I can think of many ways to stop a bad habit without having to suffer a stroke that goes untreated for years and years.
That’s what happened when I quit smoking. I believe I suffered a mild stroke that went undiagnosed mainly because of my inability to describe its effect on me. If you ever smoked, you would know that it would take something like a stroke in order to get someone to quit by going cold turkey.
I had smoked since I was 12 and would sneak cigarettes from packs my parents left out in the house. They smoked Pall Malls and Chesterfields, two of the strongest produced by the tobacco industry. Neither had filters at the tips of the cigarette. You could light either end and inhale the toxicity to your heart’s content. (Actually, it was at the heart’s “distress,” and not content.)
All of my friends were smokers. Even when the anti-smoking campaign erupted at the end of the 20th century, I’d still be drawn to those who defied all medical proof and puffed five to six minutes at a sitting. I saw myself and other inhalers as rugged individualists who pooh-poohed all the fuss over a person’s choice to smoke. It hurt no one but the smoker, and who cared about any long-term effect in your old age? We were young, dumb and full of . . . well, let’s just say, an indiscriminate means to procreate whether or not it was best for the rest of humanity.
I made it into my 40s smoking slightly more than a pack a day. Marlboro Lights were my brand. I thought less tar and nicotine RJ Reynolds advertised for its more “manly” smokes fitted me well. I had become a young professional with family responsibilities who cared about second-hand smoke and the effect it had on my son and other non-smokers I come in contact with daily.
My spouse smoked. So did my two office mates. I put a yellow “caution” ribbon around the doorframe to our office, warning any who entered the small cubicle that they would be risking their health inside. I joked about it, and never took the warnings from the side of a pack of cigarettes seriously.
The beginning of the end occurred while I was doing research on a public computer outside of my small office and in the work area for receptionists and clerks. I keyed in a request for data and got shocked when some indescribable figures appeared on the monitor screen. These “things” made no sense. None were in the shape of letters or words which I had expected to see. It wasn’t until years later that I learned what to label them as: “pixels.”
I saw pixels. Hundreds and thousands of marks that a psychologist suffering a stroke described she had seen at the height of her brain squeeze. (See Jill Bolt Taylor) They were pixels like the ones advertised in digital cameras, which were had yet to be introduced to the public in the mid 1990s.
Something must be wrong with the computer, I thought. I had never seen anything like this, nor did I ever feel anyway quite like the way I felt. It was as if air in a balloon had been let out and there was nothing “solid” in the world. I was adrift. I couldn’t speak, afraid that some Twilight Zone episode was taking place inside of me.
My whole body felt “rubbery.” I believed that had I stood, I would have been unable to prevent myself from melting into a pool of liquid on the office floor.
I don’t remember how I excavated myself from that situation. I made it back to my room and left work early that day, trying to deal with what I thought was the stress of daily work. But, something had changed, and I knew I needed to change.
On April 9th of that year I stopped smoking. Night after night, I’d dream of cigarettes in a sexual way, craving to be with and in the comforting embrace their habit provided. I made it through tough times using some meditative exercises I had learned, “forcing” myself to stop thinking of a need to smoke. I placed mind over matter, so to speak, focusing on my breathing while fearing the return of the pixels.
I would probably still be smoking today had I not undergone a stroke. I’m grateful to powers above that helped me take such action. But I wonder: why does it take something like a life-threatening event to make us do something we should have done in the first place?