The Long Choke

As a deluded fourteen year old, the choice to smoke was an easy one to make.

Prior to stopping on the 10th of August 2011, I had been a smoker my entire adult life, having started from the unripe young age of fourteen. As a teenager, I didn’t care about the health issues associated with smoking.

After all, taking risks is what being a teenager is all about. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a football field, a skateboard or at a party. When you risk your well being and manage to pull off a feat that appears daring, you gain “cool” points, at least in your own mind.

The more you experiment and break the rules, the “cooler” you become. Smoking showed everyone you didn’t give a crap, that you were grown up enough to make your own decisions and that you were a risk taker.

As a deluded fourteen year old, the choice to smoke was an easy one to make. A choice that would unfortunately become the most defining decision of my life.

During my youth, my body could handle almost everything I threw at it. The effects of binge drinking, drug use and cigarettes seemed negligible. It wasn’t until my mid twenties that I really started feeling the impact of cigarettes.

I developed a heavy smokers cough and as the years passed, increasingly felt like shit. Still, I continued to smoke. If I went without a smoke for more than an hour I became irate, couldn’t concentrate and couldn’t relax until I got my fix. I didn’t need a failed quit to know I was addicted, I just needed to live life as a smoker.

Over the last fifteen years, the financial cost of smoking has increased to incredible levels, as have the restrictions on where you can do it. All over the developed world, conscientious governments are placing huge taxes on tobacco and outlawing it’s use in public areas.

Billions of dollars are being spent on treating the negative health issues that come from tobacco smoke. QUIT promotions bombard the media with graphic images of smokers dying horrible deaths and leaving loved ones abandoned.

Smoking has become an incredibly anti social behavior, something to be ashamed of. Today, a person would have to be sick in the head to smoke, literally.

The heavily publicized health risks and the financial burden of my tobacco addiction motivated me to undertake several quit smoking campaigns. My early attempts were simple. I made an evening promise to myself that I would avoid that first cigarette in the morning.

I think the longest I managed was around 6 hours, at which point I always hit an unbreakable wall of cravings.

Failing at cold turkey proved just how severe my addiction was. There was no way I could beat the addiction without assistance. I moved onto Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). I tried the patches, the gum and the lozenges.

The gum and lozenges just ended up being shoved into a draw or cupboard to collect dust, while the patches proved more effective and allowed me to reach new milestones. With patches I could finally go without a smoke for more then 24 hrs.

Unfortunately, NRT treatment only assists in suppressing the withdrawal symptoms from chemical dependency to nicotine and not the intricate and complex neurological effects of addiction. When a nicotine, tobacco smoking, junkie brain, goes untreated and unrecognized, lighting up is inevitable.

Several years ago, a new drug named Zyban appeared on the market.  I had read claims that it was a “miracle” drug and that it actually stopped people wanting to smoke. Its power to help people quit was accidentally discovered through it’s use as an anti depressant.

Without hesitation I visited my doctor, received a prescription for the drug and set about my next quit campaign. The drug worked for a lot of people. I wasn’t one of them.

The next major attempt at quitting smoking came after reading Allen Carr’s “Easy Way To Stop Smoking.”  The book was a best seller and Allen Carr was considered by some to be the champion of quit smoking coaches. His mantra is one that suggests stopping smoking is easy.

While the book raises some very interesting and positive ways to look at the addiction, it relies too heavily on a kind of cognitive “repression” therapy and “suggestive” hypnosis. This form of therapy has definitely worked for some people, it didn’t for me.

Throughout my history of failed attempts to stop smoking, Nicotine patches had been the only method to provided some resemblance of success. By success I refer to a decrease in tobacco consumption.

My nicotine addiction had only ever gotten stronger and the constant failures only served to re enforce a belief that quitting was impossible. I cursed myself time and again for not being strong enough to beat the addiction. I also increasingly cursed the cigarettes and the people who made them.

I felt utterly trapped and had resigned myself to the fact I was never going to be able to quit.

Then along came Champix.

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  1. I cold have written this myself! So many similarities. The only difference is that I am older than you and smoked for 43+ years!

    I too, started at around 14. It was the late 1960’s.

    Back then nearly everyone smoked. I grew up with two parents who smoked and I can remember my mother’s friends coming for coffee at least once a week and they all sat around and drank coffee and smoked and talked. My Dad was in the military and nearly everyone he knew smoked. I recall going to my pediatrician at about age 8 and HE smoked while he examined me!

