During those 26 years of enslavement, I was fully aware of the dangers of smoking cigarettes. In those days, the late 1980s, cigarette boxes did not display gruesome photos of the harmful effects nicotine causes to the human body. Vapor cigarettes they call ‘e-cig’ were not in style then. I never patronized tar guards, too. A lighter in my pocket was just as vital then as money in my purse.They had to be together all the time. I couldn’t last long in a house that had no ash tray and whose owner scowls at smokers.
How did I learn such vice? Environmental influence,definitely. It seemed everyone around me smoked.Then came the brokenhearted days, when tears were not enough. So,what could be the best of friend to have, in my solitude, but a pack of those sticks to burn so I could puff my heartaches away? I always believed then that next to a dog, it should be a cigarette, not a diamond, that should be man’s other best friend. So, I never allowed being left without it.
When I started working as a broadcast journalist in 1989, it was when I started chain-smoking back-to-back with coffee-drinking. While immersed with work, I must be fully-equipped with the tools of both vices: a mug filled to the brim with creamed coffee, a lighter, an ash tray and my brand of cigarettes. Without them, I got restless. Very restless. Unknowingly, it was addiction setting in.
My habitual nicotine-and-caffeine routine became the usual butt of jokes among my work colleagues. A naughty anchorman even called me ‘Robo-Cup’, an off-shoot term from the famous Robo-Cop film in those days.Eventually, I was often remembered as ‘someone who drank her coffee like water and whose fingers always held a lighted cigarette’.
The man I married also smoked, so it was more convenient for us both ways. We seemed to be comfortable smelling like ash trays to each other. I only stopped –not quit– smoking voluntarily during each of the three pregnancies I had. Thank Heavens the craving dropped to a nil whenever I was infanticipating and it lasted until I gave birth. Then the cravings returned with vengeance.
The more I was dragged to a quicksand when times became tough and I was struggling as a solo parent. The vices seemed like a moment of respite from each long and tiring day.
How did I quit? I must admit that I owe it to a spiritual conversion. Born a Catholic, I had later on converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, I never took the bread and water on Sundays considering my unworthiness.Then I started having a deep,unwavering desire to enter the LDS Temple in Cebu City. Among its spiritual preparations is a vice-free lifestyle to give due respect to the body. It took me years struggling to be just that, vice-free.
I became an expert in trying to quit a hundred times before, and repeatedly failed. There was always a good reason to backslide: stress, bills,a good meal, skipped meals, a bad memory, a nostalgic moment,people I was with. Name it. It was called ‘alibi’, per se.
For the first step away from both vices, I ended up extremely dehydrated, with unexplainable permanent headaches and my vision started to get slightly impaired. I had to be hospitalized for a week, first in June then on December, in 2014 . It was on June 20 that year that I resolved never to allow both vices to overcome me.
Nicotine and caffeine never did me anything good except giving me false adrenalin shots, a fake sense of relief and an insatiable craving for ‘just one more’. Just one more light.Just one more sip. In actuality, one more just kept going on. It was very deceiving! I had been fooled for so long! When talking about vices, ‘just one more’ actually meant ‘just one…then more.’
So, I vowed to start giving due respect to my body. To respect its purpose. To take care of it. I persevered and went organic. I also avoided sweets. Noticeably, the very first thing that tasted so refreshing was WATER! (You see, I hardly drank water before because it usually killed my craving for cigarettes.) I started drinking water regularly especially after waking up and before sleeping (the Japanese way, as they said) . My perspiration reeked with the smell of cigarette. This lasted for about 2 months from quit time. My hair became brittle,too. Later on, my skin started becoming lighter and my hair regained its luster.
It was alarming that I had temporarily lost my voice. Whenever I spoke, it became a squeak! No modulation at all, just a thin voice escaping my throat! I had to write most of the things I wanted to tell my children. It seemed whenever I wanted to speak, there was not enough air to breathe and my lungs felt like bursting. I knew I was ‘oxygen-deficient’ in some way, so I must let my burnt lungs heal fast! I must get out of the house and gasp more of the morning’s cool breeze! Water therapy also helped a lot!
Each morning was a test of discipline, to pursue a routine of exercises as early as 5 am. The first 3 days were trying moments. I could hardly walk beyond 15 minutes and both knees wobbled. My lungs were grasping for air—not cigarette smoke anymore– and I really wanted them to heal fast. In the succeeding days,the walking turned to half-jogging then to full-jogging. The next month, I was running for more than 30 minutes. Appetite increased. And wonders, I could carry a 5-gallon water-filled container with ease! Stamina was finally back!
From a usual 90 lbs. frame, I bloated to 170 lbs after 6 months! To regulate this back to 130 lbs., I had to get attuned to the word ‘diet‘.
In-between, I kept myself busy day in and day out by home-making, pursuing hobbies, writing on my journal,serving others (specifically the less-privileged children thru humanitarian projects I had organized), doing environmental and Church activities, finding time to join my daughters’ invitations,then end the day by reading the Scriptures.