As the holidays approach, I’m grateful to be just shy of 10 months nicotine-free. The fact that I didn’t give up trying to quit until the miracle finally happened is the best gift I could have given myself and the people who love me.
I started smoking in college in 1993, and started trying to quit a month or two later. Granted I wasn’t very motivated to stop as a 20-year-old student, but even then quitting was already beyond any strength or willpower I could muster.
I got a year and a half smoke-free at one point, about two years into recovery from alcoholism, but I never really applied 12-step principles to smoking and one night after a meeting I decided to bum “just one.” I barely thought twice about it. Just one turned into half a pack that night, and I bought my own pack the next day. For 12 more years I was a smoker who was always ‘just about to quit.’ There were periods when I gave up and resigned myself to my fate, but for the most part—to my credit—I kept trying.
Late last year I started going to the gym for the first time since I was in my twenties, and my 42-year-old smoker’s lungs and oxygen-starved muscles protested loudly. A friend gave me a copy of Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and I read it. At that point I realized what my blind spot had been—for so long I had considered myself a smoker who happened to be quitting, but I never did the same first step with regard to nicotine that had begun my freedom from alcohol.
At that point a number of changes in my thinking began to more closely reflect reality, which eased the quitting process for me:
I’m not a “smoker,” I’m a nicotine addict pure and simple. Words matter. As an active smoker I am constantly going through withdrawal and fending off the inevitable by picking up just one more cigarette. As long as I keep the obsession going that sometime I’ll beat the craving, no rational reasoning is likely to get me to stop. It will never be easier; it’s an addiction.
Quitting is 100% possible. People do it all the time. I’ve done it. Part of me endlessly debated whether I “could do it” – which for an addict is an easy out to keep smoking. Of course I could be a non-smoker – I did it every day of my life until I started smoking.
Withdrawal is temporary, will not kill me, and though it will make me a little crazy for a while, that’s OK.
Today, I feel healthier and younger than I’ve ever felt. My colleagues at work have noticed that I don’t smell as bad and am much more productive and focused. I’m downright athletic for the first time in my life, training for a Triathlon next year.
Most of all, I’m not thinking constantly about cigarettes—about when I’ll get my next fix, about the discomfort of physical craving, about how I wish I could sit and focus during after-dinner conversation or enjoy a lazy morning in bed on a cold winter day without having to go satisfy my addiction. They no longer control me as long as I don’t pick up the first one.