I quit smoking a little over a year ago. August something or other, 2020 (it might have been the fourth). I didn’t make a note of it for reasons I’ve discussed before, and I continue to be surprised by my success. [i] I honestly didn’t think I’d get it done.
I didn’t believe I had quitting in me. I didn’t believe I could get it done. I was never able to quit when I should have. I didn’t quit when I was pregnant, despite fearing I’d miscarry. I didn’t quit when my son was breastfeeding, despite fearing I’d kill him via lingering toxins that possibly survived washing up.
I didn’t quit when I was coughing so hard from bronchitis, I needed oxygen and an inhaler. [ii] I didn’t quit when I came down with pneumonia.
I didn’t quit when it made me sick, which was often. Sometimes, I’d light a cigarette, and the taste would remind me of ashtrays. The inhale itself was nearly enough to make me vomit. Sometimes, I’d think my revolted rejection was God encouraging me to quit. Luckily for Philip Morris, I soldiered on.
I didn’t quit when I couldn’t afford it. I made economies elsewhere instead. I gave up on new everything for myself to pay manufacturers for poison. At least I didn’t make spending cuts that affected my kids. [iii] Occasionally, I’d promise myself a financial reward if I quit. I knew not to pay myself upfront.
I didn’t quit when I hated everything about smoking. I hated my yellow teeth, and stained fingers, and the ashtray aroma that followed me everywhere I went. I hated the ash that ended up on my clothing, in my car, and in my house. I hated the ashtrays on the deck and front stairs, the ashtrays that proclaimed, “smokers live here.” I was ashamed that people knew about my habit. I wish I hadn’t felt apologetic most of the time. It was such wasted energy. If you’re going to do a thing, do it. Except, there’s significant social pressure applied to the smoker. Smokers are held in a negative light: diminished numbers can make for strange and interesting bedfellows as one huddles in an alley for a few puffs.
I didn’t even quit when I got cancer. God hates a hypocrite (I love that quote: it’s a handy one to drag out when you don’t want to make changes).
I started smoking in my twenties as an act of rage and rebellion. It was supposed to communicate to those around me that I was in pain. It didn’t work, but I didn’t give it up. I’d already discovered it had other benefits. It made me feel like I fit in with my friends (most smoked), and it gave me something to do with my hands, staving off my social anxiety.
Sure, it’ll kill me, and it’s giving me wrinkles, and an unpleasant aroma accompanies the yellowing of various parts, but smoking keeps the fear of quitting at bay. My fear is what stopped me from stopping. I was afraid of a lot of things when it came to stopping. I was afraid of weight gain. I was afraid of who I’d be. I was afraid of dealing with stress. I was afraid of change – that last one was especially problematic. Change can often trigger my depression.
“It might trigger my mental illness” is the handiest of excuses. [iv]
It’s not that I didn’t want to quit. I talked about quitting regularly: I tried to quit less often than I mentioned it though still frequently. I tried a multitude of techniques. I tried cold turkey, patches, gum, inhalers, and vapes. Nothing took. The patches did the best job, but even they couldn’t hold out against my desire to give in. Sooner or later (mostly sooner), I’d cave and light up. Then came Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It got it done. It took two tries. That I didn’t stop smoking forever after my first reading/attempt is because I cheated: I didn’t follow the instructions. I wasn’t quite ready to let go.
A few months later, for no particular reason, I was.
I reread the book, deviated slightly from the plan with a few days of patches, and before I fully realized what was up, I’d quit. When I finally peeled the day four patch off, I was free. [v]
The best part is wearing perfume and knowing people are smelling Britney Spears’ Fantasy and not Eau du Maurier. Or maybe the best part is not getting winded anymore when I’m doing this activity or that one while pretending my weak performance isn’t because I smoke.
It’s still slightly surreal. That I don’t smoke, when it was my regular companion for thirty years, is a surprise. But the things I worried about before quitting – what if I miss it, how will I spend my time – are irrelevant. Smoking’s absence leaves not the tiniest mark.
I’m proud of myself for getting it done. It’s not the daily struggle or slog I once worried about. It simply is: I’m a non-smoker now. I’m grateful my brain hasn’t used quitting as a new beating stick: why didn’t you stop smoking sooner? I didn’t because sometimes, things happen when they’re meant.
The biggest struggle now is not being rude to the remaining smokers in my circle. I don’t want to be the ex-smoker who nags and preaches. Unfortunately, it really does reek.
Picture copyright: Robert Ingelhart
Image copyright: Health Canada
[i] The short version: it has to do with not marking anniversaries for things that are negative, for things you have no plan to return to. I don’t need to know when I quit: I’m a non-smoker now, and non-smokers don’t count the days.
[ii] More than once. Of course, that wasn’t only the cigarettes: I have a sluggish immune system.
[iii] We’ll pretend seeing their parents smoke doesn’t affect children.
[iv] Although I never used it as an excuse myself, a therapist did once blame my efforts to stop smoking on a precipitous drop in mood.
[v] In British Columbia, the government runs a stop-smoking aid program; they pay for your stop-smoking drug or support of choice once per calendar year. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/health-drug-coverage/pharmacare-for-bc-residents/what-we-cover/drug-coverage/bc-smoking-cessation-program