I’m a Quitter

Both of my maternal grandparents smoked and growing up I hated it. I remember one Thanksgiving I handmade “No Smoking” signs and tried to put them all over the house. I detested the smell of cigarette smoke. A boyfriend of mine in high school told me he’d quit smoking and when I smelled it on him I threw a fit. Not more than a few weeks later I was hanging out with that boyfriend, his friend and the friend’s girlfriend and they were each smoking a vanilla flavored cigarette. I tried one and didn’t hate it.

Thus began my addiction to smoking. I used cigarettes to keep track of time; when my then-husband was working nights, I’d stay up and play computer games. I’d allow myself one cigarette every hour-and-a-half so that I could tell how long he’d been at work and so that I wouldn’t smoke a whole pack while waiting for him to finish his shift. I quit cold turkey when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. As soon as that stick showed two lines, I threw out my pack of cigarettes. I didn’t smoke again for a whole year; I went out with “the girls” and bummed a cigarette off one of them. Before my daughter, I’d smoked in our apartment; when I started smoking again I only smoked outside. When my then-husband and I moved in with my parents (both non-smokers), “Jake” and I would take walks around the neighborhood after dinner and after “Em” was asleep and I’d have a cigarette or two. It took me 2 or three days to go through a pack of cigarettes

When Jake, Em and I moved out of state to live with hisparents (both smokers), I smoked outside on their porch during the day. In my selfishness I (and his parents) only smoked in the house when Em was in bed downstairs in the basement that was our bedroom; because smoking while she’s asleep and downstairs isn’t the same as smoking in the house when she’s awake (insert sarcastic eye-roll). Not having a job and being around 2-3 pack-a-day smokers, I increased my smoking to about half a pack a day.

After my separation and divorce from Jake and moving back in with my parents, I decreased my smoking a bit. Living in a non-smoking household, I reserved my smoking for breaks at work and after Em was in bed. Carpooling with my mom to work meant no smoking during the commute, so that helped, too. When my mom and I moved to different buildings for work, I would smoke two cigarettes on the way to work after I’d dropped off Em at the babysitter’s house and I’d smoke two more on the way home after work. When Em started preschool near my office, I only smoked at work during my breaks and again after she was in bed at night. When I was prepping for my surgery, I quit cold turkey. I picked up smoking again a month after the surgery. Soon I bought one of those “smokeless cigarettes,” the ones you put liquid nicotine into and you can “smoke anywhere!” After some news reports of even worse chemicals being in the liquid, I stopped using it.

A year-and-a-half ago my company instituted a no-tobacco policy at our buildings: no tobacco use of any kind near the buildings or in the parking lots. I quit again cold turkey; I lasted a couple of months. I bought a pack of cigarettes while on my way to the funeral of a coworker who had died of his second heart attack before the age of 45, just months after his doctor had told him to quit smoking. I smoked my cigarettes in “honor” of him (insert another sarcastic eye-roll). Our company rules didn’t include smoking on the sidewalks (because they don’t “own” them, they can’t prevent people from smoking on them), so I’d walk out to the sidewalk and smoke between the trees and the street.

I’d tell myself I wasn’t really addicted, that I was just bored. I could go camping with my folks for a two or three-day weekend and not have a cigarette and be totally fine. I was a counselor at a church camp for three nights and four days and wasn’t allowed to smoke while I was there. I took nicotine gum with me but never used it. I was fine because I was busy; I didn’t have time to smoke a cigarette. But at home, in my car or at work, I have time. I make time.

I also didn’t want people to knowI was a smoker. I felt that if they knew I smoked, they’d think less of me. I’m not really sure how well I hid it; I know my family knew when I’d lie about smoking again, but how many of my church friends knew? Smokers never smell the smoke on themselves; they get used to the smell. But I tried what I thought was the best to keep myself from really stinking like an ashtray. I’d keep mints and gum in my car or purse and a can of Febreeze under my car seat. I’d roll the windows down in my car when I was smoking to let as much smoke out as possible. I’d wash my hands with flowery soap after I smoked. But who knows if it did any good?

Cigarettes are a legal drug. I can only assume it’s legal because it doesn’t affect people the way other drugs do; I’m not an unsafe driver after having a cigarette, I’m allowed to get a tattoo after having a cigarette, I don’t halucinate, I don’t “trip.” But I’m still an addict. I once bummed money from my sister when she was in high school, telling her I was low on gas and wouldn’t make it home to my apartment 60 miles away; I really just wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes for the drive home.

I’ve been smoking on and off  (mostly on) for 10 years. I don’t even want to know how much money I’ve wasted, knowing that nowadays a pack of cigarettes costs up to $6.50. Even just the basic math shows that a three-pack-a-week habit like I currently have is over $1000 a year. And that’s just the monetary cost. The health costs are too scary to think about. Quitting now doesn’t mean I’ll never get lung cancer. Quitting now won’t bring back my singing voice.

But it will get me closer to being as healthy as I can be. There are things in the near future that I can’t do if I continue to smoke. So I’m quitting. On Friday, February 25th, 2011 at 12:30 PM I smoked my last cigarette. I have nicotine gum in my purse that I’m trying to use only when I really need to because I’m likely to run out before I get paid on Friday, and a pack of cigarettes is cheaper to buy than a box of nicotine gum.

Quitting isn’t easy. I’m used to smoking in my car on my way to anywhere, I’m used to smoking outside after dinner, I’m used to smoking when I talk to my ex-husband because “it helps me relax” and not yell at him as much. It’s easier to not smoke at work because I can distract myself with other things. But when I’m driving home from work or when Em’s in bed for the night, that’s when I really want another cigarette. I borrowed my dad’s guitar to give my hands something to do. But part of the addiction is having a cigarette in my mouth. One of the pitfalls to quitting smoking is gaining weight; people who smoke tend to eat more to give their mouth something to do. Trying to lose weight and quit smoking at the same time is very difficult.

I really want to succeed at this. I will always be a smoker, just like a recovering alcoholic will always be an alcoholic; taking just one drag off a cigarette is likely to put me back in the habit. There are so many different “cures” for smoking and I know that some will work for me and some won’t. I just have to really stick to my guns and stay focused on what I want. I can’t smoke and do what I want to do this year (more on that later; sorry I can’t actually write it down yet). It’s just not possible. So I have to stay focused on that, not on how much I really want to smoke every time I see someone else with a lit cigarette.

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