This is part of a series of letters from QuitNet members who shared their experience with quitting smoking using QuitNet, and offered their encouragement for others to do the same. If you'd like to share your experience or motivate a loved one or smoker who wants to quit, please submit your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me tell you, I had zero faith that I would ever quit smoking. I started when I was fifteen, desperate to fit in with new friends in high school. By the time I was seventeen, I was up to a pack a day. I went through an incredibly stressful period when I was twenty-four, during which I depended on cigarettes and smoked two packs a day.
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 have freed myself from the addiction, and I can’t believe I did it. I will always have to watch myself – the want sneaks up when I least expect it.
You never really quit; you just pledge to stop, just for today.