We were so good together, everyone said so. We had a love hate relationship lasting more than 25 years, and if truth be told the lovin’ heavily outweighed the hate. I didn’t want to quit and no one is more surprised than I that I stopped smoking. Smoking was a reliable and gratifying companion through the brightest and darkest of times.
For over twenty years I didn’t experience any noticeable health effects and like most smokers I felt impervious and unique in my resilience. I was active, went to the gym and participated in society. There were few negative consequences except for the occasional verbal assault from a rabid convert with poor social boundaries. But in the end it snuck up on me and its debilitating potential scared me.
There was no grand hacking cough or mass public shunning, just a recurring and unsettling shortness of breath as I walked up a short incline to work each morning. Initially I told myself, I just have a cold, but as weeks turned into months I realized it wasn’t getting better. I asked myself, what’s next? What follows straining for air while strolling up a slope? It can’t be good.
For years I had slowly been suffocating myself and was now starting to feel the effects. I couldn’t smoke myself out of this one. I was already self-conscious of the stink that clings as the weather turns colder. Besides, I wasn’t getting any younger. If I wanted to feel the much hyped rejuvenating benefits of stopping smoking I had better get a move on. Yes, it was time. I made the decision to stop, and gave myself one week to prepare.
December 10th, 2014 was the day. Yikes!
Looking back, I was a bit unorthodox in my approach. From the very beginning I decided to use the word ‘stop’ rather than ‘quit.’ The word ‘quit’ made me anxious and sounded intimidating. My long-time companion deserved a kinder, gentler approach.
I cleaned my ashtrays, I didn’t throw them out. I put my smokes on ice (they are still in the freezer), gave myself a hug and embraced my weakness.
Recognizing my powerlessness I doubled down on nicotine replacement (speak to your doctor before doing anything!). I slapped on a daily patch and used a nicotine inhaler (not an e-cigarette) each time I had a craving. I was determined not to inhale anything so higher levels of nicotine than normally recommended wasn’t a concern for me. This method isn’t for everyone of course.
The first week was difficult, but I was so surprised that it wasn’t more difficult! It dawned on me that perhaps worrying about stopping smoking was actually worse than the stopping itself. Don’t get me wrong it was no cake-walk, but a ‘one day at a time’ nicotine soaked approach seemed to be working.
Why suffer through the worst of the cravings if you don’t have to. Over time I weaned myself off the patch, used only the inhaler, eventually discarding it too.
I spent 2015 stopping smoking and as I look to 2016 I see it as my first year as an official non-smoker. Not one of those fearful and aggressive buffoons who judge and alienate, but a well-adjusted nonsmoker who respects the intoxicating power of a cigarette.
I still think of my ex-love fondly and when I catch the scent I don’t recoil. I inhale deeply thinking happy thoughts, proud that I made the right decision.
About the author; Toronto’s James Watson is Coordinator, CBR and Peer Training, Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and a person living with HIV.