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I Just Gave Away My Emergency Pack of Cigarettes

For those breathlessly following my quitting saga, and who might have missed the update yesterday: the deed is done. I’ve not had a single puff since last Saturday night. Haven’t even stood downwind of smokers inhaling deeply. In fact, I walked past the smoking area at work Thursday and quit breathing because it smelled bad. My nose is changing its opinions.

Quitting, I will not lie, has been hell. A primal part of my brain has spent the last two weeks frantic, believing it’s going to die. It was merely unhappy as I was cutting down. It had a few bad moments on Sunday, when I told it sternly that it could do without. And then came Monday, and work, and I thought it was going to end one of three ways: with a suicide, with a homicide, or with me busting into that unopened pack I’d got in Oregon assuming I wasn’t actually quitting completely on Sunday.

I survived, others survived, and the pack stayed closed. Barely.

Writing was awful. I’m in the habit of going out every hour or two to puff and think. My thought process revolved around: I have to get this done, I need a smoke NOW. And all the while, that physical addiction, pumping ye olde body full of panic juice. Chantix, I thought, should’ve cut down drastically on that. It blunted, but did not stop.

But it’s been getting better. Each day, a little less frantic. And the pack stayed unopened. I decided to get sour straws, so I could do the whole stand-on-the-porch-and-think thing smoke-free. That’s worked, to a degree, and replaced my favorite thing about smoking: unexpected moments. I stepped out for a breath of air and a sour straw before bed in the pre-dawn darkness the morning I finished my most recent Rosetta Stones post, and saw a meteor send a silver streak down the sky. That swath of silver against the deep blue was phenomenal, and no nicotine required. This will do.

Thursday, I dropped in on Dr. John to advise him of progress and ask about increasing the dose. He agreed we should since my body burns through drugs at a remarkable rate, and put me on three milligrams of Chantix a day. That led to fun times with nausea, but otherwise, a glorious lack of needing nicotine. My brain is no longer freaking out, even though I cut out the third milligram forthwith. And I’m so over smoking that I handed the emergency pack to another smoker that evening. Don’t want it. Don’t need it. Between Chantix and native stubbornness, I’ll get past the initial stage wherein it’s hardest to quit, and end up staying smoke-free once I’m off Chantix.

Oh, I miss it. I will not lie: I loved to smoke, and I wish I still could. Someday, I may even break down and go with the nicotine-free ecigarettes, simply for the joy of drawing something (this time safe) into my lungs whilst I contemplate life, the universe, and the turn of the next phrase. But I may not need to. A deep draught of earthy night air might start doing the trick. And I do very much like not having to drop what I’m doing to feed the nicotine demon. I like not hacking up my lungs. I like not spending insane amounts of money on a habit that will kill me. Only problem being, I now wish to eat everything in the universe, so total savings is probably in the negative digits. Still, it’s tasty spending.

Now I just have to convince my lungs we can breathe and hike at the same time. Argh. It’s like having iron bands slowly tightened around each side. I’m told this gets better. I hope so, because I didn’t used to be such a ginormous wuss.

So yes, going well so far. I shall probably stay on Chantix for an extra three months, just to be sure – it’s something they suggest you do to stamp out smoking completely, and helps ensure you don’t slip. I want this to be the only time I have to quit, because I never want to have to endure physical withdrawal again. Besides, I’m enjoying the dream life. For that, I’d stay on this stuff the rest of my life if I could. I got very lucky: Chantix doesn’t work this way for everyone.

So that’s that. I’m leaving my profile pic up as is, because I like it, and that’s still me. I may not have a cigarette in hand, and there has been a lot of water under a lot of bridges since that day, but I’m still that person, kicking back in Mexico on the way to see the Peacemakers. Just like being transplanted to the Northwest didn’t take the Southwest out of me, quitting smoking and very rarely drinking hasn’t taken away from that tequila-marinated, sun-soaked person I used to be.

I suppose that’s the moral: for those who didn’t heed the warning not to start smoking in the first place, quitting’s all right. You get past the withdrawal. You don’t give up your identity, just the little burning cylinder. And you can do it. With prescriptions, with patches, with sheer stubborn force of will, you can do it, if a part of you is ready to say, “Enough.”

And I’ll be here to cheer you on if you need a gothic cheerleader with sonic screwdriver pompoms.

Comments

  1. Ned Champlain says

    Keep up the good work, Dana. I am in my second year and still find myself reaching for the non existant pack in my shirt pocket.

  2. says

    If you ever do end up needing a safe draw, vaporizers are safer, tastier, and better over-all than even nicotine-free cigs…

    But my advice would be to simply keep it up. Stay away from everything, even the vaporizers. I think maybe the sour sticks was a good idea. These are even better than vaporizers.

  3. says

    I’ve never smoked, or even really been tempted by it, but I do know what it’s like to try to give up bad habits and build good ones. So, mad props to you for all the progress you’ve made so far, and I hope you can make it stick. It’s motivating and reassuring to watch someone else go through a similar type of process to what I’ve been doing in my own life, even though the specific details may be different.

