The Perilous Journey of a Tobacco Addict

By Carrie Wynne 11/06/18

Smoking was like kicking myself down the stairs every day: There she goes again. You're nothing. Remember that.

2 girls, one is holding the cigarette in the other's mouth.
Why did I go back? How am I going to get off them again?

I had no words to describe my obsession back then. I was 12 years old and I didn't know what was happening. I would phone my friend across the street and abruptly ask her without apology, "how many did you get?" I wasn't even that fond of her but her mother chain smoked cigarettes and didn’t keep track of them. That's how we smoked.

Often there were a couple burning in the ashtray at the same time. We got butts off the ground, but mostly we liked them fresh out of the pack. I felt so sick after we smoked. I would stagger across the street, dizzy, barely making my way to the couch and flopping in front of the TV until the nausea and spinning wore off. It was normal to feel awful. I felt like I had the flu every day.

I’m not sure what came first, the tobacco or the addict; the addict or the tobacco. I was a preteen and tobacco had grabbed a hold of me and said "come on kid, you're one of us now." I couldn't turn it around no matter how hard I tried. I wasted years and decades of my life doing the thing I hated the most in the world: smoking cigarettes.

I viewed smoking as a sign of weakness which plummeted my self-esteem. I used weed and alcohol because I always felt so sick and kept thinking something else might perk me up. Turns out my mother was right about tobacco being a gateway drug, not that I ever listened to her. To top it off there was a lot of dysfunction going on in my family and no one seemed to notice the compromised state of my well-being and morbid self-loathing. Smoking was like kicking myself down the stairs every day: There she goes again. You're nothing. Remember that.

I wanted what I hated and hated what I wanted. I was down to 100 pounds and had to choke food down that I couldn’t taste. I could barely lift my head in the shower from all the poison and I was physically and mentally weak. I ruined my teenage years panicking and ruminating about how to get off them. Tobacco nearly destroyed my life.

The moment of clarity came to me about five years ago when I stepped out onto the deck in the middle of winter at 3 a.m. in my husband’s robe and slippers. The barometer read -28 with a wind chill factor of -38. It would've been dangerous if I had slipped. This was my third night in a row: I needed a fix.

How incredibly stupid it was for me to start smoking again after the 200th time quitting. I had quit once for nine years. We were opening our cottage after a long winter, taking the weekend off and hanging out by the campfire, raking and burning leaves. I felt good to be up there again and my husband and I were really enjoying our day. Then the trigger came out of nowhere and sat on my shoulder:

“There you are. I've been waiting for you. It's been a long time.”

I agreed. It had been. I needed a bit of crazy. I'll just have a few. I knew full well I was playing with fire yet in that moment, I forgot I was an addict. I said to myself what every addict says just before a relapse.

"I got this." 

The next morning was the worst day of my life. Nine years down the drain. I'll never forget that feeling of dread — I wanted to die and it scared me. It haunts me to this day; the nightmare of relapsing wasn’t a dream this time. I was paralyzed by defeat and self-loathing. 

An hour later I was searching for keys and heading to the store. By the end of the weekend I had smoked two packs. 

There I was on the deck in the middle of the night in my husband's robe and slippers deeply inhaling the burning smoke into my lungs. As I stared down at the cigarette shivering between my gloved fingers, something hit me. What am I doing awake? I can’t even make it through the night. That need had never woken me up before. This insidious clutch was turning me into a robot and forcing me out of my warm bed. There was no rolling over and going back to sleep. I realized in that moment how much stronger and more potent they had become. 

After I finished I would step back into the house, brush off all the snow and stagger to the fridge for a gulp of orange juice to equalize my body because the poison left me feeling like I was going to pass out. 

I already felt like a cancer patient who was depleted and nauseated. Why did I go back? How am I going to get off them again? I would eventually drift off to sleep, not looking forward to ever waking up to face the failure in the mirror and the pair of hands around my neck saying "come with me."

I’m not a neuroscientist but I believe nicotine dependency changes the chemistry in your brain. I’m not surprised that there's a link between early tobacco addiction and cocaine use. I see tobacco slaves under umbrellas; smokers out shivering alone in smoking areas; panicked travelers in airports trying to remain calm, looking for a miracle exit. I see the monkey on smokers’ backs as they come in with their forced smiles to purchase their fix. I see families choosing tobacco over bread and milk. I see grubby corner stores and brightly lit 24-hour gas stations selling tobacco, lottery and gum. I see desperate people wanting to quit and not being able to. I see discrimination and lack of understanding or commitment to do anything but collect the cash off the train that's ruining people's health. I see addiction and struggle and a system profiting from poisoning people to death. 

There is absolutely no way I'm ever going to see the 12 smokers in my life quit. I will see chronic health issues, lung and breathing problems, heart problems and cancer. It's already starting. Oh, the excuses. I can't blame them, really. I was there. I lived it. 

I remain vigilant because you never know when nicotine will show up in disguise, pretending to be your best friend again; how it will use any opportunity when you’re exposed and vulnerable to hijack your life again. The nicotine immediately grabs hold of me and forces me into submission. I ruined a $10,000 family vacation because I relapsed on tobacco. Tobacco addiction makes you weak and it depletes your energy. That was an expensive lesson. I can’t let that happen again. 

If you lined up every smoker and said: “Here's a pill. If you take this pill, you'll never want another cigarette,” 99% of all smokers would take the pill. But there is never going to be a pill to cure tobacco addiction, because illness is more lucrative. 

Instead, cigarettes will continue to be accessible 24-7 on every street corner for your convenient demise. The tobacco industry is powerful and the government protects them. It's a legacy this generation shouldn't be too proud of: "This product keeps killing people, but we’ll continue to make it anyway.”

Smoking is hell. I was slowly poisoning myself to death and I couldn't stop. 

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Carrie Wynne has a corporate sales, public speaking and writing background. She has a column in Hometown News called "Am I The Only One?" You can follow her on Twitter and visit her blog at