The last time I quit, I had gone two months without one. The last time I had fallen into smoking was for the same reason: a guy.
So stupid. Of course, I realize that this isn't the real reason. It's me. It's all me. But what triggers me so frequently is that feeling when you are lying close to a man, and you can feel his heart beat, and the warmth of human connection infused with personal caring rushes through you like milk. It's intoxicating. It's oxytocin. It's the most narcotic thing on the planet. And then when you realize that it is an illusion, the comedown is just that: a gutter awakening.
My therapist says that, of course, romantic love doesn't usually last. The real work of a relationship requires just that. Work. I think I'm ready for that.
But what I'm not ready for is to let myself feel that hole for love. That's what I have trouble doing.
This weekend I went over to a man's house that I had been seeing, and this is hard to even write it's so ultra-humiliating, but I was wearing this like stupid Halloween naughty schoolgirl outfit, and he was too depressed for me to be around, and so I left. And then I spent $60 on cab fare to go to a meeting and then to go back to Long Island City. The whole time I was also carrying around this stupid fucking witch costume I had done a photo shoot with earlier that day. When I was in a good mood (on my way to meet the guy), oh, boy, was it fun to have strangers comment on my witch hat and broom. I love New York! Yes, I am a witch, ha, ha!
When I left, stupid non-waterproof-mascara smeared and not even looking pretty as I did my crying-leave, I bummed a cigarette. Then bought a pack. Will. Not. Feel. This. Pain. Can't. Let. Myself. Feel. This. Pain.
Then, the next day I interviewed Naomi Wolf and talked about cheating on HuffPost Live and felt so insanely horny and in need of stimulating the brain-vagina connection that Naomi talked about that I texted a dear friend who is 10 years younger than I am, and who is kind, and who I haven't seen in a long time. And I said, "Do you have a girlfriend now, or do you want to have sex?"
He had just broken up with someone. I went over. It was uh-mazing. The sex was great. But it was more the brand of friendship-love he gave -- the "I see you" kind. He's been in recovery (I hate that stupid word) for seven months now, and has done therapy six days a week for six months, and I used to be the one dropping enlightenment bombs on him, but as I said when leaving, "The student has become the master."
He told me afterward, "You didn't come over here for sex. You came over here for human connection." I nodded. I knew that, too.
"You know, I really do love you -- in some way," I told him. "I love you, too," he said. But we love each other as friends. Maybe more. But mostly as friends.
"You need to focus on self-care, Mandy," he said. "Because if you don't, you'll always be looking for other people to take care of you. That's the most important thing. Part of self-care is not letting people into your life who aren't going to be good for you. You need a man who is emotionally healthy and appreciates you. You need to draw limits and boundaries and say when something isn't good for you. Now come here and cuddle with me."
Then I asked if I could move in with him because I need a place, and we would get married and he would be my Mr. Big because he works at The New York Post, and it would be a really great climactic ending to "News Whore," the roman à clef I'm writing about News Corp. Yeah. And I wonder why I have problems finding a relationship. What an asshole.
He laughed and said, "You are comfortable with being out of control. I'm not. I need a lot of control. And I'm not ready for that. Also, I'm not really that involved in what you're saying. I get in the way. This is you and your fantasy."
Then I fell to the floor. That's the kind of truth bombs he was dropping.
"But why do I seek someone to fill me up? Why am I so, like, needy for love? Why do I feel this hole inside me?"
"I'll tell you something you can do," the 27-year-old said. "You need to let yourself really feel that hole. And be in that hole. And deal with that hole. And accept the hole. Once you accept it, you'll be able to come to terms with it, and then before you know it, the hole won't be what it once was."
I fell on the floor again.
"Jesus," I said. "You're like a Jedi. You are so fucking wise." I lit a cigarette and hung outside his window, smoking it. "So do you think I should I quit smoking right now?"
"You seem like maybe you need them for self-medicating right now," he said kindly. I nodded and lit another.
The next day I quit again. Then I found out I need to find a new place to live in less than a month. And then I ran into a woman, who dated an ex of mine, who I spent an entire awkward surreal evening with, half-blind, because my contact was popped out, blurry, numb, apologizing if I had ever caused her any pain, chain-smoking and eating sugary gross candy.
Then I took a cab back to Long Island City, went to the bodega, and bought a new pack. And as I was walking out of the bodega, with one contact still gone, my vision skewed, trying to take the first cigarette out of the pack, my heel caught on a grate and I fully fell onto my face on the sidewalk -- hard, my purse and high heels and sparkly dress hurtling everywhere, nylons ripping apart, bleeding, and the bodega owner came running outside after me.
"Did I fuck up my face?" I said, my heart racing so fast, tears forming. He looked at me, and I couldn't really tell, everything felt on fire, and then I limped back into my apartment, and I barely got the locks open, and I fell on my couch, dizzy, and I said a prayer that my face wasn't fucked up, and my heart was beating faster than it ever had beaten, and when I finally felt I wouldn't pass out, I walked to the mirror. My face was OK. I have a gash in my hand, and my knee is bruised, but I was OK.
Today, again, I thought, I am going to make a choice not to smoke. I am going to choose long-term life over short-term taking-me-out-of-my-body-ultimate-death. And then the desire -- desire, desire, desire, all I can think about is this desire -- overtook me about an hour ago, racing through me, and all I could think about was that a cigarette would make me feel better. I couldn't think about anything else. I felt paralyzed. It was worth it. I needed to make it through the next five minutes. The next hour. The day. I grabbed a cupcake, a Coke, and I went and smoked. I smoked several cigarettes. The pain somewhat went away. A little bit.
Writing this has made the pain go away a lot more, actually. It really has. I don't know why that works like that, but it does. Somehow writing about the hole and acknowledging it is starting to make me more comfortable with it. Less alone with it. It makes me feel like I will survive, because I am not lying to myself saying that it isn't there.
When I choose to throw the cigarettes away and just learn to be able to sit with and recognize the desire I am feeling -- showering it with love even, and find myself able to be with that uncomfortable emotion (rather than needing to numb it out), when I choose to set my little app on my phone to say that I have just quit, and I start counting days again, I know that I will stick with it. I am good at self-care. I am getting better.
But not now. Not right this minute.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I will quit tomorrow.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.