When I started smoking cigarettes at the age of 19, I knew better. I knew it was a stupid decision. Unlike my folks who didn't understand the dangers of smoking when they started, I was fully aware. I knew it killed people, and I knew it was highly addictive. I was young and I thought I was invincible. What I didn't know was how it would steal my right to choose, and how it would eat away at my confidence and self-esteem. Those were some of the fringe benefits of the addiction I wouldn't become aware of until I was so thoroughly enslaved I couldn't do anything in my life without worrying about how I could fit smoking into it.
The first time I smoked...
My closest friend and I bought a pack and smoked that first one together. I didn't know that I was making a choice right then with that one pack that would change my life. Little did I know I was in for 26 years of addiction before I found a way to free myself. I had no idea.
Like most addicts, there was nothing casual about my habit. I went from a few cigarettes a day to a pack every day within weeks. I smoked with my morning coffee, on the long drive to work, all through the day at every opportunity, and it was the last thing I did before I went to bed at night. The people in my life who knew me well never thought that I would quit. I never thought that I would quit.
My parents were both heavy smokers. Mom quit when she was 55, and today at 76 is healthy and vital. She and dad were finally doing what they'd planned for all of those years--retiring early and moving north to their cabin. She got up one morning, lit that first cigarette of the day, and when she stubbed it out, it was the last one she ever smoked. She had decided that she wanted to live to enjoy some good years in their cabin. She never has looked back, and she always has maintained quitting didn't bother her a bit. She inspired me, but I wasn't "ready." My dad, who was a heavy Pall Mall smoker at 2+ packs a day always said this: "I'm going to have to die eventually of something, so it might as well be smoking." I'm sad to admit he said that, but it's the truth. He lived in denial, at least as far as what he was willing to show the world. As the years went by, smoking began to take a toll on his ability to breathe, and his attitude about the value of cigarettes in his life changed. He quit cold turkey in 1988, but by then, after 45 years of smoking, it was too late for him. He died 2 years later. It broke my heart to lose him. He was just 64 years old. I still was not ready. It would be another 11 years before I was.
Anxiety became my companion...
I had never been an anxious person, but in the last few years of smoking, I became more nervous. I thought it was just the normal growing responsibilities of life affecting me. Kids, homes to pay for, college, etc. In reality, the anxiety I felt had more to do with nicotine addiction than anything else in my life. I couldn't stop smoking, which made me think less of myself, and I felt out of control. It was all so subtle, mind you, that I didn't have a clue as to what was going on. I avoided dealing with issues directly more than I would have guessed. How many times did something happen and my reaction was to go have a smoke and think it over...and how many times did I decide to let whatever it was go at the end of that smoke break? This is not an effective way to deal with life, but most smokers do it to some extent, and it breeds a lot of tension. All in all, it's no wonder why so many of us long-time smokers have or had anxiety problems. Smoking does absolutely nothing to calm us!