    The thing you said about maybe trying the nicotine-free cigarettes someday really resonated for me. My own life experience leads me to look at cigarettes and (thinking of the smell in particular) just respond with, “Yuck, why would anyone even *want* that?” But, as you so eloquently describe here, all of these bad habits have some kind of legitimate pleasure associated with them, or we wouldn’t get started them in the first place, and it really sucks to have to sacrifice the genuinely good parts of the experience in order to rid oneself of the bad parts.

    Good luck, and please do keep making these posts.

  4. Gregory in Seattle says

    You begin to understand the proverb, “Quitting is the easiest thing in the world. STAYING is the tricky part.”

    I quit smoking 25 years ago, long before Chantix was available. It was a pain in the posterior, and I had been smoking for less than a year (I was living in Tucson, and the habit triggered a bout of valley fever which almost put me in the hospital with double pneumonia and a fever of 102. And hives, head to feet: turns out I was allergic to the fungus that causes it.) Staying quit was Hell: and not just the wimpy Episcopalian Hell, I’m talking Assemblies of God, snake-handler, speaking in tongues Hell.

    Sounds like you’re going to make it your first time, thank science.

  5. Aliasalpha says

    Woo! Congrats!

    And I’ll be here to cheer you on if you need a gothic cheerleader with sonic screwdriver pompoms.

    How ever did you know what was on my christmas list?

  6. grumpyoldfart says

    I started smoking while still at school. I remember the day I decided to give up at the age of fourteen. I threw my pack of cigarettes into a paddock on the way home – at eight-o-clock that night I was back in the paddock with a torch, looking for those cigarettes.

    Thirty years later I gave up for three months, but the craving never left me and one day I finally weakened and bought another pack. I took my first drag on the way home and got so dizzy I had had to hold onto a tree trunk to stop myself from falling over – but oh boy – it felt good.

    That was the day I decided it was too hard to give up and I might as well keep on smoking.

    Today it’s another twenty years later and I’ve got emphysema. Just making a cup of coffee is hard work. A couple of times after walking up the stairs, I’ve had to sit on a chair and really fight to catch my breath. Sometimes I have to sit down to piss because standing up and pissing at the same time leaves me breathless.

    I hope you do better than I did.

  7. hoary puccoon says

    Very cool!

    It does get easier and easier. After a while, you truly won’t want to be around the smell. And the times when you always had a smoke– well, your mind builds new associations, you do different things, and they’ll feel just as natural as grabbing a cigarette once did.

  8. Paul Durrant says

    Congratulations. Apart from the physical addiction, changing patterns of habitual behaviour must be very hard.

  9. says

    I am so standing up on a chair cheering for you!
    (Cigarettes killed my dad. I’d go kill the Marlboro man… but he’s dead.)

  10. says

    Heh, coincidentally, the last time I had a cigarette was Saturday. I don’t have too serious an addiction, but I have to (well, I guess I don’t have to, but I have a very strong incentive to) go cold turkey, like now. My employer is going to require a blood test if you want the tobacco-free exemption on the insurance, and uh, yes I want that. No “emergency pack” for me… even though I could really use one. Bah, oh well.

  11. Cunning Pam says

    Dana, I’m so happy for you! Congratulations on toughing out the physical withdrawal.

    It does get better, I’m told. My husband quit when he met me, a lifelong non-smoker, although he still sometimes pines for one. However, after a recent night out in a smoking venue, he was undressing and sniffed his clothes…and was disgusted by the smell. Apparently you do get past the urge at some point.

    I’ll be wishing for the same great results for you.

  12. lordshipmayhem says

    Back in the 1970′s, my parents and my mother’s siblings (and their spouses) were clearing out my maternal grandparents’ abode. My grandfather had advanced dementia, beyond what Grandma could cope with, so they’d moved to a nursing home.

    Up on the top shelf in a cupboard in the kitchen, my uncle discovers a tobacco tin. “What’s this doing here?” he asks himself, knowing Granddad hadn’t smoked for over 20 years – he’d quit in 1950, when Mom was pregnant with my eldest sister.

    My uncle opens the tin and is immediately surrounded by a cloud of desiccated tobacco dust. That was when he, and everyone else, remembers exactly how Granddad quit.

    Back in 1950, Granddad figured that if he threw all his rolling papers and other smoking supplies away, and craved a cigarette, he’d go out and buy another tin plus rolling papers, and not wanting to “waste the money”, would consume them all, and be hooked again. Instead, he kept the last tin and the other supplies, so he could have just one and then get back on track.

    And he never touched tobacco again, and 24 years later, it was still there for his son to find.

    Here’s to not smoking for the rest of your life, too.

  13. KarateMonkey says

    Some days I’m really jealous of you people who quit and got to the point where cigarette smoke smells bad. I quit 8 years ago, and while I don’t even think about it most of the time, whenever I catch a whiff of one all the receptors in my brain go off and start clamoring for some more.

  14. says

    I quit 3 times before it “took”. Now, I can’t stand to be near tobacco smoke, or stay in hotel rooms that have a lingering tobacco residue.

    Pro tip: Suck on a drinking straw. You get the same “drawing in” sensation as smoking while bringing in only air.

