This is excruciating.
I associate cigarettes with nearly everything these days. The drive into work. Post-meals. Post-coitus. Talking on the phone. Coffee. Beer. Breaks. A cigarette goes with anything, but it goes with writing best of all. Usually, I dangle a smoke out there as a reward for myself; if this were a typical day, I'd get one for finishing this paragraph. But today isn't typical. Today is fucking horrible. Today is the day after I quit.
It's purely coincidental that I put 'em down in the midst of the Great American Smokeout (Nov. 16). American Cancer Society's one-day, cultish quit-fest doesn't really appeal to me — quitting has always seemed like something you should do on your own, a test of wills. That said, I've never actually been able to do it that way. Whenever I've tried to quit cold turkey — and I've tried plenty — some excuse for a smoke always pops up. So I bum one. And then I have two. And then I'm smoking again.
My reason this time had nothing to do with the fact that thousands of people around the country were quitting. I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a family friend, one of those majestic older guys you have no choice but to respect. He noticed the outline of the pack of Camels in my shirt pocket.
"What are you doing with those?" he asked. I started to mumble the standard smoker defense: "Oh, I could quit." But he wouldn't let me finish, cut me off before I got through the "Oh."
"There is absolutely no good argument for smoking those things," he said gruffly. I had no defense. It was time to give quitting another shot.
Cig break #2 would be coming right about now. I guess gouging my eyes out with a pen cap will have to suffice.
Patches and gum and those creepy inhalers never interested me; they all seemed too medical and too expensive. You can't go too far on the interstate without seeing a sign for laser-assisted quitting, but I like lasers to stay in Star Wars and out of my body.
Still, there was something appealing about the one-off cure, and I certainly wasn't about to go cold turkey. I needed something that could get me to quit without needles or death rays — a magical, painless remedy. But where can you find that?
Pat's Hypnosis Center is on the backside of a strip mall in Lakeland, next to a Foot and Ankle Center and around the corner from a neon red "Insurance" sign. Pat Brown and her business partner, Peggy Glisson, opened their office nine years ago and claim they can help with anything from weight loss to your golf game. But most of their business comes from smokers. And according to Brown, 90 percent of their clients never light up again after one hour-long session. Plus, Pat's charges just $95, about $300 less than most of your big-city hypnotherapists. "We just want to help people," Brown says.
Good thing, because I just wanted to be helped.
I didn't know much about hypnosis before I got to Pat's; the brunt of my experience had come at a Bar Mitzvah where some guy in a cape got kids to walk around clucking. But Pat's was no Mitzvah. There were diplomas on the wall (you have to pass a 100-hour course to become a hypnotherapist), and the place smelled like a Lysol bomb had been detonated minutes before I walked through the door.
A small bookcase stood against the white wall, with titles like The Idiot's Guide to Hypnosis, Hypno-Birthing: The Mongan Method and Sex: If I Didn't Laugh I'd Cry. And in the corner, a fish tank was filled with cigarettes. Marlboros, Camels, Kools, Winstons. All your favorites were there. Full packs. I could smoke for free until April.
"Do you have any cigarettes with you?" Peggy Glisson asked me as I got up to walk back to the hypnosis room. I did. A pack of Camels. "In the graveyard," she said, pointing to the fish tank.
I can't believe I threw those out! Stupid! Feels like ants are crawling through my veins.
The only wall decorations in the hypnosis room were three paintings of soaring eagles. In one corner was a desk with a boom box, and opposite that was a brown recliner with that fake, adhesive kind of leather that can rip the skin off your calf on a hot day.
Glisson, whose high-pitched Southern accent slides off her tongue, asked a few questions about my smoking history, then gave me a SpongeBob mask to wear. She hit play on the boom box, and dream-sequence music filled the room. This wasn't conversational hypnosis, I was only supposed to listen, and having all her attention focused on me made it hard to relax. "Let that wonderful feeling of calmness melt through you," she said, but I was too busy suppressing my nervous laughter to do any melting. Still, Glisson stayed focused, walking me through my body, forehead to toes, willing me to calm down. She focused on my eyelids — "Feel them getting heavy," she whispered. She said I wouldn't be able to open my eyes. I tried. I couldn't.
Then she started talking about cigarettes. About the smoke billowing into your lungs and invading the rest of your body. I was putty in her hands. I leaned the recliner all the way back. My head rolled to the left, I visualized the smoke cascading into my lungs. And then something happened.
I think I fell asleep.
The next thing I knew, Glisson was counting down from five and tapping my foot to end the session. "How do you feel?" she asked as I pulled the SpongeBob mask off my head.
"Um, like I just took a nap?" I said, sure that I'd screwed up.
"That's fantastic," Glisson told me. "You should feel rested." She flicked on the lights, gave me a tape of the session to listen to for reinforcement, and stuck out her hand. "You're officially a non-smoker," she said. "All you need to do is stay committed."
And that's the rub. Whether or not Glisson successfully tapped into my subconscious, when I walked out of the office I still wanted a smoke.
There isn't some magic cure out there, even with hypnosis. To quit you need to want to quit. You need to be able to fight through the most excruciating moments.
Now where's my reward?
Editor's Note: It is 11:10 a.m. on Friday, two days after Linsky's hypnosis session, and he is smoking a Camel Light in the Planet parking lot.