I quit smoking seventy-two days ago, and for the first time I'm not sure I'm going to make it.
I smoked proudly for fifteen years. I started as an occasional smoker, but over time I needed more and more nicotine (I later learned that most addicts develop dose tolerance to their addictive substances). By the time I quit, I was smoking three packs per day, every day. I smoked during meetings, while walking or driving or eating meals. I woke up in the middle of the night to have a cigarette, and even kept one burning in an ashtray on the toilet tank while I showered, or on the bed stand while making love. I considered myself a smoker's smoker, and couldn't imagine life without cigarettes. Until I met Mary, that is.
Mary was cool, confident, smart and lovely, certainly out of my league, and I immediately fell in love with her. I had to have her. There was one problem with Mary, though -- she was a non-smoker. And not the self-righteous, moralistic type of non-smoker I'd been avoiding for years, either. No, Mary vehemently and absolutely hated tobacco, with a passion I'd never seen. Tobacco had killed her mother, and she held a big-time grudge against it. She made no bones about her refusal to date any smoker, ever.
My self-image hung in the balance. If I entertained any notion at all of hooking up with Mary, I would have to quit smoking. Telling myself that I'd stay quit only long enough to win her heart, and resume smoking sometime after that, I went online to look for quit-smoking info. I registered at a quit-smoking website, picked a quit-smoking date, and announced to everyone that I was quitting -- including Mary, who hugged me at the news!
Being a heavy smoker, I figured I was in for a rough nicotine detox, but decided to quit cold-turkey, anyway. Partially because I wanted to be tough about quitting, but also because it cost $50 for a hundred count of nicotine gum. $50! Never mind that a carton of smokes runs almost twice that; I needed them. Besides, the drama of a severe withdrawal could maybe get me some special attention from Mary... .
Day One wasn't bad at all. I fidgeted a lot, and drummed my fingers madly against things. I kept putting my hands to my mouth, expecting something to be there for me. I sucked on a ton of Lifesavers, but had no overwhelming urge to smoke. Quitting seemed do-able.
Day Two was a little more intense. Mary called to cheer me on and tell me how proud she was of me. My nose started running a bit, and I developed a headache. Felt like I might be coming down with a cold, but suffered only a few severe cravings to smoke. Despite the physical discomfort, and trouble getting to sleep at night, I thought that people were making too big a deal out of quitting smoking.
By Day Three I was a space cadet. I laughed uncontrollably, as if I was stoned on acid. Colors seemed very intense, and my brain raced wildly with bizarre thoughts. (My doctor later said I was experiencing a sustained rush of new oxygen to the brain). My whole body ached, and someone at the quit-smoking website wrote that I'd probably contracted the 'Quit Flu'. I obsessed non-stop about either smoking or not smoking, and became painfully aware of every lit cigarette within sight or smell.
And then a blow to my motivation, on Day Four: Mary left the country with her family, and wouldn't be back for two months! So much for her shoulder to lean on while I quit. A part of me whispered, "You can smoke now and re-quit later, and she'll never know," but I decided to soldier on and have more smoke-free weeks quit under my belt when she returned.
By Day Twenty I was already feeling better. I still wasn't sleeping much (my sleep patterns wouldn't stabilize for another month or two), and I was coughing up a lot of brown goo, but the flu-like symptoms were gone and I was going hours at a time without thinking about a cigarette.
And so it went. I sailed through my quit, noting one surprise benefit of quitting after another. Sleep deprived or not, I felt more alert and like I was really in my body. I took morning walks, and during one of them I suddenly wanted to run. It was exhilarating! I joined the Y, and started lifting weights. I wondered why people seemed to be wearing stronger cologne and perfume lately, until I realized that my sense of smell was returning. When I did have a smoking urge, I logged in to my quit-site and distracted myself. I finally stopped spitting up old lung tar, too, and noted that my wallet always had a lot more cash in it. Why had I never tried quitting before? Doing so had triggered changes in many areas of my life; I even made a couple of new ex-smoking friends, and began thinking of myself as an ex-smoker.
Until this morning, that it is. Mary got back from her long family vacation and introduced me to Mark, her new boyfriend. That was bad. Worse, he reeked of cigarettes! Filthy, stinking cigarettes. I was stunned. After a short, awkward silence, I blurted out something like, "Glad to meet you and by the way I'm still not smoking," and beat a hasty retreat. I felt betrayed. What was Mary's problem? Why would she sell out her values for love? How could she do this to me, after I'd changed my smoking life to be with her (though I never did tell her that, truth be told)? My thoughts turned to smoking. "I'll show her," I resolved. "Screw this quit."
So here I am on Day Seventy-two, and my motivation for quitting is gone. I'm at the convenience store, counting out bills for a pack of my old deadly comfort. In walks one of my new ex-smoking friends. She smiles, sees the pack and the wallet in my hands, and looks at me, silent. "They're not for me," I reply to her unasked question. In that moment I get some clarity. Cigarettes really are not for me, not any more. I'm about to punish myself because I'm upset with Mary? How can I blame her for selling out to follow her heart, anyway? Hadn't I sold out my smoking values to follow mine? Hasn't that been working out pretty well for me?
My quit isn't about Mary, and it never was. She may have been my inspiration to change, but it was my decision and my effort that got me to this place. The benefits of my new, healthier lifestyle are mine alone. I've earned them, and I'm not going to throw them away just because I got my expectations dashed.
I hand the cigarettes back to the clerk and buy a roll of Lifesavers, instead. I walk out of the store with my friend, still smoke-free. I didn't get the girl in the end, but I got a lot more than I expected. Seems I'm the fish I've been trying to catch all along (and quitting smoking was the hook).
Alan Q, CTTS-M