15 – Ring of smoke

Ring of Smoke

Taking a puff on a cancer stick
Not really thinking of being sick
The momentary relief of the tar and ‘tine
Peace in my life, through poison unseen

Years pass through with no noticeable news
Of the dreaded demand of its dirty dues
Not knowing of the constricted tightness of breath
That would hurry intimacy with the angel of death

Then one day an infection makes itself known
Showing its teeth, tormenting what’s sown
by the damage done from years long gone by
Lungs now crippled and crying out “Why?”

Slowly I take in a breath, now so pure
Through an oxygen bottle, because there is no cure
If only I had listened long ago to the folk
That warned of the danger in that ring of smoke

By Stuart Patterson

It was sometime around 1986. I am not exactly sure when, but probably, if I was not a procrastinator, I could find out. Anyway, I digress, I was sitting in a cold damp cell that was the old Airdrie Sheriff Court building. My crime this time was opening a lockfast place; the lockfast place being a newsagent in Bargeddie. It was one of those things that, as young people in the gang we thought was cool, and a quick way to get money. The effect it had on the owners, parents court systems etc did not occur to us. Like so much we were involved in.

Court Cell, Airdrie’s was smaller.

Anyway, I was sharing a cell with four others waiting to be taken up to the courtroom. I cannot for the life of me remember anything about my “roommates” except they were smoking rolling tobacco. Other than cannabis, I did not smoke at this time, (many hash smokers did not consider themselves smokers). I remember asking for one, and one of the guys looking at me and asking if I smoked. I said that I did not but since it seemed I was going to prison it might be a good time to start.

They all shook their heads, but I was passed one anyway. And thus it began. It is amazing how quickly smoking gets a grip on you. How acceptable it is (at least on those days) to be puffing and drawing what is basically poison gift wrapped in a special paper.

People often ask how many I smoked, its a stupid question in a lot of ways, because like my drugs, the answer was always as much as I could. For the next 11 years, it was one cigarette after another; especially when I was at my worst with speed (amphetamine sulphate). The lengths we would go to at times, and some of the dirty habits and ways we would indulge when there was no cash for cigarettes – well!!!!

In my short remand sentences, as well as when I finally got my BIG sentence for the drugs, it was always about having a smoke.

When I got out of prison, I was always tapping (borrowing) cigarettes as If I was going to pay back that debt.

Some days I must have smoked around 60 – 70 a day, others not really much less.

Right up until my entry to Teen Challenge Wales, recounted in my Bus Service post, smoking was as much a part of my life as the drugs.

Upon entering Wales, after leaving my last pack in the taxi seat, I have never smoked since. Oh, there were times. Like when David “Packie” Hamilton came to visit with a guy the week after I came in. It was a guy he was working with to help beat addiction. Saturday afternoon, great May day. Most of the students were at leisure centre but because I was still on induction I couldn’t go.

I was sitting up the back, behind the volleyball court (I’ll talk about THAT fruit tester in another blog), when this guy came up and sat beside me. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette, and automatically I said, “Nah mate I’ve no smoked in a week, and if I take that noo, its a week wasted'”

Five minutes later, I was desperate for a cigarette, but try as might I could not get the guy on his own again. It was about two weeks later it struck me what I had done then, saying “No” in the short term as it was more beneficial in the long term.

Or – postponement of immediate gratification for long-term benefit.

There were other times, like every single meal. Part of the normal habit of smoking was always a cigarette with a cup of tea after eating something. I was in a place where I could not do that. Many times in those first few weeks I would find myself automatically reaching for a packet of cigarettes, usually in my pocket but no longer there. Instead, I got myself a wee Gideons Pocket New Testament and Psalms. Very quickly I developed the habit of reaching into my pocket and, instead of pulling out a cigarette, I would pull that out and read a few verses from the Bible. It was great, and the temptation to smoke quickly passed. It’s amazing how temptation goes when you look to God to help you beat it.

A well loved Gideon pocket Bible

I have not smoked since that last taxi journey. I am glad I never managed to get one from Packie’s friend. I never gave the memory of them much thought until my mum and dad were each diagnosed with COPD and seeing the damage done to them.

I thought that as I had smoked for a relatively short time that I had escaped the consequences of it.

The past six weeks I have struggled with the same chest infection that seems to be taking everybody out just now. Antibiotics and inhalers having no discernible effects, and the doctor escalating the medication.

My new friend

Friday just gone, I was in with the practice nurse. We did a few tests and she suggested that those short years had maybe wreaked some damage after all. The chest infection may have exacerbated it and my restricted breathing, lack of energy and coughing fits might just be down to that fateful day in Airdrie Sheriff Court and having that first roll-up cigarette.

Thank God, that at the age of 27 He delivered me from all of that. Thank God only a couple of years later I met and married Tracy who had never smoked. Thank God that my children seem as disgusted with it now as I wish I had been then.

I am still not sure at this point of the smoking has irreparably damaged my lungs, but as you can see – it sure has got me thinking. What else do we take in that seems good in the moment, but in the long term can wreak havoc?

The Bible says that, “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” Proverbs‬ ‭14:12‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This blog is part of a wider collection to show the journey that would eventually lead me to the cross of Jesus Christ, my personal redemption, and my journey of faith afterwards. If you would like to know more of my story, please click on my “About” page and take it from there.

If you would like to know more about the Christian response to addiction, or just need hope please click on one of the links below.

The Haven
Teen Challenge Strathclyde
Teen Challenge UK
Teen Challenge Global
Street Connect
Bethany Christian Trust
Cornerstone Assemblies of God, Maryland
Broken Chains Ayr
Easterhouse Community Church
Stuart Patterson