Monday, March 9, 2015

How I quit smoking cigarettes

Let me start off by saying that this won't be a legitimate know-how on quitting smoking. It also won't be a post about my great personal struggle and achievement. This is merely an honest account of what happened to me. I won't be preaching about the dangers of smoking. Every smoker out there knows everything there is to know about how bad cigarettes are and yet they smoke despite knowing all the facts. The vast majority of smokers have quit and relapsed at least once in their life. I know this because I was one of them.
I started smoking cigarettes when I was 13. I grew up in Russia where people are a lot less health conscious than in the US. My mom was a smoker. She was also a stage actress and her bohemian friends and co-workers were heavy smokers too. Basically, growing up I knew very few people who didn't smoke. It seemed pretty natural to pick up the habit. It was a bit difficult to buy cigarettes in the US at the ripe age of 13 but where there is a will, there is a way, and I got by with a little help of my friends. I loved smoking. I loved everything about it. I even loved how much people hated it. There are so few smokers in the US, it's almost like you belong to a special club. At a party you make instant friends with other people banished to the stoop or the balcony. It was always a great excuse to get out of an awkward situation. That first morning cigarette with a cup of good coffee... mmmm. And is there anything better than taking a smoking break at the restaurant and coming back to find that the server brought your food out? 
Cut to the age of 30. This is probably when I first started seriously thinking about the fact that I should quit in some distant future. Cigarettes were costing over $10 / pack now and I couldn't run even a quarter of a mile without being totally winded. I kept making excuses not to quit though. At this point in time, I was pretty heavily involved in the music industry and producing a weekly club event. My rationale was "I am at the club for 5-6 hours at a time and if I don't have a reason to go out side for a break, I am gonna go stir crazy". I played around with a few things to cut down like switching from Marlboros to American Spirits or e-cigarettes. I tried once to quit cold turkey. I was expecting headaches from nicotine withdrawal but got emo mood swings instead. I started crying over some stupid little incident that I normally wouldn't care about and this scared me right back into buying a pack. In my head I was doing society a favor by eliminating emo-PolarVortex. 
I wish I could understand and explain what happened with me but the truth is I don't really know. I just remember one day waking up and thinking "I think I am not gonna smoke anymore". There was no great catalyst for this, no event or interaction that preceded this decision. At least not that I remember. And this is why I don't consider my quitting to be a great achievement. From that moment quitting smoking was actually really easy. It wasn't a struggle. It was a series of unpleasant steps I took but nothing more. If I can compare it to anything, it was like getting antibiotics for strep throat. You start taking them and you still feel shitty for a few days but you know that the end of your misery is coming - in 3-4-5 days you will feel better and eventually go back to normal. I didn't quit cold turkey but rather gradually cut down. I used e-cigarettes for social situations such as the events that I was attending or producing. I started running more. I didn't give myself lashings for the few times I did have a cigarette. It was all just a process. The most important part is it didn't feel forced. It doesn't make much sense but I wasn't making myself quit, I was just not smoking. 
Couple of years later, I am fairly confident that I have quit for good. I never crave cigarettes. I don't even think about them. I am not at all bothered by cigarette smoke and can hang with other smokers without grief. I sometimes still use the e-cig in social situations but more as a bonding mechanism. I don't need to smoke, but it's weird to just hang with smokers and not at all participate. So I take a few e-cig puffs here and there. I can now run a couple of miles without losing my breath. When I reflect on what happened, I realize one thing. I always imagined that my cigarette addiction was this thing that had its hooks in me, but in reality I am the one who had my hooks in it. I carried it around with me for reasons probably best analyzed by psychologists. I carefully guarded it, and protected it, and paraded it around until I didn't need it anymore. And once I didn't want it, I just left it. I sometimes feel guilty about how easy it was for me to quit especially when I hear stories from other people about their painful processes. I wish this post contained more useful information on how to kick the habit, but it doesn't. All I can say is I quit because I just let it go.  

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