Cold turkey.

2 Jan

As much as I’m not a practitioner of new year’s resolutions, I can understand them. And, I’m betting, a ton of folk have added to their list of resolutions for 2010, “Quit Smoking.”

I’d like to tell my story about how I quit smoking.

I smoked since I was a teenager. Always was a chipper (learned that term from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point). Kept my cigarette consumption to about five or fewer a day, except when I partied and hung out with other smokers, which, actually, was quite often. I could smoke a half pack or pack in an evening then.

But for the most part, I was a chipper. Had a cigarette here and there. In the car while driving. Gosh, come to think of it, I even smoked IN my office and in front of clients. Yeesh. I must be old to remember those days. šŸ™‚

Then I met my husband. Well, he’s my ex-husband now. But for awhile he was my boyfriend, then husband. He was Israeli, handsome as all get-out and smoked like a maniac … I mean, he smoked like a Mediterranean man. (Tobacco smelled good on him!)Ā  Even our first conversation was over coffee and cigarettes. …Ā  It was beautiful. We were in the mountains of West Virginia and were both at the same retreat center for different reasons. He invited me to join him in the sun for a cup of coffee. And there we drank hot coffee and smoked cigarette after cigarette, talking, getting to know each other.

As our relationship developed and time together increased, I became A Bonafide Bigtime Smoker. At least in my book. I was smoking about a pack a day. My own boundaries of smoking shifted. I smoked in the morning. In the bedroom. Places I’d never smoked before.

And, while this is a story with many more chapters, I’ll cut to the part where our relationship ended. Because when it ended, I found myself without a home, with but two suitcases of clothes (that I didn’t even like) and with not only not a penny to my name, but some pretty hardcore debt that while shared in its creation was mine in name. I was depleted. Exhausted. Lost. Confused.

Plus, I was now A Bonafide Bigtime Smoker

At first, I kept smoking. A little less than before, as I didn’t have all the lifestyle/habit/situation elements that triggered smoking. But I was still puff-puff-puffing.

I started to notice that without all the lifestyle elements triggering my desire to smoke, i.e. prior activities with and around my soon-to-be-ex-husband, I was developing an awareness of my interior experience of when I wanted a cigarette. I noticed a sudden urge to smoke when I felt sad. Or vulnerable. Or hopeless. I especially noticed the desire to smoke when I felt mad (which, I’m betting, is some twisted version of feeling sad and vulnerable with a few other things thrown into the mix for good measure).

I thought, “My, isn’t that a curious thing? It’s as though my body chemistry is placating itself with the cigarettes and resulting physical experience.” I watched with fascination as my desire moved up and down with my emotions. And I then started to understand what, for me, was one of the most important elements in how I came to quit smoking: I realized that cigarettes were my dear friends when my emotions were leaning toward darkness.

And, inside that understanding, I was able to explore my own life and decide who I wanted to be. I knew I was in transition. I knew I’d been through the ringer. I knew I had choices to make (didn’t know which ones yet, but that something had to be different if I were to find myself again). I knew I wanted vitality and joy.

I honored and respected each cigarette I’d smoked over the years as a friend. As one who’d kept me company and been by my side. As one who’d sit with my dark emotions and not run away. As one who’d shared good times and lots of laughter with friends. As one who’d kept me company while I worked late into the night. And I loved each and every one of them for who they had been to me. I had no judgment of them. Or me. Equally, I knew I wanted something different. And as countless people have done before me, and countless others may do after me, I made a choice to leave old friends behind and to seek a new path and way of being in the world.

My smoking decelerated quickly. And then I met Eric.

Eric was hot. As in, crazy hot. We met, both dressed as Vikings as part of Fourth of July parade. He with his He-man bigness, bald head, Viking hat, bare chest and leather vest (oh and sunglasses, shorts and tennis shoes). Me in some I-threw-it-together Girl Viking outfit plus my Uggs and mud slathered on my face and body for effect. He looked at me. I looked at him. And I knew this man wanted me. And I was happy about it.

Thing is, Eric didn’t smoke cigarettes. He was a two-pack-a-day guy many years back and even had ashtrays around his place to accommodate his friends who smoked. But when I met him, he didn’t smoke. And I wanted to be intimate — very intimate — with this man.

