Some of you may remember way back in the summer when my little brother Matthew and I had a frank conversation in my porch in the middle of the night. He’d come to attend William’s dad’s funeral and, despite the sad circumstances, we were using this rare visit and that late hour to catch up. That chat, which was hazy from the smoke of his Benson & Hedges and my Virginia Slim, eventually steered toward Matthew’s smoking habit.

True, it wasn’t the ideal circumstance to tell him how much I wanted him to quit, since I was puffing away myself. But I laid it all out on the line: that he coughed and cleared his throat all the time, that I was worried he would die before me and I wouldn’t be able to bear it, that it was time and he knew it. Somehow, something sank in for him that day.

After he returned to Edmonton, he didn’t stop smoking, but, one by one, started breaking himself of smoking habits. His major obstacle is his garage, where he works on everything from tuning up his 1971 Nova and sawing boards for a deck, to fixing up a vintage fridge and splicing together a coffee table out of used pallets. That space is his space, the place where he relaxes most, and so of course it wouldn’t be the same without a cigarette or two as reward for his hard work. Not to mention the fact that his friends like to gather there with him and a lot of them smoke too.

But slowly, surely, Matthew weaned himself off cigarettes while in the garage. And about two weeks after his visit to Kentucky, he stopped smoking entirely. Cold turkey. No fuss, no muss, let’s get this monkey off my back.

Now it’s been about six months of a smoke-free life. This, to me, is pretty outstanding. First off, he smoked nearly a pack a day, so it wasn’t a casual social habit. Second, many of his friends still smoke so if he’s around them, he’s around cigarettes.

But he hasn’t cheated, not once. For a while, at the beginning, he leaned on e-cigarettes when he had a craving. This worked for a while until one of the e-cigarette cartridges broke and leaked all over him. I’ve never tried them, but apparently these cigarettes are scented or flavored in some way, so for that particular day, Matthew’s clothes smelled like cherry-vanilla. After a while, the smell was so nauseating, it was enough to deter him from ever wanting one of those again.

How does he feel? At first, he felt nothing, no change at all. And part of his worry (and mine) was there wouldn’t be a significant change — when he’d quit before for about a week at a time, there wasn’t some miraculous rebirth that propelled him to commit to abstaining.

But he’s noticed big changes with time. First, he just feels good, he says. Nothing thunderous that happened over night, just an overall feeling of wellbeing. Second, he’s sleeping better. When he was a big smoker, he’d wake up sweaty and restless. Now? Sleeps through the night. Third, when I was around him at Christmas, the coughing and throat clearing was virtually gone. Fourth? He’s discovered he can’t stand the smell of cigarettes and has apologized to his wife Jennie that she had to put up with it for so long.

But the biggest change? No longer having to be embarrassed that he was a smoker. I had no idea how much societal pressure he felt to quit and failure because he didn’t. Matthew is the CEO of a sizeable home-building company in Edmonton and, as such, has to deal with everyone from clients to staff. Now, he doesn’t have to walk into a meeting smelling like smoke. When he’s driving clients around, he doesn’t have to worry it smells like cigarettes in his truck. Most importantly, that feeling of failure is gone. He’s inside with the rest of us, not outside on the sidewalk by the back door.

As for me? I quit too. I was always more of a social smoker than Matthew, but the addiction was real when happy hour hit and my gin and soda didn’t seem complete without a Virginia Slim. But that’s over with now. I have, unlike Matthew, indulged a couple of times (actually, three times) when I’ve been out with my friends, but I take a few puffs and move on.

Matthew is giving himself a year to consider himself a true nonsmoker, which I think is a smart plan. Even with six months under his belt, he is still vulnerable to picking it back up. In the meantime, I’m giving him a year before I really start putting the screws to him to train for a half marathon with me. My dream is for us to run together in the Manitoba Marathon in honor of my dad. Because wouldn’t that be a great day? Gene Kaprowy’s smoke-free, responsible kids in such fighting shape they’re able to run the same route he always did — together.

One thought on “A nonsmoking journey

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