My Love Affair With Nicotine Gum
Photo Credit: Karramba Production / Shutterstock.com
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The following first appeared on Substance.com:
It didn’t make me paranoid, like pot. It didn’t make me black out, like drinking. Unlike smoking, it didn’t ruin my teeth and lungs and cause me to have nervous breakdowns in front of funeral homes: CVS-brand cinnamon-flavored nicotine gum was my perfect drug.
But I gave it up, and I hardly even know why.
As a smoker, I obsessed constantly over my own mortality. By 2011, thanks to Bloomberg, you couldn’t walk a block in New York City without seeing graphic images of decomposing organs and rotting teeth posted in subways and outside delis. Oh god, I’m going to die! I would think, walking past yet another blackened lung.
As a kid I got so nervous in certain social situations that my hands shook—you can’t climb the social ladder with shaky hands. I smoked my first ever cigarette at 16 and it drained the anxiety and fear right out of me. I felt edgy and aloof and cool—for a teen who wore too much corduroy and raised her hand too often in class, this was a new feeling.
“Wanna step outside?” and “Can I bum one?” is how countless new friendships are forged. A pack of Marlboro Lights in my back pocket instilled me with a sense of swagger. I liked the way smoking made me feel like I looked—leaning against a wall, a lit cigarette dangling from my lips, just like, Whatever—I don’t care if I live or die.
But that’s not me, not really. I care an excessive amount about whether I live or die. I would like death to be postponed as long as possible, and with no pain and suffering, please. I was always Googling questions like, “Can you die from smoking if you quit before you’re 30?” But the Internet offered no conclusive answers. I was left imagining a slow and gory end. Doctors would have to chop out parts of my body, one at a time, until I was just a pile of yellow teeth and tar-scented hair.
One cruel irony of smoking is that it momentarily eliminated certain of my anxieties while replacing them with a morbid dread of disease and death. Yet I smoked on and off— socially, anti-socially—for the better part of a decade. Toward the end I was in a constant state of anxiety that I could not smoke away.
So I quit. It was awful. I cried on the subway and raged at work. When I ran out of reasons to be angry at my co-workers, I got angry about things that happened on Facebook, or in my childhood, or in the news. I stuffed my mouth with fruit and gummy candy and whatever was in reach. In social situations, I had no idea what to do with my hands. So I avoided social situations. I manically chewed my way through two or three packs of Dentyne a day.
I eventually grew to love being a non-smoker: I didn’t gasp for air after climbing a flight of stairs. Fourth-floor walk-up apartments stopped being a reason to turn down a dinner invitation. My hair smelled like hair! It felt good just to breathe. And food tasted so good. When I ate, my tastebuds sang. I ate, and ate, and ate. I gained five pounds. The crying came back.
About six months later I started smoking again because I started seeing someone. Smoking made me feel sexy, even though the guy I was seeing thought smoking was disgusting. I quit again. Then I re-started because I had a writing deadline.