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I quit!

On June 4, 2014, I finally did it! I made a decision and I knew I was going to stick by it this time. I chose my health. I chose to respect my body. I chose to prevent future illness. I chose the discomfort of quitting smoking over the potential devastation of dealing with cancer later. I chose to quit smoking.

I had started smoking at age 22 while working at a restaurant, and joining coworkers for their smoke breaks outside. It looked appealing, fun, like “just something to do”. I only smoked sometimes, never bought my own pack, and would go weeks and even months without smoking, so I didn’t consider myself a smoker.

About a year or two after that, I had realized that I had been buying my own cigarettes for some time and smoked a lot more. At this point, I was smoking several cigarettes daily. It didn’t help that my friends smoked like chimneys and I liked to join in on “the fun”.

Eventually, smoking became a coping tool when I was stressed out and a “necessity” while socializing and drinking with friends, to cope with social anxiety. I was smoking up to a pack a day and on some nights while partying, would even buy a second pack. I was convinced that I liked it and needed it and that I wouldn’t smoke forever, that I would eventually quit one day, but not yet…

Then a few years back I came across The Driven to Quit Challenge, a contest I could enter to win a car if I quit smoking for the whole month of March. Coinciding with this challenge was also a study at Western University I decided to take part in, starting in January, to prepare me for the smoking cessation in March. The study was an exercise program, premised on the notion that exercise could replace smoking.

It was a great program, with the right idea. Exercise is an amazing substitute for smoking and vigorous or hard exercise was even shown to temporarily control cravings. I didn’t win the car, but I did quit smoking for three months.

Then spring and summer came along, nice weather, beaches and patios and I thought, “oh one cigarette can’t hurt”. Then it was, “I can just smoke on the weekends sometimes”, to “it’s during the week, but I won’t make a habit out of this”. Like any addiction, a relapse allows it to sneak back into your life gradually and before you know it, it makes itself comfortable and is there to stay again.

There was nothing wrong with the quitting smoking program. My relapse had everything to do with me and my lack of real and substantial motivation. I had wanted to quit, but didn’t care enough about my health to make it a permanent decision. That was the single most important factor that differentiates that quit attempt from this one. That first quitting smoking attempt was also, “just something to do”.

This time was different. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth out and when the oral surgeons failed to notice that I had dry socket, leaving the bone and nerve in my jaw exposed, I was in severe pain for two weeks. I thought to myself, “If cancer is anything like this, I NEVER want to experience that”. I wasn’t allowed to smoke after the surgery for at least one week. So right then and there, I decided that I would never have one again.

I had always said I would eventually quit. So when was eventually? When it was too late? When it would affect my voice, my skin, my gums, my mouth, my teeth, my lungs, my heart, my life? Eventually was now. It had to be now. I had to prove to myself that I was stronger than an addiction. I realized that my smoking addiction was no different from the addictions of friends I had lost to drugs or alcohol and that for them, as well as for myself, I would not let addiction win. I made a promise to myself that, “I quit!” Addiction is never stronger than you are. You are stronger than any addiction and have it in you to live without it.

The first month was the hardest. I had intense cravings that would sometimes last for hours, where I had intense bursts of energy and restlessness and this NEED in my chest that felt like it was going to burst right out of me like the aliens in the movie, Alien , if I didn’t pacify it. TRIGGER WARNING: if you are squeamish and easily upset by graphic horror scenes, don’t watch the Alien clip. I would jump and yell and want to hit things and every time, I had to remind myself that I knew it would be hard to quit, that this was the addiction and that this was hard, very hard, but that cancer would be HARDER”, something a friend said to me that really hit home. Smoking was simply not an option ever again.

When I would temporarily forget why I was doing this during an intense craving moment, friends were there to say, “No. You’re not smoking. You don’t need it. Forget about smoking. You can do this”. My stepfather recently took me and my mom and sister out for a celebratory dinner as a present for my achievement. That meant a lot to me and reminded me that this was a big deal and an important accomplishment and it was nice to have it acknowledged.

If you struggle with drug or alcohol addiction, you may need help and support and therapy or even rehab or inpatient programs, and it may take much longer than you would like, but remember that you are worth it and you can beat addiction!

Some resources to help you quit smoking: