At the age of 13, I tried my first cigarette. My friends and I thought, at the time, that it made us look grown up to be smoking. After all, TV commercials romanticized it. Anyone remember the Marlboro Cowboy or the Salem cigarette commercials? It’s no wonder that we all wanted to smoke. I would steal my mother’s cigarettes and sneak into our basement to smoke. You might even see me hanging out my bathroom window or sneak a drag of my mother’s cigarette while she wasn’t looking. I really thought I was getting away with something. At that time, cigarettes cost about .50 cents a pack. When the price was increased to .75 cents a pack I swore I’d quit smoking if the cost was raised to $1.00 a pack. Well, what did I really know then? As the years went by I did make attempts to quit smoking. I tried several ways including hypnosis, both as a group and private sessions. The group did seem to be successful initially. I managed to not smoke for about two months. But as soon as I went out with friends and had a drink I’d reach for a cigarette and it started all over again. The private sessions were no better. It lasted for a while as I listened to the assigned tapes but as soon as I stopped, the urge to smoke returned. I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to quit. I just did not seem to have the motivation strong enough to quit. Smoking at that time was allowed in office buildings, so I could sit at my desk and smoke. The only restriction was you could not walk around with a lit cigarette. You’d always find me at my desk during my work day so, there wasn’t much incentive to quit smoking other than not liking the smell of my hair or my clothes. I really did not consider my health, being young you don’t tend to think in those terms.
I was 35 when I had my first child. I didn’t quit smoking while I was pregnant, but don’t be quick to condemn me, I did cut way down; even went to a super light cigarette. I did not want to put my body through withdrawals and stress while I was carrying my daughter as that stress can be felt as well by the fetus. So, I cut down significantly. I was more concerned about keeping myself as stress free as possible so that my baby would not be adversely affected. After she was born, I seemed to make up for lost time and before I knew it I was smoking up to four packs a day. It didn’t happen all over night, it was little by little over a nine-month period. I don’t think I was actually smoking four packs as much as I always had to be sure I had at least two packs of cigarettes on me at any given time. At work, I always had a cigarette lit but since I was working with numbers and often balancing our deposits, a cigarette was often left in the ashtray burning. I’d panic if all I had was one pack in my bag and would hit the store to pick up another pack before going home for the night. In my apartment, I had a window fan set up and a chair by the window so when I smoked the smoke itself would be drawn out the window. Don’t kid yourself smoke still lingers in the house and second-hand smoke is still an issue. It was easy when my daughter was an infant since she would go to sleep and I could smoke away from her at my window. As she got older smoking wasn’t as easy. It emotionally weighed on me that while she was playing I could not interact with her since I was busy sitting and smoking. One night when she was nine months old, to the day and hour, I decided smoking was not more important than interacting with my daughter before her bedtime, so I put my last cigarette out. Not intending to quit, but rather to postpone the next cigarette until she was in bed and asleep. Once she was asleep I decided I would wait until the morning and have a cigarette with my first cup of coffee. Yep, it was a plan. When morning came and I had my coffee I decided no, let me wait until after I dropped my daughter off at my mother’s and then I’ll have my cigarette while I drive to work. Well, as the day went on I kept pushing off when I’d have my first cigarette until it was days later. Then I set goals. Emotional goals. I would wait until I hit the goal and then have a cigarette. I decided I’d smoke again when my daughter was 18. So, on with my daily business, I went. No more smoking.
I was told I was the worst reformed smoker my friends ever knew. I didn’t think I was so bad. Of course, I couldn’t see how I appeared to others. But the smell of smoke gave me a headache. Even when others smoked in the office next to mine I could smell the cigarette smoke through the walls. My sense of smell was heightened but I chalked it up to a mental barrier to keep me from smoking again. I kept my old pack of cigarettes in a drawer at home, so if I wanted a cigarette bad enough it was easy to get, and there were times I’d open that drawer and pick up that pack but I think because it was just that easy I would not pull a cigarette out. I always told myself I was not going to let that little cigarette control me. But having that pack comforted me emotionally. It was there if I wanted. My real test to my resolve came when we got news that my maternal grandmother passed away. I had only quit smoking for two weeks and I was due to go on a Management weekend retreat. I had a duplex suit at the convention center and the first night there it was dinner and then going to the bar to mingle with other managers. At the bar, I sat smack in the middle of two very heavy smokers and I had a drink but during the evening I didn’t smoke, not even a puff of one. The smell was so bad that I decided to call it an early evening and headed back to my room. Well, to my surprise when I took off my sweater I had to leave it in the downstairs portion of the suit because the smell of cigarettes was so strong I couldn’t sleep.
I lost my mother in 2006 to lung cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4B small cell lung cancer which was inoperable and within twelve days of our learning about her condition she passed away. There was little time to absorb what was happening so to say there was a lot of turmoil surrounding her death with my family at that time is an under-overstatement, but no I didn’t go back to smoking. My mother and I both quit smoking within a couple of years of each other. I quit in July of 1990 and she quit in 1991 and was 54 years old. She had started smoking at a very early age, around 12 or 13. I didn’t go back to smoking at least not initially. I had quit for twenty, almost twenty-one years when I had my first cigarette again. I justified it by saying I ran out of goals. My daughter was now almost twenty-two. So, what is my reason now? She’s not a baby anymore, so why not? I worked in a Call Center and when it was time for a break, we would all go outside and have a cigarette. Just about all my coworkers smoked so it became a social affair. At home, I spent a lot of time outside sitting and smoking. I would not smoke in my home. I did not like the smell of cigarette smoke and I was still concerned with second-hand smoke for my daughter. I also didn’t want the smell to permeate the furniture or walls. I wouldn’t smoke in front of certain people, initially I didn’t smoke in front of my daughter. I know most people would say at your age why hide your smoking from anyone but I didn’t smoke in front of my dad either. Deep down smoking again I knew was wrong, unhealthy and expensive. My dad valued health as a runner and was a vegetarian. Smoking was an unhealthy habit and not smoking around him was my way of showing him respect for his views.
