I used to smoke. A long, long time ago.
Growing up, everybody in my family smoked. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, everybody. So for me, it wasn’t a matter of will I smoke, but when will I start? Which, of course, is complete bull crap seeing as how my brother never picked up a cigarette. But that was my excuse at age sixteen when I lit up a Marlboro Red snitched from my uncle for the first time.
I still can’t believe I didn’t get sick.
But I wish I did. Maybe then I wouldn’t have started a habit that I loved, needed, and hated for approximately twenty years. Nor would I have to go through one of my biggest battles in life:
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve tried. Sometimes I’d only last a day, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, but the need for those stupid cigarettes always won. At least I quit cold turkey for both of my back-to-back pregnancies. But after the birth of my second son, the habit creeped its dirty way back in, turning me into a closeted smoker, only lighting up outside in secret or at bars when I was too buzzed to care about what people thought.
I wanted to quit. Desperately, truly, deeply. I hated smoking. I hated the control cigarettes had over my life. I hated smelling like an ashtray. Despite this hate, however, each of my attempts ended in failure, with me feeling more and more horrible about myself.
Then one day in 2001, I turned on Oprah.
Yes, Oprah, the Queen of A-Ha’s!
Oprah’s topic that day was weight loss. I can’t remember who her guest was, but he explained a concept that changed my life:
How every time you overeat, you’re telling yourself that you’re a failure. That you’ll never be able to accomplish ANY goal. That you might as well give up on everything.
I sat frozen on the sofa, his words echoing in my soul long after a commercial break. I realized that each and every time I lit a cigarette, I was telling myself that I was a failure in all aspects of my life.
That I’d never accomplish my dream of being a published author.
That I’d never be a success.
That I’d always be stuck in my own mental nightmare.
This realization was the catalyst that set me on the road to recovery once and for all. But by then, I’ve already known that nibbling on carrots, taking walks, using nicotine patches, and other traditional methods wouldn’t work on me. I wasn’t physically addicted to cigarettes. I had a mental addiction, one that ran so deep it required extreme measures to break.
So I did some rather extreme things.
Ones I’m about to share. I must point out, however, that the most important first step is that you want to quit.
Desperately. Truly. Deeply.
If you enjoy smoking and have no immediate plans to stop … well, then, carry on and enjoy toting around your oxygen tank years from now.
But if you’re ready to quit … well, then, my friend, buckle up because I’m about to get in your head.
There’s a part in the movie Dead Again that shook me so hard I had to replay it, over and over. In this scene, the late, great Robin Williams plays disgraced psychiatrist, Cozy Carlisle who says:
Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know.
Either you’re a smoker or a nonsmoker.
Either you’re off the fence or not, meaning you can’t say, oh, I’ll only smoke one cigarette a day or only when I’m drinking with friends, or only at 5:00 on Fridays. No. It doesn’t work that way. Because then you’re still a smoker. That trick is only a pacifier. A lie. I should know. I played this game many times, vowing to only light up while out with friends. Any guesses what happened?
Monday: “Hey, Kristen, wanna go out?”
Tuesday: “Hey, Tina, how ’bout happy hour?”
Wednesday: “Kelly, girlfriend, it’s ladies’ night!”
You get the point. It doesn’t work. Quit or don’t quit. Be a smoker or non-smoker.
There is no in-between.
One of the biggest things I hated about smoking was the smell. Yes, I was a smoker who hated the smell of smoke. So I’d take extreme efforts to disguise my habit. I’d never smoke in the car or house. I’d wear a long coat, find a windy corner outside, and hold my cigarette high in the air to keep the smoke from blowing back on me, then brush my teeth afterward, douse my clothes with Fabreze and myself with perfume.
Well, guess what. It didn’t work. I still stunk.
So do you. Maybe you aren’t aware of this fact due to smoking affecting your sense of smell. But you stink.
Someone has to tell you.
I wasn’t fully aware of this until many months after my last cigarette when my sense of smell returned full blast. Back then, I rode horses and I’d often drive to town to do errands after chores, still dressed in bar clothes.
