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How I Quit Smoking

How I permanently quit smoking.

It was November 17, 2004, the eve of the 28th Great American Smokeout. I was sitting at my desk in my home office around 11:00 PM. I had ten cigarettes left in my second pack of the day. Cigarettes were getting very expensive, and I started asking myself why I smoked and if I could quit. I had been conditioned to believe that I smoked because: It was a "habit", I "enjoyed it", it "calmed my nerves", and it was "great after a meal". The truth was, I didn't enjoy it anymore. In fact, when I thought hard about it, none of the reasons I thought I smoked were true. Really, when I pictured what I was actually doing - lighting leaves on fire and breathing it in, all day every day - I felt kind of stupid. Take away the burning leaves in my hand, and I was just a motionless nitwit in a parking lot, staring blankly at nothing in particular for 10 minutes at a time. I had to face the cold reality of it all - I had a drug addiction. Plain and simple. Not smoking shared some of the same qualities as holding my breath. I "enjoyed it", and it certainly "calmed my nerves", when I finally took a breath. The truth was I needed to smoke, and if I didn't, I would panic. My next thought was, "I will not be a drug addict." It's important to note that those words remained in my head throughout my journey.

I heard that the Great American Smokeout was the next day. If you don't know what that is, it's a day that The American Cancer Society asks smokers to quit for 24 hours. I decided I would put my "drug addict" theory to the test. If I could make it for the entire 24 hours without smoking, and it wasn't difficult, maybe I wasn't a drug addict after all. Maybe it truly was just a "habit". So at 1:00 AM, Thursday November 18, 2004, I put out my last cigarette of the day and went to bed.

I always started my days by rolling out of bed, turning on the news, and lighting up. Even when I was running late, I would have at least one to "wake up", preferably two. I was already walking to the room where I had left my remaining five cigarettes, before I remembered I wasn't going to smoke that day. I wanted a cigarette, but at this point I was excited and curious about what a day without cigarettes would be like. Denying myself cigarettes for as long as possible seemed kind of fun. I hopped in the shower then went to work. Around lunch time, when I would have already smoked six cigarettes on a normal day, a tinge of panic started to take root. By 5:00 PM it was no longer a tinge. By 7:00 PM my mind was consumed entirely by one thought - "Smoke now!". I was also 100% convinced that I was, without a doubt, an addict.

My mind and body was focused entirely on trying to get me to smoke. Every second I was making excuses to smoke: "I'll quit later", "Just have one", "I'll just cut back", "I can't cope with this". Cope. That's a great word. That's something I had to figure out how to do, and fast. I probably should have been more prepared. But now I had to improvise. First, I started by repeating two thoughts: "I will not be a drug addict", and "I can do anything but smoke." The first thought reaffirmed the main reason I could no longer tolerate smoking. The second thought gave me license to pamper myself. More on that later. Second, in a frantic internet search to find ways of coping with withdrawal symptoms, I found some breathing exercises that actually seemed to help. I would breathe as deeply as I could, then blow the air out like I was slowly blowing out candles. Sounds silly right? But that helped a lot. I also found an active quit smoking support group online. I read, and breathed, my way through the rest of the evening. When it was time for bed I was exhausted. My mind fought me until the end. "Are you really going to go to bed without having even one cigarette? Come on. That's not you. You're a smoker." And that's exactly what I did; went to bed without one cigarette. I was excited and proud of myself at the thought of waking up the next day, and remembering that I went an entire 24 hours without a cigarette!

"I went an entire 24 hours without a cigarette!", I thought to myself when I woke up. Then I thought "Smoke NOW!!!!" every second after that. Clearly, although they worked, I would need more than breathing exercises in my coping arsenal. On my way to work I stopped and bought a box of nicotine patches, and read all of the instructions. I was going to follow the instructions to the letter. I needed something passive. Something I didn't have to remember to take, or chew, or whatever. Something that just worked. Nicotine patches seemed to fit the bill. After sticking one on my arm, gradually over the course of the day, I started having the distinct feeling I had just smoked a cigarette. The patch gave me physical withdrawal symptom relief in a big way. That freed me to work on coping with the mental withdrawal symptoms. Those coping skills consisted of: Repeating "I will not be a drug addict" to myself, a support group of people going through the same thing I was, and French toast. Remember when I gave myself license to pamper myself with "I can do anything but smoke"? That included eating anything I wanted. "Anything" turned out to be stacks and stacks of French toast, whenever I wanted it. My goal was simple: quit smoking. I knew if I added unrealistic caveats - I can't gain weight, I can't lose my temper, I can't feel bad - I would never quit. My goal was not to die of lung cancer due to a drug addiction. Considering that, tight jeans was just fine. I could diet later.

