WARNING: It has come to my attention that this post may be a “trigger” for ex-smokers. If you have recently quit smoking, or if you are having a particularly crave-y day, I urge you to skip past my story and jump straight to the tips and tricks of the other seven smokers at the end of this post. I sincerely apologize to those who felt the urge to smoke after reading this post! For newcomers and newbie ex-smokers: you have been warned.
1 year, 2 months, and 13 days.
439 coffees without those glorious morning drags.
439 car rides without smoke streaming through a cracked window.
439 nighttime-porch-stoop Pinterest scrolls without a cigarette in the other hand.
439 smoker conversations I’ll never remember.
439 moments of stress I just had to endure.
I go weeks without thinking about lighting up.
I go days without being able to stop thinking about lighting up.
This is my life, now.
My life used to be very different.
I smoked my first cigarette before I learned how to drive.
By the time I reached 20, I was smoking 10-12 cigarettes a day. Sometimes, way more. Rarely less.
I tried to quit twice.
Once, four years ago, when I didn’t really want to quit but made a pact with my boyfriend. I spent two weeks wallowing in manic self-pity before convincing my friend to give me one of hers. I started spending a lot of time with her, after that.
My boyfriend had started sneaking cigarettes around that time, too. I swore I could taste it in his kiss, one day, but I kept my mouth shut. Neither of us realized each other was cheating until we confessed a month in. We still hid it from our parents, though. We’d excuse ourselves from our homes and drive around, chiefing in silent unison. Eventually, the parental secret grew tiresome, so we told them, too. Full-time cigarette freedom resumed.
My second attempt was two-and-a-half years ago.
I actually wanted to quit this time. When school resumed, I was going to start my job as a writing consultant. I didn’t want any of my future fellow consultants to know I smoked. I quit cold turkey a month before fall semester started. I replaced cigarettes with a piano, exercise, food, paint brushes, and my nephew. Everything helped. Especially my love life. Which no one really knew about, for a while. I met him the weekend I quit, and lucky for me, he didn’t date smokers. I didn’t tell him I was fresh off it. I didn’t tell him much of anything.
At school, I fit right in with the other consultants. None of us smoked. We drank a lot of water and used big words and recycled. I had a big, fat secret that no one knew about. I had a lot of secrets at the time. They helped keep my mind off cigarettes.
I started dating a guy in my Thesis class. He was the first male Scorpio I’d ever met, so I was immediately hooked. He took me to see an Edward Scissorhands play, and he gave me a tour of a decades-untouched part of a Grand Rapids building. It was on top of a bustling restaurant his parents owned. Ancient furniture filled the rooms and chipped paint shivered on the floor. It was like stepping into another world. I’ll never forget it.
Scorpio took me on a few other great dates. But he was a lazy student. And a little overeager in the wanting-to-sleep-with-me department. It took a lot of consistent texting and forceful words in front of classmates (last resort!) to get him off my back.
Meanwhile, I made a new friend. We shared two communication classes. We shared classes last semester, too. He was a decade older than me and a big-time smoker. A charcoal beret and a cigarette were permanently stamped on him.
Half an hour before class, we’d sit outside while he smoked. I’d inhale fresh air and pretend it was his nicotine. Sometimes, he’d get caught up in a point he was making and let the ashes grow long on his smoke. I’d glance at those ashes, too infrequently for him to notice, and mentally note how many puffs he was wasting.
He’d assumed I’d never smoked because I never did in front of him. Occasionally, the wind would catch his cigarette tip and drift the exhaust through my hair. He’d apologize profusely, shaking his head at the ground. I’d assure him I didn’t mind. He thought I was cool for being so chill about his second-hand. I thought if he shifted a foot to the left, I’d get another whiff.
Beret Man was the beginning of the end of my second attempt.
I began collecting smokers like stuffed animals. I befriended every one I met. In classes. At work.
For years, I had reveled in my nicotine habit, laughing at the idea of cutting back. The more cigarettes, the better. I loved it too much. Smoking gave me this cool independence, a loner confidence. Non-smoker Brooke was a totally different person. A significantly less cool person.
