I was a smoker for most of my teenage life and well into my adult life. I remember my first cigarette like it just happened. I had just emigrated to the U.S. and was having a challenging time finding a group of friends to hang out. To be sure, I was in my awkward teenage years (just turned 15) and hadn’t settled into my awesome charismatic personality quite yet. I was hungry to join a group and would do anything anyone wanted just so I could hang out with them. So once I joined a youth leadership group in Boston I latched on to the first set of ‘cool’ kids I saw and they smoked, so naturally, I smoked.
Those first two weeks that I hung out with them were incredibly fun and I hung out with them every day after school and I felt as though I needed to impress them so as they smoked, I smoked – and they smoked A LOT. What I didn’t understand was that they were all at least 3 years my senior and had smoked for at least 2 years already. I was at a severe disadvantage and needed to catch up – quickly. I chain-smoked so many cigarettes during that time period that even the thought of it makes me gag today. In the weeks following my first foray into smoking my infatuation with that group had waned but I was stuck with a habit – one that threatened to take years off of my life with every drag. I was addicted.
I liked smoking. A LOT. During high school, I was smoking every chance I had. Partying? Smoking. Hanging out? Smoking. Lunch time during school? Smoking. Passing time during classes? You guessed it, it was smoking. Some of my most memorable experiences during my last two years of high school was being ‘chased’ away from the school grounds because I wasn’t allowed to smoke on campus. I remember feeling so oppressed and discriminated against because I wasn’t allowed to smoke…”smoker’s rights” I called it. I was a funny kid.
I also spent a significant amount of time and energy thinking about where I was going to get my next pack of cigarettes (remember of course that for my first 3 years of smoking I wasn’t doing so legally). I would stand outside of the store, slightly out of the clerk’s sight and ask people to buy me a pack with the incentive that they could buy whatever they wanted. How or why that worked? I’m not entirely sure.
Once I made the transition to college I felt like I was invincible. I was still dancing (5 years at that point), in the best shape of my life, had a lot of friends, and I felt awesome – I thought that I’d never stop smoking. There was no reason for me to even think about it. I had no trouble keeping up while dancing, no trouble working out at the gym, and none of my friends seem to care too much that I smoked (except for the obligatory “that’s bad for you” here and there.)
My first attempt to quit didn’t happen for any reason really. I just thought that it was time to stop. I went out and bought a month’s supply of a brand name nicotine patch from the local convenience store, had what I thought was my last cigarette, and slapped one on. The initial sensation was WEIRD and slightly unnerving. There was an incessant burning and tingling sensation that was just downright annoying. I felt committed though since I had just spent upwards for $80 on this – I couldn’t quit my quitting now! I made sure to announce it to everyone who would listen “I’m quitting smokingyou know!” and when I was cranky it was my crutch, I’d yell at people and then go back to them later and blame it all on my quitting (it probably had a small part to play but not as much as I was making it out to be.) Over time, the patch really just got to me and I quit quitting. I didn’t even finish the pack…I still have some leftover patches in a little memento box in Boston. I lasted less than 3 weeks. Then, I started smoking again with full force.
Just about 2 years later (my Sophomore/Junior) I decided that it was time to quit. Again. Only this time it was time to bring out the big dogs. I had heard a lot about prescription medicine that helped with nicotine cessation and I thought for sure that this was my ticket out of smoking. I went to my doctor at the time (best PCP ever!) and told him that I was ready to quit. He was on board and wrote me a prescription almost immediately. This time, quitting was more expensive. A one month’s supply of this medicine was over $150. Whelp! (At this point I know many readers are probably thinking “well just think of how much money you’re going to save in the long run Romel” and I agree…that’s just not how a college student thinks about shelling out that much money at once. At least not me.)
My experience with this particular drug was, to say the least, exhilarating. I had to take one pill in the morning and then one again before bedtime. I would receive a call from an automated system (with a humanesque voice) at night who would ask me in the calmest but most supportive voice “Did you have a cigarette today?” All I had to do in response was press either 1 (yes) or 2 (no) and the appropriate machine response would be triggered. On the days that I did smoke I would feel so guilty when that call would come in…sometimes I would ignore it only to have them call more excessively the next morning. Night time with this drug was exciting! I had the most vivid, spectacular, and wildly fantastical dreams. My dreams were filled with colors, crazy animals, flying, you name it, it was there. Over time I had completely stopped smoking. I was healthier but I was bored. I realized that I still ‘liked’ smoking. I wasn’t ready to quit yet. I lasted 1 1/2 months on this method.
More money down the drain.
December 2010. It was time for another quitting method. This time I felt that I wanted to but needed something in place of cigarettes. So what did I do? I went out and spent $200 on an electronic cigarette that would help me with my nicotine cravings. I’ll spare you the story of this one. It failed.
Fast forward to December 2011. I still liked smoking and had actually begun to identify myself as a smoker. Claiming an identity is typically ‘the nail in the coffin’ as some folks had told me in the past. I was ok with it. I was a smoker and you had to take it or leave it. I had tried everything I could think of to quit; the patch, the pill, e-cigarettes, and none of them work. I must be destined to be a smoker if none of these things had worked. I did make the decision however that I would at least try to get back into shape so I joined a new gym. At the gym (like many others these days) you receive a ‘complimentary’ personal training session. During the session the trainer asked me if I smoked and I responded with a confident ‘yeah” as if to say “so what?!” He responded in the most blasé way “you should really stop that.” It was as if something in my brain had finally clicked. He was right. Now, it’s not as though no one in my life hadn’t told me that I needed to quit. They had. Many times. I just never really listened. I remember leaving the gym that night and texting my friend Angela “I think I had my last cigarette tonight.”
It was really important to me to not tell anyone for a while. I thought that if I was able to keep it to myself – be honest with myself, that this would be the time that I kicked the habit for good. The first day passed. Then the second. Then the first week. Then the second. At the end of the second I began to tell people about the decision I had made and I was met with a healthy amount of skepticism (and rightfully so). With that skepticism however, came the most generous dose of the kind of support I needed, the “we won’t talk about it” kind. Month #1 passed. Month #2. Now, month #3 – and have I mentioned that I’ve done it cold turkey? Not one dollar spent. Has it been easy? No. There have been days that I’ve wanted to smoke so intensely that I was sure I would lapse. But this time is different. This time is for me.
I’ve taken the leap into being an ex-smoker and I’m committed to fighting every time I feel the urge to have one. I’ve given cigarettes almost 10 years of my life and it’s time take some of that time back.
- Quit-Smoking Aids: What Works? (webmd.com)
- How to Prevent Smoking (boldstate.com)
- Nicotine therapy “no help” to smokers (beinghealthyhomeandaway.blogspot.com)
- Treat Smoking Addiction With Success Using Electronic Cigarettes (boldstate.com)
- The truth about social smoking (antiworldnews.wordpress.com)