My Smoking Story
As a young woman, between the ages of 18-26, I smoked approximately a pack of Marlboro cigarettes a day. At 58 years old now, I thank my lucky stars I was able to stop that awful habit I had for 8 years of my young life! People today tell me it’s hard for them to imagine that I was once a dedicated and hooked smoker. It also seems a bit strange to me now given my love for living a healthy lifestyle.
Let me state my bias upfront and clearly. I despise cigarettes and Big Tobacco. Smoking kills and hurts us! Damn the companies of the tobacco industry which turn us on to smoking through advertisement, and then feed our nicotine addiction. Feed, indeed. Cigarettes are deliberately loaded with as much nicotine as possible by these companies. And, why not? The more we smoke, the more addicted we become, and the more profits they earn and can count on making over the long haul. Thank you Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard!
I remember very well at the age of 26, (at my mother’s urging and my own ambivalent desires to quit), when I finally decided I needed to stop smoking. I had reached a now-or-never point. Even though I had a very hard time imagining not smoking, I knew I didn’t want to smoke for the rest of my life. And, I felt if I didn’t quit soon, I may never do so.
What I Did to Quit Smoking
For starters, I prepped myself for quitting approximately 6 weeks ahead of time. I let friends and co-workers know of my plans. I had the backing of many. In fact, a wonderful friend decided that she would join me on this smoke-enders journey. (Unfortunately, my friend returned to smoking after several months. She has been smoking ever since for the past 32 years and counting.)
I resolved to quit on New Year’s Day. The night before on New Year’s Eve, I gave myself permission to smoke a lot. And, that I did. In 1 evening and into the early hours of that special night, I smoked close to a pack of cigarettes. After the holiday festivities, I returned home close to 1:30am. It was drizzling that night. There were approximately 5 cigarettes remaining in the pack which I tossed away into the dirt and hedges. I went into my home relieved that I was done with smoking. Or, so I thought.
The next morning I awoke and had a strong urge for a cigarette. With little thought or care, I threw on some clothes and ran outside into the rain to retrieve the pack I had gotten rid of. There it was. I picked up that pack with every intention of smoking those remaining cigarettes. But the blessed universe was on my side with another plan. The cigarettes were soaked. Impossible to smoke, I was immediately reminded of my intention to quit smoking. I accepted the message that I needed to find a way to let go and move on.
The ‘Letting Go’ Journey
Back inside out of the wetness, I sat and really started to think. Can I actually do this? Really? I wasn’t entirely convinced. Smoking was a very big part of my life and what I did. It was company. I actually felt smoking cigarettes was part of me! I had no idea how strongly I identified as a smoker. It was extremely hard imagining myself not smoking. Cigarettes actually felt like a body part attached to me with the force of a leech.
So, how would I stop smoking? The thought and task seemed huge. They were! Suddenly, I had an idea which offered me enormous hope. Here it was: I wouldn’t have to worry about quitting smoking at all. I need not go after that. The only thing I had to do was control my left hand, (I’m left-handed.) If I focused on my hand like a laser beam with the instruction of not picking up a cigarette, nor lighting a match, then I could do this.
I felt that controlling my hand was within my reach. My confidence grew. I had the power to determine what my hand would or wouldn’t do. Of course, by controlling my hand, the smoking cessation would follow. Now I had a way to manage the enormity of the task at hand. I was ready.
‘Moving Along’ Discoveries
Eventually, the rain ceased and I didn’t go back for those cigarettes. Instead, I returned to work after the holiday week-end. Many people asked if I had stopped smoking. This, for me, turned out to be enormously helpful. Being able to say, “Yes”, felt both empowering and made the whole quitting experience feel more real. I was doing this in front of myself with witnesses cheering me on. And, I found my hand wasn’t really so difficult to control. This was a great feat! Back in these days, smoking in the office was completely acceptable. So, I was already into day 2 ½ of not smoking and going strong.
At lunch time, I went out with my friend, Jerry. We dined on linguini primavera, talked, laughed, finished our meal, and ordered coffee. All of a sudden, it hit me: I WANT A CIGARETTE! I may have even drooled over the thought. Here we were in a crowded restaurant with lots of folks smoking away. I told Jerry I needed to drink my coffee quickly and leave. The desire for a cigarette was enormous. We left the restaurant and with our remaining time took a walk around the block.
Outside the restaurant and walking, I felt some calm return. I also had time to reflect and come up with a new understanding. I didn’t only need to quit smoking, but I needed to avoid behaviors that went hand-in-hand with smoking. In the case of the restaurant and coffee, my habit was to always finish a meal with a cup of coffee and cigarette in hand. Whoa! Time to change that double habit without delay.
And, I did. Jerry and I continued eating in that restaurant. At the end of our meal though, rather than sit, order coffee and smoke, we now paid our bill, and exited for a walk. It’s amazing how eliminating coffee at the end of a meal and going for a walk instead helped so much!
I maintained control of my left hand. That didn’t stop me though from deliberately breathing in the second-hand smoke of people standing next to me. Fortunately, that opportunity happened infrequently. I also had dreams for years about breaking down and picking up cigarettes again. I’d start with one and then end up smoking a pack-a-day all over again. Upon waking, I would never be quite sure if I had actually started smoking again or not. The relief and gratitude that ran over my entire body upon realizing I hadn’t resumed the cigarette habit was enormous.
Eventually, my identity evolved from that as a smoker to being a former smoker, an ex-smoker, a non-smoker. I used to smoke, but I don’t anymore. I no longer have smoking dreams either. I’ve broken free. I hope to never, ever smoke again. Not even one cigarette, ever. That feels great to take back power and to allow my real self and identity to come out without the tarnish of cigarettes. Miracles do happen. Believe! Get help.
A Quick Breathy Note For You
Many people claim smoking helps them to feel less anxious. There is a bit of an irony here as nicotine is a stimulant. How can there be a calming factor when lighting up? What is that? Here’s what it is. It’s in the inhaling and exhaling of the smoke, i.e., the deep breathing in and out. If this is your case, please know you can absolutely get that kind of calm relief without actually smoking.
What to do? Try some deep breathing with or without a cigarette. If with a cigarette, use your imagination and go through the smoking ritual as though the cigarette were lit. Hold the cigarette to your lips, and inhale deeply, then exhale slowly and deeply. Do this for as long as you would if you were actually smoking. Take note about how you felt beforehand and afterwards. Be honest and open. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Smoking is not cool nor fun. If you’re young, it doesn’t make you look more adult-like. And, no matter how long you’ve been smoking or how many times you’ve tried quitting before, the time to stand up for yourself is now. Try your precious hand at giving up this horrific, difficult, and pricey, (in both a financial and health sense), habit. Gather support, have an intention, create a plan, and take the plunge. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Self-embrace, let your divinity shine!
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