I Quit Smoking and Embraced My Life

I Never Knew How Much Cigarettes Held Me Back

young woman facing ocean with arms outstretched. gaspr13/Getty Images

Ex-smoker Sally shares the transformation her life has undergone since quitting smoking. She details the first three smoke-free years, plus gives us a bonus update at five years smoke-free.

Congratulations, and thanks for sharing, Sally.

From Sally:

One year ago I made a change. I decided to stop smoking. It sounds quite simple, really. Just don't smoke.

Could it really be that simple? If so, why was I terrified?

What if I failed? My mind was spinning because I had never allowed myself to believe I could do this. Suddenly, it seemed so amazingly clear. I was done. I hated smoking.

My First Smoke-Free Year

I believe my first "aha" moment came within those first minutes of quitting. Smoking for me was no longer an option. How could I possibly make this stick? Allen Carr's book, The Easy Way To Stop Smoking was an eye opener and a tremendous help. This man changed my mind about smoking. He made sense. In fact, he made a lot of sense.

I then found this forum for support and this site for education about smoking cessation. I read every single article I could find. I learned so much and the more I read, the more determined I became.

So much new information to process, so many quit stories to inspire me, but it was this article After The Last Cigarette that stuck with me the most.

From this article, I learned how quickly my body would begin to heal.

I had knowingly caused damage for all of this time, but the body is amazingly resilient... perhaps even forgiving? I owed it to myself to make this happen. Discovering that nicotine leaves the system within 72 hours was thrilling to me. I could do this!

After the first few weeks, the physical act of "not smoking" became the easy part.

Filling the void left behind was a greater challenge. What to do with all of this time?  

I had smoked through everything. You name it... Happy? Sad? Frustrated? A job well done? That cigarette had been my exclamation point. My way of dealing without really dealing. I was convinced smoking ended everything perfectly. How wrong I was.

Since quitting, I have been forced to deal, and while it isn't always easy, it is great to feel for the first time in a long time.

In my attempt to fill the void I did a lot of soul searching. What would make me happy? I had always envied "those people." You know the ones. The people who love to work out. The ones who have that healthy glow and boundless energy. The ones who make healthy food choices but on occasion splurge on something really sinful, enjoy every moment, and then go right back to their healthy lifestyle. 

I had never been that person.

Perhaps I should credit the "brain fog" I experienced early on, but I was now convinced I could be that person, too. I was finally emerging from behind the wall of smoke I'd endured for many years.

So exercise I did. I also researched nutrition. I filled my cupboards and fridge with the good stuff. Little by little, day by day, I was doing it.

At times I felt hopeless. At times I felt as if I were on top of the world. I would be laughing hysterically one moment and burst into tears the next. Crazy stuff. I came to realize this quitting thing was going to take some time. Time to relearn many, many behaviors.

Recovery from nicotine addiction gave me the strength to make some changes I had been wanting to make for a very long time. I had let myself become "okay" with the person I was as a smoker. Cessation made me realize I don't have to settle. Not smoking built my self-esteem, and did a whole lot more for me than I ever thought it would do.

At the end of my first smoke-free year, I am Stronger. Wiser. Happier. Healthier. But most of all, I am more proud of myself than I've ever been before.

Reflections After Two Years Smoke-Free

I took notice of the most beautiful bird recently. I used to think birds just flapped their wings and were automatically propelled into flight, but now I know there is much more to it.

This bird owned it. Swooping and soaring, then landing on the telephone pole outside my office window. Show off. I swear that bird looked right at me, paused for a moment and then sang the most beautiful tune. That bird was happy.

How could I tell, you may ask?

I totally identify with that bird because this bird (me) owns it too...  I'm finally free. I soar. And I sing -- not all that well mind you -- but I do it anyway.

Quitting smoking was the single most important thing I ever did for ME. I've done lots of nice things for other people in my life. Somehow the ME I took such good care of long, long ago got lost in the smoke. I am happy to say that she has finally returned. Stronger and healthier than ever before. And after two years of breathing clean air, she is someone I continue to be pretty darn proud of.

Please join me.

I have often said, "you gotta want it and if you do... you will get it." I stand by those words.

You will not only improve your health, but your self-esteem will soar! Just like that bird. It may take some time, but all things worthwhile do. YOU and only YOU have the power to make it happen.

You CAN and WILL do this.

Ahhh...pinch me...it's been two years since I smoked a cigarette!

Three Years Smoke-Free

I'll keep this brief and to the point:

3 years quit.
Over $10,000 saved.
My fitness level is at a personal best.*
My weight, also.*
Self-esteem is soaring.

Yes, the first year was hard.
The first few months especially.
Worth the struggle?
Oh Yes...you bet!

Do this. Just get it done.
You are way too smart to smoke and you know it.
I give you total permission to yell and scream at me in 3 years if you don't feel the same way I do.

* BEWARE: quitting smoking can lead to a positive domino effect. I was very overweight and out of shape when I quit. Beating this nicotine thing gave me the confidence to tackle my other demons. Working out and eating right finally felt good.

My best advice? Do what you can to stay quit. The rest will fall into place.

Bonus:  An Update at 5 Years Smoke-Free

This past weekend I flew.

Some call it a canopy tour. Some call it zip-lining. But I call it the closest I've ever come to flying through the air without a plane surrounding me. I knew it would be challenging. Exactly how challenging? I had no idea.

Just like when I quit smoking. I knew it would be challenging. Exactly how challenging? I had no idea then either, but I knew I had to do it. With the help of the forum and some major determination, I WAS doing it. And over the past 5 years, I started challenging myself in other areas. I realized exactly how much smoking had held me back and I was determined to make up for lost time.

Okay, back to this past weekend. After a few practice runs -- think bunny slope and gradually getting more difficult -- I'm now preparing to zip on the steepest and fastest zip line. The guide says people have achieved speeds up to 55mph. What I didn't know when I signed up for this was that you have to stop yourself, you must slow yourself down before you reach the platform at the end of the line.

The guides showed us how to do this.

I was really nervous at this point. But off I went. It was thrilling and terrifying flying through the air at ​a rapid speed above the treetops. The whole time I was panicked about being able to stop. I wasn't able to slow myself down quite enough, so the emergency stop kicked in just before I reached the platform and I began sliding back down the cable.

I'd been holding on so tight that I lacked the strength to pull myself up the steep incline back to the platform. The guide had to come out on the line and bring me in.

In those moments before he got there, I was hanging hundreds of feet in the air holding on for dear life. I knew I was safe, and I was pretty sure I could hold on, but that did not make it any easier in the moment.

Yep, last Saturday was my greatest challenge since quitting smoking. I had no idea how many parallels there were between this story and my quit journey until now. For those of you just beginning your quit, hang on tight.

This forum, the people and the information you will learn WILL save you. You have an enormous safety net here, all you have to do is hang on and believe. And if you need a little help, just say so. There are so many wonderful folks who will jump in to help. These folks have been there. I promise if you do just that, you will succeed.

Dig your heels in and do the work.  You'll go from shaky and scared to soaring just as I have if you stick with it.  


Continue Reading