Opinion: I believe everyone has the strength to quit smoking cold turkey like I did six years ago

Mary Duncan

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*This is a work of nonfiction and opinion based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.*

It’s hard to believe after all this time has gone by without smoking that I was a pack a day smoker for about thirteen years.

I started smoking when I was eighteen and I’ll never forget my first cigarette.

I had just arrived back to a hotel with my boyfriend after seeing The Cure in Philadelphia and, drunk and with bad ideas filling my head, I took the cigarette from my boyfriend’s hand and had my first drag.

Then I wanted another.

And another.

And another.

The funny thing is, it isn’t that easy to become a smoker.

The first couple of weeks of smoking have their ups and downs. Of course, there is the buzz and little high you get from the first few drags, but then it’s a matter of choking down the stinky smoke up until the point you are addicted and can’t stop even if you want to.

I did stop once, when I was pregnant, but picked up the habit again three days after giving birth.

I’d just had a baby, I already felt like total crap, why not keep smoking even after a three day break?

You’d think that after nine months of not smoking I wouldn’t have the urge to pick it up again, but you’d be wrong.

I think David Sedaris said it best when he said:

“I’ve always been a smoker. I just didn’t have any cigarettes.”

Well, I haven’t had a cigarette in six years now and I still consider myself a smoker and probably always will, just like someone who hasn’t taken a drink in a decade is still an alcoholic.

Even though I don’t crave cigarettes anymore, sometimes I still want one.

Sometimes, I get a whiff of smoke from somewhere and remember how good it felt for it to fill my lungs, like scratching an itch inside that nothing else can scratch.

So, why did I quit smoking for good even though I loved smoking?

I quit cold turkey on a date I don’t remember sometime between my birthday in September and Halloween.

I had wanted to quit for a long time and had been trying all kinds of things to curb my cigarette use — I tried vaping nicotine, I tried the gum, I tried an online support group, I even tried in therapy, but I always came back to the next smoke.

Then, one day, I decided enough was enough.

I quit mostly because I couldn’t afford it anymore.

Back then, a pack of cigarettes ran around $8.00 or more and I was smoking at least a pack a day.

When I realized that I would be saving almost $400 a month by quitting, that was finally made me do it.

I had my last cigarette on my porch at night before bed, and the next day I didn’t have one.

Or the day after that.

Or the day after that.

And haven’t had one since.

But HOW did I quit, you ask?

Easy.

Hard.

Deep. Inner. Strength.

Just like with losing weight, you have to want to quit smoking more than you want anything else in your life.

You have to NOT want that cigarette even more than you want it.

You have to keep reminding yourself the reasons that you are quitting, and use those to propel you through the days until the addiction finally breaks and the itch inside goes away.

But what really made quitting cold turkey relatively easy for me — or, at least a lot easier than I thought it would be — is how powerful quitting made me feel.

Yes, quitting smoking made me feel like a powerful, magical being.

By not smoking, I was asserting to myself that I was in control of my life and the things I chose to do, and that no addiction could beat me if I wanted it bad enough.

Every day that went by without smoking made me feel more proud of myself, and that pride carried me on through the days of wanting and got me through the other side.

I looked at it, like I still look at it, as conquering a dragon that was out to slay me.

I turned the tables because I wanted it more than anything else.

And I wouldn’t let the addiction win.

Was it hard?

Heck yeah.

There were days in the beginning when I saw people smoking and I actually envisioned punching them in the face just so I could steal the cigarette from their hand and smoke it myself.

It was hard for me then to be around other smokers, but as the years went on it got easier, because the smell of smokers started to really bother me.

Did I really smell that bad all the time?

Yeah, I did — and when you’re a smoker, you don’t even notice it.

Nor do you really notice all the money you are burning away until you suddenly have $400 extra dollars in your bank account every month.

I took a vacation from not smoking.

Quitting became its own reward, and I’m not even talking about the rewards to my health, which were manifold.

No more waking up in the morning and hacking up a lung.

No more huffing and puffing going up and down the stairs for laundry.

No more increased risk of death, yeah, that’s a good thing.

Can anyone quit cold turkey?

I believe anyone can, yes.

When I see friends trying to quit using the vapes or patches or gum, I fear for their success because they’re still getting the nicotine that causes the addiction, just in a less satisfying way.

Often, those people stop being satisfied by the supplemental nicotine and go back to the cigarettes.

Because it’s not just about the addiction.

Smoking is enjoyable — ask any smoker, they will tell you that even though they might think it’s bad or gross or that they should quit — smokers enjoy smoking.

I know I do, I just won’t do it anymore.

Now, it’s not physically easy to quit.

You’re going to feel like crap for a while, you’re going to be jonesing for a smoke, you’re going to be irritable and mean and angry, and maybe you’ll be afraid that you can’t do it.

Take the fear you have of quitting — the fear that you won’t be able to — and put it aside for just one moment.

Then, pick up the pride you will feel from just one day of not smoking.

Imagine the pride and power in yourself you’ll feel after a week of resisting the temptations.

A month.

Then imagine the day coming when you can say “I quit smoking a year ago.”

Imagine and let that guide your way.

The addiction is real, but the choice to pick up that cigarette is all in your head, and YOU are in control of your choices.

If I can do it, you can do it.

I believe in you.

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