Today is the day that a year ago I put down my cigarettes. It was 6:30 in the evening. Mike and I ceremoniously took our last packs in hand and walked onto the back deck.

He had been ready to quit for years. He hated it; thought it was disgusting. He insisted over and over and over that the only reason he smoked is because he couldn’t quit with me in the house still smoking. The day before (9/12/2009) we had been on our way to my friend Jenn H.B.’s birthday party at Bahama Breeze and Mike and I were both opening the last pack in our respective cartons of cigarettes. We were having a conversation regarding the fact that I didn’t have a job and therefore could not afford to smoke.   He went on and on again, as he always did, about how he wanted to quit and how I made that impossible.

So I called him out.

I said fine. This is my last pack. I quit.

I don’t think he really believed me, I know I didn’t believe him.

We spent the night out with our friends, I was a little bit more judicious with my smoking. I didn’t chain smoke the way I usually did, as I watched the box get emptier and emptier I felt my anxiety rise as the night wore on.

The next day we each had about half a pack left and since we usually smoked together we ended up with one cigarette each left at 6:30 pm.

By 7:00 pm I was demanding my mother give me just one more (Thank you again, mom, for saying no! It was the only time in a year I asked for one!) This was the beginning of  the crappiest week of my life.  A thousand times a day my body would make the motion to stand with the intention to go outside and smoke. When my brain would say “I don’t do that anymore” and I’d force myself to sit back down an overwhelming sadness would wash over me. I was so distracted, I couldn’t focus, my brain was adjusting to operating “sober”. I use that word because nicotine does some serious stuff to your brain.  There is a lot of talk about all the additives and such that are horrible for you, and it’s true, but nicotine is a bitch.  It tells you that you need it; need it to be happy, need it when you finish eating, need it when you are bored, need it when you are tired, need it when you are anxious, it’s there, in your ear…. “you neeeeed meeeee, you looooove meeeeee.”

I mourned the loss of the old me. That girl that was such a cool smoker (I had been told so at least) the one that sipped coffee and wrote in her journal and had a smoke in the corner of her mouth. The one that gesticulated in conversation with a fiery wand for emphasis. The girl that shifted gears in her manual transmission car with a cigarette in-between her fingers with out dropping and ash.

Who was I now?

I did all I could to distract myself, since that was the only thing there was to do. I didn’t smoke anymore, so that freed up twenty 10 minute increments in the day.  Yup – a minimum of 200 minutes to fill. That’s three and a third hours I had to sit around and feel sorry for myself in.

So I did what I always do when faced with a goal.  I did research.

I buried myself in knowledge. Statistics. Testimonials.  I read (and posted here) the timeline for healing. I set 30 minute goals. “If I can get through the next 30 minutes I will be X amount closer to reducing my chances of heart disease by X.XX%”. “Every hour I don’t smoke I get another 7 minutes of life with my kids.” etc.

Then I stumbled across one fact that changed my life forever, and I will paraphrase it here:

“You do not love smoking. You love not being in withdraw. You do not crave nicotine. You crave making the withdraw stop.  If you go 72 hours with out nicotine withdrawals will be over.”

I don’t love smoking?

It’s the drug telling me I need it?

If I ever take another drag again I will have to go through withdrawals again, but if I can make it 72 hours I will be free of this forever?

We’ll see.

Then an amazing thing happened. I hit 72 hours. I was not “all better” but I wasn’t as sad. I was still foggy and disoriented and my brain still didn’t work completely right, but I was improving.

At the one week mark I could honestly say – I didn’t mourne the girl who would never smoke again. The finality of being a quitter didn’t make me want to curl around myself and cry at my loss, at the finality, at the never again.

I didn’t need a cigarette. Don’t get me wrong – I wanted one like a somebitch. But I didn’t need one.

That was my turning point.

I had to re identify myself. I had to get to know me again. I had to deal with anger/frustration/sadness in a new and different way. In the past year I have punched walls, screamed, stormed out of the house, cried for hours, buried myself in books in denial and escape from my emotions, but I did not – not once – consider smoking to make myself feel better.

I still work on it.  Every once in a while, and the times are few and far between now, I’ll feel that little muscle memory reaching for a pack and a lighter.   I’ll go through my old junk in my closet and find a spare lighter and laugh to myself… I had them stashed everywhere….

But now it’s been a year. It’s been hard – but I’ve looked forward to this day since the day I put out that last cigarette. I knew that if I could make it to today: 1 year, with out a single slip, with out a single cheat, that I would really be an ex-smoker.

A non-smoker.

That I would really be free.

And here I am.  And I am never. going. back.

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