    In all the candid pictures of my parents from my birth in 1954 to about 1990, my mother has a cigarette in her hand. At some point she became self-conscious of being seen with a cigarette. She is 81 now, and still smoking about 5 a day. I say, why bother, but she says its too late for her. (Wrong answer)Sorry, I digress.

    I remember my first cigarette very well. I went to my best friend’s house and we sat on the swing set (interesting setting for us “cool” chicks)in her back yard. She pulled out a pack and lit up like it was the most natural thing to do. After I got over my initial shock, I couldn’t wait to try one. I didn’t like it, and I doubt I inhaled much, but this became a ritual. My parents couldn’t smell the smoke on me because THEY smoked and our whole house always smelled like smoke. Now, I don’t believe that my parents behavior caused me to start smoking. I am the eldest of 7 and only one other sibling has ever touched a cigg. But it was easier for me to get away with it because they couldn’t detect it.

    I knew I was “hooked” the day I stole a couple from my mother’s pack, and then my Dad’s, and started smoking them in the bathroom before school. I was ashamed that I was stealing from my parents, but the addiction had taken over at that point. Also, back then anyone could buy cigarettes and they were pretty cheap. I babysat for spending money and started buying my own once in a while. Even so, I still had limited access to the store since I didn’t drive, and couldn’t let my parents see me buying them. It was usually an older friend who bought them for me when I had the money.

    My parents figured it out when they started comparing notes on their mysteriously disappearing cigarettes. The stronger the addiction, the more I needed theirs. My mother confronted me and I totally denied it, so now was I not only addicted to nicotine, I was a thief and a liar. It made me feel so bad, but I was addicted.

    Over the last 40+ years I have tried to quit a few times. I went “cold turkey” for 8 miserable months. I say miserable, because I was angry and depressed and never stopped thinking about smoking during that entire time. I didn’t understand addiction, had no tools to help me cope, and truthfully, I wasn’t doing it for myself. I was visiting a friend one day and her cigarettes and lighter were on the table near her telephone. When it rang and she asked me to answer it, I did, and automatically lit one of her ciggs. That monkey didn’t just creep up on my back – he jumped on with all fours and held on tight!

    Recently I was asked to sit with a friend’s husband who was dying of lung cancer while she went to work. He knew, and she knew, that his time was limited, but he didn’t want to be hospitalized. He wanted to be in his home with his beloved dogs and familiar surroundings. He knew I was a smoker, but he never brought it up at first. I did my best to not sneak out for a smoke while I was with him.

    Then one day he was particularly anxious. He couldn’t get a breath, not a normal, deep breath, even though he was on oxygen. He panicked and I could see the panic in his eyes. He couldn’t speak. He just cried out over and over and I could tell he felt like he was drowning. And he WAS. And there was nothing I could do to help him! Eventually his medications kicked in and he slept. But right before he fell asleep he looked at me and said “Quit, please quit.” I knew what he meant.

    He died on Christmas Eve, 2011, just a couple of months ago. I blocked all images of him and kept puffing away. Then my roommate and biggest smoking buddy was admitted to the hospital with heart problems and diabetes etc. She was visited by a nurse who invited her to a free smoking cessation class at the hospital once she was released. My roommate wouldn’t go alone so I agreed to go with her and was I ever glad I did!

    Something happened to me at that class. I learned that I was not alone in the fight and that there were tools I could use to help me quit. It was wonderful to sit in a room full of people who told how they had been off ciggs for 2 weeks, or 2 months etc. Some of them had been smoking 2 packs a day for years. (For financial reasons I had already cut back a lot and didn’t smoke in my home or car) I figured, if these folks can do this, I can too. So I smoked my last one on January 22, 2012. I still go to the class and I have reached out to friends and sites like this and Quit Smoking for support. I honestly don’t know why it is different for me this time, but I am not angry or irritated. I’ve had some mood swings and I’ve felt tired and I’ve wanted to eat more. But I haven’t wanted to start smoking again. My feelings of anger and irritation have been replaced with feelings of pride at what I have accomplished. If I feel myself craving, I just drink ice water go out and walk, and the craving passes.

    So that’s my story. And the next 20 years starts now. Thanks Cam.

    • That is a powerful story Rebecca! Thanks for sharing! It is wonderful to see how honest you are in your approach, this is a good sign. I understand perfectly why you blocked all the negatives out of your mind for so long, I think a lot of smokers can relate to that!

      Support is absolutely the most critical tool for quitting I think. Especially from ex smokers!

      Keep at it!

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