One day, I hopped in my car and was soon overwhelmed by the pungent smell of horse shit coming from my boots, something I’ve never noticed before. Meaning that for years, I’ve gone to town smelling like horse shit.
Horse shit and smoke.
Maybe money talks for you. Which is okay, I’m a frugal gal as well. So for the sake of this article, I decided to calculate how much I’ve saved from not smoking for the past seventeen years, based on how much cigarettes have cost over time.
Consider my socks blown off.
I have saved approximately $40,074.25.
This number is not exact, since I don’t remember the day I quit other than spring of 2001. And had I continued to smoke, I most likely would have switched to generic cigarettes or cut down my pack-a-day habit due to the high cost. So let’s just make it 25k. 20k, even.
The number is still mind-boggling.
Imagine the vacations you could take with that money. The memories you could make with your family. The gorgeous purses you could buy. The fancy lattes you could sip. Dinners you could eat out.
And of course, that number doesn’t factor in the medical expenses your habit will ultimately cost you. I mean, sure, we all of heard about that woman who smoked two packs of Lucky Strikes every day until she was ninety-five and she was perfectly healthy. But that won’t be you. You’ll be the one lugging around an oxygen tank thanks to emphysema.
So think about this the next time you pull out a ten for a pack.
Brace yourself. We’re now entering the extreme territory.
See, here’s the thing. The reason why most people have such a hard time quitting is that they view smoking as a pleasure. They associate smoking with good feelings. Having one with their first cup of morning coffee or with that 5:00 Friday beer. While chatting with friends. After sex.
You need to change that perspective.
You need to associate smoking with bad, not good.
Pain not pleasure.
You’ve seen an ashtray that’s been left out in the rain, right? With cigarette butts floating in black water that reeks of pungent waste. Or maybe you’ve accidentally sipped from a bottle that’s been used as an ashtray. Neither are pleasant, right? Right. And the perfect source of pain.
Here’s what I did seventeen years ago.
I purposely left an ashtray full of cigarette butts outside in the rain on our back deck. I let it brew and fester in the sun for days until it became a rotten bowl of toxic filth with an aroma that could curl even the toughest of noses.
Then I went outside. I sat in front of that ashtray.
I picked it up and held it in front of my face. I stared at the disgusting contents, noticing how the decomposing butts have swollen and rotted into a murky black swamp. I breathed in the putrid, metallic smell of decay and poison, not allowing myself to move until nausea rose in my throat and I was near vomiting.
Then I stuck my tongue out.
I forced myself to dip it in that foul, rancid water that tasted like death until I ran to the railing and threw up.
What I did was disgusting, right?
Right. But it worked.
Ever since then, whenever I craved a cigarette, I remembered that pain rather than pleasure. I recalled the image of that festering water. The way it looked. Smelled. Tasted. The sickening realization that THIS IS WHAT MY LUNG MIGHT LOOK LIKE.
Then that craving? It went away … for over twenty years.
I haven’t smoked since.
I’ve saved the worst for last.
I want you to imagine sitting your loved ones down at the kitchen table. Your husband. Or wife. Significant other. Your children. Parents. Whoever you love the most and love you in return. Are they seated yet? Can you see them?
Now imagine telling them you’re dying of lung cancer.
Imagine their shock, the way their eyes widen and shoulders sink as news of your imminent death slowly takes hold.
Imagine their gasps. Hands held to parted lips. A low sob pushing deep from within their own healthy lungs.
Imagine them crying. Softly, at first, but then louder. Deeper. Harder. Fists pounding the table. Dishes thrown. Fingers pressed against temples, tears streaming, faces flushed with despair.
Now imagine their anger.
Because you caused this. You chose this. You could have prevented it but no, you picked cigarettes over them, and why?? Why didn’t you quit, they scream, why did you smoke???
What are you going to say?
You better start thinking of an answer, because this, my friend, might happen to you one day if you continue to smoke.
They deserve better.
YOU deserve better.
So, please. I beg of you. Quit. I know it’s scary. I know it’s hard to imagine a life without cigarettes, but it does exist, I promise you that. And it’s a happier life. A healthier life. One without chains.
And one that deep down, you truly want.
I’ll be praying for you.