So long old friend…

On February 29th, 2020, Bobby Jenks, Neal Cotts and our friends at The Collectors Cave held a signing at BWR Chicago. It was a great time, we gave away autograph tickets to our loyal fans. The boys and I showed up and we were positioned right after the signing table, just drinking and bullshitting. It was a great day, one of the last before the lockdown. It also just happens to be the last time I bought a pack of cigarettes…

I’ve had a long past with cigarettes. I picked up the habit in high school (16), just a few a week but that’s were it started. Even before that, as a kid, I smoked whatever I could find. It was the 80’s! We had cartoon characters and cowboys selling them to us. The way smoking was portrayed back in the day was not like how it is now. I mean, we were pretty sure it’d kill you, but at that age, you aren’t really thinking about that or seeing the actual effects of smoking.

In the 90’s, when we started up a band, a pack of cigarettes was just as important as the guitar. All our heroes were on MTV puffing away, looking so damn cool. I was fucked from the start.

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I was always a Marlboro guy, started on Reds then moved to Lights. My final years in California, I smoked Ultra Lights, but I also smoked more of them. Made no sense. I remember during my sophomore year in college I got so sick that I couldn’t smoke Reds anymore. My first thought is that I had become a pussy cause I was smoking Lights. Yep, that was my first thought.

Marlboro Red

It sounds weird now, but post college I was living alone, just smoking shit-tons in the house. I am pretty sure that was my height of smoking. I was over a pack a day, was still hitting the gym and was taking a herbal weight loss pill that just happened to have ephedra in it. My poor heart was like a hamster in a wheel, but I dropped a ton of weight. Moving to AZ, 2 outta 3 of us smoked. That ended the smoking in the house! Which looking back was great. Moving to CA a few years later, I couldn’t smoke inside anywhere, which again I loved. Clothes didn’t smell as bad, plus fresh air breaks that allowed me to clear my mind from time to time.

That alone was something that I enjoyed. At work or even doing stuff at home, getting a smoke break every couple hours allowed me to review what I was working on / doing, what I had left to do and make a plan. It was one of the hardest things about quitting. I had to manage more time, which sometimes just makes it hard to stay focused.

Over the years, I tried to quit hundreds of times. I had a friend that quit, who told me you’ll know when it’s time. Well, maybe my watch was wrong, but I was off and on for about a decade. The first major quit session was in California. I remember being so sick for 2 weeks and having an endless amount of mucus being coughed outta my lungs. It was brutal, but even then, I felt so much better. I’d be good for weeks, then something would happen, or I’d make an exception and once you get that shit back in your body, you’re hooked again.

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It might start with just one while you are drinking. But then you say, well, maybe one before I go to bed. Then while you are out, well, I won’t buy any, I’ll just bum them. But then you feel bad so you start buying them packs cause you smoked theirs. Then you just have packs because you are gonna be smoking anyways, and there you go. Back to being a smoker in only a few months.

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When I moved back to IL in 2010, I quit for the longest I had quit EVER. 6 months. I was 100% off smoking for 6 whole months. I might have used the nicotine mints for a few weeks, but I was off. One night, drunk, I bummed a smoke from a friend, fast forward 6 months, I am back on full strength. It was such a letdown.

In 2011, I am driving into Chicago to visit and stay with my GF / Soon To Be Wife. I wouldn’t smoke all weekend, but leaving Chicago on Sunday night, I would buy a pack BLOCKS from her house. Then I’d chain-smoke the 2 hours back home to Sterling.

Picture of Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke

When I moved in with my wife, I started a design job doing creative work for Marlboro. Yep, here I am trying to not smoke, and I am working on creative campaigns for cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Surrounded by creatives that smoke. Surrounded by production people that smoked. One thing that I have always noticed, when I wasn’t smoking – everyone I saw was. When I WAS smoking, not a single person to be found smoking. It was way fucking crazy. So, I’d bum some on my way to the Sox game, have a few smokes here and there. Which always led me to buying packs. Which led me to quit again. Which led me get another pack and just keep it going.

Enter my 1st born daughter, I didn’t wanna be the dad that smoked. I didn’t want her to see me smoke (which she has, many of times). Honestly, sometimes I needed that nicotine to calm me down and be more rational as a parent. I needed that break to clear my head. My wife and I had a code word for smoking, and it was “I was going to check the pipes”. It was always a struggle and having a smoke was a quick fix to get back into a good mental place. My wife never really yelled at me. She didn’t look down on me. She let me take my time and get right. Which I always respected.

