The Gift of Health, Part II
To continue on with yesterday’s story, in which I was regaling you with tales of my absence from writing, I had decided to do things, rather than buy things, for my husband for his birthday this year. Yesterday I talked about getting up-to-date on my medical nonsense, but I also wanted to do something else in time for his birthday. It was this gift, more than all the doctor’s appointments, that kept me away from the computer, and the blog, for the past few weeks. Call it ego, call it pride, call it shame, this part is hard to admit, but I believe putting it out there will keep me committed: I wanted to officially call myself a non-smoker.
I can hear the gasps, especially the people who know me and wouldn’t know about this part of my life. You see, I smoked like the alcoholic/addict that I am: secretly. Which is pretty difficult to do, given the olfactory consequences of the action of smoking! But I am clever, and I was also determined not to walk around smelling like an ashtray, so the fact that I smoked was known only to a very select few people.
Quick history with my smoking: started in graduate school, gave it up when I started dating the man who would become my husband, did not even think about it again for about a decade. A family member’s personal crisis had us bonding together over cigarettes about 8 years ago, and since that time I have been hit or miss. Then, when I hit my personal bottom, and was separated from my husband and family, oh boy did the smoking take front and center stage. Talk about replacing one bad habit with another! That period went on for about 6 months. The more confident I became in my recovery, the less I relied upon smoking, until I got to about where I leveled out: less than 5 a day, about 4-5 days a week.
In other words, this habit was entirely mental, as I could go for days at a time without wanting or needing one. Which goes to prove mental habits are just as hard to break as physical ones, at least in my case this is true. I have been planning to quit at every recovery milestone, but couldn’t seem to make myself do it.
I just recently heard someone in a meeting talking about his experience in AA. He never had any doubt that AA works, as he spent a long time coming to meetings, but continuing to drink, and he saw for himself the people who stayed sober. He wanted sobriety, he explained, he just didn’t want to give up drinking in order to get it.
To those who have never struggled with addiction of any kind, this logic probably sounds absurd; he said it, and I got it immediately, as it summed up perfectly how I felt about smoking: I wanted to identify myself as a non-smoker, I wanted all the benefits that come with being a non-smoker (not having to worry about smelling, clear lungs, better health, the list goes on and on), I just didn’t want to stop smoking in order to have those things.
I’m not sure what it was about my husband’s looming birthday that was motivating me, but I finally got serious about ridding myself of this albatross once and for all. My husband, to my knowledge, has never smoked a cigarette. I mentioned I gave it up when we were dating, largely at his request. We have had many, let’s call them spirited discussions, about my smoking, and he is one of the key reasons I am as fastidious as I am about not smelling “like a smoker.” I know that he has deep fears about my health, and that I have not taken those fears very seriously, and that is why I thought this would be the most meaningful gift I could give him.
I have stopped and started too many times to count, but in recent years I had never gotten further than about 6 days without giving up. I also know that the greater the time removed from smoking, the less likely I will be to pick up a cigarette, because I will come to cherish my “smoke-free” days as I do my sober ones. The trick is stringing enough of them together for them to matter to me.
So I picked date, I enlisted the help of my Mom, and I employed the next tool I learned in recovery: I figured out where and when I was most tempted to smoke, and I changed everything I could about my days to increase my chance for smoke-free success. As I mentioned, I was an isolated smoker; I was very uncomfortable smoking in any public place. So for about two weeks straight, I kept myself out and about as much as I could, and changed up my schedule as much as I could, to limit my opportunities to smoke.
I also gave myself incentives along the way, things that motivated me to continue on the journey. Giving these rewards served two purposes: the obvious, a reward for a job done well (not smoking), but also a motivation to continue on the journey (if you pick up a cigarette now, you just ruined the reward you gave yourself yesterday). Silly stuff that would not matter to anyone but myself, but I’ll tell you, this strategy really kept me going.
Finally, accountability: I started with just my Mom, because I was so scared I would mess up. But then, slowly, I let people in on what I was doing, and each person I told strengthened my resolve all the more. I feel like I really turned a corner when I announced it at my Monday meeting, and asked them to ask me about it the following week. I knew if I got that bold, then I was probably not turning back.
And I didn’t. I was able to share this news with my husband, who was, again, very relieved to hear that I had given up this health endangering act. For myself, the process certainly had “notes” of recovery… a time of day when I would normally have a cigarette, and then I would remember, “oh yeah, I don’t do that anymore,” and I would feel that sort of empty sadness that comes post-addiction, but overall the process was not nearly as gut-wrenching as recovery from other mind-altering substances. I have had numerous people remark that giving up smoking was far worse than giving up drinking; for me that simply was not the case. I had about a week’s worth of feeling irritable for no particular reason, but it faded pretty quickly. Now, when I get that feeling of “wouldn’t it be nice to have a cigarette,” I have a bunch of concrete reasons to say no: I’ve come this far, I have people to answer to, I would have to go back to all that “cigarette subterfuge” that I hated so much, and, now, I would have to report back to all you!
My name is Josie, and I am a former smoker!