I was 18 when I first bought cigarettes. Like, freshly 18. It’s possible that it was even on my birthday, although the details are a bit hazy. I remember the determination. The decision. The mission. I’m going to buy a pack of cigarettes. I had no idea what I was doing, or which ones to choose. I have a very distinct memory of standing at the counter at the small 7-11 down the street from my university, gazing across at the wall of cigarettes with an overwhelming feeling that verged on panic. There are so many kinds. Conscious of what the clerk must be thinking of me, and not wanting to appear like some inexperienced youth buying their first pack (oh god just choose one), I hurriedly picked a blue pack of Kools. Probably just because of the name. I can’t remember if I knew they were mentholated, or what that even was, but it may have been a factor.
Up to that point I had never smoked at all, because obviously cigarettes are bad for you but also because deep down I was afraid I would like it. I was always a good kid growing up. Not just a pastor’s kid, but a kid of two pastors. And not just any pastors, missionaries. It wasn’t until university at a private Christian college that my latent rebellion emerged, and in response to a set of Lifestyle Expectations (signed & contractual) I decided to take up smoking. I intended to prove that smoking cigarettes (as the symbol for other larger issues as well) had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not one was a “good Christian”.
One a week, of course, turned into more, until smoking became a daily necessity. Then an every-few-hours necessity. Cigarettes were a close companion for many years. They allowed me opportunities to meet new friends (and other interesting humans), an avenue for escape when I needed to vent, chances for quiet introspection, and many many moments of still, quiet night-time wonder (looking back, those were my favorite, and where a lot of poems came from). But smoking’s one of those things that’s fun until it isn’t, and it’s very hard to plot that point when it changes because it’s a sneaky, gradual killer. The toll it takes eventually becomes noticeable, then annoying and then worrisome. It sucks you of time, energy, health, money, confidence and ease of being, yet all the while you’re bargaining for a way to keep it up.
I tried to quit half-heartedly for years. I cut down. I chewed toothpicks. I chewed gum. I bought nicotine patches. I would wear them and just smoke less, while actually increasing my nicotine consumption and resulting dependence (not to mention the money I was spending to pay for patches and cigarettes). I didn’t believe going cold turkey was a real option, and even if it was I didn’t care because I wasn’t interested. What torture that would be; it was absolutely unthinkable. Needless to say, my “attempts” were unsuccessful. Once I managed to go without cigarettes (while on the patch) for a week. That was the best I was ever able to do, because nicotine creates the need for more nicotine. The thing about quitting is that it requires a level of readiness and commitment, which means you have to want it. And even after I got there, and determined as all get-out, my methods weren’t working.
A year ago I quit after reading Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. One of my co-workers had mentioned it a year before. She told me that a friend of hers had finished the audiobook while driving, flicked his last cigarette out of the truck (this proved a potent image that stuck with me) and quit just like that. I was intrigued but forgot about it until another co-worker, a year later, brought it up again, telling me a similar story. I bought the book, wondering why I had never heard of it before. I chain-smoked while reading it over a long weekend, then closed the book, lit my last cigarette (which, much like the thousands preceding it, was lackluster and a bit gross) and then, as Carr recommended, signed a vow to myself. I also wrote a letter that I have carried in my wallet throughout the year, words of encouragement intended for moments of temptation or weakness. What surprised me was finding that I never needed it. I pulled it out to read a couple of times only out of boredom or curiosity, trying to remember what I had written all those months ago.
Weeks after I quit, two of my friends read the book and quit, and months later another friend followed suit. None of us has picked up a cigarette since. Seriously. I’m not being paid or compensated in any way to write about this. I can’t talk about quitting without mentioning this book, because I don’t think I would have quit without it.
What it does so successfully is helps to make the mental shift necessary in order to become a successful non-smoker. Allen Carr’s whole thing is how easy it can be, along with a big dose of telling you how wrong you are for thinking you love it. And it turns out he’s right. Despite all my prior feelings and reservations about it, cold turkey is the easiest way! While all of the testimonials in the front of the book may read a bit like snake oil salesmanship, know that it is something to suspend your disbelief over, allow yourself to buy into, because that’s when you let it work. Like with all things, if you go into it with a “this is preposterous, of course it’s never going to work” mentality, then, well, of course it’s never going to work.
I’m absolutely delighted to be a non-smoker these days. I love never having to worry about how I appear in public, getting those nasty looks, smelling like an ashtray. I love having all this extra time to do things that I enjoy and that are actually good for me. I love not having to spend that money and not having to go to the store every other day just to make sure I have enough cigarettes. I love never having to think about smoking. I love how much more energy I have, and how much healthier I feel. I love not having that nasty cough when I wake up. If there’s one thing I enjoy in spades, it’s taking massive gulpfuls of fresh air each morning, the fragrance of which I can actually appreciate, and inhale deeply. I can inhale deeply. That, in itself, is amazing.
Really, in the end, it comes down to making a choice to not smoke anymore, choosing to be happy about it, and then sticking to your decision. It’s that simple.
If you are someone who wants to quit smoking, what is stopping you? If you are someone who has quit, how did you do it and what was it like? If you’re someone who has never smoked at all, what are you curious about? Let us know in the comments below!