To cope, I still acted like a smoker. I went outside with them. I sat near them in class. I chose them for group projects.
Then, I started dating one.
He was witty as a whip and alluringly bold. I knew he smoked the first time I hugged him. Five hours into our first hangout, he blurted, “So, I smoke.”
We’d killed a six pack at that point.
All night, I’d been watching him, wondering when he’d cave. I grew more suspicious of his habit with every bottle he drained. No smoker kills three beers before wanting a cigarette.
He waited because he didn’t want to deter me with his unattractive habit.
Remember? I was a non-smoker.
I told him I didn’t care if he smoked, and I followed him outside.
Late-night August weather in Michigan is what dreams are made of. The breeze was light and my bare arms soaked up the warm wind. I leaned a shoulder against his truck, my face a foot from his red-hot ember. I told him I used to be a smoker. He would have fallen over if the truck wasn’t holding him up.
Before that moment, I had given him the same carefully measured Brooke-truths I gave everyone at school. I was a die-hard student. My favorite pastime was homework, and I loved vegetables and water and coffee. I had an immense vocabulary and the highest-paying job on campus. I was your classic straight-A who never drank and probably never touched a cigarette.
His shock was quickly replaced by a wave of relief.
“Do…you care if I have another one?” he asked.
“Not at all,” I chirped.
He had a third before we went inside.
The smoking devil inside me was grinning ear-to-ear.
I let him smoke in my car.
I let him smoke everywhere. I encouraged him to smoke as freely as he wished. Where his cigarettes went, I went. I stood thisclose when he lit up. I kissed him right after he flicked butts into the snow.
I assured him, every time he asked, that it didn’t matter to me if he smoked.
He was my vicarious nicotine fix. And he was everything cool about me that I lost when I quit.
We’d spend nights after class parked in a carpool lot, arguing beneath floodlights about the fascinating theories I’d learned in class. He’d roll our windows down and smoke. One after another. Hour after hour.
One night, I mentally opened his pack on my dashboard and took one out, imaginatively lighting the end and taking a deep, slow drag. That’s when I told him how long ago I’d quit. The shock on his face slowly melted into guilt.
After that, I voiced my jealous thoughts. I would brazenly ogle the smoke billowing from his hand. Every night, I wished aloud for a cigarette. He always offered, but I never took. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. My ravenous desire wasn’t stronger than the shame I’d feel for undoing months of resistance. My mother’s inevitable disappointment soaked me to the bone and kept me away. For a while.
It was only a matter of time before I demanded he drive me to a gas station so I could buy a pack of Camel Menthol Lights.
We were bumbling down my snowy dirt drive away from my parents’ house, heading to the other side of the state. It was Thanksgiving which meant it was time to meet the parents.
I had spent that morning straightening my hair and counting down the minutes until I could loosen the lasso of cellophane around a shiny new pack.
I held the tiny box between my legs as we gained speed on the on ramp, catching the end of my cigarette with a little yellow flame. The first hit felt like nothing. Superficial and bad. Thick and harsh. I remembered it feeling better. My boyfriend gabbed through the whole thing, oblivious to my monumental moment. I silently remarked at how cool my fresh manicure looked V-ed around my cigarette. Halfway through, I wanted to throw it out. But I didn’t.
I waited an hour for the distant nausea to dissipate before lighting up another.
I smoked a third before we reached Detroit. His dad smoked indoors, so the three of us lit up once we’d brought our bags to our room. I smoked all night. I woke up and immediately had a cigarette. Then I had another with my coffee. They still tasted wrong, but I was getting closer.
Within a week, the bliss of smoking was back. Like a blanket sewn to fit my body that I could bring with me everywhere. I felt like myself again. My confident independence returned. Once I had it back, I didn’t really need anything else. Like my poor boyfriend, bless his heart.
I put an end to our weeknight meetups and relationship, but I kept the habit. I wonder all the time if that’s what I wanted from him in the first place.
1 year, 2 months, and 13 days ago, I quit for a kitten.
Her registered name was Ziva, but I called her Kitty Love. She vanished without a trace a few months ago. The pain still sears my heart like a cattle prod.
