Confessions of an Ex-Smoker
I smoked my last cigarette on March 27, 2012, after more than 40 years as a smoker. When I snuffed out that final cigarette, I felt like I was saying goodbye to my oldest and dearest friend. I felt an odd twinge of what can only be called remorse, as if I were abandoning a child rather than turning my back on a vile, expensive, dangerous habit.
I still remember my first cigarette, sneaking out to my little sisters’ playhouse when I was 12 with the illicit cylinder and a pack of matches. I remember the smell of the sulfur, lighting the cigarette, carefully sucking in that first cloud of smoke, holding back the cough, then exhaling, trying to do it just like Mom and Dad. I smoked it down to the filter and felt exhilarated and grown up. When I stood to leave, I was giddy with a dizzy sensation that from that day forward I associated with happiness. I remember going back into the house and suddenly feeling horribly nauseated. I lay on the couch with the world spinning around me. “What’s wrong?” my mom asked. “Nothing, Mom, I’m fine,” I said. How strange in retrospect that an action that caused me to feel physically ill was calling to me like the Sirens to do it again at the earliest possible opportunity. The allure of smoking was, and still is, mysterious and strong.
Every day I must force myself to remember why I quit. I wish I could say the main reason was self-preservation and a respect for the temple of my body. But if I am truly honest, the main reason I quit is my family. My wife and two daughters had begged me to quit for years. And when my wife quit two years ago, the jig was up. I tried to quit twice over the past two years, but the longest I ever lasted was about two months before I had that “Oh, it’s just one ciggy, surely that won’t make me fall off the wagon entirely” feeling. Everyone knows the end of that story.
The last straw was when my daughters tearfully confronted me saying that they didn’t want me to accelerate my own death because they love me and want me around as long as possible. I decided to make quitting a test of my manhood, my self-control, and mostly to show my wife and children that I love them more than I love myself.
I often dream that I am smoking, gleefully filling my lungs with the poisons and gasses that conspire to kill me before my time. I look around to make sure nobody sees me, but there is my wife, my daughters, my parents (dead from smoking-related diseases), looking at me with disappointment and sadness. Yet on I smoke, somehow knowing that in dreamland I am invincible, in a free-to-smoke zone. Eventually, I wake up and steel myself for another day without my best friend, my nemesis, my worst enemy.
Quitting cigarettes is the hardest thing I have ever done. I am proud of myself for not again taking that first puff, that “I can have just one cigarette” plunge off the deep end and back into the smoke-filled abyss. I now understand that I cannot have even one puff, never again. It is getting easier. And at least I have my dreams.
For more information, read “Why Is It Hard to Quit Smoking?” from the American College of Chest Physicians’ Tobacco Dependence Treatment Toolkit, a great source of free information for people thinking about quitting or struggling to quit.
Steve Storms works for IBM at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and is the team lead for Global Memory Procurement. In his spare time he plays with a Raleigh-based acoustic Americana band, the Gravy Boys.