March 14, 2009

My Sordid Smoking Story

Warning: this is a long entry.

I quit smoking two years ago today. And we all know how I love to tell stories. So here's the story of my addiction to cigarettes.

It all started when I was in the womb. Seriously. My mom was a smoker long before I came into the picture and even smoked while she was pregnant with me. (This was generally accepted as something that was okay back in the day.) Anyway, I grew up with a mom who smoked. She did manage to quit for quite a few years but ended up starting again. She always made it clear to me that she didn't want me to start smoking, and I actually never thought I would.

Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. My BFF that year was named Shevvy, and she smoked. I often lectured her about it, but she just wouldn't stop, even though she was obviously ashamed of her behavior. I kept wondering what was so great about cigarettes. I finally took the opportunity to find out at a party near the end of the school year, when I took my first drag off a cigarette Shevvy was smoking. It was totally disgusting. And I stayed away from cigarettes for awhile.

But as the months passed, I kept going back to them. No one really pressured me to smoke, but all my friends smoked, and so I would join them every once in awhile. Soon, their habit had completely worn off on me, and I was buying my own packs of cigarettes instead of bumming off my friends. For a long while, I would buy a pack and have it for a month or so. Eventually, I began smoking more and more. By the time I was in college, I was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

I think I finally began entertaining the idea of quitting when I was 19 or so. I crafted out meticulous plans for cutting down. For awhile, they worked. And then I began cheating and eventually went back to my pack-a-day ways.

Moving to California really helped me cut down, as Californians are really hostile towards smokers. Smoking is not allowed in many places, and people are not afraid to tell you how nasty and disgusting you are for smoking. Eventually, I quit cold turkey and didn't smoke for four months or so. It was a major achievement on my part, until the night I was hanging out with some of my friends letting loose during finals. I had one cigarette, and that was all it took to get me started again.

There were many half-hearted attempts at quitting. I would usually cave at the first sign of needing a cigarette. And then I would feel awful for not being stronger. And then someone would say something to me about my disgusting habit, thus making the guilt even harder to deal with. I can honestly say that I was miserable as a smoker - the guilt was absolutely gut-wrenching, but the need to smoke was just as strong.

When I started dating Roy, I went to great lengths to hide my disgusting habit from him. I didn't want him or his family to think less of me. But he knew, and I'm sure his family knew, too. I was able to keep up the facade for awhile, but once we got engaged, I started getting more serious about quitting. I know that once we were married, kids would not be far off. (I love my mom to pieces, and I don't blame her for my smoking habit. It was my choice to start. However, I want to model different behavior for my own kids. I do not want them to smoke. And so I absolutely cannot smoke, ever.)

I decided at the beginning of 2007 that I would quit on Roy's and my two-year dating anniversary, March 14, 2007. I used those few months to prepare myself mentally for what was about to happen. I knew that it was going to be hard but that I really needed to do it - not just for me, but for Roy and for our future children. The only person I told about quitting was Roy. He was the only one I wanted to discuss it with, because I didn't want people bugging me day after day about how much I had or had not smoked.

So when Quitting Day actually arrived, I can honestly say that I was ready. I had prepared myself as much as I could, and I would be damned if I was going to stay a slave to the nicotine. And more than anything, I wanted to be done smoking. I think that's the key factor in taking on something that's terribly hard - you have to really want it.

So I quit cold turkey, and you know, I haven't had a cigarette since. Yes, I had days when it was tough. I still have those days when I crave a cigarette, but all I do is wait it out and the craving passes. I will probably be doing this for the rest of my life, but it's a small price to pay for having more time with those I love.

I don't think I will ever be in the clear, because once you're an addict, you're always an addict. Sometimes I will catch myself trying to justify smoking a cigarette, and it's funny to see what my brain is capable of. I will tell myself, "Oh, it's just one, you can handle one, it's not going to hurt anything." (Yes, I have even had these thoughts during my pregnancy - and if that's not a testament to the power of addiction, I don't know what is.) I have to remind myself that one cigarette can and will be my downfall. I will never be able to smoke socially or casually. I will never be able to have just one. I am - and always will be - a smoker. Only now I'm a smoker who used to smoke.

