When I was seventeen, I started smoking camel lights.
Why? Well, it all started as a tainted love story of stolen innocence and betrayal.
I grew up in San Francisco, in a family of non- smokers (except for my grandparents and an aunt who I rarely saw due to distance). My mother had grown up in a home in upstate New York where both her parents smoked. Every winter, with the windows shut to protect from the elements, she developed bronchitis, and eventually an allergy to smoke. My father was an only child born into privilege whose father smoked and he found it abhorrent. He tried it while in the Korean War- I have seen photos of him with a cigarette in his mouth- but never saw him do it. He warned me to never pick it up- ever.
I remember going to girlfriends’ homes where their parents smoked, and I hated the smell. I remember feeling trapped in restaurants and airplanes while adults smoked: I couldn’t breathe and thought they looked horrible doing it. I wanted to be an actor and singer, and smoking seemed a horrible choice. I remember saying things like, “Why would anyone ever smoke?? It is so disgusting.”
I remember this so clearly; I actively could not stand cigarette and cigar smoke, and shunned people who did it.
And then there was Mick. I was seventeen, and I met a boy who was older than me -a senior when I was a junior in high school. So cool: long, black coat, long dark blonde hair, green/blue piercing eyes, a car, and status....He seemed free from what anyone thought of him, which made him even more attractive. He was an artist, and had a part time job working in a coffee shop. He was the leader of a sort of gang of rebels at school, and they all did everything he did, including smoke.
I don’t even remember how we met or what our first interaction was, but I remember going out with him. He took me to the top of Mt. Tamalpias in Marin County and the Beastie Boys were playing as we drove....He took my hand, listened as I talked about all that was important to me: my dreams, aspirations, and philosophies on life. After sunset, we drove to a secluded parking lot back in SF, and kissed. I remember tasting cigarettes on his breath....and this smell, which I had loathed and avoided for as long as I could remember, became sexy because it was his smell.
A policeman found us and checked to see what was going on. I was scared. After we convinced him nothing was happening and he left, Mick offered me a cigarette. I took it. I choked and coughed, and he laughed...but from this moment on and for a long time after, smoking became my independence and my connection to him.
I lost my virginity to him shortly after that night, and found out he had a friend whom he had made a bet with: How many virgin girls can we convince to sleep with us this year? I was one of many. Shortly after we started having sex (always with a cigarette after), he broke up with me. I was crushed and humiliated, and hated myself for still wanting him after finding out about the bet. The only thing I was left with from Mick was a broken heart, hating me, and an addiction to cigarettes.
I remember sneaking cigarettes all the time, mostly, climbing the fire escape in our apartment to the roof where I could smoke and write about my feelings. Going to coffee shops (not Mick’s!) and smoking, trying to feel like he seemed- cool and confident- but on the inside I was hurting. I ran away from home for two weeks that year. My mother found me sitting on a sidewalk in San Francisco; I was smoking. She had my little brother with her. She looked at me sadly.....and crossed the street. I was lost and alone and had nothing- no one who would help ease the pain I was feeling, except my good friend, “Joe Camel”. Makes me sick just thinking of it all.
I got it together enough to graduate high school, go to college, and finally got my master’s degree in acting from one of the best schools in the nation. All the while, I kept smoking, but now it wasn’t just an addiction: it was a way to stay thin so I could get cast on tv and in plays across the country. I moved to New York (where it seems at the time that everyone smoked), and continued to work and find happiness in my life as an actor. By now, I had switched to American Spirits, fooling myself into thinking they were “healthier” than other brands....I became a smoking snob!
Then I met the man who became my husband. He never had smoked or used drugs and was an actor. He was smart and had his degree from Stanford. He was older than me, and I liked that he cared about healthy living. I began hiding my smoking at this point, so not to scare him away. But I couldn’t quit; it was ingrained in me and I was addicted. So I lied, hid, and somehow pulled it off. We married in 2004, and began our family. He didn’t find out I was a smoker until three years ago. The only time I had ever quit was through both of my pregnancies which was hard, of course, but my unborn babies were the only thing that could make me NEED those quits badly enough to do it, and I went back to smoking as soon as I was done nursing each of them. It helped take the weight off so I could get back to work, I told myself. The truth was I was an addict and couldn’t wait to start up again.
When he found out three years ago, it was of course awful. I had lied and hidden the truth for so long. Perfume and lotions and mouthwash...I honestly don’t know how I did it so well! The agony of lying to him had been so much work, and it almost ruined my marriage. But he gave me another chance. I told him that I would switch to vaping until I could quit for good, and that I would never let the children know. To this day, they have never seen me smoke or vape. Not once. And I have not smoked a cigarette since.
This past year, my daughter who is almost 14 now, told me that a few of her friends had started vaping. I decided it was time to tell her about the dangers of nicotine addiction, and to finally be honest with her about my own struggle. She was sad and scared that I might develop cancer and die early, leaving her and her brother behind. I lied and told her that it was all in the past and that I was done. So once again, I am a liar and must hide this part of my life from those I love the most.
My husband knows the truth: that I am on the verge of quitting vaping. My son knows nothing, and my daughter thinks it is all in the past already. My best friend and my brother know the truth, as well. That is it. Oh, and all of you who have read this ridiculously long blog post know the whole truth about my smoking story now. But my story is not quite done.
A new chapter begins this Wednesday, September 25th. Thanks to this site, I have cut all my triggers to nil (including coffee and all alcohol), and am down to a mere equivalent of 3 cigarettes a day in “vaping code” (and yes, I am so meticulous with my details from many years of hiding that I know exactly how much/when/where I get my nicotine! My god, the mental energy alone that I will save once I do this will be such a relief to me, I don’t know what I will do with my time!)
I have a wonderful family and life that I have made with my husband. A wonderful job as an producer, director, arts fundraiser, and yes, I still act occasionally. I have so much to live for, especially to finally be an honest mother who can support her daughter while she navigates how to live her life healthfully without nicotine amidst the growing epidemic of teens vaping.
She reminds me so much of me before my addiction; she can’t wrap her head around why anyone would do this, and is scared by her friends who are becoming addicts right in front of her- at sleepovers, in bathrooms, and at school, vaping right in front of their lockers. No one sees. And I know how easy it is to hide, so I believe her 100%.
The independence and freedom and rebellion it once gave me I now see as the biggest trap I ever fell into. I can’t get those years back, but at 43 years young, I hope I have plenty of years left to finally and truly be independent and free....This week and this site with all of your help has given me the extra support I have needed to get my mind around all of this.
I will blog on Wednesday night after my first full quit day. Until then, I wish anyone reading this the peace of mind to think about your truth, and know I will be waiting to listen when you are ready, too.