This is the number I’ve been asked to ration out to my visiting mother as she tries to slowly wean herself off little paper-wrapped sticks of tobacco. While it’s difficult to rally behind yet another attempt to break the habit, I know that voicing any doubt in her ability to conquer nicotine’s grip will only sentence her to certain failure.
Unlike past pledges that were met with a “we’ll believe it when we see it” attitude, I think today’s pledge to quit is different. At least, I hope so.
It’s actually a pretty big step for her to hand me all of her carcinogen packs because putting me in control of ANYTHING, much less something at the root of a rampant addiction, takes a lot of guts.
She loves her children, she loves her grandchildren, she loves her husband, and she loves life. She’s just powerless over something that’s hellbent on taking all of this away from her.
I’m all for helping her through the arduous quitting process but I feel a pang of tremendous guilt every time I reach into the Marlboro box to hand her a cigarette. I feel like an enabler. Like I’m contributing to her ultimate black lung demise.
But then I remember that I’ve been put in this position from a stance of help and support. She realizes that she lacks the willpower to do it on her own, so she’s turned to me for forced compliance. She’s known me my entire life, as a mother should, so she had to have known that I’d use the new responsibility for comedic gain.
Almost nothing I do can be void of humor. Even if I’m the only one laughing, humor helps me deal with stressful situations. It’s how I self-medicate. It empowers me to manage the unmanageable. But most importantly, it helps me deliver a message or even a life lesson without putting the recipient on the defensive.
In my mother’s case, if I were to stand before her on my soapbox and lecture her about the dangers of smoking, or gurgle out a bunch of facts and statistics, she’d only tune me out.
People don’t like to be told they’re doing something wrong, especially when (A) they already damn well know it; and (B) they feel helpless to stop it.
Smokers, drug addicts, and alcoholics are no different. They *know* they’re doing harm to themselves, they know they’re on a self destructive path, yet they don’t want it acknowledged or challenged by others. They don’t want to be called out on their weakness, confronted about their addiction, or exposed for their vulnerability. They just want to retain personal control and heal on their own terms.
The problem is, they can’t.
So when my mom asked me to hang on to her cigarettes and dutifully ration her to a limit of six per day, I couldn’t say no. First, we need her to quit before the inevitable turns into the irreversible. And second, I knew I could have loads of fun with it.
Finding myself in a position of ultimate control, I did what most would expect from a loving devoted son. I exploited it.
You’d think with 40+ years of experience in dealing with me that she’d have known I wasn’t just going to pass out ‘grits like some cancerous Pez dispenser. I was gonna make her earn ‘em.
I am in control. I am working the strings. I am…her Puff’it Master, and I have the power to make her dance (assuming her hips, and my eyes, could even handle the abuse).
My plan as Puff’it Master is to make it slightly uncomfortable for her to ask for a cigarette ration. I want the experience of asking for a cancer stick to be one of frustration, not relief. I also want each and every cigarette break to include a healthy dose of “Shock & Awe” regarding the hazards of smoking without making her recoil behind a brick wall.
In essence, I needed a way to remove confrontation and introduce interest.
Enter my Cigarette Request Form. By requiring her to complete a new variation of this form at the start of each day, I’m able to intertwine some subtle entertainment with some serious messages.
If all I handed her was an anti-smoking brochure or a list of warnings, it wouldn’t have had nearly the same level of impact. Instead, by sprinkling in a mix of both humor and reality, I was able to keep her reading.
In fact, as she read the Cigarette Request Form I shared above, she laughed and also gasped. Even though cold hard facts about death and illness were being shared, she read every word because, as she said, she didn’t know when or where the next joke would be.
I’ll admit that I have no idea if this tactic will ultimately help her quit, but I do know it’s already had some positive results. It fostered conversation, it clued her into facts she didn’t previously know, and most importantly, it made her laugh. A critical reaction if subsequent forms are going to have the same effect.
My hope…my goal…is that her last cigarette is preceded by years of healthy living, and not some terminal diagnosis. I just know that every day she smokes is one day closer to the latter. And this is the trend I hope to reverse with a combination of humor and brutal honesty.