She was my animal soul mate. You have one, too. Or you had one. We all have them.
I couldn’t bear to touch her tiny fluffy body with nicotine-infused fingertips. A whiff of smoke on her fur made me hate myself. One week after she moved in, I decided to quit. My boyfriend at the time (you know him as Husband) was thrilled.
Third time was my lucky charm.
No, Kitty Love was my lucky charm.
She’s gone, but I kept the habit.
Both are hard to believe.
I’m a non-smoker, and I never thought I would be.
I went through hell and a lot of trial and error to earn that title.
This is how I did it.
I quit smoking for good by…
…talking about it nonstop. I whined to my mom every single day about how badly I wanted a cigarette. And I gushed about how proud I was for not smoking. She’s got the patience of a saint, I tell you.
…dating (and marrying) a non-smoker. I am convinced that Husband is the reason I’m still a non-smoker. He doesn’t smoke. So why would I? If he did smoke or liked to smoke occasionally, oh boy. That would be REALLY TOUGH. He does chew tobacco. My mom cannot make sense of my ambivalence toward his chewing habit. She thinks fair’s fair – I quit, Husband quits. Honestly, I don’t care if he chews. It’s his life, not mine. Besides, he does it so infrequently I hardly notice (or he hides it very well…).
…just going to bed. Some days, I was so exhausted from fighting the urge that I just needed to lie down. I slept a LOT in the beginning.
…having lots of terrifying smoke-cheating dreams. Okay, this wasn’t really a method, but it happened all the time. OMG those dreams are so real. I would wake up, sweating and shaking with so much adrenaline pumping I could do a back flip. And I’d hold my breath for a second, totally racked with shame. Then I’d realize it was a dream and what a relief. The dreams started with just one puff cheat. BOOM awake. Then, they started to morph. I began getting super dream-drunk and smoking full cigarettes. BOOM awake. Then, I’d get so dream-drunk I’d smoke a whole PACK. Then, Inception shit started happening, and I would wake up in a dream and ask people if I had cheated, and they’d tell me yes. Then I’d actually wake up and be like OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD ALREADY.
…having Kitty Love around. Every time I picked her up, I thought about how I smelled to her. Like my skin, not cigarettes.
…admitting to my mom how much I had distanced myself from her. And from everyone. That’s what addiction does. It wins. People who disagree with it don’t win. She hardly ever made a comment, but I knew my mom wished I wouldn’t smoke. I’d disappear outside and come in, drizzled in this guilt that made me behave differently toward her. I didn’t want to get too close for her to smell me, either. I kept my distance from anyone who might wrinkle their nose at me. Right after I quit, I developed a real personal-space problem. I was seriously all up in EVERYBODY’S business. Poor souls didn’t even know why. Didn’t care! I wanted everyone to smell my shampoo, now that I could.
…paying attention to my new-found freedom. I could watch a movie marathon with Mom and Sister without disappearing for five minutes. I had so much time in the morning. I stood in the kitchen, one morning, and laughed out loud because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I listened to music in the car. I marveled at the expansive blue sky. I skipped. I did all of those nerdy things my siblings shove me around for doing. I felt like a newborn human. When I was a smoker, I told myself I “wanted” to smoke. Smoker thinks: it’s not a lack of freedom – I am free to smoke as I please! But, when you have to strategize your cigarette escape at Grandma’s house, you’re not free. You’re not there, either. Well, right after a cigarette, you are. But the longer you go without one, the less you think about anything other than a cigarette. The cigarette looks like freedom, but in reality, it’s locking you outside of the real world around you.
…being really, really anxious for a very long time. Cigarettes are a brilliant band-aid for anxiety. Once you rip them off, you bleed all over the place. I dealt with this by forcing myself to feel all the terrible emotions I’d usually puff away. The rage, frustration, and worry I felt was overwhelming, at first. I’d let myself be run over by my emotions until they were done. No more cigarettes = no more escape. I saw the suffocating angst as punishment for smoking in the first place. And, eventually, those normal, post-freak-out, cool-down emotions came to me. The ones that non-smokers experience every day. These cool-downs don’t feel NEARLY as good as having a cigarette, but they are the real thing. (And remember, the comparison wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t smoked in the first place!)
