My mother smoked while she was pregnant with me and my sister. I used to light her cigarettes while she was driving. One time I handed her a lit Benson & Hedges backwards nearly causing a huge freeway accident. She managed to not hit the car in front of her but had a huge burn on her lip, it didn’t stop her from grabbing the cig, which had flown out of her hand during the burn/swerving wildly, and start puffing rapidly to get the cherry back up to a glow, a look of calm passing over her face as she blew out the first inhale.
Growing up in band life, in my life, we lived in a cloud of smoke. I emptied bottles and cans stuffed with butts, I did my school work engulfed in a haze of fluffy smoke and I knew how to blow rings by the time I was ten. I would walk to the corner store with a note that said “please let my daughter buy cigarettes for me” and they would. I didn’t have to steal cigarettes from anyone as a child, they were everywhere, I only had to pick them up. I bought my own personal pack at 13 years of age from a doughnut shop vending machine half a block from my house.
The first time I tried to quit smoking I was only 14. I vividly remember getting through two days, spaced and jittery, and then finding a pack my mother left on the couch. I remember telling myself “don’t smoke one, if you do you will never quit” and then watching my hand slowly take one out, light it up………. And so began a long and bitter battle that would last until I was 42.
I secretly smoked during both of my pregnancies. I cry just typing that but I did it, its true. I tried to quit and I know everyone reading this will shudder in disgust but I have to be honest. I could not quit and I smoked while carrying my babies. Thank god, not me, that they are both healthy and perfect. Everyone should be so lucky. During my first pregnancy, after a week of not smoking I was spacey and couldn’t focus. I rear ended a car in front of me and a forgotten pack of smokes flew out from under my car seat. I grabbed them and lit up. My point is that I would die for my children, I would be happy to die for either of them, but I couldn’t not smoke for them.
I was hypnotized once, it didn’t help. I have tried patches 13 times. I had a needle in my ear for a week. I have used gum, lozenges, prayer, scent therapy, positive thought, Wellbutrin, read every death/horror story I could find, posted cancer pictures on my walls and every other thing I thought would help to quit, and for all of my efforts I quit once for 8 months and once for a year and two months. I have smoked my whole life really………42 years of smoking. 42 years of hell.
Look smoking hurts. It limits your ability to live your life. I have spent my life feeling like I was less than others because I smoked. I felt like I was less capable, less intelligent and less in control of myself. I wanted to do a triathlon but couldn’t because I had no wind. I wanted to be a nurse but didn’t even try because I found getting through a day of classes to hard without a fix. I have turned down or quit jobs that interfered with my need to light up every two hours choosing to work in bars my whole life where I could be the addict that I was. I have left movies early, cut dates short, because I had to have a cigarette, after having paid $200 for the tickets too. I have wheeled my ass out to the smoking area at hospitals, pee bag in my lap, to smoke. I have been humbled, I have beat my head against walls and I have cried thousands of times over cigarettes. They are so small and so unimportant but oh my god they dominated my life. They defined me.
I want to tell you about the last year I had quit. In 2009 I quit, I made it and I couldn’t believe it. Every one said they never believed I would do it. I started training for my first triathlon and started my prereqs for nursing school. I was sooooo happy I had finally triumphed! I would run past the smoking areas outside of the hospital and think “thank god I am finally free” every day. I begged my husband to quit and watched him struggle to do it and fail over and over and I couldn’t help him. Occasionally, on a really tough day I would sneak a hit of his cigarette and think “oh I don’t even like the way it tastes. I am cured”…..but I never really was. I sometimes dreamed I was smoking. It haunted me.
Of course I gained 15 pounds and spent the whole year trying to lose it. I ran a mile every day, ate little, I even tried fasting periodically and it just wouldn’t come off. That wasn’t so bad I guess except that I woke up every day and tried not to smoke, tried not to eat and tried to get along with my day. Now my whole life had become a battle of will power. Every day I went as long as I could until one day I was smoking again and I didn’t even realize how it happened. I had just thrown away a year plus two months of not smoking and it was so depressing I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t run anymore, I couldn’t breathe. I would go to sleep at night thinking that tomorrow I would do better, get control again and not smoke. By noon the next day I would be searching through old coats or asking my neighbors for a smoke. I have picked butts up off the ground and smoked them for god’s sake. Then one night, driving in my car and feeling very sad that I had smoked that day my husband called me and told me that his best friend had just bought an electronic cigarette. Smokefree electronic cigarettes. It changed my life.
Ecigarettes. Nicotine (as low a dose as you choose or no nicotine at all), polyglycerol the same as they use in asthma inhalers and food products. Flavoring if you want it. True to form I chose vanilla and cherry. You can vape, blow mist just like smoke, get the nicotine just like a patch and it’s as good as smoking but so much better. Ecigs………….the reduced risk alternative. The harm reduction option.
I went to www.smokefree.in and ordered the Starter kit. In fact I sped home to do it. I got my kit three days later and I for the first time in my life I am free. My husband is free too, but that is his story, not mine so I will just note it here. True, we are not free of nicotine but that wasn’t really important to me (it’s not the nicotine that kills, it’s the smoke). Now I can vape and it makes everything ok. I get a small amount of nicotine and no harmful smoke or chemicals. No carcinogens, no ammonia, no cancer, no COPD, no wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath. No smoke.
You want to know all of the things I am free of? The list is huge! Free from watching my husband struggle, he quit the first day easily as did I. Free of the guilt, the shame, the persistent nagging worry about my health. Free of the smell, the mess, the cost, the cough and the wheeze. Free to not crave all of the time! Not having this persistent itch that I just have to scratch is AMAZING! Free of the depression, the grief and the ever present sense of being a bad person for smoking. Free of the hunched over smoking areas, free of guiltily sneaking off and free of fear of being judged. Free to not have to suffer anymore.
I can run again. My wind is great. I can breathe without wheezing. I am dropping the extra weight while eating whatever I want (within my vegan reason). I go to school and know that once I am in the field, with my RN degree, I have a extra tool to help others. My mind is finally free to think about things other than cigarettes and how I shouldn’t and why I can’t and why I am …………freedom.
I know there are people out there who feel I should pay for getting addicted to cigarettes. That it is fitting and right I should suffer for it. I know there are people who will feel I should quit nicotine all together. However I am no longer blowing second hand smoke into the air and that is a good thing. I am no longer filling up endless ashtrays, and eventually landfills, with my poison butts and that’s a good thing too. I know in my heart I tried as hard as I could to quit and failed again and again. Now I am not hurting anyone else and that is a good thing.
Listen it is wonderful to not be carrying this huge burden anymore. I wish it for everyone who got trapped by smoking. Please try vaping, if you can’t just quit, and be free to live your life again.