Freedom After 40 Years of Smoking - Nenejune's Quit Story

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I'd like to introduce you to Nenejune. A long time closet smoker, Nenejune finally stubbed out her last cigarette and went in search of some online quit support. She found the About Smoking Cessation support forum, and quickly settled in. Ten months later, she's able to confidently state that she will never go back to smoking.

Thanks for sharing your story, Nenejune. You are an inspiration to us all.

Freedom After 40 Years: My Quit Story

I doubt that my story will be much different than other quit smoking stories. As much as we are unique as individuals, I have found that as nicotine addicts, we are very much alike. If anyone new to quitting reads this, maybe they will see something of themselves and realize that they, too, can quit smoking.

I started smoking at the tender age of 15. That would have been about 1968, and people smoked everywhere at that time. There were cigarette ads on TV, in magazines, and on billboards. Characters smoked on TV and in the movies. People smoked in restaurants, stores, offices, and in their homes. Anyone, any age, could buy cigarettes from a machine for about 50 cents a pack.

My dad smoked, but my mom never did. No one ever told me not to smoke, but somehow I knew I wasn’t supposed to, especially because I was under 18. It was common for the boys my age to smoke, but not very many girls were smoking.

My mom and dad divorced when I was about 12. During one of dad’s visits (when I was 15), I took two cigarettes from his pack and a girlfriend took two from her mom’s pack. I can’t remember the thought process behind this -- I guess we just decided it would be fun.

That evening we walked around the far end of our neighborhood smoking.

How I wish it would have made me sick, but instead, I liked it. Next thing you know, my girlfriends and I started smoking around the boys we hung out with and we all thought we were pretty cool. I hid smoking from my mom and I blamed smelling like smoke on the boys.

I went to work full-time right after high school and moved out on my own at 18. I could smoke at my home, at work, and everywhere I went with my friends, but I still did not smoke around my mother. Mom disapproved of smoking. She accepted it in other people, but I knew she would never accept it for me. I loved and respected my mom so much and didn’t want to hurt her or upset her. I blamed all smells of smoke on my friends.

When I married my husband at age 23, he smoked too, and when mom was around, it was easy to blame the smell of smoke on my husband. I put pressure on myself to never hurt my mother. My older sister got caught for everything, including smoking, and I think I was trying hard to be the good daughter.

I was an adult now and I felt really foolish for hiding smoking from my mother, but the longer it went on, the more I did not want her to know I smoked.

Visits with dad were few and far between, and I never smoked around him either.

Gradually the laws began to tighten on smokers in California. I think it was sometime in the 80’s when we began to have designated smoking areas in restaurants and at the office where I worked.

It was 1990 when we moved to a brand new house in a city an hour’s drive away from our old home and our families. My husband and I made some rules: No shoes on the new carpet, and no smoking in the new house.

I remember my sister laughed about the no smoking in the house rule and she wondered out loud how long that would last. Well, it did last, and the house where we currently live has always been smoke-free inside. Of course, what that meant was we spent a lot of time outside on the patio and in the garage. My husband had a little TV on his workbench in the garage and sometimes I would watch an entire movie out there so I could smoke while watching.

Over the years, smoking was becoming less and less acceptable everywhere. After the move in 1990, I was looking for a new job and it was at the point where many employers in California would not hire you if they knew you smoked.

So, for the next 14 years, I felt the need to hide smoking from my employer and co-workers. There were a few people in the office who smoked, but they were by far the minority and they were looked down on and talked about. Again, I was trying to be the good girl and I could not stand the shame of admitting I was a smoker.

It was impossible to enjoy my job when all I could think of was getting out of there to smoke. At lunchtime I took off in my car so I could smoke and I never went to lunch with my co-workers. I dreaded events like the office picnic and Christmas party. It was miserable trying to hide being a smoker, but still I chose to smoke.

In 1993, at the age of 42, my husband developed his first heart problems and underwent angioplasty to open his clogged arteries. He was an athlete in high school and started smoking much later in life than I did, but the damage was done. He came home from the hospital as a nonsmoker.

