I overlooked an important anniversary: 11 years smoke-free! How I quit.
October 31st is a date that rarely passes unnoticed by me. The reason that date is noteworthy is because on October 31, 2000 I crushed out what would be the last cigarette of my life. The past couple of years that anniversary has quietly slipped by, and that’s a good thing because it demonstrates that smoking is something I never even think about anymore.
A bit of background for those of you who don’t know. I started smoking shortly after high school–I suppose around 1987 or so. I started off smoking a few cigarettes here and there, and by the time I quit in October 2000 I was smoking 3 packs per day, every day. That three pack a day habit went on for many, many years.
I used to chain smoke, often lighting a new cigarette with the last. I remember countless nights up programming at three in the morning, eyes stinging because the cloud of smoke in my home office was so thick that I could barely see across the room. My ashtray was usually so full that the sight and smell of burning filters became normal to me. I can’t tell you how many times I unconsciously lit a cigarette only to discover another one burning in the ashtray. My house and my cars smelled horrible, my clothes reeked and I always stunk of nicotine and smoke. I became winded walking at a moderate pace, and even while talking. I coughed constantly. If I was in a situation where I couldn’t smoke for more than a half hour or so I was absolutely miserable; the desire to smoke overwhelmed everything else. Of course the expense of buying a carton of cigarettes every three days was significant (I can’t even imagine how much it would cost today).
I was a slave to cigarettes, and they were killing me.
I decided that I was going to quit forever on October 31, 2000. No tapering down (my logic was you don’t pull a band-aid off slowly, you rip that sucker off!), no patches, no gum, no hypnosis… just an iron-clad commitment that no matter what–no matter how badly I wanted to smoke–I simply would not do it–period.
And that’s how I quit.
Was it easy? Hell. No. In fact, quitting smoking was the most difficult thing I’d ever done in my life. I was miserable for a long, long time.
The point at which I knew I was going to make it came about three weeks after I’d quit. I was having an absolutely horrible day, then the air conditioner in my house went out. I was hot, stressed and irritable. I wanted a cigarette more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life. My mind started reasoning why it would be OK to have “just a couple”. The tricks my mind was playing started working. I got in my car (“…just so I could cool off in the air conditioning.”), and the next thing I knew I was sitting in the parking lot at the convenience store. I was probably talking out loud to myself. I’m sure I looked crazy to anyone who saw me sitting there, and the way I was feeling that actually wasn’t far from the truth. I remember thinking about how difficult the past three weeks had been, and that if I gave in I’d have to go through it all again (or never quit at all). I remembered the promise I made to myself: “No matter how bad it gets, simply do not smoke and you WILL beat this.”
I put the car in drive, and went home without making the purchase. That was the point when I realized that I was a non-smoker, and was going to stay that way. That event was a Big Deal.
There were many, many more temptations and challenges, of course. Even after a year or two the desire to smoke was still there, but it was getting easier and easier. When I began my fitness transformation in January 2003, getting in shape and becoming excited about fitness and health pretty much eliminated any remaining cravings.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll always crave cigarettes. That’s hogwash. Not only do I not crave cigarettes, I find them truly repulsive. I simply can not be around people who smoke.
If you still smoke then I urge you to accept the challenge of quitting. Giving up cigarettes will change your life forever and free you from a horrible and expensive addiction that will almost certainly kill you.