    I had a colleague who used to suck on a cinnamon stick. Disgusting, but it quelled his desire for a cigarette.

  15. says

    Good luck, woman.

    I smoked 10-15 cigarettes/day for about six years, mostly quit, had a few relapses over the next couple of years that I was able to quickly recognize as me fooling myself that I could enjoy “just one or two” and managed to cut myself off before I got started again. I’ve been cigarette-free for about five years now, although I do smoke the occassional cigar with friends.

    Having Minnesota restaurants and bars go smoke free helped TREMENDOUSLY.

    Quitting sucks, smoking is…if you’ll pardon the phrase…heavenly. But I’m really proud of myself of going through the fight and coming out on top. That feeling rocks my world, and as lame as it might sound I have quitting smoking on my list of Awesome Things I’ve Accomplished In My Life.

  16. frogmistress says

    Awesome! Major congrats. Quitting is hard!

    You will develop different routines to replace those that went along with smoking. They will be different, but they will work for you.

    I have to admit, what I miss the most about smoking is the socialization I had with other smokers. No matter where I went, I ended up meeting fascinating people outside by the ash tray.

  17. jakc says

    Nicotine free cigarettes aren’t going to be much safer. Of the hazards we associate with smoking, several aren’t related to nicotine. Emphysema (now so often called COPD) is lung damage related to smoking, and exposure levels to smoke. The level of nicotine in the cigarette is unrelated to the damage caused by the smoke. Cancers are in general related to the exposure to the “tars” in a cigarette, not the nicotine. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor and causes circulation problems (in terms of the danger in smoking, it cuases things like heart attacks, skin damage and tooth loss). Nicotine is generally thought to the the physically addictive component of smoking, but that aspect of addiction is not terribly hard to overcome. It’s the various behavoirs, all those triggering events that make you think “oh, it’s time to smoke!” that are so hard to overcome. Back when you were cutting down, you may have unconsiously changed your behavoir to get more nicotine (smoking longer, holding the smoke in longer and so forth), but you’re well past the physical addiction now. That doesn’t make the cravings go away, but just remember that much of the enjoyment of a cigarette is imaginary. And by that, I don’t mean not real, but rather much of the enjoyment of smoking comes from what the smoker thinks about smoking.

  18. Eclectic says

    All I can say is, best of luck to you. My friends who’ve gone through it tell me the worst part is the cravings last absolutely forever. They (so I am told) start to fade after a month.

    Whereas the hit from smoking smacks the brain within seconds, even faster than injecting.

    That’s a hell of a lot of temptation.

    The other advice I got was from my parents, who quit smoking on the day they were married! Basically, the cravings are particularly intense when you’re in a familiar situation when you’d normally have a cigarette. Something feels “wrong” as your brain tries to make you remember what you’ve forgotten.

    In an unfamiliar situation (honeymoon), the same triggers weren’t there, and they said it was “quite easy, actually”.

  19. Stellar Ash says

    Congratulations and best of luck and fortitude!

    Your post mentions mainly the physical addictions of cigarettes, but my own experience of quitting showed that the hardest to break was the psychological ones of habits & behaviours.

    I, like you, had that break to “go clear the mind” while puffing away, to shoot the breeze with co-workers, to calm down after a frustrating event, while waiting on food or with a drink, etc, etc, etc. This is what will really test you. Long after the physical addiction is gone, the body remembers the habits. I stay away from the e-cigs just because of that. I’m afraid that the feel of pulling the “smoke” into the lungs would be enough to want the thicker smoke of a real one.

    When you manage to stay clean long enough, be prepared for the dreams. You’ll wake up trying to determine if that last cig actually happened or not and it will take a bit of thinking to determine that no, you really didn’t fall off the wagon. They are that real. The number of the diminish over time, but I still get one occasionally.

    It took me several tries to quit. My partner made the difference on this last try & I’ve been smoke free for 6 years now. I still get that “Oh how I want a cig” every once in a while. .

    I sincerely wish you the best of luck & strength. I want to read about your thoughts for a long while to come.

  20. drummer25 says

    Please, please hang in there. Cigarettes killed my mother and my two sisters, and they weren’t easy deaths. I’ve never smoked and am still in pretty good health in my retirement; still active, travelling, dancing, hiking, etc. I weep for their loss of a happy, healthy third age.

  21. pyrobryan says

    I had my last cig on 8/28. Three days now. I’m just about over the hump. I’m actually using Nicorette lozenges to crush those cravings that would drive me to smoke, but I’m getting better at holding them off on my own.

    I had been smoke-free for almost two years. I went to a 4th of July cookout (not this year but last) where plenty of whiskey and beer was consumed and in my diminished capacity I convinced myself (yet again) that a cigarette or two would be ok. The next day I found myself buying a pack thinking just one pack, no big deal. At first a pack would last me at least a week. I just had couple per day. Before long I was back to a pack a day and have been since. This will be about my 5th time to quit and every time I start back up it’s because I convince myself that “just one cigarette won’t hurt”.

    The best piece of advice that I can give you is NEVER have even even ONE cigarette, not even a drag of someone else’s. DON’T DO IT! Just don’t.