14 October 2009
Up In Smoke: A Word Photo Enlargement
Sooner or later, everyone stops smoking. – Author unknown
On Monday, June 30, 2003, I made the commitment to never smoke again. Quitting was not an easy choice. My fear of failure is so great, that I will often take elaborate steps to avoid making promises that I cannot keep. This was no exception.
Smoking was common in my childhood. My dad smoked; my grandparents smoked; my aunts, uncles and family friends smoked. I even recall my mom attempting it for a very short time. “Maybe your dad will quit when he smells my stinky breath,” she explained to my sister and me, coughing out the smoke. I started smoking in 1980 at fifteen years old. I smoked on my way to and from school, and at lunch. I also smoked at parties and gatherings. I avoided smoking around my parents, but in hindsight, it’s likely they knew. In the Army, my smoking progressed to a necessity. “Smoke ‘em if you got ’em,” the Drill Sergeants would say. If you smoked, you were given breaks; otherwise, you continued to work. The choice was obvious. On average, I smoked about one pack per day from 1985 until 1998. In the early 1990’s, I reached a point where I smoked nearly two packs of cigarettes per day.
When my wife, Noreen, and I bought our home and vehicles, we made a pact not to smoke in them. In 1992, Noreen quit smoking when she found out she was pregnant. She started smoking again after our first son was born, but in 1996, she quit permanently when she became pregnant with our second son. It was after Noreen quit smoking that I first wanted to quit. “You need to quit, too,” she said occasionally. She always remained accepting, but encouraged me to quit. However, my mom was the “nag”.
“Are you still smoking?” my mom inquired on the phone, always hoping for the answer that didn’t come.
“Yes, I’m just not ready to quit, yet,” I replied, almost in an obligatory response.
“I love you, but I wish you would quit smoking.” She always included, “I’ll be praying for you.”
“I love you, too, Mom. I’m sure I’ll need all the help I can get.”
Eventually the day came when I decided I needed to change. Although I had made vain attempts, I had never truly wanted to quit. For some now-forgotten reason, I finally made the conscious commitment to stop. I didn’t quit cold turkey. It took many steps to prepare to quit. I cut down how much I was smoking. I purchased cigarettes with lower tobacco ratings (lights and ultra lights). I limited my smoking to specific times during the day. I delayed my first cigarette of the day until after I arrived at work. I gradually reduced how many cigarettes I smoked each day. All these steps reduced my dependence. They also generated confidence in my ability to control the addiction.
Late in the afternoon on Friday, June 27, 2003, I called my doctor’s office, “I want to quit smoking this weekend, but I want a prescription for Nicotrol inhaler. Is there anyway I can get in today?” The nurse on the phone said, “We’re about to close, but if you can get here in fifteen minutes, we’ll wait.” It was amazing how receptive the doctor’s office was once I mentioned my desire to quit smoking.
I arrived just as they were about to close. The only people still at the office were the receptionist and the nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner took me back to an examination room and went through the usual cursory checks; weight, blood pressure, etc. “We’re glad you’ve decided to try to quit. How can we help you?” the nurse said.
“I did some research and the Nicotrol inhaler seems pretty successful,” I said. “I went to the pharmacy to buy it over the counter, but I found out I need a prescription,”
“We have prescribed Nicotrol, but I haven’t seen it in an inhaler form. Let me check the PDR. I’ll be right back,” the nurse said.
I had read up on the inhaler when I began considering quitting. One of the key characteristics is its shape; it resembles a cigarette. The habit of holding the cigarette is a major factor of the addiction. The nurse searched through the Physicians Desk Reference (PDR) until she eventually found it. “Okay, I’m writing you a prescription for a four-week supply. If you need more, call us. We may need to schedule an appointment, but we’ll get you in.”
Just before midnight on June 29, I went out on the patio behind my home. This was my usual smoking area. We had a typical white-plastic table and chairs on the patio by the pool. The table was dusty with dark streaks of tobacco ashes. A glass ashtray, caked with grey ashes, sat on the table. A half pack of Camel Wides stood next to the ashtray. It was quiet this late at night; the only thing I could hear was the hum of the pool pump. I had packed these cigarettes pretty well, but out of habit, I still tapped the cigarette a couple times on the table. It was simple enough; just smoke this cigarette and I’d be done. As I lit the cigarette, I considered whether I should throw away the lighter and matches with the cigarettes.
The fear of failing always contributed to my lack of desire to quit. But now I used that fear as leverage to force myself to quit. That little voice in the back of my head kept telling me I’d fail; that I couldn’t do it; that tomorrow I would have to start all over again. But tomorrow I would make a promise that I refused to recant. I finished that last cigarette, and I didn’t allow those voices to control me. I took another deliberate step to ensure my success. I took the remainder of the cigarettes, broke each one into pieces, and discarded them into the trash. I would make the promise and I would keep it.
The next morning I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday. “Mom, I have a special present for you. I know you’ve wanted me to quit smoking. I’ve decided I am going to quit today as a gift to you.”
She was so happy I could hear it in her voice. “I know you can do it. I’m very proud of you,” she said. Her confidence in my success was important. I promised my mom that I would not smoke on her birthday, and I would make it the anniversary of my quitting.
In the end, I recognized smoking had become a weakness and detriment. I took the steps to succeed at quitting. I’ve been tobacco free for six years. I still get the urge to smoke a cigarette, but it gets easier to ignore. The temptation is always present. I simply choose not to smoke.