Editor’s note: This article is the final in a three-part series on Addison County residents who have sought help from the Quit Tobacco Program at Porter Hospital in order to kick their cigarette habits.
SHOREHAM — For the first time in decades, Deborah Diamond, 66, could smell the coming of spring.
Earlier this year, Diamond’s vow to quit smoking once and for all was bolstered when she caught a whiff of that “lovely green smell” that she never wants to lose again.
“I think this time that I finally understand that that’s what is going to happen if I ever have another cigarette,” the Shoreham resident said recently. “And I don’t want to go through this fuss again.”
Until now, smoking had accompanied Diamond through every stage of her life, from stealing Chesterfields from her aunt when she was young, to college at Smith and to crawling around on the ice in the Northwest territories of Canada, installing research equipment.
Diamond, who is now mostly retired, worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H. Before taking the job, she worked in the field in various parts of northern Canada for a number of years studying ice.
“There were some places where you’d go where the field hands were local folk,” she said. “They were Indians and Eskimos and anybody who happened to be drifting through the town. And they all smoke. Desperately. And it was cold — it was like 40 below and that sort of thing. So they have these warm-up shacks and you’d go in there and 10 people were all in there smoking and so, you kind of got used to smoke all the time.”
Throughout her existence as a smoker, Diamond never went much beyond one pack a day, but on extensive field trips like these in the north, she found herself smoking as much as two packs a day.
“But I didn’t like to because it made me feel all tight and sore,” she recalled.
She didn’t particularly like the smoking, but she loved her arctic surroundings.
“Oh, I just loved the Arctic. It was just wonderful,” Diamond said. “Everything about it was wonderful. It was just so empty. And despite all of the smoking and disgusting things that happened where people were, there’d be a storm and it was all gone — it was just always cleaning itself. And the colors were so beautiful. They were just all pastels.”
In August of 2009, Diamond took a leaf out of the Arctic’s book and decided to clean up her own act.
“I just kept burning holes in my clothes and brown things on the table and I hated it,” she said. “I was tipping ashtrays onto the floor and then there would be ashes and butts all over the place and I’d still be finding them in months to come. It was just nasty. So finally, I just decided to do it. I think it was largely the smell.”
Diamond never could stand the smell of cigarettes.
“I’ve always hated the smell of it,” she said. “And recently, the smell of a non-filtered cigarette, I don’t mind. It’s like pipes. I don’t mind the smell of pipes. Cigars are pretty nasty, but light cigarettes — the smell has always nauseated me. It’s just disgusting.”
As the end of summer drew near in 2009, Diamond realized that she would have to close up her Shoreham house soon, and would no longer be able to throw the windows open and let the breeze clear out the smoky residue. While attending the Addison County Fair and Field Days, she happened upon a booth that was giving free health screenings. Leila Joseph was there advertising Porter’s Quit Tobacco Program, which she runs; and Diamond asked for help.
Soon, Diamond began attending the group sessions on a regular basis and for the first time in a long series of quitting attempts, this time, she found it easier to quit and stay quit.
“I thought it was going to be something that wasn’t going to do much,” she said. “But getting there, there was this room full of people who were all just completely different. I was really surprised by that. There was me, and people who have smoked for three years — young people, old people — people from all walks of life, and jobs and professions. And the common focus was that we all kind of wanted to close the door on this.”
And for Diamond, this group effort seemed to work in ways that other quitting aids had not.
“It was very successful for me,” Diamond said. “Typically, I’d quit for awhile, and use the patches, and I got through several months of patches previous to this. But as soon as I put the patches away I’d say, ‘Oh what the heck.’ And I’d smoke. But I was kind of embarrassed at the thought of having to come back to the group and say, ‘Well, I blew it.’”
But Diamond hasn’t “blown it,” and she has not smoked a cigarette for over a year.
“It took about six months but I could smell things again,” she said. “When spring came around this year, I could actually smell the spring coming around, which I haven’t done in decades. And it was just so wonderful. It was just so good.”
And spring isn’t the only thing that’s got Diamond to stay away from the Rolling Rones that she was once never without.
“My clothes smell better, my house smells better, and of course, I quit in August, so there was a month of warm weather after that and the house was pretty well aired out by the time I closed it up for the winter. I still open up a box every once in awhile, and I still get that smell.”
QUITTING WASN’T EASY
Though she’s happy with her new smoke-free lifestyle, Diamond admits that the quitting process wasn’t easy. The day after she quit, as she was emptying old ashtrays and sweeping up discarded butts, she found an old cigarette under the couch, covered in cat hair.
“It must have been something my brother dropped at some distant time because it was covered in cat hair and it was dusty and stained,” she recalled. “And though it was a pretty disgusting looking thing, I felt I was holding this treasure. In the end, I just dusted the cat fur off it and smoked it down.”
But after that, she called it quits for good, relying on support from both the group at Porter Hospital, and also the state-run quitting site, VermontQuitNetwork.org.
“I think just seeing other people doing it made it more of a team effort even though it wasn’t,” she said. “It was just sort of an individual effort for all of us.”
Anyone who wants to quit smoking will only do it if they truly want to, she said. Though Diamond would like to tell young smokers to stop now, she knows it’s more complicated than that.
“You can’t tell them what it’s like to have been stuck with this for years and years and years,” she said. “They won’t believe you, because they are immortal and supermen — all of them. And they’re different — different from you. You are an old fart and know nothing and they are young and can do anything. They’re not going to take that advice unless they wanted to take it anyway.”
Tamara Hilmes is at firstname.lastname@example.org.