Not a big deal, right?
He's smoked more on than off for nearly 13 years of marriage, and it was not, then such a big deal. Before we got married, I even promised him that it would not be an issue for me, that it would have to be his decision to quit, not mine.
Unfortunately, nearly 13 years have passed, and many things have changed. It kills me that a promise I made whole-heartedly and with every intention of keeping now lies broken. It kills me even more how little it seems to matter to him when it very much matters to me at this point.
My own father, who successfully smoked like a chimney for over 40 years, including the years of my childhood, fought and temporarily defeated lung cancer before my husband and I ever met. He lost one lung, and a good portion of the second, but survived, and was for many years healthier afterward. I did remind my husband of this at the time I made my ill-advised promise, and begged him to remember, and not attempt to put me through such anguish as my mother went through at that time. Then I left him alone, to fight his own demons with nicotine addiction, confident in the rosy glow of early love that everything would be right in the end.
So many things have changed since then.
My father died last year, Father's day 2008, he lost his battle with the lung cancer that had returned. It happened very quickly from my point of view. Although we now suspect that Dad knew it was coming for over a year, I had less than a month from the first "Dad's sick, in the hospital" (and no one said anything about cancer at that time) until the day he drew his last gasping breath. In many ways, it was quick, but still, in some ways it was excruciatingly slow. I spent the last 2 days gathered with my family at his bedside, although I missed the very end by just a few hours. I saw the pain he was in. I saw the creepingly slow withdrawal from life. I saw him trying to speed the process the only way he could, by refusing an real sustenance, any food or drink that might give his treacherous body fuel to prolong the dying process. I will forever be haunted by his last, almost-mindless cries of "Help me!" We could not help, we did not know what kind of help he most craved. I watched my mother as this process both tortured and terrified her. Could my husband believe this is something I wish for myself? What a macabre gift for him to give to me.
Also among the things that have changed in 13 years, the birth of two sons, who I fear will learn this filthy habit from the example of their father, or be sickened by incidental exposure. He stopped smoking after our first son was born. I was so proud of him for that! He was smoke-free for probably 6 months, although I am not certain exactly when he started again. He began making frequent trips to our unfinished basement. At first, I did not question it, did not notice the smoke-smell hanging around there. It began to seem strange, though, that he would spend so much time down there, when there was nothing to do down there. I confronted him, and he admitted that he had been sneaking away to smoke. My response was that if he had to smoke - and apparently he did, or he would not be sneaking down there - I would rather he do it around me than away from me. I told him the sneaking around and lying about it bothered me more than the smoking did. This was completely true at the time. I had grown up around a smoker, he had smoked around me all the time previously in our marriage. The smoking, although not wonderful, was not an irritant to me, but the fact that he lied to me, the fact that he would sneak around behind my back, was a significant wound. I wonder now, though, whether things would be different now if my response had been different then.
He did not even try to quit when our second son was born.
My husband had a heart attack, nearly a year and a half ago now. It was in the middle of a family vacation trip, we were 1 1/2 hours from home when the heart attack struck, and I sat in a strange hospital waiting room with my sons for over an hour convincing myself that they were just being thorough, and we would go on our way and be told it was only a bad case of heartburn. Then they came to tell me that it really had been a heart attack, and my own heart tore itself to bits with fear and hurt and love and terror as I faced the fact that I might lose him. I drove another 2 1/2 hours to get to the big-city hospital where they took him for critical care, and he recovered, slowly, and then came home.
In the end, we were incredibly lucky because the cardiac specialist told him on follow-up that there did not appear to be any permanent damage to the heart, and although one vessel had been completely blocked it was successfully re-opened, and the other vessels, all 40-90% blocked, would be okay with diet, and exercise and lifestyle changes. Then he told my husband that he would live a long and healthy life, if he no longer smoked. If he started smoking again, it was a certainty that he would have another heart attack and he would die.
My husband did extremely well with not smoking. He told me he had to try one smoke when they released him from the hospital, but he couldn't handle it. He stayed smoke-free for the entire period of his recovery, time off work with fractional disability pay. He went back to work, and as nearly as I can tell he started smoking again almost immediately. We discussed why this was bad, for him, for me, for our relationship, for his health and our future. He went back to the doctor, and got a prescription for Champix. It worked well for him. He smoked for the first two weeks he was taking it, and then quit. He was successful for the remainder of the prescription. I don't remember if it was four more weeks or four more months, but he said that the drug took away the reward he was getting from the cigarettes, so it just was not worth it to smoke. We paid for the prescription gladly (his drug plan sucked at the time. They would reimburse 80% of the cost of prescriptions, but we had to pay for them up front first) because it meant he was healthier, was getting better. I was very proud of him for not smoking, I know it was difficult not to. But he went back again. I don't know why he couldn't stay away.
He has changed jobs, they now have an excellent drug plan, 100% coverage on prescriptions after a $500 deductible. We go past the deductible almost immediately anyways, for my diabetes prescriptions, and the drugs he still takes since the heart attack. He went back on Champix to appease me, but has smoked for months despite taking it. It makes me angry, even though it is not us paying for the drug. Why bother if you are not even trying? It is like washing the resource down the drain, and I am fairly certain he has completely subverted any benefit it may ever give him again.
It has been making me angry a lot lately. And maybe I am being stupid to let it bother me, but it does. Please tell me if you think I am being unreasonable. I have asked and asked him to stop, for himself, for me, for our children. The thoughts of what it is doing to him, what the final consequences could be are like a horrible festering infection in my brain. These are things I never want to think about, but I cannot stop thinking about. It is like the rough tooth that your tongue will not stop playing with, even though it has been shredded into painful sores.
He has been lying to me about it again. He smokes out in the garage, and when I ask him why he's going out there, he always tells me 'No, it's not to smoke'. He's always got an excuse. He hides it when I confront him. He's sheepish, and gives me ridiculous explanations, like it's some kind of stupid game. It is very much not funny to me, but I don't think he sees how much it bothers me.
Last week, I found cigarette ashes by the computer. Until that point, he had been smoking only in the garage. It may have been just an accident, an unthinking slip that he did not manage to clean it all up. It struck me like a slap in the face. I look at it as he is pushing me, little steps at a time, and I feel like I am backed very close to a wall right now. It doesn't seem like I have much of a choice. Do I fold like a wet towel and tell him "Do whatever you want. It's okay that you smoke. Smoke as much as you want, wherever you want. I don't care."? But I do care. I care a whole lot. I do not want to sit around and watch while he destroys himself. And I begin to fear that the only other choice is to leave before he destroys himself. Because I do not have the power to stop the destruction. He is the only one with that power, and he cannot or will not use it. And I am left to wonder which of these two horrible choices is less evil. Which will be less destructive for myself, and also for my children.
It seems very stupid and shallow to consider leaving my husband over the fact that he smokes. But it is another of those evil thought-leeches, firmly attached to my brain. I want to firmly expel these thoughts, banish them never to return, before they suck the remaining happiness completely from my life.