One of the exercises contained in the American Lung Association’s “Freedom From Smoking” program was to write a goodbye letter to your cigarettes. They suggested that we begin our letters by listing all the things we thought we’d miss about smoking, and end it with all the reasons we were quitting and why we thought it would be better for us to quit. They also encouraged us to post our letters on the program’s message boards.
Isn’t That Kind of Silly?
I remember thinking at the time that this was kind of a silly exercise; I mean, what’s the point of writing a goodbye letter to your cigarettes? Cigarettes can’t read; cigarettes are inanimate objects.
But I did the exercise anyway (because I’d made a commitment to do all the exercises in the program, whether I thought they were silly or not), and I’m glad I did. Obviously, it wasn’t about the cigarettes; it was about me letting go of my “old friend”, and it actually turned out to be one of the most powerful exercises in the program for me.
I highly recommend that you write your own.
We’ve had a long relationship; in fact, ours is one of the longest-lasting relationships I’ve had in my life – we’ve been together off and on for 35 years now. I know we’ve had our ups and downs, and there were times when I put you out of my life for a time; our longest break-up was over three years. But I’ve always come back to you; you have an almost irresistible quality for me. And you’ve been faithful; I could always count on you being there in a moment of crisis – you were there, by my side, through the good times and the bad.
I remember when we first met: it was in an alley, out of sight of the grown-ups – after all, I was only 10 years old; I shouldn’t have been seeing you at all. But you already knew a lot of my friends, and you were my parents’ constant companion as well. Back then, nobody was talking about cancer, or emphysema, or any other smoking-related health issues; and even if they had been, I was immortal, wasn’t I? (Aren’t we all immortal as children?)
Besides, my brother Bob had started hanging around with you (and even though, on the outside, we were the fiercest of rivals, I secretly looked up to him – even if I never let him know it); and, like countless times before and after this, I said to myself, “If Bob can do it, so can I!” – this was my battle cry all through childhood, adolescence, and beyond.
A few years later, Mom and Dad decided to give me and Bob permission to openly continue our relationship with you; they were tired of their friends and neighbors telling them they had seen us smoking in some back alley or on some street corner, and figured if we were allowed to smoke at home, they could at least monitor our usage… How “grown-up” I felt that day! Here I was, only 13 years old and being allowed to smoke at home, just like the adults; boy, was I proud!
Now that our relationship was out in the open, I started taking you with me everywhere I went; to the game, to the fishing hole, on dates; I was proud to let everybody know you were my friend. Pretty soon, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere without you. In fact, I started to avoid going anywhere where you weren’t also welcome; how dare they tell me I couldn’t bring my friend along?
Eventually, people did start talking about lung cancer, and emphysema, and other smoking-related health issues, but I ignored them; after all, we’d already been together all these years, and I felt fine. Besides, my parents still smoked, and so did Bob, and they were all fine, too. and I was still immortal – what did I have to worry about?
I can’t remember why, but after we’d been together around a dozen years, I decided to leave you. Who knows, maybe the relationship had grown stale, maybe I was just feeling restless – or maybe all those people talking about how bad you were for me finally started to make an impression. I’m not sure. But I went through a program called “SmokEnders”, and I left you, I thought for good…
I got over you pretty quickly, and soon I didn’t even think of you at all. What I didn’t realize at the time was that you never got over me; you waited faithfully for me to come back to you, and a little over three years later, that’s just what I did. I remember it very clearly: I was in a high-stress job that I didn’t really like, working for people that I didn’t really care for, and one day, one of my “buddies” from SmokEnders came into the place where I was working, and he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He either didn’t see me, or didn’t recognize me – in any case, we didn’t talk…
But after he left, I went to one of my co-workers who I knew smoked what used to be “my” brand and asked him for a cigarette. I smoked it, and thought, “This is OK; I can just smoke this one – it doesn’t have to mean that I’m a smoker again”; but the next day, almost first thing in the morning, I went back to that same co-worker and asked him for another cigarette (which he gave me, and which I smoked). On my lunch hour that day, I went and bought a pack. I remember still thinking that this was OK; I could control the habit, only smoke when I “needed” to, etc., but I was wrong. That pack was gone in a couple of days, and the very next one I bought was gone in a single day; it was like I never left you – we picked up right where we’d left off.
I’ve left you a number of times since then, although never for that long again, and, as many times as we’ve broken up, we’ve always made up and gotten back together.
But that’s all over now; you’ve betrayed me. All that time I thought you were my friend, you were secretly working behind my back to make me sick, to take away my health, my enjoyment of life, to kill me! Don’t try to deny it. I found out last week that, after all the money I’ve spent on you, the countless hours I’ve devoted to you, the hardships and inconveniences I’ve had to put up with to accommodate you, you’ve given me emphysema! And the damage you’ve done is irreversible; I’ll never have my full lung capacity again. I found it hard to believe that my friend could betray me this way, but there it is; it was you, and we both know it.
I’ve seen you do this before to others, but I ignored the red flags. And even though I knew you did even worse things to other people (like my father, who you killed by giving him lung cancer), I couldn’t believe you’d ever do any of those bad things to me – after all, we’ve been friends almost all my life. Now I see that I was wrong.
It’s over between us, and this time it’s for good. Looking back, I realize that I was totally wrong about you, and about who was in control in our relationship. You always had it your way; now I realize that I can’t afford to be with you any more. Oh, I’ll miss you for a while, no doubt, but I’ll get over it. And every day, I’ll remind myself of what you’ve done to me, and what you would’ve done if I’d allowed you to stay in my life.
You know, at my age (and with the life I’ve led), I wouldn’t have thought that there was any innocence left to lose, any cherished myths that hadn’t been exposed, any secret, long-buried dreams that hadn’t already died – but you showed me I was wrong; last week, you forced me to stand face to face with my own mortality. I know I should probably thank you for that, and maybe someday I’ll be able to, but I know that there will always be a part of me that hates you for it.
Feel free to post your goodbye letter in the comments.