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What quitting smoking is really like

Once upon a time, I decided to quit smoking. After 2,437 failed attempts, I wasn’t living happily ever after. (Since, you know, failure makes you want to smoke.) So, what did I do to finally quit once and for all? The short answer: I changed everything. The long answer: Well, maybe only one thing…

Woman lighting cigarette

Photo credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/360/Getty Images

Confession: I used to be one of those non-smokers who’d stick her nose up at people who want to quit and say, “If you want to quit, then quit.” Sorry to every smoker I’ve ever said these seven, loaded words to (and I appreciate you not lighting me on fire). Addiction of any kind can’t be understood until you’ve gone through it yourself, and my experience with quitting smoking was definitely karma. Times a million.

It all started with failed attempt number one, where I thought I could just stop. I put out what was supposed to be my last cigarette and felt great… for about 20 minutes until I found myself foaming at the mouth for another. I ended up walking two miles through a freezing cold blizzard in my pajamas to the nearest corner store.

I tried the cold turkey approach several times, but my mood swings were too severe. I went from Godzilla-versus-Tokyo to a sobbing pile on the floor with every breath. I’ll never forget non-smoking attempt number 673, when I realized there was a hole in my sock and turned into a Girl, Interrupted sequel. My boyfriend, fearing for his life, literally shoved a pre-lit cigarette in my mouth.

So, I tried the gum, but chewed it so often I fractured my jaw.

Then, I tried the mints, but everything tasted like ashtray.

Finally, the patch, which did get rid of my mood swings — my only mood now was utter misery.

Sigh. I knew what the problem was, though I didn’t want to admit it at the time: My lifestyle itself was a giant cloud of second-hand smoke. The only one who didn’t smoke in my everyday life was my cat. My boyfriend smoked and so did his entire family. If they weren’t smoking, they weren’t conscious. My brother and sisters all smoked. My best friends smoked. And as far as I was concerned, nothing went better with coffee/alcohol/existing than a cigarette… or so I told myself.

When I talked to my mom about it — who’s not only never tried smoking, her birth certificate actually says “Sister Mary Nathalia” — she said the words I knew would come back to haunt me one day: “If you want to quit, then quit.”

Sigh squared. Even though it was a painful butt to swallow, she was right. As hard as I was trying to maintain my current lifestyle sans cigarettes, you can’t live a smoker lifestyle without them. I knew myself well enough to know cutting back gradually wouldn’t work. The slightest thing would send me off into a chain-smoking spiral. I’d have to detox entirely.

I used the patch to keep myself emotionally stable while I cut back my social life — and everything life — to the extreme. This isn’t the answer for everyone, but it was the answer for me. Everyone was completely understanding, especially since they themselves knew firsthand how hard it is to quit.

I learned it wasn’t the smoking itself I struggled to let go of, but the ritual of smoking: Each cigarette was five minutes of “me time” that my chronically stressed self wouldn’t give myself otherwise. Cigarettes were a crutch that helped me cope with a stressful lifestyle that I had no business trying to maintain. (Plus, who wants to end up looking like Magda in There’s Something About Mary?)

Come September, I’ll be two years smoke-free. While I still can’t be around cigarettes (watching Mad Men as an ex-smoker has been an absolute nightmare), I can be in the other room while someone’s smoking outside. And when my downstairs neighbor smokes on her patio, you’ll find me sniffing by my open window like a drug dog. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

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