I stopped smoking without intending to. Well, I suppose I always intended to, you know, "when I'm ready", but I hadn't planned to do it now. Now always seemed like the wrong time to do it. Maybe after my birthday, or after Christmas. Maybe after I move. Maybe I'll make a New Year's Resolution. Maybe once this project is over at work. Maybe when I go on vacation. Maybe after I come back from vacation. None of those maybes would ever truly arrive, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that. I knew I was fabricating these magical situations when I would be ready to stop smoking - anything as long as it wasn't today.
I smoked for about 18 years, but I never considered myself to be addicted. I smoked between 2 and 8 cigarettes a day, maybe a few more than that if I went to a party or a club, but generally I've never been a heavy smoker, or at least that's how I thought of myself - a light smoker. Not so bad, right? I never even came close to smoking half a pack a day, and people with a real problem smoke like 2 packs a day or more, right? What I never bothered asking myself was: if I don't have a problem, why is it that I can't even go one day without smoking? Even if I only had 2 on a given day, I still had to have those 2 cigarettes. A day without a cigarette wasn't something I ever even contemplated for 18 years, and I still didn't consider myself addicted.
I think back on situations where I was in beautiful wild country, places of nature and trees and clean mountain air, such a fantastic change from the smog and steel of the city where I live, but I still couldn't help polluting that environment and myself by lighting up a cigarette. Such a shame, but it seemed rational at the time.
About 3 weeks ago I ran out of cigarettes. It was Friday, and I didn't have a chance to get any smokes after work, and then I was gone to my boyfriend's parents' house for the weekend, and I thought, "Well, I just won't smoke this weekend". His mom has always generously shared her smokes with me when I haven't had any - smokers love company - so I joined her for coffee in the morning with a cigarette and sitting out after dinner, smoking. But something inside of me objected to it this time. I thought in the back of my mind, "Why am I doing this? Why couldn't I even go two days without smoking?" And that was somehow it for me.
When I went to work, I was somehow able to say no when I was offered a cigarette. I thank my lucky stars that I have a co-worker sitting beside me who quit 9 months ago, and I was able to talk to him about my inner struggle against the cravings. It helped me immensely to have a sympathetic ear; someone who's gone through the same thing, battled the same tricks our addiction tries to play on us.
About 2 or 3 days later, I realised I was doing it! I had made it almost an entire work week without a cigarette! Without one drag, not even one puff! And then I thought that pivotal thing to myself, I thought "I quit!" Not "I'm trying to cut down" or "I'm seeing how long I can go before I smoke again", but simply "I quit". I knew I had to do something to keep that feeling strong, so I made a list of reasons I wanted to stop smoking. I added a humourous image to the bottom of the list, printed it out, and taped it to the inside of my front door at home. Every time I walk out my door, I see my list, and I feel bolstered by it. (I was amused when I eventually discovered that a list of reasons to quit is something Joel likes to ask people to do before attending a clinic so that their reasons are their own, and I was glad it was something I did before I read up on all of the other reasons which are also applicable)
Once I reached day 10 or 12, I felt like I needed additional ammunition. I tried to look up motivational quotes, but mostly found a lot of quotes from people denigrating smokers, which wasn't very helpful. I watched a lot of anti-smoking commercials, then real people's accounts of their struggles with smoking and smoking-related illnesses, and I wondered to myself how I had managed to rationalise away all of this information in the past. Then, somehow, I made it to whyquit.com, and I'll be forever grateful I did. I started reading and reading and reading, hours passing while I learned about why I had never wanted to say goodbye to nicotine, what lies my addiction was telling me, why I had valued cigarettes more than the opinions of my family and friends. I learned to admit to myself that I am an addict.
Unfortunately, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of shame. Shame that I had taken so long to quit, that I had ignored all of the evidence against smoking, that I somehow thought I was different from everyone else, and hadn't cared enough about my family's concern for me. My grandfather worked in advertising and marketing in the "Mad Men" heyday, smoking three packs a day and loving it. He is now struggling with COPD, despite quitting a long time ago, and I know it upsets him when he sees anyone smoking, what to speak of his first grandchild. I called my boyfriend and told him I was feeling ashamed of myself for these reasons, and he said to me, "Don't dwell on the past. You should feel proud that you've quit now, and just enjoy the new you". Well, that makes sense! So that's what I'm doing, and I love the new, non-smoking me!
Here I am, on day 17 of my nicotine-free life, and I'm so happy I could bust. A couple of days ago I made up a document with a bunch of quotes from whyquit to keep me focused. In big letters: "no nicotine today" at the top, and I taped it up in my work space so I can reinforce my resolve when needed. I have the odd crave here and there, when I walk past someone smoking or see it on TV, but it lasts a very brief time, maybe 5 or 10 seconds at the longest. Quitting is way easier than I ever though it would be. The reality is so much less intimidating than the concept is. In fact, it's the easiest thing in the world not to do something - you just...don't do it.
I'm so proud of myself. I'm so proud of everyone who's managed to stop smoking. I'm proud of my mom for quitting 20 years ago, and my dad for quitting 8 years ago. My dad tried unsuccesfully several times, and the one thing that has kept him off of cigarettes for the last 8 years is that he knows without any shadow of a doubt that he can't even take a drag because it will cause a relapse. Now I understand why, and I know that I, too, will never take another puff.
Smoke-free for 16 days and 17 hours