If you have read some of my previous articles, you have probably realized by now that I have an obsessive personality disorder… or at least I refer to my prior addictions that way!
Unfortunately, back in Russia I started smoking at a very young age just to fit in. Before I knew it, I was hooked. My friends and I were smoking before school, skipping classes to smoke, smoking after school, and any other opportunities we have had. Our parents were powerless.
Some of the experiences I had while growing up were harsh and disturbing (to say the least), but I’m a strong believer that everything happens to us for a reason. Every experience has a purpose behind it. Even if we don’t see that purpose in the present, we will see it in the future. Everything that happens to us makes us who we are. There is no reason to regret things or feel pity for yourself. I strongly believe in this.
And any time something disturbing has happened, I would take my pack of cigarettes and walk away from everything and everyone. After I smoked a cigarette or two, I thought, I have felt better. One thing in my life became constant: good or bad, I always had my cigarettes with me. They became my best friend.
It came to a point in my life that I had to carry two or three packs and at least 3 lighters in my purse, just to make sure that I don’t run out of cigarettes and fire. Even though I could buy them anytime anywhere, this became more of a paranoid state. It will be very hard for those of you who’ve never had dependencies to understand, but it’s true.
Earlier in my life, I used to plan everything around smoking, and I didn’t have too many big inconveniences—until I had kids. Then, all of a sudden, I needed to hide the fact that I was a smoker. Just the thought of my girls smoking when they grow up terrified me.
I couldn’t smoke in the car, and driving without a cigarette was like learning to drive again. I planned vacations around places where I could smoke. I avoided smoke-free events. Our trip to Disneyland was so painful for me! I’m sure some of you can relate, but besides the long lines, the 100 degree weather, and many more inconveniences, it took me 1.5 hours every time I needed to find a place to smoke.
The biggest pain at the time was that I constantly felt guilty that my kids were getting second-hand smoke from my clothes, hair, and skin. I hated myself every time I kissed my kids. I even avoided kissing them on the cheek. That guilty feeling was always with me.
I spent a lot of time outside pretending I needed to have a private work conversation. Anytime we went somewhere, we needed to stop so mommy could check the “tire pressure.” I couldn’t sit through a meal without smoking a cigarette. And there was so much more…
As I said, somewhere deep inside of me I had connected the act of smoking to being my best friend. I shared everything with it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. We couldn’t live without each other.
One day, my husband said that he had enough with my smoking. He gave me a choice: it was either cigarettes or it was him. I love my husband very much, but I have warned him that if he was going to force me to make that choice, he should be prepared for any outcome. Nothing and no one could separate me and my “best friend.”
A lot of people think of smoking as a bad habit without realizing what a serious disease it is. If there was some kind of effective rehab for smoking, I would have taken it in a heartbeat—or at least I thought I would. At that point of my life, I knew I could do anything except for one thing: quitting smoking.
Before my workouts, I would have a cup of coffee with a cigarette or two. After my post-workout shower, I would do the same thing again—another cup of coffee and a cigarette. Before going to sleep, I had to smoke. You get the gist…
I was a smoker for over 25 years, and I finally started suffering from it. Every 2-3 weeks I would get bronchitis. My immune system was weakened to that point that I caught every virus around me. I was constantly sick and constantly coughing. I couldn’t breathe well. Sometimes I would use Albuterol spray (doctors had told me some time ago that I was at the beginning stage of asthma), but I wouldn’t stop smoking. I was miserable.
And the final kicker was the chest pain that I started to feel. At first, the pain came and went. But then, I started having chest pains permanently. The pain was there when I woke up, when I worked out, when I simply breathed, when I was smoking, even when I lay down in bed. I went and got a test on my heart and it came back fine. I was terrified of checking my lungs, and I couldn’t get brave enough to go check them.
