How to Quit Smoking

Anyone who has ever smoked cigarettes as a habit, anyone who has ever reached automatically for a smoke after a large meal, anyone who has ever lit up a cigarette with a shaking hand in the middle of a bad fight or a funeral, anyone who has ever thoroughly enjoyed smoking and drinking a beer at the same time understands how hard it is to stop smoking. And we all know that it is even harder to quit if you really enjoy smoking in the first place. But take it from me. I was smoking over a pack a day and I wasn’t slowing down: two on the way to work in the morning, four on my hour-long lunch break, two on the way home and countless filled ashtrays in the hours filling up prime time television. What I didn’t realize was, I was never really going to want to quit – I was just going to have to realize that I had to. So, in the spirit of helping others achieve what I have achieved over the past three weeks (yes, I am 21 days smoke-free), I going to share some of the thoughts and situations that finally made me crush out that last Camel Light and brush my teeth guiltily for the last time.

I love to sing. I’m not saying that I belong on “American Idol” or that I’m even worth listening to, but the feeling of my voice vibrating over the voice of John Lennon in the car, Debbie Harry in the shower or Neil Diamond at karaoke night is something that I always prided myself in and had fun with. Then, all of a sudden, my favorite Beatles song came on and I couldn’t even sing along with Sir Paul. I was croaking like a sick frog, straining like a laryngitis patient. This was the first clue that I needed to quit smoking. So, there’s Tip #1: If you find that you used to be able to sing and you can’t, maybe you should think about dropping those Marlboros and picking up a glass of water.

I also love to run. And, as any smoker knows, chasing anyone or anything is rough, let alone going for an extended run on a spring afternoon. One day, I looked in the mirror and realized that those twenty extra pounds weren’t going anywhere, and when I decided to go for a run on the old familiar path that I had run countless times in my teenage years, I almost had to kneel down after three blocks. Running around with my dog had become a chore and going to the gym was more of a challenge than ever. I thought to myself, “What if I can’t even breathe by the time I have children?” Who wants to huff and puff when they’re playing tag with the kids or jogging to lower their cholesterol? So, there’s Tip #2: Run. Run some more. Run so much that every time you run out of breath it’s like a shot in the heart. Make yourself notice your shortness of breath. And remember, if you’re a smoker and you want to get in shape, you’ll never be able to do so at the rate it takes you when you smoke. The first step, I think, is to quit smoking so that you can work out to the best of your ability.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. She hasn’t told us how she did it. Well, I’ll tell you. I woke up on a particularly rough Saturday morning, after a night of smoking countless cigarettes amid countless other people who were smoking countless cigarettes, and my throat was so raw I thought I had contracted strep throat overnight. I decided then that I was quitting. Being the idealistic person that I was, I thought that I would be able to just stop. “I’m strong enough,” I kept telling myself. But, it wasn’t to be that Saturday. But what I did do was give myself a taste of withdrawal. I went 18 hours straight without a cigarette, and by the time I smoked one that evening, I had snapped at a family member, yelled at my dog and had taken at least two-hundred deep breaths completely meant to make me forge past a craving.

After that cigarette, I cut down drastically because I realized that I could go for quite awhile without smoking. I just had. I just wouldn’t be so friendly for the duration of this attempt of mine. So, for the next five days, I smoked sparingly – maybe four cigarettes per day. And then, on the fifth day, I went to the gym. I worked out so much that the thought of smoking made my lungs hurt. The next day, I did the same thing after work. And before I knew it, after a couple of crying jags and some completely unnecessary fights with my boyfriend, it had been a full 72 hours.

They say that it takes 72 hours, or 3 days, to rid your system of the nicotine that had taken charge of it while you were smoking. After you pass that golden mark, it’s really all just habit, routine, and in your head. You just have to do other things when you would smoke before. If you usually smoked while you were driving, find a song you like and sing it at the top of your lungs, or put on your hands-free piece for your cell phone and call a friend. If you usually smoke after dinner, make sure you are eating someplace where smoking is not allowed. If you usually smoked on your lunch break, bring lunch to work and don’t leave the office. If you would always have a cigarette when you woke up in the morning, brush your teeth first thing and go for a short run or walk. Get rid of your ashtrays and buy air fresheners and Lysol. Really, put the effort into quitting that it deserves.

My problem was always that smoking was something to do. It’s true. What do you do when you’re bored? You go and have a cigarette. What do you do during intermission? Have a cigarette. What do your smoker friends offer you when you’re upset. A cigarette. Just find something else to do. When you’re bored, do a crossword puzzle. When you’re upset, pop in your favorite movie or television show on dvd. Make those cigarettes the enemy, your nemesis, Green Goblin to your Spiderman, Lex Luther to your Superman, Joker to your Batman. you just have to look at it like, “No one has ever really proved what happens after we die. Why would I want to test the waters earlier than I need to?”

It’s all about the first 72 hours. After that, you really have no excuse because you’re not physically addicted anymore. So, who would admit that they couldn’t be strong for three days straight? The way I see it, if I can do it – me, a 27 year old with no kids and no house of my own and no imminent health problems, then anyone can do it. And they should. There’s a reason that state governments are banning smoking in public places at such a fast pace, and it’s not to make smokers feel mad or left out – it’s to make those public places healthy for everyone, because when it really comes down to it, smoking is bad. Put plain and simply, it can hurt you and it can make life harder than it already is. Who wants that?

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