By Shahnaz Radjy
Cigarettes don’t just kill people. They can ruin relationships, too.
I won’t start at the beginning. Let’s start with a few weeks ago, instead – when I told my husband of five years that I was going to write this story. I shared the title with him, and his first reaction was to clarify that he had never promised me to stop smoking. The occasion was the one-year anniversary of when we met. I could tell you precisely what he said, that he had decided to quit smoking because he wanted to live a long and healthy life by my side.
Maybe those weren’t his exact words, but that’s what stuck. Memory is an imperfect and devious ally. But, if we stay with intent and leave semantics aside, the message was clear: smoking was on its way out.
I loved him for trying so intensely and so thoroughly: cold turkey, sheer will-power, apps that allowed him to translate money saved into a budget for a vacation, hypnosis, e-cigarettes. It seemed he left no rock unturned. And it worked! For a few months, once even up to a year.
Then I would see the tendrils of smoke or smell tobacco on him, and no matter how hard I tried, it felt like part of my trust in him was going up in smoke, a puff at a time.Every cigarette felt like a personal betrayal, a chip taken out of the tree-trunk of our relationship. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous, but just as smoking isn’t rational, neither was my reaction to it. Click To Tweet
My mother passed away nine years ago, after an almost two-decade-long fight with cancer. It started in the breast and eventually made its way into her lungs. Her last year, I often slept next to her in case she woke up wanting a glass of water or anything else during the night. That also meant I had a front-row seat to her jolting awake in a panic because she couldn’t breathe. Although she was not a smoker, I associate this heart-wrenching experience with what is likely to happen to smokers. I do not want to see another loved one go through this.
As a non-smoker who knows the health risks of smoking, the act of lighting up a cigarette multiple times a day makes no sense to me. I cannot understand that craving, the physical need for a smoke. Having worked in public health and disease prevention for almost a decade, I have read about addiction and cessation techniques, but that is far from the same as living with someone who smokes and keeps trying to quit.
Why is it that hard?
It turns out my husband is not a textbook case, nor is he a statistic. He is a full-fledged human being with his own experience, opinion, character, and flaws. He picked up his first cigarette in his early teens. This habit of his is as much a part of what defines him as being an avid bookworm is a part of who I am. (And I will never, ever, give up books.)
So, it continued. He quit, I cheered, he smoked, I fumed.
After a few years during which almost every cigarette was a source of tension between us, I finally blinked. I bite my nails, and even when I decide to put an end to it, within a few days (if not hours) I find myself subconsciously doing it again. And my fingers have no addictive substances in them; it’s a physical habit that stands fast on its own.
I suspect that part of the problem is that I don’t want to stop biting my nails, just as perhaps my husband doesn’t want to quit smoking – even though he knows he should and has been trying to fit the glass slipper onto his decidedly not Cinderella foot.
Love is hard. “Happily ever after” doesn’t do us any favors, because when you find your match, that special someone, it’s not the end of the difficulties but the beginning of new challenges.
Some say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. I disagree because you’re never really doing the same thing. People and circumstances change, and if you factor that in, there’s no reason terrible habits can’t one day go up in smoke.
Most of all, I wish it had not taken me this long to realize that there are myriad ways to keep your word. I recently realized that my mistake was in not appreciating that there had been a promise at all.
Bio: Shahnaz Radjy
Shahnaz’s background is Swiss, Bolivian, and Iranian (yes, really). She loves food, books, horses, adventure, and problem-solving. She is a writer, aspiring farmer & eternal optimist.
After a decade working in public health for the International Labor Organization, the World Economic Forum, and The Vitality Institute, she is now planning to launch a farm and ecotourism project.
She is also recovering from the corporate life. Her writing reflects how beautiful life is outside an office while enjoying every minute of it.
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