After about three months of non stop chest pains, of being sick and tired at all times, of living in this miserable state, I started realizing that I was slowly dying. And right in front of my kids and family…
Then, finally, something changed. It was a sunny weekend day, beautiful weather. I woke up and acknowledged my miserable painful state, as usual. Instead of enjoying this beautiful day with my family, I was feeling sorry for myself. My chest pain became unbearable.
All of a sudden, I heard my inner voice asking me if I could last without smoking for two hours. And it wasn’t just two hours during the day, but the two hours in the morning, right after I woke up.
I have to pause and explain something here: for a heavy smoker, you have to smoke within 15-20 minutes after you wake up—or else…
It seemed impossible, but I told myself that I would try this challenge for 30 minutes, maybe an hour. An hour passed, then two hours passed. I decided to prolong this challenge for another two hours. Before I knew it, the evening came. I realized that I hadn’t smoked for a whole day! Could I go to sleep without smoking? I did it! I went through one whole day without smoking, and it wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. So I talked myself into one more day of this challenge.
This is a good time to mention that prior to quitting smoking, I did not think panic attacks were a real thing. But on my second day without cigarettes, I learned otherwise. I didn’t have enough air. I started hysterically crying (and I hardly ever cry). I wanted to hide, but didn’t know where—it was as if I needed to hide from myself. I started having chills and hot flashes at the same time. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was about to jump out of my body.
I called my husband, and I couldn’t say a word because I was crying so hard. As much as he wanted me to quit smoking, he had never seen or heard me in such a condition, and it scared him. He suggested that maybe I should have a cigarette or two per day. I hung up the phone and said to myself: “No, I am going to finish today. I will probably smoke tomorrow, but I will finish today!”
The next day, I had severe panic attack again. On the fourth day, it was only a minor panic attack. I had heard that acupuncture helped some people with quitting smoking, so I scheduled a visit with an acupuncturist.
I don’t want to bore you with all of the details of this process, which seemed like it would never end, but the important part is that I took it one day at a time. I struggled for about five months, but the further it went, the easier it was. After 5 months had passed by after I quit smoking, I have experienced 2-3 “tough” days per month. And what I mean by “tough” days are the days when I think about smoking, have urges and bad mood. But these tough days were nowhere close to really hard days that I have experienced in the beginning after I have quit smoking. This whole process was extremely hard for me as I have lost my “best childhood friend”, cigarettes.
I had to learn everything from the beginning. When you are a heavy smoker, whatever you do in life is connected to smoking. After every meal you have to have a cigarette. If you go to a restaurant, you have at least 2 or 3 cigarettes while you are there. After they bring you your drink, you have a sip and go outside. And I wouldn’t even mention the time we were allowed to smoke in restaurants…:) Every time you sat in the car, the second thing you do after turning on your ignition is light up a cigarette. Coffee had to be accompanied by a cigarette. And of course, any type of alcoholic drink had to be accompanied by a cigarette or two, as well. I had to relearn all those basic skills that we learn as infants: how to eat, breath, drink, going to the bathroom, etc. (And I’m not exaggerating here.)
As I have previously mentioned, I have implemented attitude of gratitude routine. But while I was quitting smoking, I started writing things down in a journal. It didn’t just help me with seeing my progress, but it also helped me with keeping track of all of those things I was grateful for. Eventually, I have renamed it to Gratitude Journal. What helped me tremendously was writing down those new sensations that I have experienced, at that time, that I have not experienced for a while, that I definitely was grateful for. Some of these were:
- I started breathing normally again without pain.
- My chest pain went away.
- I stopped being sick all the time, and haven’t have a bronchitis since. (Reminding you that I used to have it every 2-3 weeks.)
- There was no more nasty smell on my hair, my clothes, my skin. My kids didn’t know anything different, so they thought the smoky aroma was just my natural smell. After I quit, they started asking me what I was using on my skin, because they thought I smelled amazing!
- I was finally able to kiss my kids on the cheek and not feel guilty.
- I was able to spend so much more time with my kids.
- I no longer had to worry about when and how I would be able to smoke.
- My father was finally proud of me!
I know for a fact there is nothing impossible for me now!
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