When I quit smoking
(again), I realized that when I quit, I turned in a worn list of minor rituals that went along with smoking. There are rituals of others I have noticed, belonging to people I haven’t laid eyes on in years. I remember the boys in college and their competition for the best packed cigarettes, how many times they had to thrust them, top of pack to flat of open hand, to compress the tobacco so that there would be a good half centimeter’s worth of empty paper at the end of each cigarette. I remember Dylan specifically, who would, during conversation, pick up and re-position his pack of Camel Wides and whichever lighter had migrated among the group (which sat in the direct center of the pack when reclining on the coffee table) three times in a row. I have learned since then that smokers are among the most fidget
y people, smokers who have recently quit ranking highest.
The rituals of smokers are usually more slight, almost unnoticeable to those around them who do not smoke. They are more apparent during a work day, when simply holding up a cigarette in front of a co-worker can spurn a long series of second long exchanges that comprise the smoke break. Many people who quit smoking will still go outside for a few minutes out of every few work hours just to fulfil the ritual. Before I was laid off from my last job, a non-smoking co-worker came out on the balcony during one such smoke break and asked us what was so enjoyable about cigarettes. The woman sitting with me commented that they are like friends, companions, an excuse to break away from whatever you’re doing and spend time focusing only on them, the whole exchange a monologue. When you ran out, you’d buy another pack, and there would always be more. I couldn’t help but agree, odd as it was. Cigarettes are something to maintain, to baby sit and keep an eye on. While being stylish or sexy, they were also violent and hostile. In essence, they have many human characteristics.
Owning a Zippo lighter adds a potential flair for a smoker. I’ve owned one, more or less, for the last few years. Even if you’re just among friends, lighting another person’s cigarette with a Zippo is slightly flirty, slightly sexy. It somewhat reminds us of our gender in mixed company. Even when you reach for you lighter too late and someone beats you to it, that in itself shows your interest, your eagerness, to make contact with another person. The lighter itself implies permanence, something you expect to keep up, like a car or a nice pair of shoes. It shows that you think ahead and thus can be part of a ritual.
My own rituals were not that unusual. I smoked cloves (which were always in a hard pack so immediately upon purchase, I would remove the entire cellophane wrapper and the gold perforated foil that covered the filtered tips. Unlike some, I never flipped over a cigarette as my “lucky cigarette” because my brand were solid white and there would be a chance I would light the wrong end as I fumbled in the dark on a drive somewhere at night. I seldom broke a cigarette or lit the wrong end because I saw this as pretty foolish, since cloves are always about 30% more expensive than regular cigarettes. If I was wearing jeans and wanted to get some minor attention, I would open my Zippo and run the wheel along my thigh (which lights it as if you’d used your finger). Sometimes if I’m in a bar, alone and bored, I would practice the French inhale, which I’ve learned is more effective when you inhale through the mouth with your tongue between your teeth (so that the smoke come from two directions at once). As with anyone, my list of rituals can go on and on.
There are many rituals devoted to vices: smoking, drinking, drugs, sex. There are also typical rituals we get into through the course of daily life, since most of life is preparation for the next day. All of these rituals can provide comfort, even relaxation, since they become methodical and rhythmic in their repetition (but for the purposes of this discussion, I will stick to vices). When I used to smoke pot regularly, for example, the ritual of removing the stems and seeds from a newly purchased bag of weed would be tedious, but most of us came to enjoy it, hanging out with friends who like us eagerly awaited the end product of such efforts. With cocaine, crushing and cutting lines (or re-bagging quantities as supply diminished), cutting straws, etc, were all rituals of the habit. The rituals of drinking and sex are self-explanatory.
The fitting irony of most rituals is that we seldom become aware of their presence until we no longer adhere to them in the course of daily life. When we give up a vice, we unknowingly give up a standard group of daily rituals, often with no replacement to cushion the blow. With some vices that I have worked to give up (pot and cocaine, mostly), there was little need to replace them with similar rituals, since these vices are illegal and were never publicly condoned even though they were publicly put to use. I wanted to put as much distance between myself and the presence of these vices, so the rituals that went with them were not so hard to let go of. Many things changed; the people I hung out with and the placed I frequented quickly changed and for the most part, there wasn’t a void to fill. Cigarettes, being legal, socially acceptable within reason, and easily accessible, require a little more effort.
Smoker’s rituals are far more subtle than the other vices but are also more numerous, since people on average can get away with smoking more per day than drinking, drugging, or fucking, and still pay the bills. Because of this, I have found that I have all this empty time where rituals and preparations for rituals (and even thinking in advance, i.e. when should I head to the store, how many should I get for the weekend, did I leave any in the car) once held priority. The reason I am aware of the void is because, like any quitter after the first few nic-free days, is thinking about or wanting a cigarette anywhere from every 2-3 minutes to every few seconds, on the average. All the minor comforts of smoking and ritual have been removed. All the ashtrays are stashed, all butts thrown away (and taken downstairs to prevent late night riflings through the garbage). The Zippo has been quarantined to the table where I keep all my incense (as if one would buy a Zippo specifically for such an non-glamorous task). I don’t have any friends that smoke who live in town and I live alone, so there really isn’t much visual exposure I have to endure. I have stocked up on two flavors of LiveSavers brand CremeSavers and Xtra lasts Xtra long gum. I have also purchased a large package of Wal-Som (the generic Unisom) to help me get to sleep, as nic-fitting often lends itself to long and late evenings. These, however, are not rituals to replace the smoking rituals; they are merely preventative measures taken to usher in what will become the new rituals.
Where I come up with new rituals and whether they will be successfully implanted into my life remains to be seen. Instead of simply adding pointless rituals that do not donate in a positive way to my life, such as hobbies I am not already interested in or out-of-the-house-non-smoking activities I would normally never attempt, I am trying to implement things that I’ve always wanted to do but never had the focus or determination to undertake. These have the potential to piggyback off of already present rituals and/or benefit me in some overall way. For example, I joined a gym the same week I quit smoking. On the average, I can spend anywhere from 1-2 hours per day at the gym and focus on my body and how I want to improve it. There is a yoga class there that I am interested in so that I can learn some new relaxation and stretching exercises. After a few consistent weeks into this program, I also plan to fast once a week (within reason) on Sundays, which I want also to be a literal day of rest, something I think we all need and often don’t take advantage of. With the few friends I have here, I was also thinking of having people over for dinner once a week and trying to cook a new dish. This new apartment has a kitchen I can actually work in and I know I can cook rather well, so I would like to try new things. Cooking for yourself is boring enough, so if I am going to try new recipes, I’d rather get a second opinion. Another thing I’d like to do is read more, hence my homenode request for book suggestions. Since I normally cannot read in my apartment and like being out, there are several coffee shops here that are non-smoking, so I may start another ritual there.
Rituals have power. Like words, intentions, thoughts, and emotions, rituals are brought into being through the hands and purposes of people. They become real and significant because we give them power to sustain us, to provide structure and design in a world where we often only see chaos and disorder, especially chaos we don’t like or desire. We were created with rituals, our death numbered with them. They can be a comfort, a passion, an addiction, and a prison. We need them and they need us. In their demise as they become superfluous, we indeed mourn, and then subconsciously scurry to fill their place. Every personality type, every person you know, is fraught with them, and often we cannot always recall their origins, where in time we began the series of events that led us to them.
In light of infinite choices, we aren’t nearly as careful as we should be.