…

May 3rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Turn it over

 

You is

the soil turned over

breathin out the life

flickrin beneath

plantin your fingers in

to them derty tears

 

Your eyes close up & say

here ‘xists sometin

vulnerable

(dragging the vowels deep)

and it tastes okay.

 

Your lips budding

with sometin savory,

sometin to save.

 

Watchu got dere?

ya know, it’s a bit raw

but tying us on in

like skin to scabs

scabs to scars

scars to dat dere

so-il,

you dig.

 

We dig

turning it over.

 

Turn it on over to me.

 

as in fat

February 24th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

 

i is quite heavy

as in fat

also

as in sad, forlorn

yet if i tie my limbs

to de floor

i’m doing nada to the

movement of time

not quite heavy enough to

slow earth’s slow roll &

too fat, also sad, forlorn,

to safely ride in de general

direction. i tink i’m carryin

someone else on me waistline

two of us

wrapped lak a burning match

consuming

&overfed

 

 

 

 

 

Tuned Taut

October 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Hips tick to the kickdrum

Body laced, tuned taut.

It’s a tight rhythm of

perfection.

 

I have seen people

take their own lives

Before dinner parties, or

Eye knives on honeymoon.

 

There has never been a day

where we’ve rolled outside

Never to relish

luxuriate

sprawl

 

What can be measured in frozen peas

or cut out of magazines?

A container. To contain. Tame.

Prune. Pick. Paralyze.

 

This is what we starve for:

A “stay there,

forever.”

 

 

Longing

July 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

in da length of de tapeworm

i found me longing

 

tell me you is growing down

wit all dis introspection

or is you gettin hungrier?

 

things dat were once forgivable

wears dere skin turned in

 

dese bones are crosshatch shadings

on what longing leaves

behind

 

where it slithers, it be a deeper carve

 

Taystee Words

June 24th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Whatchu got to ‘old onto

When nofink grips as

tight as you

 

Stagger on sweet girl

with your clumsy’d quench

 

Girl’s got an itchin for next

and it’s itchin for death

and it’s inchin toward me

So what taystee words you got for me?

Be it faif or fear or hunger

I’ll wait for you te spill

 

Love poem.

April 21st, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

before, I wanted to itch this all away

but your lips ironed skin to my soul

wrinks & bub smoothed away by

the wing-beat of your smile

 

is a movement

our movements make, signifying

barriers unsheathed

far ahead to the beginning

there was love without bodies

and a body

without your love

 

the intimate isn’t angular

but round, rolling

no longer verging on nodding out

it’s waking up alive

 

to the beginning far ahead

this is love & progress

and love unyielding

 

glimpse this wouldya?

we’re living in the unbound

wing-beat of space

heartbeets

March 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

your space in me is like the beet

in de groun. I feel it hard and

round, wit a sweet, sweet sugasink,

sobs dat stick in me throat,

like rice and bread swallowed ‘ole.

 

me heart is the beet dug deep

but still your sharklayered teeth are tinged

wit memories of red wine

pulling me hair cause

I ain’t rootin for your team

 

not forgettin you is a wind

rustlin de vines, tuggin at dere source

lay flat me throat, smooth it like

a field of wheat, witchyour hand

dat felt me so wrong

pressin me breath out

a soft chokin good morning.

 

I hold slices of prayer for you

before layin dem to rest on

your chair

the sink

the mattress

 

a trail of

your haunts

 

but I’m the one who follows de crumbs

 

I is dreamdwelling in a muggy hope

that sitting by your side won’t make

me well wit shame

 

or,

 

that you might one day come home

and see where you bit

s’Tinguish

March 15th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

We be born wit minds

We tryna leave behind.

 

To dem skins we tryna shed.

 

Suh struggle tryna split

from wut cannot split.

 

Yuh have one real choice:

Extinguish wut remains or,

Be put out instead.

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