That was the start of my journey, and I knew it would be a difficult one. I had smoked all of my adult life. It was definitely a part of my persona, part of my routine, and something that I was always doing or about to do. So, I was scared of losing my identity. Looking back, "drug addict that smells bad" is an identity that I, without a doubt, would want to lose forever. But in the moment I had to face the fear of the unknown. Who would I be when that large part of me was gone? I had heard that mourning that loss, just like mourning a death, would be a part of quitting. I just didn't know what a big part it would be. In the end, though, I value the person I became and the person who accomplished kicking one of the most powerful addictions out there, so much more. That part of my life was great thing to have lost.

Over the next ten weeks I stayed on the patch and followed the instructions. Almost immediately I started having vivid dreams. The box even describes it as one of the side effects. This is something I had never experienced. In a nutshell, for all intents and purposes my dreams were a reality while I was in them, and they seemed to last hours. I would remember every detail. This wasn't at all a bad experience. I even missed them when I was off of the patch. Speaking of getting off the patch, during the last couple of weeks on the patch I was scared I couldn't live without them. I even thought, worst case scenario, I would be buying patches for the rest of my life. I was thinking if that happened, at least it would be a fate much better than death. But I followed the directions to the letter, and I truly felt almost nothing when I stopped.

Over the next year I posted to my forum when I needed to rant, and I supported others when they needed to rant. We helped each other through it, and we all knew exactly how the others felt and what they needed to hear. Remember the five cigarettes I had left in my pack? That pack remained beside me, along with my lighter and ash tray. Right there on my desk within reach, for an entire year. I thought it might be a distraction at first, and I was prepared to rid my home of everything related to smoking if it turned out to be one. But, it was oddly comforting. There was something comforting about having them there, and ready to be smoked. I can't quite put my finger on why that was. I think, if I was forced to explain it, it removed a small fear of not having the means to fail. I was able to completely dismiss, and never give another thought to, the logistics of failing. Eventually the pack was put in a drawer, forgotten, and thrown away at some point in time.

My biggest fear was that I would always want a cigarette. That it would always be an ache in the back of my mind. When I first quit, it was easy to mistakenly see this as an inevitable reality. I thought of smoking every five seconds all day every day. How would it ever be possible to never think of it? Even to go an entire day without the thought entering my brain? Well, thankfully, that day happened around three months in. I woke up the next morning and remembered that I had not thought of smoking at all the previous day. Then I went longer and longer periods of time without thinking of cigarettes. I was beyond happy to know that I would not always want a cigarette, and I would eventually stop thinking about it entirely. When was that? Probably close to a year, but at that point I was going weeks without thinking about smoking. And the point is, cravings permanently went away. It, mercifully, does happen.

I quit 11 years, 2 months, 1 week, 1 day, 19 hours, 44 minutes, 24 seconds ago. I have saved US $32,694.40. I have not smoked 163,472 cigarettes. Know how I know that? As a professional programmer I distracted myself by coding my own quit meter. At the time, there weren't many quit meters like it. The meters out there didn't do what I wanted either. Weeks mattered to me. I didn't quit 8 days ago. I quit 1 week, 1 day ago! First Week Done is a huge deal! So I coded something dead accurate as far as time quit goes. It's the quit meter at the top of this page. Feel free to use it for yourself.

I hope you find some inspiration in my story. And maybe a glimpse of what the journey is like to quit forever.

Quit Smoking Timeline

What happens to your body when you quit smoking?

There are many benefits when you quit smoking. Your body starts healing itself as soon as you take your last puff! Here is a timeline that lists some of the major benefits of quitting.

20 Minutes After You Stop Smoking

  • Blood pressure drops to near the level before your last cigarette.
  • Pulse rate drops to near the level before your last cigarette.

8 Hours After You Stop Smoking

  • Carbon Monoxide level in blood decreases to normal.
  • Oxygen level in blood climbs to normal.

24 Hours After You Stop Smoking

  • Possibility of having a heart attack lessens.

2 Days After You Stop Smoking

  • Senses of smell and taste start to improve.

2 Weeks to 3 Months After You Stop Smoking

  • Circulation gets better.
  • Lung function improves.

