The Last Gasp

Quitting smoking: one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life… and also, paradoxically, one of the easiest.

I’ve already blogged about how – and why – I started. Now I’ll tell you how I stopped.

Cigarettes looking real ugly
Photo (cc) by Let Ideas Compete

First, you need to know this: I loved smoking. No, I loved smoking. Let me count the ways:

  1. It gave me something to do with my hands. (No elaboration needed).
  2. It gave me something to do while in a waiting mode (for anything).
  3. It seemed to calm me in jittery situations (a delusion, but a powerful one).
  4. It afforded camaraderie (at least until we smokers became outlaws).

(The camaraderie is not to be sneezed at! I remember a bunch of us diehards [pardon pun] smoking our lungs out in front of 1310 Greene Avenue in Westmount, that posh area of Montreal where I worked during the early 2000s. I met a jovial woman I still say hi to – she lives near me – and also made the acquaintance of a talented local comedian, Joey Elias. We all shared the ‘outlaw’ persona, which somehow brought us together in sin, you might say. 🙂 )

Since I smoked for 42 years, the habit (for that’s what it is, a strong one… it’s not too much of a stretch to liken it to a drug addiction) was firmly entrenched. Smoking went with my first cup of coffee of the day. It punctuated the end of meals. It accompanied computer tasks. It celebrated the end of said tasks… and any accomplishment, however minor, for that matter. It was the last thing I did at night. It was – no doubt about it – a humongous part of my life.

I’d tried a couple of times to quit. I succeeded – but only  temporarily. It didn’t help that the first time, I quit for an external reason (smoking was forbidden during a computer course I took), and the second try years later was stymied by my living with a smoker.

But eventually I got to the point when I really really wanted to end this dang habit! You know what pushed me over the decision edge? No, it wasn’t the photos of decayed blackened lungs on the cigarette package. It wasn’t my hoarse voice (and cough). No, it was when I went into my local grocery and found out the price of a carton after the latest price increase (government tax increase, to be precise). I always used to buy a carton of eight packs, i.e. 200 cigarettes in all, to last me a week and a bit. (Truth be told, sometimes not even the “bit.”) I was used to paying $40, $45 for this “privilege.” One day I went in there, and the price had hit $60.

I had a sudden epiphany. A vision formed, in which I held up two hundred and forty dollars’ worth of twenty-dollar bills every month, and set them all on fire. Every month.

I made the decision. I set a date. I settled on a way to help myself do it: The Patch. My Q-date would be August 1, 2003.

To help offset the weight gain I knew would be unavoidable, I enrolled in a weight-loss program about two months before Q-date, and managed to take off nine pounds.

The Patch was amazing – for the physical addiction. It didn’t, however, address the psychological aspect. That was the toughest: the cravings. I had several ways of handling these. The main one grew out of a discovery I somehow made. When a smoker inhales, they are indeed taking in a lot of smoke, but they are also taking in oxygen. Part of what you miss after you stop smoking is those big inhaled breaths. So when I had a craving, I would take some nice, deep breaths. I realize this sounds really facile, but for me, it helped a lot! I also drank a lot of water.

For the tactile bit – what to do with my hands, I’d hold a pen and even suck on the tip of it. (What’s a few little germs compared to lung cancer?!)

My smoking cessation paid off in many ways: more money in my pocket; less smelly ashtrays around (in fact a less smoky smell in my apartment altogether); yellowed walls not getting any darker; my happier voice and lungs; less need for smoke breaks at work or wherever; but best of all, the sweetest thing of all, occurred on August 1st – the day I quit.

I was in my boss’s office talking to her, when I heard voices in the open area near the front door. I looked out the boss’s doorway and beheld a lovely sight indeed: my daughter Kathryn had come to my office – bearing a dozen roses with a congratulatory note.

You can be sure I’ve been a non-smoker ever since.



7 thoughts on “The Last Gasp

  1. Congratulations, Ellie. My husband smoked for many years and quit, much like you, in 2001. His epiphany was that the cravings were temporary; if he could get through a couple of minutes without giving in, they would ease. He used that technique many, many times – and it has always worked. I’m proud of him for quitting, and you should be proud of yourself. It is indeed an addiction.

    Liked by 2 people

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