Are you a smoker? When did you start smoking? How many cigarettes have you smoked in your lifetime, and what were the brands? Did they have filters? Have these questions ever crossed your mind before? Maybe you're not a smoker, so these questions are useless to you, but maybe you used to be a smoker and now you're trying to recall some of these answers. Or, maybe, you are a smoker, and some of these questions are on your mind every single day. That is exactly the case for Gregor Hens.
Nicotine is Hens’s memoir of sorts about his years as a smoker. “I no longer smoke,” he says in the first chapter of the book, “but there are still moments when I can think of nothing but cigarettes.” He explains that this book is his way of confronting his addiction in a way that lays it bare, and also offers up a testimony for others to read and relate with their own battles with addiction. First, though, he wants us to know: “I regret nothing. Every cigarette I’ve ever smoked was a good cigarette.”
When did you start smoking? Gregor Hens remembers the night of his first cigarette in vivid detail. It was a cold and snowy New Year’s Eve, and his mother offered him a lit cigarette in order to light one of the rockets they were setting off in celebration of the holiday. “You have to take a drag,” she tells him when the cigarette is about to go out. So, at the ripe age of five years old, Gregor takes a drag and sets in motion a lifetime of addiction.
Before long the addiction is running his life. His asthmatic nature and constant bronchitis are no match for the sweet release of the nicotine, even when he starts to taste blood in his coughing spells. Eventually this catches up to him, and he decides one night, after sharing the final cigarette in his current pack with a friend at dinner, that he’s done. Cold turkey.
Although he sticks to his guns, the battle with addiction was, and still is, a lot harder than he thought it would be. He and his partner struggle every day, in every way, to stay away from the lure of cigarettes. Even the butts left on the ground tempt the dark recesses of his psyche, pulling to him in an unexplainable way. He seeks out an addiction therapist and undergoes hypnotism to help. His partner joins his commitment to quit cold turkey, even when she was smoking fifty to sixty cigarettes a day.
“I’m able to write this book only by admitting that this addiction was a dominating factor in my life. I’m able to make this admission, in turn, only because it no longer dominates me.” Gregor Hens beautifully explores his long-standing battle with addiction. He talks about relapsing, quitting, and relapsing again. He details some of the darker moments of his addiction, how it controlled him completely, and how he turned that around and improved his life because of it. His memoir is both troubling and touching, reaching out to the hearts of anyone who flips through its pages, and latching on to souls of the fellow addicts that stand beside him through his battle.