Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bad Habits - I've come a long way baby

I'm devoting this month to an examination of habits, because I'm convinced my daily routines are the best predictors of where I'm going to end up down the road. My plan is to 1) identify bad habits and shed them, and 2) introduce good habits that will set me on the path to fame, fortune, and a bod like Beyonce's.

Now, I realize this isn't going to be easy. But I've been doing some positive thinking and realize I already have a track record of breaking some significant bad habits. I'm no longer a terrible nail biter, for example. And I don't smoke.

I used to be a smoker, though. I started early, in 6th grade, the year I moved to Milford, Michigan when my mom got remarried. Back in the 70s, Milford was a pretty, rural town with apple orchards, lakes and dirt roads. It was also a hotbed of juvenile delinquent behavior and shockingly advanced compared to Rosedale Park, my former neighborhood in Detroit.

I don't know if kids in Milford had more space and freedom to act out or if they were just bored, but lunch recess at Kurtz Elementary was a rule-breaking free-for-all.

Kids would gather under the tall oaks on the far side of the playground to conduct pretend "marriages" - really just a forum for boys and girls to suck face in public. The playground equipment included huge tractor tires that we could climb into and hide from the supervisor. It was there, desperate to fit into any social circle that would have me, I tried my first puff of a cigarette.  It was disgusting. But it was also dangerous and exciting and, even though the other kids laughed at my inexperience, I was "in."

Smoking was super cool back then. Ads made it look modern and glamorous, and tons of parents smoked, so it was easy to filch leftover packs of cigarettes from adult parties and carry them to school in your knee sock (also a good place to store a tampon, I later discovered.) I liked the rebelliousness of smoking, and even though I got into big trouble - I was suspended from school for three days in 7th grade - I kept it up. I snuck cigarettes in my basement, in school bathrooms, out in the woods.

I wasn't a heavy smoker - never more than a few cigarettes a day - but I defiantly kept puffing away until my mid-twenties, when one day I thought, "What am I doing? I don't like this, it tastes awful, and I'm always smoking stale cigarettes anyway. I'm in charge of my own life now, what the hell am I rebelling against?" I couldn't come up with a good answer, so I quit. I've been smoke free for over twenty years.

Oh, I had a few relapses. The hardest thing about not smoking is you don't get to hang around with the smokers anymore, who are often the coolest, most interesting people at any party. The whole ritual of smoking creates a bond - bumming a cigarette, getting a light, huddling together out in the cold. I missed that for a while.

But once I stopped looking at smoking as an act of rebellion, I just didn't need it anymore.

I think many bad habits originate for reasons that make sense at first, but don't stand the test of time. This month, I'm on the look out for those.


Anonymous said...

To Marjie Marvelous at Forty Fabulous,

After five years at a pack a day, I quit cold turkey right after college when I went for a 1-mile run with an older pal and nearly coughed up a lung. Tough for two weeks, but I visualized myself as a healthy, fit, long-lived guy and that hopeful vision and core value trumped the nicotine. I think that's a key to breaking or gaining habits--you have to link the painful change to a matter of the heart that you love more than the bad habit, or that the new habit expresses.

Anyway, that's what I think. --Jim Sullivan

Marjie Killeen said...

Jim, you are so right. You can't give up something you love unless there's something better to move toward. (Or, if like me, you realize you're just being an idiot!)

Thanks for sharing your own smoker story.


Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

I puffed for a small while in college but that was about it. This post made me laugh. Delinquency in Milford, MI!! I grew up in Union Lake and went to Walled Lake schools. The 70's were a very different time! My husband went to St. Mary's near Rosedale Park. Small world! Anyway, I just wanted to say HI and say that I only recently found your blog and enjoy it very much.

Marjie Killeen said...

Lisa - Well howdy, my fellow Michigander! Seriously, Milford was way more advanced than my Detroit 'hood had been. Times were different too. Our parents simply did not monitor our every move. But when I think of my own kids smoking in 6th grade I shudder. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!