Today is the 20th anniversary of my giving up cigarettes once and forever. I smoked for ten years during my younger days from ages 13 until 23, but only ever really “enjoyed” it during the first few years when I was youngest and dumbest.
I started because I wanted to look cool – really no other reason. I had friends who smoked and friends who didn’t and I never really made a distinction between the groups morally, but liked the rebellious and “grown-up” image of having a smoke between my fingers or lips. In the earliest days it was all a kind of an adventure, a certain kind of mischievous fun. I didn’t smoke all that much in those days, just during strategic social moments. In fact, I remember there was a group of seven of us who walked to school together and we would each chip in a dime to buy a pack each morning at the corner store (that’s right, cigarettes were only about $0.69 a pack at the time!) Of course, there was the rebellious sense of getting away with something that grown-ups would not approve of, and my friends and I would constantly share new and creative ways of hiding the evidence from parents and teachers.
However, within a few years smoking was no longer as much fun. I was now able to do it more openly and stopped enjoying a cigarette as a symbolic indulgence but more as a necessary crutch to get me through the day. For several years before July 13, 1992, I had wanted to quit as I became more and more aware of the dangers and really started to loath the side effects of the habit itself. In spite of this, I had never once actually tried to quit because I wasn’t only physically addicted, but more so psychologically addicted. I could not get to sleep at night if I had less than a few smokes in my pack because I had a fear that I might wake up several times during the night and need a cigarette. Think about how crazy that is – I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid that I might wake up and not be able to sleep! Further, I had seen many friends try to quit, struggle, and ultimately fail after a few days, weeks, or even months and couldn’t justify going through the “ritual” if I was ultimately going to fail anyway.
It was ultimately my concern for a loved one which moved me into action. My mother, who had also been a smoker since her teen years, was now about 50 and I was really becoming concerned for her health. I implored her to quit and she would always comeback with,”I’ll quit when you do.” I was in a box. I had no comeback other than I was a lot younger and had “much more time” to quit. It was a weak argument and I knew it, so I reluctantly agreed to a pact with her that we each give it up for Lent that year (1992). To my mother’s credit, she kept her word. To my shame, I did not and I just kept on smoking, not even making a token effort to give it up. My mother quit a 30-something year habit, not just for Lent, but for good and for the next months between the spring and summer, I lived with a heavy guilt that I had not kept my word (and I HATE to break my word). Finally, I decided I would make a legitimate effort to kick the habit.
There was nothing remarkable about the date July 13th other than it was a Monday and Mondays always seem like a good day to start things like resolutions and diets and such (although I’m not really quite sure why). I woke up that day, took my shower, and headed off to work as normal, except on this day I left my pack of cigarettes at home. I remember struggling quite a bit through the morning and having some serious doubts whether I could really do this. But then came lunchtime, and I was in a convenience store buying an iced tea and found myself in line when the guy in front of me requested a pack of Marlboro Lights (my favorite brand). At that very moment, something inside me just clicked and I thought to myself, “that will never again be me” and I felt an overwhelming great feeling of relief. It was only Noon of the very first day that I had ever attempted to quit smoking and I knew I had it licked for life. Sure, I did go through the physical withdrawals from nicotine over the coming weeks, but my psychological outlook had totally changed and there was rarely a fleeting moment of doubt from that day forward.
I had done it with no patch, no gum, no hypnotism or support group, just cold turkey and success on the very first attempt. Now, I’m not claiming that my method is for everyone and I know a tobacco habit comes with a serious physical addition. But the lesson I learned was that when you’re sure something is the right thing to do, you just need to do it, even when the odds seem ludicrously against success. You may surprise yourself and discover abilities or resolve that you did not know you had.