Adulthood has come more slowly to me than I believe it does to most.
I was the girl who was absolutely flummoxed when college was ending and everyone was going off to their grown-up careers with job titles I couldn’t even understand (and still can’t — am I the only one who couldn’t tell you what the hell, say, a systems analyst does?). I didn’t understand how and when everyone got so serious and why it hadn’t happened to me. My recurring anxiety dream, in fact, is that I’m back in college and everyone else has packed everything and are making their way to the plane or train or car that will take them to their next stage in life while I’m walking through the house or apartment or dorm room, my belongings everywhere, not even sure if the store that sells packing boxes is even open anymore.
I’ve heard it said that when you’re an alcoholic or drug addict, you stop growing the moment you first start using or drinking. So no wonder I was panicked — I was a 12-year-old being handed a college diploma!
Since of course life moved forward, I had no choice but to pretend I was as well. I got an assistant job at a magazine, which netted me an income just above the poverty line; I got an apartment, first with roommates, and then on my own; I got a dentist, a therapist, an accountant, and whatever else adulthood required.
But I was still very much a child. Even when I got sober, I lived like a kid — having highs and lows, depending on other people for my happiness, and continuing to firmly believe the world revolved around me. I think I truly became an adult when I quit smoking. It seems strange, even to me, in that I’d already given up substances that seemed to have a much larger impact on my lifestyle. But there was something different about quitting smoking (getting “smober” as some people call it, usually — thankfully — mockingly).
Oh, how I loved my smoking. I always said, when people asked me when I was going to quit (because I logged 13 years on the old nicotine, sometimes smoking as much as two packs a day) that I’d approach that hurdle if when I was ready to have kids.
Then I met a woman who told me she thought getting sober and continue to smoke was like switching seats on the Titanic. And that’s when it hit me — if I kept smoking, I would probably die a horrible, painful death. I didn’t want to suddenly see things that way because, you see, I wanted to keep smoking. My whole life, I’d always assumed I’d defy the odds — that I was the one who could take whatever drug without becoming addicted, drink and drive, bake in the sun in Crisco oil, live on the edge, however I defined the edge at the time, and somehow escape unscathed. But I suddenly saw that I wasn’t special (at least not in the I-can-smoke-forever-and-live-to-be-100 way).
Whenever smokers tell me they’re having trouble quitting, I give them my whole it’s-about-accepting-your-mortality-and-letting-go-of-childhood speech, explaining that I think that’s why it’s so hard for smokers to quit — that giving up the nicotine is difficult but giving up Peter Pan-hood impossible if you’re not ready for it.
They usually eye me strangely and explain that they were just wondering if I knew of a good hypnotist or book or something and then say, “Aw, fuck it,” and light up.