by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
I quit smoking on Sunday. I'm not sure when, exactly, but I think I smoked my last cigarette around 4:30 p.m., which would put me at about 72 hours now - about five days by the time this paper hits the streets. It's extremely difficult to concentrate, and I worry it will affect my writing - not a good situation to be in, especially when I'm writing about cigarettes.
I decided to quit early because I began to relapse. On February 6, the last day I was allotted three cigarettes, I had already smoked my three when I got a craving in the evening. I lit up, justifying it because I hadn't smoked the other three cigarettes completely, so I only took a few deep drags of the fourth and promptly put it out. Technically, it wasn't really cheating, but I'd never counted my cigarette intake that way before in my tapering process. Before then, one was one, regardless of how much of it I smoked. My act of desperation left me feeling like a failure.
I continued to stay up that same night past midnight, and as Saturday turned to Sunday, I began the first day of the last part of my tapering plan - a single cigarette limit - in a tired and desperate daze. I decided to light up only about 30 minutes into the day, which left me with no more cigarettes for more than 23 hours.
I couldn't do it. On Sunday, at about 4:30p.m., I decided to let myself lapse on my plan a bit and light up. I figured it would be no problem; I'd just continue tomorrow like it never happened and try not to give in again. That was my rationalization, at least, but as I sat there smoking, I realized how much control I'd let tobacco have over me. I realized why I was really out there, and it became clear to me that if I didn't stop then, I was never going to.
I finished the cigarette, enjoying it as much as I could, then I went inside and promptly soaked the rest of my cigarettes in the kitchen sink and shoved them down the garbage disposal.
I remember clearly how I felt when I put out my last cigarette that day: good. I felt like a new day was dawning and a new me was emerging - but, frankly, I don't feel that way anymore.
I want a cigarette, and even more so than that, I want to give up on quitting and smoke to my heart's content, but I know that's just the addiction, and I hope, or rather I expect, that I'll get that good feeling back. Once I get through the worst of this, I'll get it back.
At this week's meeting, we came up with ideas about rewards. Rewards can fall into multiple categories depending on how you look at them, the most obvious of which is financial. The money we save by not smoking adds up quickly, and buying things we desire with money we would have spent on cigarettes seems only natural.
At my worst, I was smoking about 10 cigarettes a day on average. At about seven bucks a pack, that comes out to $1,277.50 a year, and about $106 a month. Now I'm not much for buying things that I simply want, but I can use the money constructively in an anti-smoking way, too. I've been wanting to go to the dentist since I got out of the service, so maybe that could be my first monetary reward.
But what resonates for me much more than simple money is time. Time means that, according to the CDC, male and female smokers lose an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life, respectively. Time also means time saved every day. Ten cigarettes a day on average, with the average cigarette taking about 3-5 minutes to smoke, means that now, as a non-smoker, I have 30-50 extra minutes in my day to do whatever I want with - and 4,818 extra days with that extra time, as well.
So here I am, 72 hours in. It's been tough. The nights have been tough. If I lay in bed, my mind will inevitably gravitate to cigarettes, so I have to keep myself occupied, which means I have to keep myself awake.
My mind keeps bouncing back and forth, up and down, and in all directions. In our discussion about rewards, the idea of taking a road trip was brought up. "Good idea," I thought, but then I remembered my last road trip. I remembered smoking as I curved around the Pacific Coast Highway's twisted beachfront roadways, well over the speed limit. I remembered how good it felt to be there, and to be smoking.
All things considered, this was probably the most upbeat meeting we've had yet. Hearing everyone's success stories made me feel much better. Hell, some of us even look better; the ones that have quit have more energy and have a shine to their expressions that wasn't there when we started. I don't feel like I do, though.
I don't feel pretty. I don't feel happy. I don't even feel hopeful anymore. I just want to smoke, but the only way to go is forward, and I've got to keep my eyes focused in that direction.
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