The first time I put tobacco in my mouth was April 1983 at the Long Beach Grand Prix. My friend’s dad got us out of school early on the Friday before the Sunday race to watch practice and qualify laps. We came across some free samples of Skoal Bandits and took off under the bleachers to spit and spin. I puked shortly after and we both got an earful about it. Should have learned my lesson.
The second time I put tobacco in my mouth was in 1989 – my parents out of town for a week, first week of summer. Kegger at my place. Special, beautiful, sexy Columbian heartthrob invited and agreed to come to the party. Same buddy from 1983 offers up can of Kodiak at start of party. I pull a huge wad and proceed to drink and chew until I turn green. Special, beautiful, sexy Columbian heartthrob was very understanding for first 30 minutes of vomiting. Special, beautiful, sexy Columbian heartthrob left with someone else shortly after. Should have learned my lesson.
The third time I put tobacco in my mouth was in 1991 while working in a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. Most of the cooks and prep guys smoked cigarettes and would get through a 6-to-7 hour no break cocktail hour to dinner rush by chewing tobacco. I didn’t smoke but followed suit when the kool-aid was offered. Skoal Straight this time and I didn’t puke afterward. I felt the rush and I liked it. I did not learn any lesson. This time I learned an addiction.
From the start I would consume chewing tobacco at an advanced rate; in fact, a sickening rate. Piling so much chew between my cheek and gum that I was forced to move it around my mouth constantly because not one surface of my gums could handle the sting of tobacco for longer than a few moments. A half can a day quickly increased to 1 ½ a day and then sometimes two. I was so worried to be without it I’d buy a half sleeve at a time and then still grab an extra can at the next gas stop “just in case.” Mind you, this is in California where a single can is often around $8-$9 unless you shop discount tobacco stores. Tobacco was never to be wasted, either. If the last of a can spilled on the floor mat in the truck it got picked up and consumed, along with whatever traces of dirt, bacteria, motor oil and fecal matter that it happened to land upon. I’m not proud of this behavior but it was the length to which I’d go in order to feed my nicotine addiction.
I would chew tobacco whenever and wherever – from first poop to passed out. I would chew at home; at work; in the car; on the toilet; in the shower; on a plane; on a boat; in church; after breakfast, lunch and dinner; in work meetings; in school; at the movies; at the park, the beach, the river, the lake; while camping; with a baby in my lap; with two babies in my lap; with my wife on my lap; during coitus; while sleeping; while driving – always while driving!! There are more places but you should see a pattern here – I chewed tobacco every waking (and sometimes non-waking) moment wherever I was. I did not give a shit who this offended or bothered. It was what I did and my family, my friends, co-workers, and people in general – well, they could just deal with it. Eventually, even my kids started calling it was “Daddy’s Dirt” and knew not to mess with my spit bottles. What an asshat, right?
During my early chew years I finally had enough of it and decided to quit. Why put this crap in my mouth when I can just spark up a tobacco breather and max out my high from that joint I just smoked?* (The mythical extra 10% high!) No brainer, right? So I dumped the can for a pack of smokes and went my merry way to chain smoke my brains out. But wait, how can I smoke in the shower? Better buy a can for the shower but that’s it. But boy oh boy are those college lectures long and boring. Maybe need a can for Bio lectures but it’ll stay in the backpack and that’s it. This junkie reasoning continued until my pockets were stuffed with a can of Skoal and a pack of Camels on a daily basis. I’d smoke when I couldn’t chew and chew when I couldn’t smoke. I thought I was a genius at the time as my gums started feeling slightly better because I’d cut back to ½ can a day next to the pack a day smoke addiction. Again, some very serious junkie reasoning.
In 1995 I got my first real understanding of the addiction I have and that it would eventually kill me. My uncle, a heavy tobacco user and drinker, died from stomach cancer after a fairly short battle. As he had no children and my aunt was not up to the task, I took on the job of sorting through his office and garage to help her prepare to move to a retirement home.
My uncle was an incredibly bright man. He served as an engineer in the Navy and was top of his class at Rice University. He settled in to what was, at the time, a burgeoning Silicon Valley and worked for top tech firms from the 1960s to the 1980s as an electrical engineer. Being the southern boy he was, however, he had a lifelong tobacco habit. The sheer degree of tobacco I found in his home was astounding. From cartons of Pall Malls to multiple pouches of Red Man, pipe and cigarette tobacco, cigar boxes upon cigar boxes, snuff, papers, pipes and spittoons. All it was missing was a cigar store Indian and it was ready to open up as a smoke shop. I hauled it all home, of course, along with a case of Dewar’s and a keg of his home brew and my friends and I partied until it won’t no more. But I took more home than just that. I now had a minds view of what the end would be if I didn’t change my ways. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t enough to make me quit.
