At work, those of us who have quit smoking were invited to share our story with other employees. I thought I would share it with you, too. Perhaps it will inspire someone else to make this change in their life.
I could blame my smoking habit on being a child of the seventies; the age of rebellion, wanting to be “cool”. But none of those reasons were why I started smoking. I don’t remember really making a conscious decision to smoke, but like teenagers before me and teenagers after me, I lit my first cigarette when I was in high school. It was one of my dad’s Kool brand cigarettes. Menthol. And tasted awful. For that reason alone, I find myself questioning why I wanted to continue smoking.
I smoked through my twenties and smoked through most of my thirties. I smoked through my dad’s emphysema diagnosis and his subsequent death to lung cancer a decade later. My rationale for not quitting at that time was not only did I enjoy smoking, I had a fear of weight gain. I recall telling a friend that I would rather live a short life thin than a long life fat! Yes, us smokers rationalize everything!
My dad was not a cancer victim; he was a victim of smoking. He wanted to quit but he never found the strength. Although he didn’t quit breathing for a year or so after his diagnosis (death sentence), he was a dead man walking. It took a few years following his death for me to come to the realization that my sons could lose me the same way. And they wouldn’t care if I were fat or thin. They would miss me like I missed my dad – like they missed the grandfather they never knew. I didn’t want them to have a front row seat to watching a parent die from cancer like I did. I didn’t want their kids to miss knowing me. It was time to make a smoke-free change.
Coinciding with this self-proclamation, my husband and I were completing renovations to our old farmhouse. Smoking was prohibited in the finished portion of the house. I wasn’t relishing the thought of smoking on the porch in the wintertime. I had tried to quit smoking in previous years and failed. I figured if I wanted to be successful, I couldn’t do it on a whim, I had to have a plan. Now was the opportunity.
I set a Quit Date: February 9, 1998. The date was about a half a year out but it gave me a chance to prepare. I bought a new car – brand new – and stopped smoking while driving. I stopped smoking when I spoke on the phone. I stopped smoking first thing in the morning. I delayed my after supper smokes. Although not all at once, I started to slowly, subtly break the habits I had relating to cigarette smoking.
Two months from Q Day, I visited my doctor. I needed drugs, I told her. Ironically, at the time, the drugs specifically targeted to aid in quitting smoking were not covered by health insurance. She prescribed medication suitable to my endeavor that I started to take a month prior to Q Day. I also started taking extra vitamins. Two days to Q Day, I bought a box of nicotine patches. All of these contributed to my success, but perhaps it was my own willpower or my fear of failure that made me quit that day.
I smoked my last cigarette shortly before midnight on February 8, 1998. Armed with the patch on my arm, a rubber band around my wrist (pop when you get a craving!) and an inkless Bic pen to carry between my fingers, I made it through Day 1. And Day 2. Day 3 was bad, but I trudged on. I wasn’t a gem to live with, I’m sure. I missed the nicotine rush, so now placed the patch over my lungs instead of my arm. It gave me a sense of peace. When my body missed the increased heart rate nicotine affords us, I would run the stairs to the next floor and if that didn’t do it, I would go to another floor. Before long, a week passed. And then a month. And then a year. There was no turning back. I knew if I ever put a cigarette between my lips again, I would ruin everything I worked so hard to accomplish.
Ten years have now passed. I can check “No” to smoking when asked on forms. The Lincoln smoking ban had no affect on my life nor did the lack of smoking sections at major airports. My sons do not remember me as a smoker. And although I packed on some pounds initially, I am not fat today thanks again, to setting a goal and making a plan.
To be successful at quitting smoking, the first step is making that decision not to smoke! My excuse was always “I like to smoke.” In hindsight, that isn’t true. I didn’t like to smoke. I didn’t like spending the money or stinking up my house or car or clothes. What I liked was how smoking made me feel. And I learned there are other ways to get that rush. After I quit smoking, I bought a horse. Loping up the pasture road gives me that rush now. Or standing in the bleachers on a crisp evening cheering as my sons play football gives me that rush. And following that rush, I can still breath.
I will never get my dad back. I lost my mom to cancer years later. Though she never smoked, no doubt it was collateral damage from the years of her husband and kids smoking in her presence. The rules have changed today. Society no longer accepts smokers as it did decades before or even just 10 years ago when I was still a smoker. And it may be cliché, but nothing good comes easy. Challenge yourself to get your life back today. Don’t let smoking cut the time short with those you cherish. I wish Dad had quit before it was too late. He’d have been proud of me for quitting the habit that had him trapped for so long.
Written in memory of my dad, Emery Martin, by Tammy Martin Vasa, Nebraska