Saturday, February 11, 2012


What you do to your body is your own responsibility, right?

Others who care (or meddle) can only give you so many forms of warnings but it is still your decision whether to make changes or not. Why?  Because it is your body.  Whether it involves losing or gaining weight, having an Aptos procedure to stretch the skin on your face or having six kilos of floating fat sucked out of your middle, it is still your decision whether to heed the words of caution and concern from others.  

Oh, this holds most especially true about smoking.

Series of irrefutable facts that can eventually be used as evidence or source of argument against me with what I am about to write:

(a)  I started smoking at about the age of fifteen.  I learned to smoke (Marlboro Reds) while my high school class made its weekly visit to an orphanage as part of our Christian apostolate.  How did I get into it? Because we were of that age when kids were trying to do adult "stuff". And, yes, at that time, it was so adult to be puffing a cigarette even if your allowance only allowed you to buy per piece from the vendor waiting out there in the streets.
(b) By the time I reached college I was a full-fledged smoker.  I graduated from Marlboro Reds to Marlboro Greens until I ended up smoking Pall Mall Menthols ... and, uh, Hope cigarettes.  By the time I graduated from college, I was smoking almost a pack a day.
(c) And I have been smoking ever since.  Pressures of work have always been such a convenient reason why I could not give up smoking.  As a writer, it was almost de rigeur to be smoking.  When I started directing, it was a nice piece of prop to have a cigarette sticking out of your mouth while you move around trying to keep everybody on their toes.
(d) By the time I hit 50 years of age, I was smoking about a pack and a half a day.  I keep saying that I do not finish the cigarette all the way to the end anyway. I would usually light a fag, then leave it somewhere ... only to find myself lighting another.  Or if ever the cigarette is still stuck to my mouth, I would throw it away even if there was still a good inch left for consumption.
(e) I did attempt to stop smoking a number of times.  First was when I found myself hospitalized for four days ... and naturally I could not light a stick under the strict supervision of omnipresent nurses.  I thought it would be cool to stop smoking completely after being smoke free for a number of days ... but then I succumbed to the temptation to go back to the habit again.  The second time I was able to keep off the cigarettes for almost three weeks.  I even guested in a tv talk show announcing the end of my nicotine addiction.  I went as far as ... oh God ... wearing those absolute ridiculous nicotine patches to allegedly prevent you from craving for the stuff.  Not!  A week after I sounded like some rehab alumnus swearing off Philip Morris forever, I found myself lighting another cigarette and back to Square One. 

So my smoking life went on like that ... until almost four years ago.  So what happened to finally change my mind? What great enlightenment from the Heavens shook my earthly existence into a realization that it was really time to stop?

It went on like this:

(a) On my 51st birthday I looked at the mirror and saw an avocado staring back at me.  I was over 200 pounds, I had more chins than a Chinese phone book and my waistline was hitting 38 inches.  That was very, very, very bad.  Worse was the fact that I had a backache.  (When you hit your 50's, every small ailment becomes a celebration of hypochondria.  I was relieved to find out that the backache was not a result of any internal screw-up but because of a very simple fact: I was too fat --- and my lower back couldn't handle the law of gravity emphasized by my jutting middle and Jabba The Hut silhouette.)
(b) I kept getting colds and coughs every month.  Worse was each time I had a cough, I would go into spells that were nothing short of embarrassing.  I would practically double-up in what already resembled seizures, gasping for breath and suddenly worrying if, after all these years, I have screwed up my lungs.
(c) I started calculating how much money I was spending on cigarettes. I was purchasing a carton --- yes, a carton of Philip Morris Menthol 100's --- every week.  At that time I computed that I was spending close to P1500 a month killing myself but worse ...
(d) It was getting to be a hassle being a smoker.  To suddenly have an urge for a nicotine shot has become such a chore when you have to step out of malls and restaurants where smoking bans are fully implemented.  When traveling, you have to endure long stretches of hours inside a plan unable to light a cigarette. Or when you are inside the airport, you go into labyrinthine pathways looking for smoking lounges --- or, God forbid, stepping out into freezing temperature just to be able to get satisfy a craving. I told myself that this was on the eve of ridiculous.
(e) My teeth were turning yellow, my fingers were gathering nicotine stains ... and worse, even my tongue had a layer of nicotine coating.

