I am sooo glad I was able to quit smoking cigarettes. This feels like a very real freedom to me. A freedom I claimed and made for myself, and so is uniquely and totally mine. The feeling of empowerment and strength is so great; no matter what other problems or difficult circumstances I am facing (and there are a few), when I think that I do not have to smoke cigarettes today, I feel a rush of joy. Even now after twelve years, every time I think that I am now free of cigarettes, I feel sooooo good. That's how amazing this powerful happiness is. I feel so good that I am no longer chained to smoking cigarettes, I want to share the feeling with everyone. So I'm writing this in hopes of sharing some of this powerful great feeling with all of you. I am soooo glad I am no longer smoking!!
For about 25 years I smoked at least a pack a day of unfiltered cigarettes. It was the first thing I did when I woke in the morning (even before getting out of bed), and the last thing I did at night before going to sleep. I knew I was hooked; previous unsuccessful attempts to stop had proved that to me. I knew that I should stop, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I figured I was too weak to stop.
And then came the day the state announced they were raising the taxes again on cigarettes. I was unemployed at the time, and I remember looking at my pack of cigarettes and thinking to myself I can't pay $5 dollars for this shit anymore. I can't afford it. This stuff is literally killing me, and I'm spending good money on it (back then, that's what cigarettes cost in my state; now of course it costs much more) I had promised myself I would stop if they raised the prices, and now it was time for me to put up or shut up.
So I allowed myself to run out of cigarettes. After I smoked my remaining pack, I climbed into bed and pulled the covers over my head. I stayed there for two days. It was the longest I had gone without a cigarette in many years. Feeling like I had established a record of not-smoking that would motivate me to continue to not-smoke, I got out of bed. Everything seemed slightly and weirdly different, a little sparkly and tingly to me. The sunlight seemed brighter and my hearing a little sharper. I felt almost light-headed and there was a weird energy that seemed to flow in my arms and legs. I had a curious feeling of talkativeness.
All that strange new world feeling went away after a few days, and was replaced by something much darker and more difficult. Yes, there was that incessant and desperate urge to have a cigarette, an almost overwhelming wish for that hot harshness on the back of my throat and to feel it fill my chest. But mostly, I felt really shitty. I felt like something had died, that nothing was ever going to be right for me, and I was condemned to some previously undescribed circle of hell that existed for me and for me alone. I basically felt like crying all the time. And time itself seemed to have slowed down. I wasn't working, which meant I had a lot of time to think about how crappy I felt and much I wanted to smoke. I felt pretty strongly crappy for at least six months, maybe even a year. But saying that doesn't really do justice to how much I hurt.
As I look back, it seems like a miracle that I did not smoke then. And I think part of the amazing good feeling I have today from not smoking is indeed due to remembering how shitty I felt when I stopped smoking. See, I beat that bad feeling; I beat it to death. Not only did I stop smoking, but I took away the power that bad feeling had over me. I beat it, and that makes me feel incredibly strong today. .
I think in retrospect I would not recommend that anyone should try and stop smoking the way I did: quitting cold turkey like that, and then sitting around with nothing to do except think about how crappy I felt. There are gum, patches, and medications that are helpful and widely available. In my state, they now even offer these things for free to people who want to stop smoking and are willing to sign up. My recommendation is that this is a tough row to hoe, and if someone wants to stop smoking, they should make use of all the help they can get.
But I did have a trick that was working for me. See, I didn't tell myself that I wasn't ever going to ever smoke again. For me, it was impossible to imagine that I would never have another cigarette again. That to me was too difficult, something I could not accomplish. Just the thought that I could never have a cigarette again was a trigger for me; that thought alone made me want to smoke.
So what I told myself was that I would allow myself to have another cigarette, but I was going to wait ten minutes or so before I smoked it. See, waiting a bit before having a cigarette was something I had been doing all of my smoking life: at work, in airports, when visiting non-smoking friends, and in many other situations. So while the thought of never having another cigarette was impossible, the idea that I would wait a bit before having the next cigarette was something I could easily do.
So when the urge to have a cigarette came, I would look at my watch, and say to myself “OK you can have a cigarette, but you have to wait ten minutes. It's now 11:30 am, at 11:40 am I'll go ahead and have that cigarette”. And usually what happened was I would lose track of the time, and the urge to smoke would go away. The next urge for a cigarette would come, and I'd look at my watch and realize that an hour or so had gone by and I hadn't smoked that cigarette. Sometimes, ten minutes would go by, and I would still have the urge to smoke. So I started the game over. “OK, it's now 11:40 am, I'll let myself have a cigarette in ten minutes. Just wait, and then I can have that cigarette”. And so, ten minutes at a time, I stopped smoking.
It was never fun and easy. And indeed some days I did smoke. There was a period in there, when I would drive into town (I lived a rural area then), buy a pack of cigarettes, put one in my pocket and throw the other 19 in the trash can outside the store. Then I drove back home and smoked that one cigarette. I did this perhaps every three, four or five days for a period of a couple of months. I recognized that I was in great danger of going back to regular smoking, and that I was prolonging the difficulty of not smoking and literally torturing myself. But I did it anyway, that's how powerful the addiction is. I knew if I came home with the entire pack of cigarettes, I would then smoke the entire pack, probably in a day or so, and then all the work I put into not smoking would be lost. I continued to work on putting off that next cigarette ten minutes at a time, and after some period of time, stopped going out to buy that single cigarette.
I don't know how I got through that period with reverting to full-time smoking. It seems like a miracle to me that I did not. And some will say that it indeed a miracle, God's gift to me. And though I am not religious, I am happy to say thank you, thank you for such a gift. Regardless of who or what got me to give up cigarettes, I truly feel blessed for this marvelous freedom.
Eventually, the struggle to not smoke went away. The urges to smoked continued but had less power over me. I stopped looking at my watch. I went through a period when the instinctual part of my brain would crave a cigarette, even as the cognitive part of my brain pointed out how physically nauseous and sick smoking a cigarette would make me – a curious internal battle that I still wanted to give into even as cigarettes lost their power over me.
All that happened over ten years ago. Today, I no longer have urges to smoke. I no longer want to smoke when I see someone on TV smoking It doesn't bother me or upset me if other around me smoke, though I don't like the smell much (funny how that was never a problem when I was a smoker). And what I am left with is a tremendous feeling of freedom, and the joy of being free.
My message is that it is a wonderful thing to be free from cigarette addiction. It makes me happy in ways I cannot describe. And that I had a 30 year long, full-on, unshakeable cigarette addiction, and I was able to quit. If I can quit, anyone can quit. I'm not just saying this, I am living proof: I know this in my bones.
GUS (Gave Up Smoking) is a community support diary for dKossers in the midst of quitting smoking. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. We avoid discussion of political issues. If you are quitting or even thinking about quitting, please -- join us! The GUS Library at dKosopedia is organically evolving, and stocked with free-range information: quit-smoking links, helpful GUS diary writing tips, and the GUS buddy list.