Twenty years ago someone of whom I considered my friend introduced me to my first cigarette. Despite all the warnings and campaigns I had seen against smoking, I lit that cigarette and I puffed my first of many hundreds of thousands of puffs. Had I known that that 1st cigarette would lead to 20 years of habitual smoking, I certainly would have never entertained the notion of even trying one. But I did. I smoked for 10 straight years until I became pregnant with my first child. Because of my pregnancy, I was able to quit for 9 months. After all, I had a purpose, a baby. Once my baby girl was born, I lit my 1st cigarette of 9 months. Of course, the biggest question in my head was, “Why?” Why now… when I was already Smoke Free! I had no answer, just lack of control and shame. Therefore, for 5 more years I smoked and smoked my filthy habit and I carried the scent to match. At the end of those five years, I became pregnant with my 2nd child, my son. So, to keep in tune with my personal tradition, I quit for my son’s sake for 9 more months. And as soon as he was born, I lit another cigarette… and another… and another. I continued to smoke until one day, I tried to take a breath and to my surprise… and fear, I felt myself struggle. I tried to take more breaths and struggled to take complete breaths of oxygen. I prayed and promised that if I got though this spell alive, I’d never smoke another cigarette. After all, I want to live.
The next day, I woke up fresh. I could breath! I celebrated with a cigarette. Internally, in my head, I felt guilty, angry, stupid and weak. But that did not stop me from smoking. I was up to a pack a day and the sound my coughs were a regular and consistent sound in my home. A month later, it happened again. I tried to take a breath and struggled. I panicked and struggled some more. I prayed and promised that if I got through this shortness of breath; this loss of capacity in my lungs, I would surely quit my filthy habit of now 19 years. After all, it is my life and I want to live. The next day I woke up and took a deep breath. I could still breath! Yes! So I waited until the afternoon until I could not wait any longer. I lit a cigarette to celebrate. After all it’s the only thing I had control of. I had tried everything to stop. Vapes, patches, gum, pregnancy. My mind wanting so badly to quit, but my body wouldn’t allow it. I knew I didn’t want to smoke anymore. I just needed to get over the first few weeks of temptation and withdrawal.
As a photographer, I created this image, Temptation, Guilt, Regret. These are cigarette butts I have actually smoked. I not only felt like a failure, I was also a hypocrite. Here I was, smoking a pack of ciggies a day and making an Anti-Smoking campaign! Ridiculous, right? Then one day, the most wonderful thing happened. I got the flu. Not just your average 2 day flu, but the mutant mother of all flus. The “lay in your bed, too sick to eat nor drink, rock back and forth like a little baby, cry or die, can’t even smoke a cigarette kind of flu.” “Yes”, I thought to myself, “This is my ticket out!” I had two excruciating weeks to remind myself of my life long desire to stop smoking. This was my window of opportunity where I’d have no need to ween off with gum, or patches, or vape. I am so happy to say, “It worked!” It’s been 7 months since the flu saved my life. (Haha)
My prayers were truly answered and although I still crave a cigarette from time to time, I go back and replay in my head those 20 years and the shortness of breaths and feelings of low self worth I would instill in myself. My body and mind are now in sync, and my lungs are gaining more and more capacity than before. I am enjoying life without the addiction of cigarettes and the outcome of regret.
- “Temptation, Guilt, Regret” By Jennifer Dipper was exhibited in Broward College (Bailey Hall) in Fort Lauderdale in August, 2016. It is currently showing at the Miami Medical Center in September and then at the Hernan Miranda Gallery in Arts District Miami, FL this October, 2016.