Reaching a milestone… and letting go of a friend

Today I became as old as my mother was when she died – not that it’s my birthday – it’s 5 weeks from my (not telling) birthday – which was where my mum was at when she died. She was quite ill for the 2 years before her passing, being immobilised by a stroke… and other factors that I won’t go into here to save any embarrassment for family members. Mum could only move her right arm since her stroke, which she used to carry on her 50 a day smoking habit. Well, she had nothing else to do then, did she? She couldn’t let go of her friend. This is probably what contributed to her fatal chest infection.

I found myself thinking about my own ex-habit with a similar friend… whilst longing for this day to be over so I can finally rid myself of the psychology of reaching this particular milestone – 5 weeks before my (something/something) birthday. The fear of history repeating itself is strong in my family because it does tend to be a habit that we never learn any lessons from each others wrong choices.

I first met my friend behind the bike sheds at my secondary school. It felt so good to hold my friend between my fingers and suck in the calming properties between a pursed pout. Blowing rings of smoke was impressive and I won many a round of applause for perfecting the art. More than a friend really – it was a necessity, a fashion accessory. You were known as ‘cool’ and ‘in’ when you were seen out with one.

By the time I left school I was up to 5 a day but it didn’t bother me. I knew I could stop any time. I’d heard the old wives’ tales about it stunting your growth but that wasn’t serious was it? I could do with a bit of stunting as I was starting to put weight on. It couldn’t be serious could it? They sipped Martini on the adverts whilst holding a friend in the other hand. It was a social thing.

The years started rolling and my friend stuck by me through thick and thin, calming me down when I needed it, helping me relax. There was nothing to worry about I thought, though I did stop for a while because pregnancy made me feel sick and I couldn’t face my friend at all. It did save me a bit of money as I was on 10 a day by then. But, after the birth, I started to experience some strange feelings in my body – urges from the pit of my stomach – and my nerves were on edge. I couldn’t relax.

I looked for my old friend to comfort me and found an unopened pack in my pre-maternity drawer. It was empty by the end of the day. My brain had remembered how much it used to need to function. Oh, I felt fantastic – like my old self. I could face the world, do anything I wanted. Wonderful! Maybe there was some truth in those articles about its drug-like properties. There were no warnings on the packs back then so nothing to worry about.

Five more years and my intake had doubled. I had no money in my pocket for treats – I spent it all on my friend. Another five years and the coughing started – only a tickle – didn’t bother me – didn’t hurt. Ten years on and the addiction held fast. Then the warnings came out from the government. They were plastered all over the packs, the walls, and the news. Adverts were banned from TV – no smoking signs sprang up and multiplied like weeds. It was official. Smoking kills.

I felt okay though; so maybe I was immune to it all.

Two years hence and still holding, I began coughing up obnoxious fluids, couldn’t catch my breath, and my chest sometimes felt like it was exploding with pain.

I finally gave up my friend – after dad passed with cancer at the end of 2003 – but the damage was done. Diagnosed with angina in the 3rd month of stopping, I had a stent fitted in the offending artery in February 2005, suffered a heart attack in 2008, then in 2012 developed difficulty in breathing, initially diagnosed as asthma. It was a year before my body found a treatment to bring it under manageable control. By then I had another diagnosis: COPD (chronic obstructive airways disease).

I’m in REHAB at the moment – learning how to manage these diseases of my own doing… through education on exercise, breathing control, relaxation, diet, technique of taking inhalers, etc, etc.

It seems so far away from the days when I was puffing away on my friend, and as I wheeze my way through a life sentence with no cure for undoing the damage to my smoke filled arteries, I reflect on my life with my friend and wish I’d left it at school and gone my own way instead of being one of the in-crowd.

I really hate those damn bike sheds!

Giving up a friend

One thought on “Reaching a milestone… and letting go of a friend

  1. Dear Julie,
    I was so moved to hear about all that you and your Mum have gone through.
    I haven’t started to reach a point to understand, but feel everyone sometimes needs an unlikely friend on the way.
    Much love

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