My Journey to Becoming a NonSmoker
Update: I am now 3 years smoke free. I’m struggling some with my weight, but I’m sure there are other factors that contribute (like lack of exercise and huge love for cooking). However, I am so happy that I no longer smoke and I’m ok being around those who do smoke. I may notice the smell a little more and I may try to encourage others to quit with my story, but I will never forget my journey and how important it was that it was “my” decision this time.
I prepped, I researched, I googled, I called, I journaled, I planned... 6 weeks prior to ending my smoking journey- I worked to ensure that I was following a path that would work for me.
In 1987- when I smoked that very first cigarette- I felt nauseated, but excited! As an 8th grader- I was just “hovering” on adulthood! I knew that I knew everything that needed to be known... I was secure- and ready to move on to that next stage in my life- so I took that first puff. I attempted to hide my cough to prove to the upperclassman that I was absolutely worthy of sharing that 10 cent stick from their pack. Yeah- it worked... I loved it! It almost immediately led to a new bond with the “mature” kids (?!) in my school! As time went on, smoking became an outlet and a way of socializing. Even my mama and I found a way to connect when we smoked a couple of cigarettes at the end of the night. It was taboo of course, but it was and still remains one of my favorite memories. I would come home from college and she would have spent her night on the phone talking to my aunt or friends from her past and we would sit down next to each other, take a long drag and just talk about our day. It wasn’t every time, but the days that it happened were some of my favorite. Smoking has always been a way for me to connect and socialize.
I continued smoking, my college roommate smoked and we would stay up all night, sitting in bed, smoking our cigarettes and sharing our stories.
Smoking was important, in fact, it was so important- that I had very little time for those who didn’t share my habit. I felt judged and insecure when I was around those that did not understand or enjoy my recreational activity.
In 1993, I met my husband, Jon. He was NOT a fan of my habit. I hid it for the most part, but when I would drink alcohol it was inevitable. My smoking led to so many crazy fights and arguments.
Perhaps 1994 was the year that I truly realized I was a smoker. Jon was very frustrated by my smoking and gave me an ultimatum... it had to be him or the cigarettes. Seems like an obvious choice- but no... my choice was the cigarettes- not because I loved them more than him... but because I loved my right to choose and I would not let anyone ever rule me in that manner. Fortunately, he loved me too much to give up on me.
So, throughout the years, I continued to smoke... never in my home... but definitely in our garage. It became the local hangout and life was good.
Over the course of time, I became pregnant. I went 100% smoke free from the very moment I discovered I was blessed with a child, however eventually, once my baby was born, I would go back to enjoying my habit. Many times, I would say, “well, I will only smoke when I drink”... but then I found myself drinking just so that I could smoke. After our oldest was born, I was so paranoid about second hand smoke- that I would shower after smoking and before holding him ... sometimes resulting in 5+ showers a day. I knew the dangers, but only worried about the dangers to my children. I loved smoking and the “break” and “camaraderie” it allowed.
In 2007, I turned 35! I was determined... this would be it. I didn’t want to quit, but the pressure of my kids getting older, the new anti-smoking legislation and the decrease in “smoking friends” prompted me to make that decision. I remember the difficulty... I remember calling my doctor on day 3 and being so insecure and sad, I remember cheating and sneaking a cigarette and then I remember the amazing feeling when I stopped caring. Smoking wasn’t my life anymore, but not smoking changed my life. I missed it, not because I missed the cigarette, but I missed the feeling... the bonding, the “association”. I did well though, 4 and a half years later, I was still smoke free. THEN... a death occurred! One night at a kitchen table bonding with my college roommate, turned into 6 more years of smoking.
I love smoking, I love the relationship that I have with “smokers”... it might seem silly, but smokers have an ability to create a relationship/bond with a new person in under a minute. I’ve seen it outside restaurants, I’ve seen it outside airports... maybe it’s because smokers are chastised- they are given looks, lectures and lessons. Perhaps the bond between smokers is part of being in the minority and the common bond of being “second rate” citizens. Maybe we bond because we understand each other... people who have never smoked or been addicted to cigarettes have no idea what it feels like to need a small stick to take a deep breath, to feel connected or to do something as simple as start a day. Those who don’t smoke have no idea the mean words or hurt that we get from our friends and loved ones. We get that they are trying to convince us to make decisions that our right for all of our lives, but in reality, it just pushes us away.
We know the risks, we understand the statistics and we appreciate your concern, but we are victim to our addiction. Our addiction may not even be nicotine or Tobacco, more likely than not- our addiction is to our smoking friends who realize what it’s like to be considered a 2nd rate citizen, our addiction is to the “break” that we get when we step outside for our cigarette and our addiction is to the people who share... share their lighter, share their cigarettes, hold their hands over the flame to help light and thrive on the 3 minute conversation that we get when we connect over that short cigarette. It’s the time when we share pictures of our kids with strangers, talk about our concern for flying or even our hopes for the future. There is never judgement, just an openness and a sharing that doesn’t occur in most other areas of our lives.
