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HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

'My Husband or My Habit?': A Smoker's Dilemma

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She'd rather fight than quit. photo via

By Susan Shapiro

12/01/11

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The next week, carting in more of his belongings, Aaron left a bunch of garbage bags full in the foyer. Trying to be nurturing, I lovingly unpacked it. Returning, he flipped out that I’d touched his stuff. “You’re such a neatnik control freak, but the whole apartment reeks of smoke. Your cigarettes and joints are disgusting. They make me sick!” he screamed, punching the wall.

Who was this hairy stranger I’d mistakenly pledged my life to? I’d had enough of him trashing me for being who I always was, making me feel self-conscious in my own home. I booked a flight to Michigan to visit my parents.

For ten days that August, I hung out with old friends in my old haunts, puffing by my parents’ pool, as I’d done since I was 13. Aaron sent me flowers. He sent my mother flowers. When I finally called him back, he apologized, saying he would do anything to work things out.

“I wish I could quit smoking and drinking, but it’s too hard,” I admitted. “Every time I try, I gain weight and want to kill myself.”

“Maybe try addiction therapy?” he said. “I’ll pay for it. And come with you.”

“You will?"

Aaron found a brilliant addiction specialist just two blocks away. Dr. W., a former smoker, said, “Addicts rely on substances not people.” I argued with Dr. W. weekly and stopped fighting with Aaron. For six months, Aaron put the nicotine patch on me every morning and scratched my back every night when I removed it because it itched. He held me when I woke up screaming from weird patch dreams. He agreed to get healthier too. When we’d go out, he’d skip beer and order orange juice. He gave up buttered popcorn at the movies for walks around the park, drinking Evian.

It was draining, awkward, annoying. Everything became a negotiation. Could Aaron order garlic Nan at Indian restaurants when I was on Atkins? ( No.) Could I take out my mood swings on him? (New rule: all criticism of Aaron was banned.) ”You’re a pig for eating that crap” turned into “I love cooking fresh seafood together.” Like Dr. Frankenstein building a monster in his own image, we kept remodeling each other, our union, our relationship rules, even our home. In lieu of the utter destruction we expected, something odd happened: we fell madly in lust with our healthier creations.

At our recent 15th anniversary, I wouldn’t have recognized the blissful duet, both slimmer and more successful, in the same (now smoke- and drug-free) apartment, renovated and combined with the one-bedroom next door. Scripts and DVDs of Aaron’s TV episodes sat neatly on the shelves near my published books, including my chronicle of quitting cigarettes, alcohol and drugs more than a decade ago—with help from the annoying but devoted curly-haired narc roommate I’m now addicted to instead.

Susan Shapiro, a Manhattan writing teacher, is author of Lighting Up, Speed Shrinking and Five Men Who Broke My Heart, and coauthor of the upcoming Unhooked: How to Quit Anything. This is her first piece for The Fix.

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