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Not One Puff Ever (N.O.P.E.) - Part One

"The first time I quit smoking, I was 24..."

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Updated May 28, 2006

Not One Puff Ever (N.O.P.E.) - Part One

Leslie Bainbridge

The first time I quit smoking, I was 24.

I was living in Vancouver, and wanted to be an actress. I was studying theatre at the Breck Academy and had just ended a five year relationship with my first real love. I had been having anxiety attacks since I was a teenager, but 'Anxiety Disease' was very new at the time, and there wasn't a lot of research or books available. My doctor at the time had no idea why I kept hyperventilating, depersonalizing and feeling genuinely terrified most of the time, but especially in crowds. He sent me to a lung specialist as I am an asthmatic and he thought the two were related. Off I went to the lung clinic for X-rays and a fun day of poking and prodding.

The clinic had that same co-mingled antiseptic smell and aura of illness that assaults you when you walk through the door of any hospital. But this was different. The halls and waiting room were filled with people, mostly patients, scattered throughout the rooms in various states of health and mobility. There were many people about shuffling with walkers, some were hooked up to oxygen tanks, their breathing laboured and shallow. Still others sat crumpled in wheelchairs. Their eyes looked up at me with barely a flicker of interest.

We don't even think about breathing until it becomes difficult and we have to concentrate on it. Most of us take it for granted. Breathing. Breath of Life. It's so common, so natural, and so very, very precious when we have to fight to get it. There were people with emphysema, COPD and tracheotomies they were learning to speak through. I didn't know it then, but by far - the majority of them smoked.

I sat quietly in the corner, waiting my turn. I was taken by wheelchair to the X-Ray room, an excursion I found ridiculous - considering I was completely able bodied - and more than a little frightening. If any of you have ever had a lung x-ray, or any x-ray for that matter, you may agree that it is not a pleasurable excursion.

With my breasts squelched (and if that is not a word, after an experience like that - it should dang well be!) tightly against a cold sheet that must have been harboured in the freezer, I was then left alone surrounded by sterility and told to hold my breath while the wee nurse scurried into another room to press a button that would allow this machine to peer deeply into my personage. As kindly and sweet as the nurse was, I felt exposed, cold and frightened. The people in the other room had really shaken me. NO cigarette was worth THIS.

Afterwards, as I was about to enter my taxi - I took one look at my cigarette pack. With the tortured and exhausted visages of those struggling for each and every breath still fresh in my mind - I threw out the pack. I was DONE. Nothing was worth that, and certainly not to have to pay for it! What had I been thinking? I QUIT!

The next three days were filled with insomnia, sweating (I liked that part, it's like being cleansed of toxins) and headaches. I had cravings now and then, mostly based on associations, but the clinic picture was incredible in its ability to halt any further ruminations on starting up again. I simply would not allow myself to go there. I was a non-smoker. I was AMAZED and thrilled at how easy it was! What was all the fuss about, this was a piece of cake?!

In fact - if I really wanted to, I could easily just have a puff or two and quit again. The smell of it was foul however, and I didn't really want to inhale that stuff anymore. My test results came back clear, my asthma (naturally) improved drastically, and I actually LOST weight because I was so much more active as a non-smoker. I hadn't realized how much energy smoking zapped out of a person. After dealing with the anxieties (which were less as a non-smoker, too), I was on my merry way.

Then something devastating happened. A woman who had taken over the nurturing aspect of motherhood after my own had passed away, became very, very ill. A lifelong smoker, Dorothy had never even entertained the thought of quitting. She had developed a malignant tumour a year ago, had had it removed, and now it had metastasized throughout her body. They gave her a week.

As she was in a different city, I knew at once that I must fly to her and give her my thanks and love. Even though we had broken up, my ex-boyfriend wanted to come with me - he knew Dorothy as well, and he also knew my fear of flying. He was a smoker. Just before the taxi arrived to take us to the airport, I asked him for a cigarette.

'Just one', I pleaded, 'I won't start up again, I don't even like it anymore, it's just that this is so stressful, you know?'

N.O.P.E. Part Two

More from Leslie:
One Full Week
The Seduction
The Smokescreen
Replacement Therapy

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