If You Want to Change Your Life, Change Your Mind

Terry Martin

When I started smoking cigarettes at the age of 19, I knew better. I knew it was a stupid decision. Unlike my folks who didn't understand the dangers of smoking when they started, I was fully aware. I knew it killed people, and I knew that nicotine was highly addictive.

I was young and thought I was invincible. What I didn't know was how nicotine addiction would steal my right to choose, and how it would eat away at my confidence and self-esteem.

Those were just a few of the "fringe benefits" of smoking that I wouldn't become aware of until much later. 

The first time I smoked...

My closest friend and I bought a pack and smoked that first one together. I didn't know that I was making a choice right then with that first pack that would change my life. It would be 26 years before I stopped smoking.  I had no idea what I was signing on for.

Like most addicts, there was nothing casual about smoking for me. I went from a few cigarettes a day to a pack every day within weeks. I smoked with my morning coffee, on the long drive to work, and all through the day at every opportunity.  It was the first thing I did upon waking and  the last thing I did before I went to bed at night. Every day.

The people in my life who knew me well never thought that I would quit. I never thought that I would quit either.

My parents were both heavy smokers. Mom smoked for 38 years and quit when she was 55.

When she finally passed at 83, it was not smoking-related. She was one of the lucky ones.

Her motivation to quit came when she and dad put their plan for an early retirement in motion. She got up one morning, lit that first cigarette of the day, and when she stubbed it out, it was the last one she ever smoked.

She had decided that she wanted to live to enjoy some good years in retirement. She never looked back, and always said cessation didn't bother her one bit. She was truly ready when she quit that last time. She certainly inspired me, but I wasn't yet "ready."

My dad, who was a heavy Pall Mall smoker at 2+ packs a day always said this:

"I'm going to have to die eventually of something, so it might as well be smoking."

This is one of those statements smokers say when they think they've got all of the time in the world to quit.  As the years go by though, smoking begins to take a toll on our health, and for my dad specifically, it wreaked havoc on his heart and lungs.  

He changed his tune about smoking and stopped a little after my mom, sharing the same sentiment of wanting to have time to enjoy the retirement they'd worked for all of their lives.  He did get a few good years, but sadly, lost his life to congestive heart failure two years after quitting.  He was just 64 years old.

I was still not ready to stop smoking.  It would be another 11 years before I found my way out of the maze this addiction builds around us.

Anxiety became my companion...

I had never been an anxious person, but in the last few years of smoking, I became more nervous.

I thought it was just the normal growing responsibilities of life affecting me. Kids, a home to pay for, college, etc.

In reality, the anxiety I felt had more to do with nicotine addiction than anything else in my life. I hated smoking but couldn't stop, which made me feel weak and out of control.  That, in turn, hurt my self-esteem.  

On top of that, I had developed a pattern of using cigarettes to dampen difficult feelings, often leading to avoidance behavior -- not good for one's sense of self, either.  And, always simmering in the background was the fear that I wouldn't find a way to quit in time....before a devastating smoking-related disease caught up with me.

No wonder I was anxious.

I got so tired of feeling helpless to quit and living with the fear that I was killing myself slowly, one cigarette at a time. Quitting seemed impossible, yet I could picture a smoke-free life in my mind's eye so clearly. I could barely go 4 hours without a cigarette though, let alone days, months or years.  I was in constant turmoil over it.  It was an awful way to live.

I had a couple of false quit attempts just prior to my quit date of Oct 29, 2001.  Looking back, I think I was mentally revving my engine, preparing to get serious. I wanted to quit so badly.

I bought the second box of nicotine patches. I had wasted the first box with all of my starting and stopping, and it stung a little to buy the next box, but I did it.

I was sick with a cold that had gone into my lungs by the second day. I was frightened by the severity of the symptoms I was having. That was on a Friday. I smoked all weekend with my sick lungs on fire, coughing and coughing.  Finally, I woke up Monday morning and knew something had to give.  I stubbed out was to be my last cigarette at 10 a.m on Oct 29th, 2001.

I felt desperate to make it work...

...but like any addict, I doubted my ability to make this quit stick.

I managed the first 5 days moment-to-moment. I was amazed and thrilled at each day I completed without smoking, but I felt so fragile. A part of my mind was constantly chattering:

"I'll get some cigarettes on my way to work.", and  "I'll stop for a pack on my way home.", or, "If I don't feel better by tonight, I'll buy a pack."

It was annoying, exhausting, and incessant.  My nicotine-addicted mind worked overtime trying to convince me to cave. It was tough to hold on, but I did, just barely.

I learned about what support can do...

The sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds when an Internet search landed me at the About Smoking Cessation support forum.  I was just shy of two weeks clean and still thinking of smoking constantly.

I had never been a group support kind of person, but this community of ex-smokers helped me make this quit the one that will last a lifetime. The wisdom of those who'd already quit taught me what to expect and about the value of sticking with it until I was clear of the discomforts. 

A key piece of knowledge I learned from people at the forum seems simple:  the struggle would not last forever, but understanding and then embracing that concept was a game changer. I was an addict recovering from an addiction and would feel better in time.

Today I maintain my freedom by keeping my memory green...

I don't allow romantic thoughts of smoking rent-free space in my mind. I stay current on risks of smoking and involved with the forum community I'd found.  I was helped to find my freedom there, and I happily give back to the newcomers what was so generously shared with me.

If you want to change your life, change your mind.

I love my life so much more now that I'm not living it in a cloud of smoke. It's been said that gratitude unlocks the fullness of life, and I believe that. I used gratitude as a tool to help remind me of my progress, and it has rewarded me with an increased awareness of all of the many blessings elsewhere in my life. The cigarette induced anxiety I suffered is gone, I'm delighted to say. Life is good.

To anyone wanting to quit, I would say, DO. IT. Dig your heels in and go the distance. It is worth all of the effort it takes and so much more. It doesn't matter how hard the task is, the rewards returned to you will make it worthwhile.

Don't waste any more time wishing. Take action and make your dreams a reality. Cessation truly is a gift beyond compare, and one that only you can give yourself.

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