It's appallingly easy to smoke a carton of cigarettes in a week.
Living here with my parents, who both smoke, has made it increasingly difficult to keep my smoking to a reasonable minimum. I think I'll probably always smoke. I enjoy a cigarette after meals, but it's hard to limit myself to five or so smokes a day.
The experts say that you have to change your habits to smoke less and recommend figuring out when you're most likely to light up. Trouble is, I'm living in an area where almost *everyone* smokes, there's no social taboo against it, and no matter how I try to remind myself of blackened lungs and Caroline Knapp, I can't seem to slow down.
Caroline Knapp was a gifted writer who wrote several deeply affecting books: Drinking: a Love Story; Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs; and Appetites: Why Women Want. She was a frequent contributor to Salon.com and several New York publications. She died of lung cancer in 2002.
She was 42 years old.
Aside from the success of her books, which was considerable, it's kind of eerie how much I identify with Caroline. She loved dogs. She could be infuriatingly introspective. She struggled with her appetites.
My ex-husband knew how much Caroline's book Drinking: A Love Story had touched me, so he picked up a hardback copy of Appetites for me as a gift.
Drinking: A Love Story was a book that spoke to me in ways I didn't anticipate. I don't have a drinking problem, mostly for the same reason I don't have any credit card debt; my father put the fear of God into me about both alcohol and the dangers of plastic. I have full-blown alcoholism - the raging, drooling kind - on both sides of my family, and my dad was practically a teetotaler when I was growing up.
But something about Caroline's voice appealed to me. Her alcoholism was more of a creeping blight on her life than an atom bomb; it informed and deformed some of her closest relationships like a disease. Like my disease, in fact. It's amazing how closely alcoholism, with its wild mood swings and self-destructive core, parallels bipolar disorder. Caroline also had a fairly severe eating disorder - bulimia.
Drinking is a book about the darkest corners of addiction. There are thousands upon thousands of books out there about alcoholism and eating disorders, but few of them wrestle with the unbearable tension that arises from actually loving something that's destroying you.
The truth is simple, ugly as it may be: addicts love their behaviors. They get off on the rituals: the cigarettes smoked while writing; the silvery clink of ice cubes in a well-made gin and tonic; the cocaine drip in the back of the throat; the heady control of bingeing and purging. They like the feelings addiction gives them. Scratch that; they love the feelings. Those feelings are worth everything to addicts, and they are willing to sacrifice anything - up to and including their own lives - to keep doing whatever it is they do.
Caroline wrote frankly and elegantly about the way addiction manages to seep through the cracks of even the most well-heeled, well-established lives. I was able to relate to Caroline's tendencies to isolate herself and to the underlying causes that led to her drinking. It occured to me as I read Drinking: A Love Story that I may even have a drinking problem. I fit the profile in some troubling ways: I drink when I'm alone; I drink to get drunk, never just for "the taste"; I drink when I'm stressed or lonely. Her book made me sit up and face that part of myself, and for that I'm grateful.
Memoir is a tough racket. It's notoriously difficult to tell your own story without getting bogged down in details that are essentially irrelevant to anyone other than yourself. It requires a tight and critical intellect, because when you're writing about yourself, every detail seems relevant. It's hard enough to kill your darlings when writing fiction, but when writing memoir it's exponentially more difficult and at least twice as necessary.
Caroline managed to tell her story in not one, not two, but three memoirs. Drinking is arguably her only "true" memoir, but her other books are infused with her own experiences to such a degree that the line between non-fiction and memoir is considerably blurred.
Appetites: Why Women Want was even more compelling. I devoured it in a couple of days, furiously scrawling notations in the margins. Almost half the text in my copy is underlined, annotated with things like YES!!!! and just like 1996. Her personal struggles with cigarettes, bulimia, exercise addiction, and alcohol were seamlessly woven into a meticulously researched meditation on the various aspects of hunger.
Reading Appetites was like watching Jacob wrestle the angel. Though they were too strong for her, she refused to release her addictions until they had blessed her, until they had given her something of unsurpassed value. Jacob's wrestling match ended in a stalemate - he received the blessing he so coveted, but his penalty was a dislocated hip; he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. Caroline wasn't so lucky. Though her addictions did indeed bless her with insight and a certain sort of wisdom, they managed to kill her.
She died just before the book was published.
I am neither as gifted nor as wise as Caroline was, but I'm hoping I can learn something from her. I'm wrestling the same angel - rather, the same demon - that she did.
No one will ever know whether it was the smoking, bum genetics, or a lifetime of abusing her body with binging and purging that killed Caroline Knapp. It was probably a combination of all these things. I'm certain she fought every last one of those addictions until the very end.
Every addict has a death wish, however sublimated. My constant temptation is to relax into the dark undertow of addiction, allow it to silently drag me under. Every cigarette I smoke nudges me a tiny bit further toward my demise. I know this, but I light up anyway.
So does my father, who was diagnosed with emphysema three years ago. I hate that he still smokes. I want him to enjoy his retirement years in good health, to see his grandchildren grow up. It breaks my heart, but I understand it. I wish I didn't, but I understand it.
It's easy to rationalize smoking. Everyone has to die of something, right?
I hate the part of me that is willing to roll over and die. I hate it, but I feed it. That death wish - and I know that's what it is - is insistent and insatiable. Every time I reach for a pack of cigarettes, every time I draw that toxic smoke into my lungs, I'm flirting with death, and I know it. I'm disgusted by my actions, but I feel helpless because I love the act of smoking. I love it, and it will kill me. I just can't seem to quit.
Maybe one day I'll stop. If I don't, it'll surely stop me.
Caroline Knapp's obituary is here.
Okay, I love E2. I mean, I really love E2. Here's my latest reason.
The first response I got regarding this node was a hardcore scolding about smoking. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was rationalizing suicide, and that I have absolutely no excuse as an intelligent individual to continue smoking.
This E2 person jerked a knot in my chain, and I needed that. It doesn't make sense to ruminate on the reasons for addiciton, now does it? The only thing that's logical to do with an addiction, particularly one that WILL KILL YOU, is to quit.
So, okay. Here goes.
I solemnly covenant to allow myself only *three cigarettes a day until my thirty-sixth birthday, which is on September 5. After that date, I will stop smoking completely.
And I will not whine about it.
I also solemnly covenant to include daily updates here in daylogs until I am no longer sucking on weeds.
* Amended, with some reasonable thought, to five cigarettes a day, to be tapered to nada by September 5.