I am so glad I quit. Hands down, it was the best thing I have ever done for myself. Smoking really is my only regret in life. I am usually able to find some good in the mistakes I've made or in the bad things that have happened, but nothing good for me has come from smoking. I really, really, really wish that my mom and brother would quit - however, I know based on experience that this is a battle they will have to fight on their own. They will have to decide for themselves when or if they want to quit.

And this is why I will never (or hope I never) moralize to those who struggle with any kind of addiction. I will never tell a smoker that they stink or that they are going to die of lung cancer. They already know that smoking is bad for them. And there is so much guilt surrounding the act of smoking because every smoker knows exactly what they're doing to their body. It's just not easy (at all) to stop doing it. Plus, we all have addictions - it's just that some are more socially acceptable. It would kill me when someone holding a bag full of food from McDonald's would tell me how bad smoking was for me.

All that said, here's what I did to successfully quit smoking. This is what worked for me, and I bet it probably won't work for everyone.

1) I set the quitting date months in advance - I knew I would need a lot of time to mentally and emotionally prepare.

2) I changed my routine and the habits that I had built up around my smoking addiction. For example, Dr. Pepper and cigarettes always went hand-in-hand for me. So I cut down on my Dr. Pepper consumption. And I stopped drinking it in the morning because it would make me want a cigarette in the morning, which would then set the tone for the entire day.

3) I cut down on the amount of cigarettes I smoked each day before the actual quitting day.

4) I held myself accountable by telling Roy that I was going to quit, and every time I wanted a cigarette, I would tell him. Just the act of telling him was very helpful. He didn't moralize or tell me I shouldn't smoke; we would just acknowledge the desire and move on. It really helped that we didn't dwell on it; I just needed to say what I was feeling and get it out there.

5) I rewarded myself for milestones met. I can't really remember any specifics here, but I imagine I probably went out and bought myself some books or a smoothie or something as a reward for not smoking.

6) I didn't make a big deal out of quitting. I didn't make a big announcement that I was going to do it; I just made my preparations and did it when the time came. As I mentioned above, this really helped - because no one asked me how my quitting smoking was going.

And that's really all I did. I can't stress enough that quitting a bad habit really is a process of trial and error, and for me, it took a long time to figure out what exactly would work to get me to stop smoking. My advice to anyone out there who wants to make a change is to not give up if the first, second, or tenth attempt at quitting/changing doesn't work out - rather, you should examine what you did in that attempt and, when you are ready, try something new the next time. It is never too late to make a change - I really believe that.

Ultimately, the message behind my story is this: Don't give up. You can do it! I never thought I could, and here I am, happily smoke-free for two years now (after smoking habitually for about 10 years or so). And I am not ashamed at all to admit that I am extraordinarily proud of myself.

It's nice to know that we can change our self-destructive behaviors. It gives me hope for the rest of the world. Granted, I am still far from being perfect. But this is one thing about myself that I never liked, and I finally had the courage to do something about it.


Angie Eats Peace said...

I am so proud of you!

JennB said...

I didn't even know you smoked. great job at quitting. Charlie will thank you for that, and that's a promise

phairhead said...

I can't imagine you smoking! by the by, i attended a anti-smoking symposium for HIV + clients and everything you listed in yr plan is how I approach my clients.

interesting side note, Mar 14th is SexyBeast and I's anniversary

inflammatory writ said...

God, reading your account of the self-righteous Californians made me want to literally fly over there, roll the biggest cigarette you've ever seen, and just smoke the shit out of it and blow the smoke in their faces. If anyone came up to me in NYC and told me how nasty and disgusting I was while I was enjoying my daily cigarette, they'd have a boot up their ass. People need to get the hell over themselves. I also love people who say that while driving a giant SUV.


I haven't had a cigarette in 16 days, and while I still feel pretty terrible, I hope I can one day view it as the best decision I've ever made. This is actually inspiring a blog post re: self-righteous non smokers! I have a good story.

amber said...

excellent post. charlie will definitely be proud of you for this. :)

Crazy Daisy said...

yeah! congrats! It is awesome you where able to overcome the cigs. They are icky, and your quitting the habit will benefit so many people.

Wade said...

This inspires me. I'm setting a date to quit in May. And this time I will succeed.