So one day, while I was shooting on location in a hospital in Alabang, I decided to stop smoking.  Why?  Because it was a major production to go all the way down the parking lot of the medical center just to smoke ... and I ran out of cigarettes. I looked at the script continuity supervisor and told him, "OK. I will quit smoking."  Which, of course, he did not believe. And, for the heck of it, I did.

After over 35 years of being a nicotine junkie, I decided to kick the habit.  To this day ... I have not stuck nor lit a cigarette since. I will confess that I bought one more pack of Philip Morris that I kept within reach just in case I felt a panic attack that would make me yield to the habit again.  There were panic attacks indeed --- but they were not bad enough for me to yield.  I stuck to my guns.

That was when I realized that:

(a) All my fears about going cold turkey were overrated.  Looking back, it is the apprehension of the effects of withdrawal rather than the actual process of withdrawing that has held me back from ending the addiction for years.  I kept getting these images of uncontrolled convulsions, feverish desires to pump nicotine into my system ... or even going ballistic because there is no cigarette within reach.  It was only when I finally got to doing it that I realized that all these fears and apprehensions are as true as the monsters hiding under my bed.

(b) You create the need, thus you magnify the habit.  Why did I ever start smoking any way?  Because it was peer pressure, it was fashionable ... and I really never understood if indeed cigarettes calmed me down ... or maybe it was just for the sake of having something to do.  I don't think puffing a cigarette makes coffee taste better or that it was necessary post-breakfast/lunch/dinner to sit back and enjoy a smoke. 

(c) Smoking has become nothing more but a ritual. It is not the high you get from nicotine (because God knows there are far better highs if you really want to go there) but the repetition of an action, the comfort of familiarity of picking out a stick, lighting it, inhaling and exhaling which one equates with calmness or comfort.  There is a chemical reaction to the body but it is more of the predictability of action that generates predictability of reaction that nails us to the habit. 

(d) It is true. You will gain weight if you quit smoking. Why? Not only are you trying to substitute an oral fixation ... but because the layers of nicotine coating your taste buds will slowly diminish.  While trying to find a substitute to stick into your mouth when the craving to smoke suddenly takes place (bring out the candies, the chocolates, the breadsticks ... anything ... including the loaves of French bread), the taste of food has never tasted so much better because you can finally taste again.

What started out as a vanity project turned into a turnaround in my life style.

Upon realizing that I was over two hundred pounds, I immersed myself in a South Beach Diet then later went back to the gym.

I found myself working out for more than two hours five to six times a week, discovered a completely different addiction (to endorphin) and loved the joys of indoor cycling or spinning.  At the age of 51 I started joining cycling marathons and only ate brown rice on weekends, minimizing my intake of meat.  I found it absolutely stupid to keep on smoking after working out ... because such an act would seem so anomalous to everything else that I have been doing.  And so I quit.

Now I cannot stand the smell of cigarettes.

Now I realize how terrible my breath must have smelled because of my endless consumption of cigarettes, puffing one right after another.

Now I am so irritated by smoker friends who leave you all alone in a restaurant because they all have to step outside to smoke.  

Now I realize how much happier I am ... how much healthier I have become ... and how much money I have saved by simply turning my back on a habit.

When I started smoking, my mother had very strong suspicions that I was indulging in this unhealthy adventure. She would cut out articles and clippings and post them on the bulletin board by my study table: they were all about the hazards of smoking. I would laugh, assuring myself that these are my lungs and I am responsible for them.

When I told one of my best friends that he should really quit the habit, he replied:"What for? We will all die someday.  If I quit smoking, will that make me immortal?"

Point well taken. He was right. But I intend to exit from this existence healthy and strong and happy. Maybe that will be the major difference. It's his lungs ... and he can do whatever he wants to do with.  But I will not light his next cigarette for him.


  1. Very inspiring post, Direk. Will forward this to friends. :)

  2. Very nice. Very inspiring. :) the best blog read I had this weekend.

  3. cold turkey is the only way to go