…being hard on myself. See above. This no-nonsense attitude worked for me.
…understanding that the life of an ex-smoker is arduous by design. If you don’t know what arduous means, google it. It’s the PERFECT word. When I’m not thinking about smoking, life is fine. When I want a cigarette, the world just sucks. That’s my life! I have to tell myself no all the time. I have to stare longingly out the window as my friends share cigarettes and laugh about what is surely the funniest thing in the world. I’ll always want one. Always.
…promising myself that, when I’m really, really old, I can have one. I actually tell myself this all the time, now. Makes me feel better. Otherwise, I get all mopey about having to endure sucky feelings of self-denial forever.
…pretending to be a non-smoker. Wherever you go, there are people who don’t smoke. I faked it till I made it. I stayed inside with the lame-os. I was a lame-o. I pretended I fit right in with the smoke-free crowd. In the beginning, the best days ever were days spent with people who had no idea I used to smoke.
…telling myself it was the nicotine plotting my next cigarette. NOT me.
…smoking cigars. Okay, I don’t know how to say this in a way that’s “approachable” for ex-smokers, so I’ll just explain how I use cigars. I’ve used them twice. Once during my Bachelorette party when I was extremely intoxicated and feeling like a free MF. And once when my one-year mark rolled around. OMG I wanted to smoke SO BADLY, and the urge came out of nowhere. A tsunami of want. I felt like a total crack head cry baby. Suddenly, I was talking about cigarettes all day long. I cried in self-pity to anyone who would listen. It was so weird. I think my body was remembering the terror of quitting. Stupid body! Anyway, I bought these little wine-flavored cigars to cope. I couldn’t light that cigar fast enough. And it was a big, stupid let-down. I don’t know what I expected. Okay, I do.
…embracing my awkwardness. Cigarettes smoothed the creases of social encounters, for me. Now, I am very un-suave. I might have always been un-suave, though. That’s probably the case.
…running with it. What makes it possible for me to abstain forever is that time is momentous. Zoom zoom! The longer I go without cigarettes, the more impossible it seems to smoke one. This is very beneficial for someone like me who wants to never smoke again. I intend to bear lots of children. I don’t want to get nicotine all over them. I don’t want them to smoke, either. I will happily spend the rest of my life miserably smoke-free if it improves my babies’ odds of never lighting up. But, I know I won’t be able to stop them if they really want to. I will try everything, though. For example, I will erase that sentence from this post before they have a chance to read it.
…embracing my love for smokers. I used to be one. Respect. I’ll never tell you not to smoke, but I’ll be your biggest cheerleader if you decide to quit.
…being around smokers who hack all day long and do that revolting throat-clearing thing and make the whole room fricken stink. Sick! Sick!!!
…doing everything I possibly could to avoid/get through a craving. EVERYTHING. I distracted myself whenever I wanted a cigarette. Games on my phone, shopping on my lunch break, sweeping my kitchen floor…all of it helped. I tried Jolly Ranchers. I tried pacing. I tried deep breathing. I tried no-drinking. I tried getting plastered. Every time quitting became so hard nothing I was doing helped, I tried something new. Because that’s what it takes. Constant trying. Each smoker’s attachment to cigarettes is personal and unique, so each smoker’s method of destroying that bond is personal and unique. I used millions of tools.
My best advice for quitters is: BE PREPARED.
Expect to never feel the same way again. Anticipate having to re-learn how to do everything.
Remember that commercial with the woman who quit smoking and couldn’t figure out how to get into her car for work? She climbed in through the backseat! Hilarious. I spent fifteen minutes trying to find this video online so I could link to it, but no luck. Help!
The commercial is funny because it’s true. You must re-learn how to drive/drink coffee/party. But you can do it!
I cherish my smoking memories. But, I’ll never go back. I don’t think I’d be able to quit again, if I did.
Below are seven dragon tamers.
Some are still wrestling the beast. Others have slain him. Use their tips and wisdom to tame YOUR dragon!
