A brief history of pain and how a fidget spinner helped me quit smoking

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click to enlarge A brief history of pain and how a fidget spinner helped me quit smoking

I did not mean to quit smoking when I smoked my last cigarette four months, two weeks, three days, and roughly 18 hours ago. Nor did I think I would become an outspoken advocate for fidget spinners, but I’ve been known to surprise myself every now and again. 

I was 15 when my rebellious step-sister offered me my first puff of her “cowboy killer” Marlboro Red in our shared bedroom in Harrison Township. Our quarters were separated only by a haphazard curtain wall that could not disguise the smell of her misdeed, and I had grown curious. Our parents had gone to bed and Kelly had popped the screen out of her window. I sat on the edge of her twin-bed and struggled to make the handoff of the cigarette look graceful or cool.

“Don’t, like, hold the smoke in your mouth, breathe it in like air through a straw,” she instructed while adjusting her cleavage in the mirror. I inhaled, as I was told — and I puked. I puked a foamy bile on her pink gingham bedspread as she whispered hastily to cover my coughs, hoping to not wake her mother. I chugged her bedside Mountain Dew and sprawled out on the carpet, belly down. 

I did not pick up smoking that night.

My ten years of chain-smoking began on my 18th birthday when my dad handed me a pack of Marlboro Lights. “Get it out of your system while you’re young, kid,” he said, sneakily handing me my future habit while my step-mother placed Funfetti cake slices onto paper plates.

When I accidentally quit smoking four months, two weeks, three days, and roughly 18 hours ago, I viewed my nicotine-sobriety as a challenge rather than a promise, though I told myself I would never allow myself to get so drunk that I would bum Newports off of the kitchen staff at Honest Johns ever again. After all, I smoked non-menthol American Spirits.

It was the type of hangover that required a trip down bulimia lane and a series of desperate text messages to several people begging them to bring me three colors of Gatorade, fried rice, and also death — sweet, sweet death. My headache did not invite the desire to smoke a cigarette and considering I had run out of smokes somewhere between my second bottle of wine and third shot of Fireball meant I would have to drive to the gas station. Thankfully for me the smoke smell that lingered in my hair was enough to induce vomiting once I was able to crawl my way to the shower. So, I would not smoke a cigarette on this day. I would not leave bed.

The next morning, I was of clearer mind and felt as though my body had successfully purged most of the poison that had me paralyzed the day before. I was a new woman. A new woman who really wanted a fucking cigarette.

But I had a thought — what if I just tried to not smoke for a few days? Unlike my previous attempts (two weeks in February of 2017, three months back in 2011, and that weekend I was in the hospital back in 2009) I would not make any public social media declarations about quitting. In fact, I wouldn’t tell anyone (except my boyfriend) until I had successfully been nicotine-free for an entire month. I did not want to be held accountable because I did not want to let anyone down because I had done this before… and I had always quit quitting. I was on the no-plan plan.

My ex-boyfriend had broken up with me in March of 2017. During the early stages of my mourning period, I went to our favorite date spot — the now-defunct Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens. I had intended to buy him something (namely, a Con Air DVD) but my sad delusions led me to shuffle aimlessly between the aisles of swords, guns, antique toys, and 12-foot stacks of rugs feeling helpless, hopeless, and... suddenly surrounded by fidget spinners?

I ran my fingers over the rows of spinners — some donning sports team logos, others covered in flames, glitter, or Pokémon characters. This particular tray contained a series of spinners with cheaply printed, low-quality pixilated galaxies in shades of pinks and purples. I picked it up and watched the colors spin into solids between my thumbs. All the noise of Gibraltar melted into silence and as my eyes fixated on the tiny universe between my thumb and middle-finger, I felt my first moment of peace since being dumped in the rain on the anniversary of my
mother's death a month before. I spent $3.95 on the dumb toy, bought a corn dog on my way out, and felt as if my trip was as successful as it could be given the grim circumstances.

The spinner saw little action after the first week and its calming effects dulled almost instantly. Truthfully, I felt sort of ridiculous spinning it un-ironically. After all, I am almost 30 years old and still can’t figure out Snapchat. My little fidget thingy ended up in the bottom of my purse, floating in the sea of loose vitamins and homeless pen caps.

Running late to work during the first few days of my first nicotine-less week four months, two weeks (you get the idea) ago, I found myself trapped by a railroad crossing and a train that came to a 10-minute long stop. I put my car in park, looked at my Instagram feed, bit my thumbnail, and went searching for a stray piece of gum, a forgotten dinner mint, or really anything to distract me because if I could not reel in this urge in this moment I knew that I would break my silent pact and smoke all the cigarettes. Digging through my work bag, my once beloved fidget spinner magically reemerged and was ironically covered in old tobacco from half-smoked cigarettes I used to store in various pockets and makeup bags. “That’ll do, pig,” I said to myself. “That’ll do.”

As much as the spinning and the physicality of holding something appeased my appetite, it was the sound that I found most satisfying. The whirring, the white noise, the soft and sonic mechanical opus of this weighted metal propeller was everything I needed here, now and forever. I was in love with the simplicity of what this hype-trend had to offer me. The train remained stopped for no apparent reason for another five minutes and the NPR programming was repeating itself but I could not care less because what I had between my fingers was better than a cigarette — I had a real chance.

A car horn startled me. The train had cleared. I rolled my window down and held my hand out of my window, still spinning. 

When I got to work, I stashed my spinner in the host stand next to the spare menus, hand sanitizer, and the growing pile of lost and found sunglasses. When told by management that I could not use it, I broke my silence and told them I had not had a cigarette in four days and almost instantly my fidgeting was not only forgiven but encouraged. Even they knew better than to mess with this cigarette-hungry bitch.

Over the next few weeks, my spinner became part of my daily uniform. Keys, pants, lipstick, fidget spinner. Most mornings it could be found on my nightstand because, yeah, I had to have my before-bed spin. It became my TV companion, my down-time co-pilot. It replaced my nail-biting, finger-tapping, hair-pulling (yeah, I know), overeating, and straw-chewing.

Though my spinner remained on my person no matter where I went, I stopped feeling like I had to use it in order to feel its power. I didn’t need to get it out at the bar, though sometimes I did, but knowing that it was there was calming enough. It allowed me to tap into my own strength and my surplus of dead-stock will-power that had once been numbed out with pain and self-abuse. The fidget spinner, my fidget spinner, had gone from habit to talisman and in doing so, gave my hands something to do while my mind sorted the whole mess out.

As I approach the new year, my first as a proud non-smoker, my fidget spinner is nowhere in sight. Mostly because I can’t find it as I’m pretty sure I left it at the Painted Lady while fighting some serious cravings. Or it’s at Chrissy’s house? (Chrissy, did I leave it on your counter?) Regardless, I don’t think I need a fidget spinner in the new year just like I don’t need cigarettes, or my ex, or the pain and uncertainty that last year served in heaping portions. Sometimes all it takes is learning that you have the focus and emotional dexterity to spin in control, not out.

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