In 2010, I met my husband. He is a trucker and I never met a trucker who did not smoke but he didn’t. In fact, he hated the smell of it, so I didn’t smoke in his presence. He knew, of course, that I smoked even though I tried to conceal it. It was easy while we were beginning our relationship but after we decided to get married it wasn’t as easy. I honestly thought if I showered before he came home, brushed my teeth, and sprayed on some nice body scents I could fool him. Don’t believe it, you can’t. The smell of smoke hangs around you a long time. He would tell me he could smell it in my lungs when he kissed me. That didn’t stop me, however, since he was a trucker and on the road during the week, it was easy for me to be outside and smoke and feel free to smoke whenever I wanted. When he came home for the weekend, it got tough. With as much as I loved him, I couldn’t wait for him to leave again for the week so I could freely have that cigarette. I hated that I seemed to be rushing him back on the road so I decided that when I needed a cigarette I’d make an excuse to go to the store. I’d satisfy my need to have my cigarette, clean up with mouthwash and body spray and left it at that.
After smoking for almost five years again I decided, and I credit my best friend for inspiring me, to quit smoking again. She and I would sit for hours on the phone just talking about anything and everything and all the while I’d have my cigarettes and my coffee. My husband was patient with me and encouraged me to quit but it was my dearest friend who made it click for me that I could quit and that I could still take back control and exert my will power. It was my habit whenever I’d talk on the phone, I had to have my cigarettes. I’d sit and smoke one cigarette after another and after a while I’d feel my chest burning. I knew it was time for me to stop before I ended up with health issues to deal with, like my mother. My smoking had gotten out of control again with smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day. After talking to my oldest and dearest friend about quitting, it was as though something within me clicked and so I took the pack of cigarettes that I had just bought and I put them away. Now I will not tell you I didn’t have another cigarette because I did. But once I got it out of my system I never went back again. It’s now almost three years since I quit again and sometimes it’s a struggle but most days I don’t even think about it. That almost three-year-old pack of cigarettes is still in my cabinet. I will use them. But I will not be smoking them. Ever smoke a stale cigarette? Woohoo what a head spinner that would be after all this time. No, I will be making a tobacco tea and spraying down my garden flowers to keep bugs off them. That will put those stale cigarettes to a good use.
For me, it’s all or nothing just putting the cigarette down was easier than trying to reduce the number of cigarettes day by day or even using the patch. If I put it down and never have another one it’s easier than having one at a scheduled time and emotionally deal with when I was going to be allowed to smoke again. It was an emotional issue more than a physical issue. I won’t say I didn’t go through withdrawals because I most certainly did. But I did do something I thought would help reduce the urge. I drank a lot of water, ate a lot of vegetables, and I busied myself with something to do with my hands. I realized it was the hand to mouth motion that I missed mostly, so I substituted celery sticks for cigarettes. I gained a good twenty pounds after I quit smoking, and since joined a gym and began an exercise program. In a months’ time, I dropped ten pounds. When I first quit I paid about $2.75 a pack now we are looking at almost $6.00 a pack and higher in some places. Having that extra money in my pocket was a pleasant surprise. Talk about incentive.
I’m also a diabetic, so initially joining the gym was to help control my sugar. Losing the weight was an added bonus. Today, I am again smoke-free since December 20th, 2014 and I feel healthy. I need to lose some weight but I feel wonderful. Having diabetes has made me aware of the foods I need to avoid and the foods I need to eat more of as well as the harmful effects of smoking on the body. My advice for anyone who is a smoker and would like to quit, you need to ask yourself first some questions. 1 – Are you really motivated to quit? If you are not, you will not be successful. 2 – Is quitting something you really want to do? You cannot quit because someone else wants you to quit. It must be something you truly want to do. 3 – Can you just walk away? I do believe there are two personalities – the Addictive Personality and the Non-Addictive Personality. I classify myself as a Non-Addictive Personality. Once you have determined which you are, then you need to examine which program will work for you. Not all programs work the same for everyone so give it a lot of thought but don’t give up if one program doesn’t work. Keep up the motivation and try another program. When I put that last cigarette down I drank an enormous amount of water and ate a lot of vegetables. Mostly raw celery, spinach, and broccoli. I ate black rice and set out to eat a mostly vegetarian diet. Although I do enjoy a good burger or steak. But it was to help me clean out my system. If you are determined to quit smoking you will, just hang in there and keep the motivation. If you have a support system in place lean on that as well, if you don’t have a support system try to get one set up. Ask a good friend to lend an ear from time to time when you need a little extra push. You will be surprised how many people will support your decision to quit smoking and your decision may also inspire someone else quit. My friend inspired me to quit again, you may be an inspiration to someone as well.