In my final years, I had 2 kids. I was stretched time wise and there wasn’t time to get out there and blow smoke. When all my college friends turned 40, my best-man was in town and I had bought some smokes for us. He passed and told me that he knew he couldn’t socially smoke anymore. He’d been through it same as me, on and off for years. Being my smoking buddy since Junior year in high school, that was eye opening. Might have taken 2 years to sink in, but it did.

My other smoking buddy, my Chicago connection, quit too. So it took away the social aspect that had served me so well for many years. My father had told me years ago, that he could see how cigarettes had served me. I would go out to have a smoke, have a convo with someone and have a new contact. I would get business in these convos. I would meet girls. It was a social carousel and I loved it. But once that aspect was gone, well, it wasn’t as fun, it was just an addiction.

Buying that last pack, I was pretty drunk. Mr. Hand drove me home. I smoked that pack in 3 days and decided that it would be my last. I had some 2mg nicotine mints and I bought a few more of them. I bought into the theory that anything was better than smoking. So I took those mints for a few months and then I was like there is no way I will ever get off nicotine if I keep taking these pills. So I had to get off those pills.

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Enter CBD and LEGAL THC! The mood swings detoxing from nicotine are real. It’s fucking awful and my wife and kids saw alot of it. I knew it and I knew I needed something to round the edges. I went to Midway Dispensary and talked to the guy at the counter about what I wanted to do. He suggested a low THC high CBD tincture as well as low dose THC mints. Now, back in college when I smoked pot, I smoked far less. I wanted a doughnut more than a cigarette. So that carried through to now, it just helped me even out, no crave to smoke.

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Quitting is a very personal thing and there is no right or wrong way, IMO. You have to come to your own conclusions and figure out how to work it. For me, I know that no matter what, I cannot handle smoke in my lungs anymore. No matter what type of smoke it is. I won’t vape, I just can’t do it. I can’t handle it. I cannot make any exceptions, no matter how hard I want to. I’ve made all the exceptions including – only at Sox games, only at live music shows, only while drinking, only on the weekends, only in Mexico, only with this person or this person, and so on.

So while this pandemic has been a major fucking bummer, some personal growth in my life was achieved by staying home with my thoughts. I am lucky that I was in the right place when this pandemic hit and it helped me get right. But it still feels like I lost a best friend. Cigarettes were always there. The highs, the lows, the break ups, the first dates. It helped me get through bad times and helped me celebrate the good ones. So not having that in my life, even knowing it’s better for me on every level, is still pretty sad.

Two Workers Friend Drinking Coffee And Smoke Cigarette. Coffee.. Royalty  Free Cliparts, Vectors, And Stock Illustration. Image 90065562.

I get constant cravings. My wife and kids left for a week not too long ago and my anxiety was off the charts. I worked it out in my head thousands of times. I could smoke, they’d never know, but I knew I’d be a huge asshole getting back on this stupid carousel for a few days of smoking. It was worth it for many years, but in 2020 it wasn’t. That was a giant leap for me, a huge W. So yeah, I think I’ve changed.

Going into the 2021 season, I can already feel the pressure pre and post Sox games will bring. Folks will be smoking, but none of my close friends. I know I will be strong enough and it will be 100% my choice not to smoke. I cannot do it anymore. I can’t have just one.

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To all you out there that are struggling with smoking, I’m with you. Know that it’s not easy and you can (and will) fail many times. It’s not in a pill, it’s not in a book, it’s just in your head. You do have the power to say no, you just have to find it. Find that something that makes it all worth it. And that’s a very personal thing.

So thanks to all my family and friends for riding this out with me. Thanks to BeefLoaf, Chorizy and Wally$ who drove me to pick up smokes so many times even though they didn’t want to. Thanks (and sorry) to Quernzy for letting me smoke on her balcony even though I know she hated it. And thanks to all the people who bummed me smokes, I appreciate the kindness. Going forward, 2021 isn’t gonna be easy, but it’s a tired (but true) refrain, one day at a time. I can’t (and I couldn’t) think about 6 months from now, I can only control my actions for that one day. The now.

Your friend the cigarette | STOP SMOKING IN ONE HOUR

I’m happy to have made it ~365 days without smoking. It’s a small victory in part of my world where I had been losing alot. This W is a start and #SoChoice. I wanted to put this story out here not for the accolades, but rather to show the person struggling that even after 25+ years you CAN make that change. No matter what your story is, you can edit it. It’s not easy, it might not be worth it, but it was to me. So good luck to you if you’re on the path. Keep it up.

-MSS


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