I continued to smoke (outside) and I did not even consider quitting. It was unthinkable, it was impossible, it was out of the question. I was worried about his health, but at 40, I was not yet worried about my own. How my husband put up with me I will never know, but he did.

The Heavy Burden of Smoking in Secret

Now I had a new problem. I had a husband with heart disease who had quit smoking. I could no longer blame the smell of smoke on him when I was around my mother. Now I had to go to even greater lengths to wash away the smell of smoke on myself and I had to run around hiding all smoking paraphernalia on the patio and in the garage before mom came over to visit. When I went places with mom, I always had a reason why we should take her car instead of mine. If mom ever knew about my smoking, she never let on.

Holidays and other family gatherings were miserable because I could no longer sneak a puff from my husband. I began to wear the nicotine patch to help me get through holidays and other occasions where I could not smoke. I made excuses not to go places or do things with nonsmoking friends and relatives.

I was perfectly happy to be left alone so I could smoke all I wanted out on my patio. I did not want to be around a bunch of uptight people who didn’t approve of smoking. I would rather smoke and be a social outcast.

I think most people try to quit many times over the course of their smoking career. Not me. I didn’t want to quit and I never tried. I did not have children, so I became very good at being selfish and doing as I pleased.

In 2004, I retired when the company I worked for was sold and moved out of state. Now I was home and free to smoke more than ever. By now I had a typical smoker’s cough in the morning and when I laughed or talked a lot. My husband worried about me smoking and coughing so much. He tried not to bug me, but every once in a while he would say something and I would say I don’t want to talk about it.

I was starting to worry too about how much I smoked, and I was not getting any younger. I was getting scared about my health, but not that scared, and I still wanted to smoke. After all, I had never had bronchitis or pneumonia, and I only caught a cold about every five years, so I decided I was still pretty healthy.

By the way, my Grandpa smoked and he died of lung cancer in his mid-60’s. Grandma never smoked and she lived to be 91. My uncle smoked and he died of lung cancer when he was 60. My aunt smoked and she died of a heart attack in her late 60’s. My dad smoked and had several heart attacks and bypass surgeries before he died of liver failure in his mid-60’s. Did I mention my mom never smoked? She is now 80, looks about 60, is healthy, active, fit, and has nicer skin than her 56 year-old daughter!  What in the world would it take to get an addict like me to quit?

Fear of Smoking Sets In...

I am the middle of three sisters and we all started smoking as young teens. We were the best of friends and always went places and did fun things together, and we could always smoke around each other. My older sister died of colon cancer in 2005 when she was 53 and I was 52. Her death was devastating for me and our entire family, but especially for my mother. This began my fear of dying and my fear of hurting my mother if she were to lose another daughter. My fear of dying led to my real fear of smoking.

For three years the fear grew, as did my hatred of smoking and hatred for myself. Still I smoked and I did not know how I would ever quit. I cried at night, asking myself why I had never tried to quit years ago. I begged God for forgiveness and for the will to try to quit smoking. Every morning I woke up and decided I must still be okay, and I would head straight for the patio and light another cigarette. This is the life of a nicotine addict.

On August 23, 2008, I awoke with a terrible cold. Now, a little head cold was not enough to keep me from smoking in the past, but this time was different. My throat hurt so bad and I could not inhale cigarette smoke without pain and terrible coughing fits. For several days I still tried to smoke, taking little tiny puffs and barely inhaling. For three nights I was up coughing so hard that I was gagging over the sink. Once again I begged for God’s forgiveness, and I promised that I would quit smoking. I could no longer live in denial about my smoking.

On August 27, 2008, at the age of 55, after 40 years of smoking, for the first time in my life I said,

"I QUIT!"

I had a box of patches in the cupboard and I put one on. From using the patch in the past just to get through social events where I couldn’t smoke, I knew it would help take the edge off of my anxiety.

My doctor had always told me to come see him when I was ready to quit smoking. I called his office and I got an appointment for the next day. My doctor diagnosed my cold as a virus, not a bacterial infection, and he said my lungs were clear. He told me to stay on the patch for the entire three-step program, and he prescribed Wellbutrin.