1 Month to 9 Months After You Stop Smoking

  • Coughing decreases.
  • Sinus congestion decreases.
  • You get less fatigued.
  • Shortness of breath decreases.
  • Cilia in your lungs start functioning normally again.

1 Year After You Stop Smoking

  • Extra risk of coronary heart disease is about half of what it would be if you had continued to smoke.

5 Years After You Stop Smoking

  • In 5 to 15 years your risk of stroke is decreased to that of a nonsmoker's.

10 Years After You Stop Smoking

  • Risk of dying of lung cancer is about half of what it would be if you had continued to smoke.
  • Risk of cancers in other parts of your body (mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidneys, pancreas) decreases.

15 Years After You Stop Smoking

  • Your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as it would be had you never smoked.
  • Your risk of death is nearly the same as it would be had you never smoked.

20 Reasons to Quit Smoking

Practical reasons to quit smoking unrelated to health.

Besides the many health benefits of quitting smoking, there are a lot of other reasons to stop. Here are some of the reasons to stop smoking.

  • You will no longer be embarrassed and self-conscious about being a smoker.
  • Your clothes, hair, hands, home, and car won't smell bad anymore. When you smoke, you're not aware of how they really smell. It's like wearing too much perfume or cologne -- you get used to it, but everyone else still smells it.
  • Your senses of taste and smell get much better.
  • You won't have to step outside for a cigarette when you can't smoke inside. You won't have to interrupt social situations by having to leave and go smoke.
  • You won't have to worry about ashes and emptying ashtrays.
  • You won't have any anxiety over whether you have enough cigarettes to last. No more inconvenient trips to the store just for cigarettes.
  • No more cigarette burns on your carpet, furniture, or clothes.
  • If you smoked inside, your interior won't need paint as often.
  • Your computer and other electronics won't fail as often in a smoke-free environment.
  • Your home and car will be cleaner. You'll no longer have a yellow film over everything.
  • You will set a better example for your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and kids in general.
  • In a long class, meeting, seminar, or the like, you won't have to worry about when you'll be able to smoke again.
  • You can stop making dining, entertainment, or lodging decisions based on whether you can smoke in the building. In fact, you will likely start to seek out places that don't allow smoking.
  • You will get a great sense of accomplishment from doing one of the hardest things a person can do. You should be very proud of yourself for trying even if you don't succeed (just keep trying!).
  • The withdrawal symptoms from quitting are a great reason to pamper yourself.
  • If you're looking for romance, you will have a much better opportunity for finding someone if you don't smoke. Most people would choose a nonsmoker over a smoker.
  • You can explore more outdoor activities and hobbies like cycling or hiking -- things that you might not have considered as a smoker.
  • You will look better. Smoking causes wrinkles and makes your teeth yellow. Being in better health helps your appearance as well.
  • Your life won't be constantly interrupted to have a cigarette. You'll have more time to do the things you enjoy.
  • Money. Smoking is expensive. You can use that money to increase your quality of life, instead of using it to decrease it. Good suggestions include:
    • Pay to have your car upholstery professionally cleaned.
    • Have the carpets in your home steam cleaned.
    • Have your clothes professionally laundered.
    • Hire a maid service to clean your home one time, top to bottom.

Smoking Cessation Resources

Quit smoking support forums, guides, and information on the web.

Just Quit
Great forum supporting you through a smoke free New Year!! Sign up to join a friendly support venue for the smoke free new you.
Quit Train™
Quit Train™, a quit smoking support community, was created by former smokers who have a deep desire to help people quit smoking and to help keep those quits intact. Register to join.
Quit Smoking Message Board
Great message board to ask questions, offer help, and communicate with fellow smokers and ex-smokers. Create an account.
No Smoking Day Forum
An active forum sponsored by the British Heart Foundation, moderated by ex-smokers, where you can get support and encouragement from those who are going through what you’re going through or who’ve been there themselves. Register here.
American Cancer Society®
The American Cancer Society® has a nice guide to quitting smoking.
American Heart Association®
The mission of the American Heart Association® is to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke. They have a list of resources and tools for quitting smoking.
American Lung Association®
The mission of the American Lung Association® is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. They have a page all about smoking on their quit smoking page.
CDC
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site has a list of useful resources to quit smoking.
Smokefree.gov
Smokefree.gov is intended to help you or someone you care about quit smoking. They have many quit smoking resources, including an online guide to quitting smoking.