It's been four years since my last cigarette. In reality, my final smoke was probably right before bed, as was my habit, but the one I remember as my "last" is the one I smoked outside the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia on June 11, 2004. It was just a few weeks before my 40th birthday.
It was three cigarettes, to be precise. I was about to see Jesus Christ Superstar, an early birthday present from my husband, so I was loading up on nicotine before going inside, chain-smoking cigarettes like I was going to my death instead of a play. I had this stinking cigarette in my hand that I was lighting off the tip of another cigarette, my third in 10 minutes ... and something like a lightbulb went off in my head. What was wrong with me? I was disgusted with myself. I was a slave to cigarettes, an addict, and in that moment, I hated myself for it.
My actual quit is a long story itself, but the seeds were planted that evening. After going to bed that night, I never smoked again.
How did I do it? Cold turkey, one day at a time. One hour at a time. Sometimes one minute at a time. I didn't say, I will never smoke again. That seemed too overwhelming at the time. I simply told myself, I will not smoke right now. That seemed to be within my reach. I could manage that.
There is no "secret to success." This is just what worked for me. However you approach your quit — gum, patches, ice cold showers — you have to do what works for you. This is how I quit:
I read everything I could find about the hazardous effects of cigarettes, what to expect from nicotine withdrawal and how others coped. It didn't lessen the pain of Hell Week or take away cravings to smoke, but it was empowering to know what was happening to me and why.
After approximately two weeks, when the physical withdrawal was past, I was able to see smoking for the behavioral problem it is. A former psych nurse, it was a natural for me to apply behavioral therapy techniques to my quit program, so I set about replacing bad habits with good ones. Every situation where I used to smoke had to be relearned, but eventually I had a new set of healthier habits that required no thought or effort to maintain.
Though I'm just an occasional visitor now, I used to live on the About.com Smoking Cessation forum. I read every word of every post for at least the first several months of my quit. I found strength and inspiration in the milestone posts of those who went before me. I learned a lot in this virtual community, found a sympathetic ear and hopefully helped a few people in return.
It may be a cliché, but time heals all wounds. Every day that I didn't smoke was that much easier than the day before. I went from major depression, where I was curled in a fetal ball on the floor feeling like I would never know joy again (I actually said that), to a kind of uneasy acceptance to a deep and meaningful peace in less time than I would have thought.
Through it all, I held on to my reasons for quitting. I wrote them down, and read and reread them countless times. I resolved not to smoke. Some people would call it willpower, but I don't like that term. It implies that you're somehow weak or flawed if you falter or relapse. I just wanted to be free of cigarettes. I wanted it badly.
This Mary can now say, I will never smoke again.
Thank you, About.com Smoking Cessation forum, for helping me turn my life around.
To mark my upcoming milestone, I'm going to run the Philadelphia marathon this November. Cheer for me. I'll be cheering for you.