And So It Begins...

Those first few days are a bit of a blur now. Even with the patch and my new prescription, nicotine withdrawal was difficult. I had headaches, felt disoriented, lost, and confused. I was miserable and scared, but I was committed and determined.

On day eight of my quit I was crying, I missed smoking terribly, and I did not know how to handle the emotions that went along with quitting smoking. I told myself if I didn’t feel better by the next day, I would say the heck with this and I would buy some cigarettes.

It was mid-afternoon when I thought to look online for a support group, and I found About.com Smoking Cessation. I read for hours. I was mesmerized by the articles, stories, and posts, as well as the outpouring of compassion, hope, and support.

I was feeling like the worst addict in history, and here I found people just like me and they were quitting smoking successfully! I began to believe I could really do this too. By the time I made my first post later that day, I actually sounded fairly calm and confident.

So many Forum Angels were there with words of encouragement. The August Ash Kickers took me right in and I knew I was among friends. I had quit smoking without doing any research and without a plan. At About.com, my education about nicotine addiction began and so did my healing.

I learned that recovering from my addiction would be a process that would take time and patience. I learned about changing my relationship with smoking and about retraining my brain to think like a nonsmoker.

As hard as it was in the beginning, I believed those ahead of me when they said it all gets better with time. I believed NOPE (not one puff ever) was the only way, because one would only lead to another and put me right back where I used to be. I believed that smoking was no longer an option under any circumstance.

I read and posted on the forum every day, I drank water, I did a lot of deep breathing, I sucked on lollipops, and I walked. I knew that if I gave up, I might never have the nerve to quit again. Gradually, as promised, I felt better as time went by and I got used to a new routine that did not include smoking.

Thanksgiving landed on my three-month anniversary. Christmas was two days before my four-month anniversary. Being a nonsmoker was still new and somewhat difficult for me, but I managed to have a houseful of company on both holidays and I did not suffer the anxiety that I used to have when I constantly wanted to get away and smoke.

I had some post-holiday stress and by New Year’s I was feeling really down. I found myself wishing I could smoke like it was week one again. Somehow I managed to separate my feelings about what was really bothering me, and I realized it had nothing to do with smoking or not smoking. This was a breakthrough for me and I was able to stop blaming everything I felt on quitting smoking.

By four and a half months, thoughts of smoking were just thoughts, not craves, and I was no longer struggling. I began to feel acceptance and peace as a nonsmoker. There have still been ups and downs along the way, but nothing that could make me go back to smoking.

Shortly before my sixth month, my husband survived a heart attack and double bypass surgery. The stress of his illness never made me want to smoke. Knowing that heart disease is the number one cause of smoking-related death, I was more thankful than ever that I had quit. I am now ten months smoke-free and looking forward to my one-year anniversary and beyond!

The benefits of not smoking continue to grow as more time passes. The cough I used to have was completely gone within only one week of quitting smoking. I used to walk about one mile with my dog and now we are going about four or five miles a day.

Caffeine and cigarettes seem to go together. I used to drink so much tea and Diet Coke, and now I drink water by choice. I used to stay up late, drinking caffeine and smoking, and now I sleep. The freedom I now have to go places with my mom and nonsmoking friends is wonderful!

Learning to deal with my emotions without running outside for a cigarette may have been the hardest part of the quit process. It took time, but not smoking is the new normal. I will be forever grateful for the education and support I received on our forum. I do worry about the long-term effects on my health from so many years of smoking, but for now I am okay and thankful to be smoke-free. My younger sister still smokes, and I pray she will decide to join us soon.

I could write a book, but I don’t need to because everything you need to know about quitting smoking is right here. My best advice to newcomers is go to our Quit Smoking Library and read everything you can. Post to others and listen to what they have to offer. There is so much support here, so open your mind and your heart and take it all in.

Quitting smoking will take the biggest commitment you have ever had to make, but it will be a most rewarding experience and so worth the effort. You have heard this many times before, and you will hear it again from me:

If I can quit smoking, so can you.

More from Nenejune:  22 Things I've Learned About Quitting Smoking.

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