I loved smoking.
I wasn't one of those people who constantly thought, "I should quit". I loved everything about it. I rolled my own, and loved the smell of a freshly-opened tin of tobacco. I loved the ritual of hand rolling it into a cigarette, with a little paper filter at the end to keep the tobacco from getting in my mouth. I loved the smell of smoke, and how it felt as I inhaled. I loved orange lighters, and seeing how long I could go without losing one. I loved meeting other smokers, and being thrown together in a small group with instant friends. I wasn't planning on quitting, maybe ever.
There were down sides, obviously. I'd get sick several times a year. Just common colds, but they seemed to last forever. Even when I'd stop smoking for the first couple days, I'd always have a lingering cough. When I laughed really hard, I'd always end up coughing. I always had to make sure I had my supplies with me. I had to make sure I could take a break from any kind of event over a couple hours. As much as I liked cigarettes, I didn't like the addition. I didn't like being a slave to a substance. But more than I didn't like it, I loved the actual smoking part. Right up until I quit.
I was about to turn 35. I had another one of my colds, and had stopped smoking for a couple days, like I always did when I was sick. I thought about a friend, who had recently given himself the gift of quitting smoking for his 40th birthday. I thought about how long I had smoked (21 years - the entire life-span of a legal drinker in the US). And I thought maybe quitting would be a good birthday present to myself. I already had a head start.
I didn't have "one last cigarette". I didn't tell anyone of my plans (not even my husband, who was also a smoker at the time). I didn't plan ahead. I just never had another cigarette.
The first couple weeks were the hardest, especially since I didn't tell anyone. On top of major cravings, I had to sidestep questions and avoid situations where I'd usually be smoking. Since we lived together, it was hardest to hide my quitting from my husband. I had to say things like, "I'm just taking a break from smoking" and "I'll have one in a little bit". Once a few weeks passed, I started being more open about quitting. As hard as it was, it started feeling good to have control over myself.
The hardest part about quitting wasn't stopping the use of nicotine. It was the lifestyle changes I had to make converting from a smoker to a non-smoker. The three biggest challenges for me were keeping my hands busy, keeping my mouth busy, and learning to take cigarette-free breaks.
I relearned how to crochet to keep my hands busy. I was constantly making something. A neighbor joked that I'd end up having everything in my house covered in something made of yarn. But, it helped. And now I'm pretty good at crocheting (although I still don't like to follow patterns).
I kept baby carrots and celery sticks around, always. The urge to put my hands to my mouth, repeatedly, tricked my brain into constantly thinking I was hungry. This, in combination with a slowing metabolism from lack of nicotine, is why it's common to gain weight while quitting. I gained almost 10lbs (average is 4-10lbs), but it was worth it to be healthier overall.
Learning to take cigarette-free breaks was probably my biggest challenge. While I got over the other two within months, this last one still hits me on occasion. I try to go outside, take a walk, drink a cup of tea, play with my dog, or anything else that lets me clear my head for a few minutes. My smokeless breaks are always better than a cigarette break was, but since for so many years the breaks were centered around cigarettes, it's been the hardest habit to move on from.
It's now been over three years since my last cigarette. I still get the rare craving, but for the most part, I'm slowly turning into the "reformed smoker" I never thought I'd be. I'm not on the bandwagon to make cigarettes illegal, but I'm always up for encouraging those interested to stop smoking.
If I can do it, so can you.
These are some things I learned from my experience in quitting smoking. Maybe you'll be the next one to quit:
Don't talk about it, just do it.
If you think about it too much, you will start feeling like you've already done something. This is true for many things, not just quitting smoking. Don't talk about it, just make it happen.
Don't tell everyone you're quitting.
When you tell everyone of your plans, you sabotage yourself from the start. You may think it's going to hold you accountable, but what it's actually going to do is put more pressure on yourself, and make you feel like you can't make a mistake. Avoid making things tougher on you. Don't talk about it, just do it.
Don't replace one habit with another.
The best way to quit is cold turkey. It takes just three days for nicotine to leave your system. That's it. Three days. When you use gum or vapor, you're replacing smoke with another form of nicotine. Either may be less detrimental to your health than smoking, but you're just replacing one addiction with another. Wait the three days and be done with nicotine once and for all.
When you want a cigarette, don't have one.
The best, and only, way to quit is to not have a cigarette when you want one. You'll have tons of cravings. You'll think they'll never end. But they will. And after each craving passes where you don't cave, you'll gain more confidence that you can get through the next one. Don't give in, not even once.
Side note: If you do slip up, don't give up. Just go back to quitting the next day. You CAN quit.
Keep your hands busy.
After the nicotine leaves your system, what's left is the much tougher to overcome emotional addition, and changing your lifestyle from a smoker to a non-smoker. You aren't just quitting an addiction, you're changing everything. It will be tough, but you can do it.
Do whatever interests you to keep your hands busy. Learn a new skill or craft that used your hands, like crocheting, painting, playing an instrument, gardening, anything that will keep your hands occupied. I chose crocheting because I could keep my hands busy while still being social and talking to friends, or while watching TV or movies.
Wait. And wait. And wait some more.
It's going to take a long time to feel like a non-smoker. For some people it's weeks, for some it's months, and for some it takes years. You will need to be patient. When you feel like you can't wait any more, just hold off a little longer. You can do it. I felt relief just a few weeks into quitting, and could smell and taste better after just a couple of months, but didn't get my first grateful moment until about six months in. Someone walked by my apartment laughing, and then coughing. It wasn't until that moment that I realized I didn't do that anymore. I could just laugh. But, it took about a year until I really felt like a non-smoker. Over three years later now, I can't believe I ever loved smoking so much.
But don't think about it as forever.
Thinking something is "forever" instantly makes it scary. I always planned on having a cigarette on my birthday the year after I quit. "Just one day a year, I'll let myself smoke", I thought. But, by the time a year passed, I not only wasn't that interested in a cigarette, but I thought of all I had accomplished by quitting and didn't want to destroy it. I already loved being a non-smoker and I didn't want one day of "for old-times sake" to ruin it. Although I started off that first year thinking it wasn't going to be forever, I ended up feeling so good, that forever was the best choice.
You CAN do this!
P.S. I didn't know about these when I quit, but I think I would have enjoyed following my progress with a Quit Smoking app.