That was the trigger for me. The final push. I quit within 36 hours of meeting him. And other than the one cigarette I smoked the first time I ever drank vodka and Red Bull and somehow managed to put down six — count ’em — six drinks in one night before telling my friends I needed to take a nap (in a public bar, no less!), I haven’t had a cigarette since.

Sometimes I feel the urge. It comes on me strong and intense when it does. Just a few days ago I was wishing I was a smoker so I could quell the emotion I was feeling. I probably made myself a nice big bowl of popcorn instead.

But, overall, I have to say: I loved smoking and being a smoker. I absolutely loved quitting and the process I went through and experience I had. And I am delighted beyond measure that I don’t smoke now … and don’t see any reason why I would again. (Although I do consume a heck of a lot more sugar and popcorn these days.)

The long and the short of it: once I decided that being A Non-smoker was a higher desire than being A Smoker, the process of quitting was 1,000 times easier. Every time the desire to smoke rose up, I checked in to my decision and looked at that desire and how it aligned, or didn’t align, with my own internal preference to be A Non-smoker.

It was remarkably easy then.

See, for as many times as I had previously had the thought, “I shouldn‘t smoke,” that had no internal weight. It carried judgment, alright. And logic. Smoking stinks. It harms my health. La-de-da. Endless list of reasons why I shouldn‘t smoke. But that did nothing to motivate me.

I had to make the decision for myself. It wasn’t about facts, or logic, or some ad campaign from an anti-smoking group. Or societal pressure to quit smoking. It was my decision. And I don’t think I could have gotten to it without recognizing first the value and importance that cigarettes had provided me. It was critical to me that I embrace them fully before I could let them go.

Well, that’s my story about how I quit smoking, cold turkey.

Rock on.


7 Responses to “Cold turkey.”

  1. Mike January 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    People quit for many different reasons. I quit cold turkey, and it was for all the logical reasons. I’m sure you remember my even-longer rant on my blog. But I believe you nailed the one common element among those who finally quit: “I had to make the decision for myself.” Congratulations, Jess!

  2. JessieX January 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Mike, I remember your quitting because of your daughter, Megan. You wanted to live to see her grow up. That’s what I remember of your story. And I remember how much you changed in the few years after that, in ways that were visibly and energetically discernible. And really impressive! Took me another decade or so, but I got there eventually myself. šŸ™‚

  3. Kate Dino January 2, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    I hope I decide I want to live one of these days …

  4. Harry Schwarz January 4, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Great story, Jesse. I can relate – smoked as a teenager, evolved to smoking a pack or more a day. I was addicted, liked smoking for the most part, and quit numerous times that I decided I hated it. Each time I quit, it seemed so easy, so I allowed myself to have another cigarette knowing that I could quit when the time came.

    Well the time came in 1998 after smoking for about thirty years. My daughter was 5, son was 3, my mother had died from cancer, my wife had quit years before. I decided I was a big boy now and wished to live the life that I determined, not necessarily the life that was habitual. Acupuncture helped me get through the pains of the physical withdrawal; it was my decision to be a nonsmoker that made the difference.

    Now call me immature, but I still return to my childish ways every once in a while. Maybe twice a year, I buy a pack and smoke it all in the course of a week. I enjoy it, mostly, all the while knowing it’s is a temporary diversion from my chosen life as a nonsmoker. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  5. wordbones January 4, 2010 at 10:22 am #

    I started smoking in high school and progressed to two packs a day by the time I finished college. Back then I could still smoke at work (and on airplanes!). Sure, I knew it was bad for me but I was young and believed myself to be indestructible.

    It wasn’t until I convinced a friend to take up cycling that I came to grips with my smoking. When we first started riding together I could easily leave him in the dust if I so chose. Within two weeks that was no longer the case and he was now capable of leaving me in the dust at will. He was only a year younger than me but he was a non smoker. It was then that I made the decision to quit. It wasn’t peer pressure, it was me pressure and it worked. I haven’t smoked since.

    Former smokers are often the worst in trying to cajole others to quit. My own experience taught me that the only person that can make you quit is you.


    • Harry Schwarz January 5, 2010 at 12:03 am #

      You’re right, wordbones, about not being effective persuaders. I keep wishing I had the words to tell some friend how much better they would feel if they would stop. Course, I remember how obstinate I was as a smoker. I also know there are persuasive arguments out there, as clearly smoking is down and marginalized.

  6. Melanie January 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    I’m a bit slow on my blog-reading lately, but great post! Thanks for sharing your experience!!

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