Male. 23-years-old. Multiple quits. Current smoker.
- I’m a firm believer that half the battle isn’t the daily nicotine, it’s the daily motion you get used to.
- While driving, inhale into an empty pen tube.
- Avoid drinking, at first, if possible.
- Add up the cost of smoking, per year. If you’re not sure how much you smoke, use 2 packs per week as an example.
- Chew on pens.
- Learn about the effects of second-hand smoke, and how, even if you don’t smoke in front of your children, they are still exposed to it!
Male. 31-years-old. Multiple quits. Smoke-free for 137 days.
- First and foremost, you have to want to quit more than anything
- It was affecting the 3 most important things in my life: kids, money, and deer hunting.
- I used to go to the store and drop $60 on a carton without thinking about it. Now that I don’t, it seems ridiculous to spend that much money.
- I hated being a smoker during winter. Now, I don’t have to brave the elements for that nicotine fix. However, I did dip, too, and I did that more during the fall and winter.
- After breaking it down and deciding I was going to quit, it was strictly will power then.
- I didn’t wean myself off or use the patch or a pill. Smoking was already a crutch in my life. I wasn’t going to replace that crutch with another one. Using a crutch to get rid of a crutch doesn’t make much sense to me.
- I am very stubborn and hard-headed and that helps me, because as soon as I decided I was quitting, that was it. All about that willpower to commit.
- So, and you can quote me: if you want to quit, then do it. Stop being a pussy and making excuses. Don’t use a crutch – deal with the difficulty in the beginning and you’ll get through it faster.
Female. 26-years-old. Multiple quits. Smoke-free for 15 days.
- Day one of quitting was unplanned. I woke up Friday hungover as fuck and just decided this is it. No more smoking.
- I knew it would never be easy or something I wanted to do.
- I found this picture* (because of course the internet was full of inspirational resolution shit given that it was the first day of the new year). And I read it and thought, I can do this. It’s up to ME to quit smoking and I can.
Male. 49-years-old. Multiple quits. Smoke-free for 22 days.
- Honestly, I think the best way to go is cold turkey.
- I’ve noticed that in the first 72 hours, I couldn’t think straight. And I was a jackass. The key is three days. Once you make it through that, you are fine.
- Once, I put a rubber band on my wrist and snapped it on myself every time I got the urge. It worked.
- I must confess, I was cleaning out the garage and had the urge to smoke my son’s half-cigarette, and it’s been almost three weeks.
Female. 26-years-old. Multiple quits. Smoke-free for 2 years, 7 months.
- My first tip is realizing how stupid it was that cigarettes completely controlled me.
- Mind over matter really is the thing people need to understand. You have to really think that, in order to quit.
- I chewed gum a lot for the first month or so.
- Mints work, too!
- My biggest tip is don’t cheat! Even if you cheat once, it’s all over. You will most likely cheat again. I’ve never even had a puff since I quit, because I know I would go back to it.
- Exercise is a good tip so you don’t gain that weight from quitting!
- Plus side of not smoking: not smelling bad!! If I go somewhere where there’s smoking and my hair smells like smoke…I’ll go home and shower because it’s soooo gross!
- (to me) Remember when we smoked that entire box of clove cigarettes? Gross! (YUP. Someone told us that if you smoked a whole pack in one day, you’d die. We probably wanted to test it out. Can’t believe we’re alive, sometimes.)
Male. 28-years-old. Multiple quits. Smoke-free for over 2 years.
- For me, it was just about going through it with friends. If you can have a person or two to quit with, it really helps to have the support.
- Also, the first week, try to stay away from activities that would usually make the urge to smoke stronger. Like going to bars or drinking to excess in general.
Male. 30-years-old. Multiple quits. Current smoker.
- I think the easiest way to quit smoking is a bullet to the head. Though I’m not speaking from experience.
OH, and check out this incredible post written by a woman who describes beautifully her relationship with cigarettes and why she eventually decided to give them up.
That wraps it up! Do you have any advice for quitters? What works for you? Please share your tips and tricks with all of us in the comments!