Cumberland Times-News

May 4, 2014

Bad habits are hard to eliminate — but try

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

Somebody mentioned smoking on these pages recently, so I thought I'd put in my own two cents on the subject. I started smoking in college, during exam week. The problem was that I was too busy during the rest of the year ever to stop and study for my courses — at least that is what I told myself — because I worked almost every night on the college newspaper. So when exam time kicked in, I threw some all-nighters for study. And the best way to stay awake all night (especially if you don't regularly smoke) is to, well, smoke.

I admit, I had a little problem with throwing up the first few times but bodies are wonderful things. They adjust to a lot they shouldn't, and so every winter and every spring, at exam time, I smoked. (I'm not saying this was a good thing, but that's the way it was.) Luckily I didn't touch cigarettes the rest of the year, because I also sang in the college choir and the director (also my voice teacher) would have killed me if he had caught me smoking. So for years, I smoked at night, twice a year for about a week altogether and enjoyed it very much, thank you. (My exam grades were another matter, however.) After college, I didn't touch cigarettes until after I had three babies. (Not all at the same time.) That was when life got so hectic that the best relaxation I could find was to sit down in the kitchen every couple hours with a cigarette and a cup of coffee, ignoring the screaming habitat.

My father had always frowned mightily on smoking so I never smoked around him. Until one day he took up smoking mentholated cigarettes for a cold and kept smoking them. A couple a day and, I think, with a secret feeling of elation — the kind you get from doing forbidden things that are not so bad as you once thought they were. So I sat down with him one day as he was smoking, and lit up a cigarette of my own. And he never said a word about it! After that we smoked together quite companionably whenever he visited.) Scoff if you will, but there is nothing more relaxing than smoking. (And I mean tobacco.) When the kids were little was when I got addicted, but I am sure I was more hooked on the excuse to relax than I was on the actual smoking. No, really, I always found smoking pleasant enough — but
smelly. It was the sitting down and giving yourself permission to do nothing but relax that did the trick.

In those days there were vague rumors, but smoking was not generally agreed to be life-threatening. (Although if you had a brain in your head you would have to admit that drawing smoke into your lungs on a regular basis had to be some kind of feckless. The general stance was to ignore the obvious and hang on to the habit as long as you could, without looking like an idiot.) Anyway, I quit smoking four times. Once in New Jersey, once in Pittsburgh, once in Washington, and once, finally, in Cumberland. The problem with quitting smoking is that it was always too easy to start again, especially in those days. And every time I stopped smoking, I gained 20 pounds. Then when I took it up again, I more or less lost most of that gain — until the next time. I kept losing the same 20 pounds over and over again. I know they were the same, because I recognized them. It was depressing.

So when we moved to Cumberland, I decided that this was the moment. Away with cigarettes. Down with smoking. I would never buy a pack of cigarettes again. And I didn't! I managed to cut it out of most of my life, because it was starting to get expensive, and so with one fell swoop (whatever that is) I stopped smoking.

Except in one place which you will never guess.

In church!

Yes, things were really different in those days.

A good friend of mine in choir smoked regularly, and before you know it I was bumming a cigarette from him, two a week, one after choir practice, one after church. Oh, I paid him for them, a dollar a month, but we smoked together in the choir room. (Hard to believe, I know.) And once in a while, with other church smokers (and their cigarettes) at a church picnic, and such.

Until my conscience came to call. Somehow, my conscience never seems to stay very long when it visits, but in this case it did the trick. What if my friend died of lung cancer, I thought. (By then the bad news about smoking was widely known.) It would be partly my fault because I encouraged him. So — I smoked my last cigarette and have not had one since about 1980.

That's a lucky thing.

Because I could go back to it in a second.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.