So here I am again. I have enjoyed nearly every moment of my last 6 years as a smoker, but I know the dangers! I’m not 15, I’m not wealthy and I’m not healthy... is smoking really still right for me? Is my daughter going to let me spend time with her children when my clothes smell like smoke, is my other daughter going to start smoking because I do it? Is my son going to marry a girl that refuses to come to my house because we allow smoking in our garage? But wait, is this new cough going to turn into COPD, is my insurance going to go up? Are my wrinkles getting deeper because of my dried out smoker skin? Will my hair ever get it’s luster back from years of smoke damage? Is my musical ear going to come back after the years of sinus/ear damage caused by smoking and its side effects? Will my tummy ever stop creaking from the IBS related to smoking? What about the high blood pressure, the yellow finger nails, the wrinkles above my lips, the inability to run around the block (ok- kidding-, I’ve never been able to do that)... how about the low pitched crackly voice? The lack of taste buds? The osteoporosis that’s starting and the smell of smoke on every article of clothing in my closet?
Finally, at age 45, I realized that my reasons for smoking no longer outweighed the reason for smoking, so I set up a plan!
Two months prior to my quit date, I began my research. I told a few people, not because I wanted encouragement, but because I knew I needed to hold myself accountable. This time, the only one who convinced me to stop smoking was ME! Many factors went into this decision, but for the first time in my life, I actually wanted to quit for me.
I received tons of feedback... do it this way, try this, don’t do this, eat this, don’t drink, stop caffeine, eliminate triggers... the list went on and on. I set my date and held myself accountable. I armed myself with patches, e-cigarettes, nicotine gum, vitamins, herbal remedies, iPhone apps, websites, prescription medications... I was ready. The night before, I smoked all but 7 cigarettes. I didn’t throw the remaining away though, I had already decided that if it got to be too much, I would slowly finish those cigarettes. The first day, I chewed one piece of gum and took a couple of puffs off my e-cig. Day 2, I relied a little more heavily on my e-cig. Day 3, I was sad. Sad about this lifestyle change, sad that I wouldn’t be able to just step outside and have that bond with people, sad that my entire life was changing. That evening, several people came over, we had drinks, they smoked in our garage... and I was ok! It was then that I decided that I was done! I no longer wanted to be a victim to smoking, however I also couldn’t beat myself up in an effort to be successful. I told myself, I’m in it for forever, what if I screw up though? Am I a failure? Do I throw in the towel?
The answer became clear. I knew it was different, but I thought to myself... if I screw up on my diet and splurge with Long John Silvers, does that mean that I can eat Long John Silvers everyday?
Now here I am one year later, I didn’t touch that remaining pack of cigarettes, in fact, a friend of mine finished them one evening about 6 months later. How do I feel one year later? The reality is, I have gained over 35 pounds since quitting, so I feel uncomfortable and frustrated by my lessened metabolism. My life changed when I quit... I missed cigarettes like I missed a friend, I didn’t really feel all that much better, but again, I was determined. The weird thing is, I don’t love being a non-smoker... but I love the extra time I have with the people I love- I love not having to plan every road trip and every night out around smoking. I don’t have grandkids yet, but the number one thing that made me quit was thinking that I might not be able to meet my grandkids someday and I suddenly felt very jealous of all of my friends who were becoming grandparents! I want to share pictures and talk about babies too- so I won’t smoke. It’s not even that I miss smoking or even desire cigarettes, it was just that it was a part of me... and I sorta mourned it when it was gone. I was ready this time because of all of my friends and their grandbabies. I am confident that I will never go back because I really don’t miss it, but I had to set it up right for me this time. I truly believe I went through the five stages of grief when I quit. I was angry that I was so addicted, I was in denial over my health problems, I bargained with myself when I gave me permission to cheat (even though I didn’t), I was depressed over my loss of something that was such a significant part of my life.
In December, I attended a memorial service with my daughters. They had lost a friend in an automobile accident. A sixteen year old girl, with hopes and dreams, and so much love in her heart. I watched my girls mourn her loss and knew instantly that I would do anything within my power to avoid putting them through this again. I don’t want to be the cause of that type of pain. We have the ability to initiate change. Change is scary, but with strength, determination and support, we can overcome that fear. Acceptance, the final stage of the grieving process is often the most difficult to reach, it takes time, patience and understanding. Although I no longer need that little white paper stick, I can still step outside and talk to a friend that does. I am the same person, the same friend and I promise not to judge, criticize or complain. If you choose to smoke, I will support your decision. If you choose to quit, I will applaud you, but I will also be realistic. The journey is long and change is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to control your life. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment on this road to being a non-smoker is the control I have regained over my own life. I am not going out of my way to drive myself everywhere so I can smoke, I am enjoying after dinner conversations with friends instead of sneaking outside to smoke. Perhaps I will always grieve the loss of that part of my life, but I am no longer a victim, I am in control. Acceptance, the final stage, I have finally accepted that I’m a non-smoker.