I was fifteen when I took my first dip of snuff behind the dugout of the high school baseball field. It was during the bottom of the third inning, I remember that. And I remember I was due up second and the other team’s pitcher could hum a fastball. He would nod a yes to the catcher and begin a windup so slow it would almost put you to sleep, and then there was a blur from his arm and the ball was on you. It was on you and you knew if you blinked, you’d miss it. I hadn’t missed it the first time, I’d grounded out to third. That was pure luck—truth was, I never saw the ball. I swung at air and just happened to connect.
So my buddy said, “Try a dip. It’ll relax you.” And me, being fifteen and therefore almost completely a man, said yes. Because where I come from, men dip snuff.
I won’t say the habit started because I hit a double into the gap my next time at the plate. And honestly, sunflower seeds seemed to relax me more than Skoal. But I had another one after the game on the ride home—the same buddy who got me dipping also got me listening to Whitesnake and Motley Crue, but that habit, thankfully, has since been broken. I took two more the next day during practice. Then we stopped by the 7-11 on the way home and I bought my own can.
You couldn’t buy tobacco unless you were sixteen by then, but the guy behind the counter seemed more concerned with the sad state of his life than whether I was old enough to dip.
And that’s how it’s been for pretty much the last twenty-four years. Every couple days I’m back down at that very same 7-11 to sustain my habit. The only difference is that now there’s a lady behind the counter.
I come from a long line of tobacco users. Dad’s been chewing tobacco since he was eight years old. Not kidding. I’m not saying it was inevitable that I start too, but I think it’s in my blood. Much like some are born with hankering for whiskey. I will say my Skoal has seen me through my fair share of trouble. Somehow, someway, things are just better handled with a dip in your mouth. I don’t expect you to understand how that is, but it’s the truth.
It took two kids to make me realize how much of a hold tobacco had on my life. You want to be a role model for your children. You want them to understand that while you’re not perfect, you’re always trying to be better. And it was hard for me to tell them to trust in God to see them through when I was really trusting in tobacco to see me through—“Trust in,” I’d say, then I’d spit and finish, “God.”
When your kids ask you why you do the things you do and why those things are so important even if they could kill you one day, you start to think. You start to think long and hard.
So I quit. Did it last week. Six days of nightmares and shakes, ten bags of sunflower seeds, twelve packs of gum, and seventy-nine toothpicks later, I’m still here. Barely, but here. It’s scary. I don’t mind saying that.
But here’s what I’ve learned by talking to people about this—we’re all imprisoned by something. Whether it’s tobacco or alcohol or shopping, food or work or regret, we all stand in some short of shadow. And while that shadow is comfortable and familiar, while it even offers some sort of strength, we’re not meant to dwell in darkness. We were all made for the light.