On February 23rd, I will have been smoke-free for eight years.
Wow…that’s really something else. It’s actually hard to believe that it’s been that long. Seemed like just yesterday when I was still puffing away on my lunch break instead of actually eating something.
I started smoking when I turned 16. This was back in the 80’s and it was a completely different culture than it is today. You could still smoke on the high school grounds. Heck, you could even go down to the corner store and buy cigarettes for $0.25 each (yes….they sold single cigs back then). It seemed like pretty much everybody was doing it.
I was always a bit of a nerd and was never really one to be considered “cool”. My friends…especially the guys that I wanted to hang out with…were smoking. They probably only smoked to “look cool”, and back then we didn’t know any better. That’s just how it was.
I started by having a couple of puffs…coughing up a lung…and then trying another couple of puffs. I didn’t really care for it, but I got to hang out with “the boyz” and I felt like I was actually fitting in (self-esteem has always been an issue with me).
I’ll never forget my first full cigarette. It was a Mark Ten. It was disgusting. The bell rang as I finished it and I immediately went to class. In a matter of minutes I turned green. I excused myself from the class and went straight to the washroom, at which point I proceeded to throw up so hard that I passed out.
You would think this experience would have scared me off cigarettes forever. Nah…not a chance. I didn’t want the cigarette to beat me. I needed to win. After just a few more days, I was a “regular smoker”.
In the years that followed I became a pack-a-day smoker (and not the 20-packs that Americans are used to…but the Canadian 25-packs…and KING sized, at that). Sometimes even more than a pack depending on the day and the situation (I could go out to a club and smoke a pack in an evening). It was brutal just how bad I became. I started to time by how many cigarettes I could have (ex: driving 30 minutes would be three cigarettes if I hurried). I would sometimes smoke so much in the evening that I would start to gag and cough and my chest would feel like a brick fell on it. Instead of calling it a night, I would get mad at my body for not allowing me the chance to “enjoy” my cigarette…so I would chain-smoke until I got through an entire cigarette without coughing. OUT OF SPITE.
I loved to smoke. LOVED it. After a big meal…in the car…after sex. It was the perfect end to any day and was the best way to start my morning. I was 100% totally addicted to cigarettes and I didn’t want it any other way.
When I met my ex-wife, she wasn’t too keen on the fact that I was a smoker. But at the time, it didn’t matter. She liked me for me and my “bad boy” image (ugh…I was such a tool). Anyway, we dated for a couple of years and she knew just how much of a smoker I was. She put up with it…the bitter cold when I would roll the window of the car down a crack in the middle of winter, the rolling of the eyes when I would go outside in the middle of a thunderstorm just to inhale smoke, the kissing of the ashtray…she dealt with it.
But then came the moment that changed my life: she told me that she wouldn’t marry me unless I quit smoking.
She didn’t want to be married to somebody who would be dead long before she was. And then it hit me…she wouldn’t actually marry me unless I quit. She wasn’t bluffing. So I quit on February 23rd, 2004 and proposed on February 28th. At the time, I thought it was the perfect way to make me quit: I’d lose what I thought was the love of my life if I started up again.
As the marriage QUICKLY deteriorated, I began to resent her because she made me quit something I loved to do. Of course, that was just me finding another reason to blame her for something, but I think the feelings were still there and were real.
Once we split up, I had just started a new job and was sent down to Houston, Texas for four weeks of training. I was just craving cigarettes incredibly at this point, figuring I could now “be free” of her chains and shackles and do whatever I wanted. You could smoke anywhere in Houston…restaurants, bars, elementary schools (although I may want to double-check that last one)…and the cigs were soooo cheap. I mean seriously…three packs for $10? It’s $10/pack up here in the Great White North. How could I turn that down??
But then the realization of the situation set in. I had already quit for 3 years. I was feeling healthier…my daughter was happy to know that I’d “be alive longer” (her words)…I could shovel snow and not feel like I was going to die after three minutes…I could actually taste food better now. There were just so many reasons to NOT smoke (don’t even get me started on the cost factor).
So I didn’t…and here it is five years later and I’m still smoke free.
I’m happier. I’m healthier. I’m the WORST pain in the ass to anybody who does smoke…because all ex-smokers know that they’re the worst critics of those who still do smoke.
Addiction is a brutal thing, but if you truly know that quitting is the right thing for you to do, you’ll know how to quit and make it last. I’m just very thankful that I’ve been able to do just that.