Dear Future Quitter,
My last cigarette was on August 24, 2015. To date, I have saved over a thousand dollars and approximately two months of my life, though I can’t find those two months – I was busy doing things besides smoking. Every morning when I first wake up, bleary eyed, my mouth dry, I log in to QuitNet and click to take a pledge that, “just for today,” I will not smoke. I never skip my morning pledge because it’s one of the reminders of how far I’ve come.
Cigarettes were my crutch for everything life threw at me. Was I hungry? Smoke a cigarette and eat later. Was I angry? Smoke a cigarette and calm down. Anxiety? Sadness? Guess what.
The first day I put on the nicotine patch, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement rising up in my chest – maybe this was also anxiety manifesting, but I was gleeful as I carefully applied the patch to my arm, pinned my Superman button to my favorite shirt, and snapped a quick selfie for Instagram so that I could look back and remember the determination from that morning. I’d arrived at work with my last cigarette in my mouth, taking long pulls and sucking in the acrid smoke, telling myself it would be my last one forever.
I woke up the following Saturday confused that I hadn’t been able to sleep in, as I normally did on the weekend. What was all this energy and why did I have it? I needed to do something. It was 7AM and the fish tank needed cleaning. The dishes needed doing. The living room needed straightening. I did it all, without smoking. I couldn’t believe I’d survived almost a week without slipping through the sliding glass door in the back of our apartment, cup of coffee in hand, for my morning cigarette.
In the shower that day, I started to cry. I couldn’t stop. My skin tingled. My veins hurt. I took deep breaths between sobs, feeling my lungs inflate and take in all the fresh air. It was a new and unusual feeling to deep breathe and feel cool air in my chest; I was used to the hot burn from the smoke. I thought the world was ending – it wasn’t, but a drop in nicotine levels will make you think and feel otherwise. This awfulness was my body crying out in want: I wanted a cigarette… I needed a cigarette. I ached, and I hurt mentally as much as physically.
Every couple of weeks, when I stepped down on the patch, I repeated this process. Slap on patch, cry, breathe, cry, repeat. Each tear that escaped was a drop of poison exiting my body, bit by bit, until no more nicotine coursed through me. If I thought of a cigarette, my skin didn’t tingle with want. Eventually, I hardly ever thought of cigarettes and my skin now doesn’t tingle at all.
More than a year after the fact, I haven’t smoked a cigarette. Ask me at fifteen, seventeen, twenty-four, I would have told you I would never quit smoking. I didn’t want to because I liked it. Ask me now, at twenty-eight, and I’ll tell you how much more time I have for fun things, like going to the movies and watching the whole film without wondering when the next fix would be.
I smile more than I cry these days. To calm myself, I don’t need a lighter.
I can just take a deep breath.
You never really quit; you just pledge to stop, just for today.