Monday, January 9, 2012

Smoke Signals

     Marianne is a neighbor and good friend of mine. We were chatting about habits—both good and bad—and she shared her journey on how she quit smoking. For those who smoke (or dabble in it), take a read. It might help you make an important decision this year.

     I started smoking my freshman year in college. It was accepted back then—in bars and at parties—and cool. I kept it up for 26 years, and there were times when I’d stop smoking because of a cold or flu, but I’d always get back to my pack-and-a half per day habit.

     In 2005, my dad was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. My family was tight-lipped about why he died. But we all knew it was the cigarettes. I decided to go cold turkey and quit smoking. And it lasted for a year—until my dog died. Charley, my faithful companion, no longer greeted me at the door when I got home, or slept at the foot of my bed. Cigarettes calmed my nerves, served as a reward for making it through another day without Charley, and gave me time to think of happier days.

     When I went back to cigarettes, I became a 19-year-old again—sneaking cigarettes and smoking in my garage. I didn’t want anyone to know I picked up the habit again. I used spray, hand lotion, and mints to hide the smell of smoke. I would make excuses to run out to my car. I’d stand in the cold, pouring rain with an umbrella in one hand and a cigarette in another (far from my cool college days). After work, I’d rush home, rip off my nicotine patch and light up.

     The effects of smoking began to catch up with me. I got headaches, a nagging cough, and heart palpitations. This scared me enough to talk to my doctor. She recommended nicotine replacement (I chose an inhaler) and counseling. The therapy helped me find ways to function without nicotine and cope with the cues that triggered my smoking urges. You see, as my doc gently put it, smoking wasn’t just a habit—it was an addiction.

     It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the word addiction. I guess that’s why more than half of the adults who want to quit smoking, can’t. If you smoke, I wish I could give you a magic pill to help you stop. But instead, I’ll give you a few words of advice:
  • Be clear on why you want to quit (health, your child, to gain control of your life, finances) and write it down. 
  • Know that the first week will be the toughest. 
  • Understand that you will fail several times before succeeding. 
  • Accept the effects of quitting (weight gain, irritability, anxiety) and know they are brief. 
  • Don’t avoid medication. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation aids. Remember, nicotine is an addiction. 
  • Use resources like and Meritus Health’s “Beat the Pack” smoking cessation classes
  • Take it one day at a time. 
     Make no mistake. You’re going to miss smoking. But you’re going to love breathing easier, having more energy and better-looking skin, and reducing your risk of developing certain cancers. Like many things in life, it’s a trade-off.

By Anne Gill

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