For some reason, I’ve been craving a cigarette. The thing is, with me it’s never just one. One hit and I’ll be back to a pack (or more) a day. I know so many people who have quit smoking and either a) got sick when they picked it up again or b) are disgusted by even the smell of cigarette smoke.
I am not that person.
However, I know that I don’t want to smoke again. It’s been almost 15 years since I quit and beyond the occasional craving, I am grateful for the relief from that addiction.
I only smoked for 11 years, but I tried to quit at least that many times. I finally “cut the cord” when I got married. My husband and I wanted to have kids, and I wanted to move the odds higher in our favor. I’d read somewhere that it might be easier to quit if you try when you’re out of your routine. So, I smoked my little heart out on the night of our wedding and the next morning, we went on our honeymoon. I’d never been married, I’d never been to New York City, and I’d never felt better. I was a non-smoker.
Ha! If only it were that easy.*
In the spirit of gratitude (and needing a topic for today's blog), I give you the top five reasons I’m glad I quit:
1) The MONEY, honey
When I quit smoking in 2002, I think cigarettes were $6 a pack. A carton cost approximately $50. I was spending between $2200 and $2600 a year on smokes. If you don’t smoke—or if you’re not hyper aware of your former addictions--you might not know how much cigarettes are now.
A pack costs over $12!!!
That means, knowing I’d probably be smoking a carton and a half a week by now, I’m saving approximately $6500 a year! Now, I probably drink that much in Starbucks coffee every year, but the title of this blog is not “C is for coffee.”
2) My kids
My kids have never seen me smoke or drink. And for that I am grateful. Research has shown that secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as smoking itself. My kids have asthma and even if I didn’t smoke in the house, I’d smell like smoke. There would be lingering smoke in the car. It would affect them. It’s one thing to hurt myself and not care; I can’t knowingly hurt my kids.
Plus, I don't want my kids to smoke. It was SO hard to quit and I never want them to have to experience that difficulty. I know I can't control that, but I want to do whatever I can to limit their access to the drug and influence their perspective on the habit. They are definitely anti-smoking at this point and I hope it stays that way.
3) The barrier
I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe this aspect of what I don’t miss about smoking, but I’m going to try. Smoking created barriers between me and other people, between me and my emotions, between me and my best self. Yeah, yeah, that’s kind of corny, but it’s true. I didn’t smoke inside anyone’s house, and by the time I quit, restaurants and bars were smoke-free, so I went outside. I needed to remove myself from the conversation, the activity, the everything. And I think I wanted that then. Smoking was a way for me to breathe. That sounds contrary, but I think it’s true. I think I held my breath a lot, keeping myself together, just trying to be normal. And then I’d go smoke. Sometimes it was cold outside, but that was ok. Sometimes other people would come with me, and that wasn’t ok.
I’m not sure I was even aware of it at the time, but looking back, it’s clear that I used smoking as a way to take a break, keep others at a distance, rebel. I don’t have to create distance anymore, and I don’t want to. Today I know how to breathe without a cigarette, and I can take even deeper breaths because I quit!
I still rebel, but in smaller, more healthy ways.
4) The self-loathing
Again, it sounds dramatic, but it was real. Don’t get me wrong, there are still moments when I feel that emotion, but at least it’s not because I’m slowing killing myself with chemicals.
Yes, smoking was soothing. Yes, it tasted good. Yes, it helped me cope. Yes, it suppressed my appetite.
I knew that going in, but the gains outweighed the consequences. When you’re 25, dying and cancer seem really far away. But, just like other addictions, denial only works for so long. Eventually, the self-hatred and shame about doing something you KNOW is bad for you wins out and beats you down. And I lived with that for 11 years after I stopped drinking and drugging. And if I’m honest, no one in my life judged me or made me feel bad for smoking. I knew they were worried about my health, but they never said anything.
But I judged myself. And berated myself. And told myself I wasn’t really sober if I was still smoking. And I think the shame kept me from quitting for a long time, which again, sounds odd, but I know it’s true. Sometimes, I keep doing something because I feel so badly that I’m doing it! Talk about crazy!
Finally, I broke that cycle; my desire to be healthy (for my future children) and my belief that I was worth it (maybe) won, and I quit.
5) My health
Finally, I get to the obvious benefit. Yay, I don’t have to use my asthma inhaler EVERY DAY! Yay, I can exercise for more than 5 minutes at a time! Yay, I get to live longer! Those are all pretty good reasons to stay quit.
I have no doubt that I will always miss it—I really did enjoy smoking! But focusing on what I’ve gained is one way to ensure that I’ll never start again.
*David Sedaris’ book When You Are Engulfed in Flames has the best description of how harrowing it is to quit smoking. Check it out!