I took this picture two years ago when my friend Ed and I found a hookah bar in Tokyo. Ed did all the smoking. He puffed away on that thing like the Cheshire cat. I had given up smoking, and so I did not have hit. It had taken me 20 years to do stop. I started and college. I can't tell if it was because everyone around me was smoking. People used to come into our small dorm room and smoke all the time. The constant breathing of secondhand smoke might have gotten me addicted. Quitting was the hardest thing I had ever faced. I tried cold turkey, nicotine patches, and nicotine gum. None of it worked. I could quit for several days or even months, but something would always trigger my relapse.
The hardest thing about quitting smoking was the loss of the social bond with the other smokers. So many great conversations happen around an ashtray. In the five minutes it took to smoke a cigarette, I could get to know someone. Once, when I was in New York, I shared a cigarette with Sting's manager. He bummed a smoke from me. I have met several people that way who have become friends. The ritual of smoking does bring people together. It could be another reason why I started smoking in college. Maybe I saw the way people were bonding over it.
I ignored all the signs that said I should quit immediately, the lightheadedness, the massive energy drain, and nausea. I felt all of that and kept smoking anyway. I have heard that people smoke to relax, but it never had an effect on me. Instead, it amplified my anxiety, but I smoked anyway. Because I knew it was terrible for me and made me feel like crap, I tried to quit many times. The powerful trickster spirit of addiction wouldn't have it. I could feel him pulling at me like the master of a marionette. Ten years ago, I managed to kick my addiction for good. My cure did not come from being able to rationalize the health benefits of quitting. Nor did it come from my girl nagging me about it. Will power had absolutely nothing to do with it. The only thing stronger than my addiction was my fear of disfigurement.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder. The body attacks its own thyroid gland causing it to overproduce the hormones that regulate various body functions. I am completely over it now, but I was in the lowest pit of hell back then. One of the symptoms of the disease is bulging eyes. The condition causes fat to accumulate in the socket. The fat slowly pushes out the eyeball. The result is a look that resembles a chameleon or chihuahua. Apparently, smoking increases the likely hood of this happening. I was not prepared to go through life with chameleon eyes. I stopped smoking immediately.