Amy Tries Again

How I Quit Smoking – or – Black Lungs and White Snow
February 27, 2011, 8:30 AM
Filed under: Miscellanea

On Friday night, my beloved ImproMafia did our first longform show for 2011.  It was a retro-tastic Rat Pack-themed show, and, as a member of the Swing Set (do you get it?  It’s the Rat Pack, but not!) I knocked back (fake) martinis and smoked my way through several million (similarly fake) cigarettes.  I found it rather odd.  See, I’m one of those annoying born agains.  I used to smoke.

I’ve mentioned what an odious little teenager I was, so you can guess why I started in the first place.  Yep.  I wanted to look cool.  I did lots of stupid things in the name of looking cool.  Pictures may or may not exist of me in high school with nasty, stringy hair dyed a horrible mix of purply-brown and D.I.Y bleached chunks (THIS IS MY NATURAL COLOUR MRS UNSWORTH WHY WON’T YOU BELIEVE ME), a face full of zits (all hail the miracle that is Roaccutane) and…oh god…a pair of glasses that I didn’t actually need, but thought made me look edgy.


Look at my hardcore self on the bottom right! Can my girls school debating team possibly handle my off the hook, outrageous ways? Screw you, photographer! Don't you tell me to smile!

Anyway.  It went from something I did in a desperate attempt to look badass in between vomiting over the side of someone’s little brother’s treehouse to something I just…did.  When I moved out with some friends after high school, I didn’t even have to try to conceal it from my mother with minties and Impulse deodorant (I liked the one in the lime green can).

I’d made a few half-arsed efforts to stop from time to time, but when I finally started uni after stubbornly languishing in the secretarial wastelands for a few years the habit was still firmly in place.  I was young and indestructible!  I could quit whenever I wanted to!  I just…didn’t.

Now, let us turn back the clock.  In another life (well, okay, five years ago) I had a Norwegian boyfriend, who I’d met while he was studying here in Brisbane.  It wasn’t to be, but he’s a top bloke and a good egg.  Back then, I had just gone to visit Oslo for the first time.  It was quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.  I spent a lot of time laughing hysterically at the names of everyday supermarket products and generally running around being amazed at the fact that white Christmases were actually a real thing.

The aforementioned good Norwegian egg did not smoke, and smoking outside alone in the snow is not entirely pleasant.  It wasn’t the easy jaunt to the verandah that it was at home in my grotty sharehouse.  It involved beanies and coats and gloves and shoes and a horrible cold feeling in the lungs that reminded me of asthma as a child.  Not cool.  I ignored the universe’s subtle, discrete hints to quit and kept ploughing my way through the carton I’d bought duty-free in Malaysia.

Then, however, something happened.  A few days before the dawn of 2006, we went with some of his friends to a cabin high in the mountains.  We would drink, set off fireworks, go tobogganing and generally have a Scandinavian old time.  The notion of a group of young people going to a remote cabin had a slight horror movie feel to me, but I reasoned that if we were to be murdered, blood against pure white snow would at least look pretty cool.

After a drive of several hours, we were there. Snow and pines and silence everywhere. Where was the cabin, though? Oh. We had to walk there up a hill, only a few hundred metres. The Norwegians all put on their backpacks and started merrily up the hill. I would like to tell you that they all sang a hearty mountain song or something whilst they did so, but that would be a lie.

I grabbed my bag and set off, too. Piece of cake, I thought. However, it was the first hill I’d climbed for quite some time, and I somewhat overestimated my lung capacity. Before long, everyone was way ahead of me, their hearts and minds probably full of goat’s cheese and trolls. I started to wheeze, and I couldn’t stop. I’d fallen behind, and they all had to wait for me.  I stopped still.  I couldn’t breathe. The air was cold and my lungs were burning, and suddenly I realised: what the fuck had I done to myself?

As always, Google Images has got my back.

I eventually managed to huff and puff my way to the cabin, shaken, and painfully aware of the poison I’d let coat the inside of my lungs. Now, I love a good dramatic gesture. I’d had vague plans of quitting smoking for my New Year’s resolution (hey, I’d done it before!), and this was a day or two before New Year’s Eve – but, damn it, the time was now. I tore up each and every cigarette in each and every packet I’d brought with me, and threw them in the bin. Then, for good measure, I poured dishwashing liquid over the whole thing. Just in case.

In a few hours, I realised the enormity of what that fiendish creature, past Amy, had done. She had outfoxed me. I was stuck in the middle of the Norwegian countryside without any cigarettes. I would have to get someone else to drive me for an hour to acquire any cigarettes. I had made everyone promise not to listen to my pleas in this department. Nobody else smoked. God, I hated past Amy.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that I was this particular horror movie’s terrible monster. I was not much fun to be around that New Year’s. There were some wonderful moments, but everything was coloured by my brain screaming WHERE IS MY NICOTINE?. I stomped around, drank far too much (nothing makes you feel filthier than vomiting on crisp white snow) and, for a few brief seconds on New Year’s Eve itself, seriously considered whether it would be possible to smoke a firework.

But you know what? It worked. Being physically unable to smoke for those first few days – while unpleasant – helped enormously. I came back down the mountain feeling a little cleaner, a little better. The cold air in my lungs didn’t burn quite as much. I spent the next few weeks hacking up disgusting black things, which was a wonderful deterrent from falling back into the habit. The battle wasn’t over, of course, but I managed not to cave, and, month by month, it slowly, slowly got easier. A few years later, here I am.

I won’t pretend that, when smoking those marshmallow leaf (or something) stage cigarettes, I didn’t think: ‘Huh.’ Just for a second. But that moment of terror when I couldn’t draw breath changed me, and I could never, never go back. My lungs are pink and healthy, and I’m happy.


2 Comments so far
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I once knew someone so desperate for cigarettes that he tried smoking oregano. Surprisingly it didn’t really help and he also almost choked to death.

Comment by DNABeast

I didn’t realise you smoked! Well done on giving it up.

Daniel Kitson the comedian did a great bit once about smokers. He’s violently anti-smoking, and anti-passive smoking. He gets really narky at people who smoke around him and say it’s just a bit of smoke.

He replies “Well if I stab you with this knife, but it’s only a little stab – stabby, stabby – you’re hardly going to let me brush it off as just a little stabbing.”

He does the motion too – stabby, stabby – anyway, maybe you had to be there. 😉

Point is – smoking sucks, and I admire people who quit, as it must be one of the hardest things to give up.

Comment by GirlClumsy

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