By Jordan Heath-Rawlings
I didn’t even notice the last wheel falling off the wagon.
Once id downed a full-sized blunt wrapped in Cuban cigar papers, cracked open a $185 bottle of Courvoisier XO and thrown down a stiff gulp or two, the cigarette just appeared in my left hand, half smoked. The party chatter continued, oblivious to my fall from grace. The room grew steadily more smoky.
I was alive, but the dream was dead. It lasted less than 72 hours.
Last week, I was intrigued by one of the ultra-hip smiley faces on the RyeSAC poster advertising the “Successful for Self” workshops. The little yellow guy who represented Smoking, Drugs & Alcohol Wednesday sported sunglasses, a goatee and a little beret, not to mention a hip smirk and a raised right eyebrow. He looked so cool. Far smoother than Monday’s Nutrition and Fitness geek, more reserved than Tuesday’s winking Sexual Health slut and infinitely tougher than the Complimentary Therapy wuss on Thursday. I wanted to be like that face, only in three dimensions. If I had to give up my vices to get there, that was a sacrifice I was prepared to make. Besides, there was help for me at the RyeSAC workshop. Surely, they would give me a hand-up to a healthier life and a beatnikian sense of style.
As it turns out, the Healthy Living workshops were more like display booths, and I was reduced to seeking help from the myriad of Quit Smoking pamphlets strewn across the tables. There wasn’t much in the way of drug counselling or support groups and I didn’t find useful advice on tee totalling at the booth sponsored by the LCBO.
“We don’t want you to stop drinking,” the friendly liquor peddler informed me. “We just want to be sure you do it responsibly.”
“And don’t drink and drive,” she adds hastily.
The only information I could find on illegal drugs was about how to recognize the tell-tale signs of date rape chemicals. So, I was adrift. With little direction from the Healthy Living workshop, and an already advertised article to write, I tossed my pack of cigarettes in the garbage on Thursday afternoon. I walked back through the Jorgensen Hall doors into a healthier life. So what if the pack was already empty? It’s the symbolism that counts.
I lasted three aggravating days before pasting together a white flag of Zig Zags and waving it towards the sky. At a high-class get together, featuring the aforementioned Courvoisier, cigars, and bursting bags marijuana, my willpower, such as it is, gave up the ghost. And while I was sharing the story of my pathetic attempt with others at the party, it hit me: Failure is the common bond of the addict.
The successful mastery of your body’s basic impulses is for losers. We, the frequently-failed quitters, are defined by the wasted attempt. It is an unspoken bond between us. We begin each attempt with the proper desire, but we cannot tough it out through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms. We fall, clutching our smokes and our drinks.
And we don’t get up quickly, either. We are the Vince Carters of vice.
And yet, this lack of backbone will be our downfall. The facts are indisputable, and they are stacked against us. One in 12 Canadian men and one in 20 women will die from lung cancer. Every week, 362 Canadians die from the disease, which the Canadian Cancer Society says is the most fatal, but most preventable, form of cancer. It is caused by smoking cigarettes or pot. It doesn’t matter. Marijuana is less addictive, but the tar is more than twice as thick. And drinking, while it may be good in small doses, causes massive trauma to your liver, your digestive system and the lives of others, when it reaches improper level.
I should also mention that every half hour, someone in North America is killed by a drunk driver. But I can only imagine the potential destruction caused by someone in the same state as I was on Saturday night getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. These things are bad, for me and for others. This is clear, and yet I cannot shake them. And I am not alone.
There are legions of us, some more ashamed than others, masking our addictions with proclamations of choice and the pretence of quitting “any day now” or “when I want to”.
It’s kind of pathetic to hear our stories, unless you are one of us.
“I started smoking again January third,” said Jordan Clarkson, who made the traditional half-assed attempt at permanently butting out both cigarettes and joints on New Year’s Eve. “Whatever. I lasted longer than last year.”
Others quote comedians and television characters to justify their lack of willpower.
Cara, who didn’t want her last name published for fear her parents will finally learn that she’s been smoking for the last five years, sings a line from South Park when the subject of quitting is raised.
“And if it gives me cancer when I’m 80 I don’t care, who the hell wants to be 90 anyway?”
Dennis Leary, who’s comedy routine includes a lengthy ode to cigarettes –“I smoke fifty fucking packs a day, okay? And I am never fucking quitting” –is also a failure favourite.
We can quote these lines at the drop of a hat. It’s how we recognize one another at parties. That, and the trace elements of marijuana and cigarette smoke that somehow end up in our hair.
For the serious, or the desperate, there is help out there.
The RyeSAC Health Plan covers $350 per year for students to see clinical psychologists. There are counselling services available through the Ryerson Health Clinic, and programs such as “Leave the Pack Behind” offer students a chance of financial reward for kicking their habits. Even the Smoking, Drugs & Alcohol workshops offered me a chance to win ‘fabulous prizes’ if I visited enough booths to qualify.
I found my entry form on Sunday, crumpled up in the bottom of my bag, which smelled like smoke. It was a valiant attempt, I guess, but the old adage is true: You will not quit anything until you want to. As for me, I’m typing with just my right hand right now … no, I’m not a serial masturbator on top of everything else. I’m just a great left-handed roller.