The latest numbers show only 40% of Americans actually make New Year’s resolutions.
Sure, I did it once – five years ago this week I reluctantly quit smoking. If you listen to anecdotes about people who quit smoking, they always “smoked three packs a day.” I only smoked two. Two packs. Every day since junior high. I was thin, grey, and phlegmy. I’d get winded playing Scrabble.
But I liked smoking. I had romanticized smoking. A cigarette was my steady companion. I didn’t see smoking as a vice – I saw it as an extension of my personality. If you knew me you knew a cloud of tobacco exhaust was my wingman.
People come and go. Pets die. Cars die. Years go by. But smoking cigarettes was my constant. Besides, I was so precocious when it came to nicotine, I had been a smoker the majority of my life. I couldn’t imagine anything different.
The end came shortly after I drove cross-country. At a truck stop in Arizona I wasn’t allowed to smoke inside the restaurant. Yes, truckers, who as part of their vocation are known to urinate in soda bottles and toss them onto the side of America’s highways, were collectively stating, “Smoking offends us.” Government ordinance after ballot initiative interrupted my smoking pleasure. Being a smoker these days is agreeing to be quarantined from the general smelling population. My “friend” was making me a pariah.
So five years ago for New Years…I quit. How did I quit? Arctic turkey. I simply didn’t smoke. I watched the clock and eventually it added up to time away from nicotine. People who have never smoked think this is the moment of triumph: time without smoking. But I can’t even remember my first three months of not smoking. I know afterwards I had fewer friends. I know I started a dark anonymous blog about every neurotic incongruous fear which popped up. (One was being afraid I’d start to like neutral colors. Another was being afraid I’d become a “morning person.”) I do remember I couldn’t sleep and drank bedtime tea all day long.
A side effect I didn’t expect was a yearning for schmaltz. I had a sudden appetite for all things “inspirational.” I’d secretly read websites about life transformations. The more maudlin the better. I’d watch shows like BBC’s You Are What You Eat and NBC’s Biggest Loser to get some joy out of seeing others struggle, too. And I’d cry. I went from heavy smoking to heavy sobbing.
It was horrible.
Before I quit smoking I had never been inside a gym. I never had a reason to go. But now I had to DO something. So I went to a gym with a guest pass and then swiftly fell off the treadmill. I stopped walking. The treadmill didn’t. Treadmill won. I was on the floor. I got up. Got back on. Stayed on. I ran my first marathon when I was 13 months off-cigarettes.
People warned me about lung cancer, emphysema and my teeth falling out, but no one cautioned me that quitting would turn me into a sap-craving below-average athlete. By my second marathon I discovered I do my best work in the morning and had acquired a beige couch. Pretty much all my fears manifested.
On the plus side, all the money I spent on cigarettes was just enough to purchase health insurance — which has come in handy for all my new sports injuries.
There were plenty of lowlights in 2010, but I would like to relay a high point: Rescued Chilean miner Edison Peña participated in the 2010 New York Marathon. After the cave-in, while trapped half a mile underground, Peña ran up to six miles every day in the dark in 90 degree heat.
When asked why he did such a thing he said, “I wanted god to see that I really wanted to live.”
Which is the definitive mantra for personal resolve. But really, it’s perhaps the most articulate thing ever said about self-imposed exercise.