Life ensued and I started a job that required heavy travel throughout the U.S. I was on a plane and in a rental car 2 to 3 weekends a month traveling to mostly rural areas in the Southeastern states where I’d chew and smoke all day long. I’d also be sure to buy as many sleeves as I could afford since tobacco was half the price of what it cost in California! Work was always stressful (life, right?) and the assignments and projects would pile up against my travel schedule and more and more tobacco would be consumed to deal with that and whatever other woes life could throw my way.
In April 2001 I decided to quit smoking cigarettes. There had been a particularly dusty 2-pack a day weekend to the desert that left me very short on breath and rethinking my tobacco double down. I’d also just started dating not-my-wife-yet who was a smoker but wanted to quit. So we quit those nasty cigarettes together and never looked back. Well, I did once or twice, but she didn’t. And there was still the chew. If I thought I chewed a lot before this time I would be mistaken. With cigs out of the picture my tobacco addiction took a huge turn and the ½ can days turned to 2 can days very quickly.
I made futile attempts to quit as the years went by. The typical getting married, having a baby, buying a house, do it for wife, mom, dad, grandma, kid, The Gipper, moments. But that’s all they were – lame attempts where I’d set myself up for failure. “If I go 1 week without chew I can reward myself with one dip a week!” I was treating my quit as if I were a puppy who kept pissing the carpet. A fucking reward for not killing yourself! Here’s a lollypop, you stupid ass. Stay off the ledge, idiot.
This continued until life happened again. In February 2014 I got laid off my job of 17 years. No biggie really, I knew I’d land on my feet. But then in March 2014 life took another swipe. I watched my mom take her last breath as I kissed her forehead and said goodbye. After that moment I turned to chew, vodka and weed heavier than I’d ever had. I felt such great despair that I could hardly keep from breaking down in tears at the slightest notion or inconvenience. I was definitely a candidate for therapy at the time. Probably still am.
Life didn’t stop with its whoppers after my mom’s death. Come October 2015 I take my pop to the urgent care for a chest X-ray. His breathing had become labored and we suspected he might have pneumonia. Docs compared new X-ray to one taken year prior and their faces did not deliver happy news. My pop, an avid non-smoker who grew up in a house of heavy smokers, and who watched a doctor take his mother’s cigarette from her hand as nurses zipped closed the oxygen tent prior to her death from lung cancer, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Well isn’t that just a kick in the shorts? My pop died June 2016. Never a tobacco user. In fact, he despised the “habit”. You know what I did after he died? I chewed tobacco.
I eventually quit trying to quit and embraced my addiction, falling deeper and deeper in to it. I loved it. It was my friend. It could do no wrong. I kept spit bottles everywhere and a tin was always within an arm’s reach. Then, guess what? Life again reared its ugly head and made something happen that no one likes. A good high school friend and roommate of 4 years comes down with the cancer out of the blue. Massive melanomas cropped up in his head and struck him down within 9 months of being diagnosed. He wasn’t a smoker. He didn’t chew tobacco. He only loved life and enjoyed every day that it brought him. He died on St. Patricks Day of this year. I started my quit journey two days later and I don’t plan to ever look back.
Why this time? Why do I know that I will never touch tobacco again? First and foremost, I have committed to it – it’s the first time I’ve told my wife and my children from day one of my quit that I am quitting and I asked all of them to hold me accountable. I gave them the same promise that I offer to my KTC quit brothers and sisters – I will quit today and forever and I do not intend to let anyone down! But honestly, KTC itself was the real difference in making my quit happen. While I’d made promises before I’d never handed out my phone number to complete strangers so they could berate me if I erred. I’d never put myself out there on a limb and asked for help before. But I’m grateful that I took the leap and made that first post to promise not to use tobacco ever again. It might not save my life. I could die tomorrow from any stupid occurrence. But at least I won’t be killing myself and at least I can stand proud that nicotine no longer has control of my life. Rock on, quit brothers and sisters. I plan to stay quit with you for life!
A handful of thanks are in order as I’m a bozo and could never complete such a mighty task without great assistance:
- To my June Quitters of Doom, my forever brothers, I want to thank you all for quitting with me. I will stay quit with you for the long haul. Let’s keep posting until we can’t no mo.
- To Hilltop and Bug Guy, June 2019 QOD conductors. Your mad skills and advice beat all and prepared us all to stay quit! Thank you, my brothers!
- To my quit brother striccher for his HOF speech, which gave me a greater outlook on my quit and helped me put words on page to write my own HOF speech.
- To all of the KTC vets and new quitters who reached out to me in my first days of quit. Thank you for taking me in and welcoming me and making me feel at home. Everyone on KTC contributed to my quit and you all deserve recognition!