I quit smoking in 1999, I had done it a thousand times, in fact I quit every time I put one out and it was not easy. It probably was one of the most, if not the most difficult things I have ever done. I had been a smoker for about 15 years at that time and I was smoking about three packs a day. I don’t believe that in today’s society with all the no smoking laws that a person with a job could possibly smoke that much. My first and last breath of each day usually contained a puff of smoke. In fact, just about every breath I took during the day had smoke in it. I had tried many times earlier to quit, I had a few times when I went for a couple of days, a few weeks, a month or two, and once I even kept clean for over a year, but I always seemed to go back to it. I tried patches, I tried gum, I tried acupuncture, and hypnosis, I tried prescription medication, and nothing made it easy, nothing made the craving for a cigarette go away.
The summer of 1999, my wife at the time was pregnant with my twin boys and she wanted me to quit for the boy’s sake and hers and not to mention mine for that matter. I knew that I couldn’t quit just because she wanted me to, but that I needed a deep inner driving force to do it for myself. I had been wanting to quit for a long time and was afraid of the damage I was causing my body, I even worried that I would drop dead from a heart attack at the ripe old age of 35, I had a friend that had triple bypass at 35, and also the fact that I did not want to set a bad example for my sons.
I decided that on July 22nd, 1999 that I would become a non-smoker, this just happened to be the wife’s birthday too, making a really shallow but cool present. I made an announcement to the world that I was going to quit and by god I meant it. I told everyone that starting that day I would be one of the most unpleasant, rude, mean, cantankerous, and hateful persons they probably ever met, but not to worry about it because it would only be temporary until I kicked the habit…sixteen years later I still am that person, but that is beside the point. I did not try to find an easy way, a painless way, or a soothing way this time, it never worked in the past. No, this time I decided to quit cold turkey. I had the support of my family and friends, well most of them that were non-smokers. Smokers, myself included are always afraid of people that quit and I know why…they are jealous because they wish that they could do it too.
The first morning was hell, I had a gnawing pack of beavers in my stomach, I had the jitters, I was sweating, and it was only the first morning. I knew that even though I had all the determination in the world, I would fail. Somehow I persisted, the next few days were awful, I wished I could just be hit by a truck and be in a coma for a year or so until the withdrawals quit, but that would have been cheating. I used many ways to try to distract myself, I used something I learned in a quit smoking class years earlier called “Now Awareness” where I would concentrate on things around me, notice things that were not so noticeable, and that would take my mind off of my craving for about seven and a half seconds and then I would start the process again. I had a rubber band on my wrist that I would snap and try to distract my cravings that way, I chewed toothpicks to give my mouth something to do, I chewed so many of them that I still have the orange stripe around my belly where the city forester marked me to be cut down due to Dutch Elm Disease. One thing that really did help was I kept a straw in my pocket that was the same length as a cigarette and stuffed cotton in one end to try to reproduce the effect of taking a deep drag. I found this calming, I could suck on that relieve some tension and at the same time deeply breathe in clean air into my heavily polluted lungs. I even did some really odd and disgusting things, I had a penny in my pocket and I told myself that if I sucked on that penny long enough and if it would dissolve, then I could have a cigarette. It never dissolved, but it looks more like a washer now than a penny.
After about a week, I knew that the nicotine was out of my system but that didn’t make the cravings go away, that took way longer. If someone tells you that the cravings go away after the first week, discontinue that friendship and find a friend that won’t lie to you. Honestly, it was probably more like a month for me before I was able to rationally deal with the cravings. By this time I was feeling good about myself having that under control, but now my belly was becoming a control issue, transference of addictions is what I think they call that, but we will save that for another time. At this point I had been through the wringer, the last month of my life royally stunk and not of smoke either, although I did enjoy sitting next to people who were smoking and tried to share as much as I could without violating their personal boundaries. I was crabby, agitated, and fat, but I wasn’t smoking, I was starting to think I was a quitter. Next my mind then switched from thinking about quitting to thinking about not starting again. I knew that if I started again, even if I just took one puff of a cigarette, I would be right back where I was if not worse, and that it would take all the more to quit the next time, if there would be an next time, I couldn’t do it again. I remained determined and still am to never light up another cigarette as long as I live, to never put myself through the hell of quitting again, and sixteen years later I haven’t.
I wish that I had a magic power to take away the desire to smoke from anyone who wanted to be done with it. I wish that reading my words alone would be enough motivation for anyone to quit smoking. I am sorry to say I don’t have that ability but if you want some encouragement, here is what I have for you…”If I can do it…you can do it too.” I quit a thousand and one times, the last time worked. I only wish it would have been easy.