Everything you are used to, once done long enough, starts to seem natural, even though it might not be. (Julien Smith)
It was a cool evening in the Midwest—Friday April 12, 1968. Ralph and I were headed to the bowling alley to celebrate our birthdays. Ralph was turning 16 in two days and I would be fifteen on the 27th. Celebration for us usually included alcohol: a half pint of whiskey and a couple quarts of cheap beer.
The first thing I did after walking out of Ralph’s house into the cool crisp air was light up a cigarette. “Turp, you need to quit smoking and drop that nasty habit.” “I will one day but not now. Deckard is always getting on my case about it. You know I did quit for three days not long ago but for now it’s not a big deal and besides, I like to smoke.” That was a lie. My Grandmother Rodgers had recently died of cancer which the doctors attributed to cigarette smoking. Somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear this tiny voice urging me to stop. But after three years it wasn’t that simple, so instead of admitting defeat, I rationalized my dependency sayng, “I’ll quit one day when I get tired of it.”
“Turp,” Ralph said, “I could start smoking tonight and quit one year from now. And if I do will you quit with me next year when we celebrate our birthdays?” “Sure, if you can start and stop—I can do it too.”
Ralph smoked his first cigarette as we walked to the Bowling Alley. He hacked, puffed, choked and coughed all the way there. But he got the hang of it and became a proficient smoker. When our next birthday rolled around Ralph didn’t quit. He developed a habit that lasted for over thirty years. Addiction begins with a big misconception and an underestimation of a habit’s strength once it is imprinted into our thought processes and fixed into our cell structure.
Doing something over and over again; smoking, drinking, lying, taking pills, overeating, gambling, etc. creates a thirst in one’s life for the practice. This craving begins to control one’s thoughts, eventually causing an individual to sacrifice choice and control on the altar of desire. After just one year Ralph developed an appetite for tobacco that he felt compelled to feed. The mind and the body are inventive and creative, helping people to rationalize irrational behavior. Hosea the prophet declared, “Fornication and adultery, wine and new wine take away the heart and the mind and spiritual understanding.” Too much wine begins to mock you, too much strong drink leads to noisy fights, and whoever is misled by either is not wise (Solomon). If you think you are smarter than most, not as vulnerable as others and beyond the possibility of addiction—you are a perfect candidate for it.