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Cold turkey

As much as I’m not a practitioner of new year’s resolutions, I can understand them. And, I’m betting, a ton of folk have added to their list of resolutions for 2010, “Quit Smoking.”

I’d like to tell my story about how I quit smoking.

I smoked since I was a teenager. Always was a chipper (learned that term from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point). Kept my cigarette consumption to about five or fewer a day, except when I partied and hung out with other smokers, which, actually, was quite often. I could smoke a half pack or a pack in an evening back then.

But for the most part, I was a chipper. Had a cigarette here and there. In the car while driving. Gosh, come to think of it, I even smoked IN my office and in front of clients. Yeesh. I must be old to remember those days. 🙂

Then I met my husband. Well, he’s my ex-husband now. But for awhile he was my boyfriend, then husband. He was Israeli, handsome as all get-out and he smoked like a maniac … I mean, he smoked like a Mediterranean man. (Tobacco smelled good on him!)  Even our first conversation was over coffee and cigarettes. It was beautiful. We were in the mountains of West Virginia, and were both at the same retreat center for different reasons. He invited me to join him in the sun for a cup of coffee. There we drank hot coffee and smoked cigarette after cigarette, talking and getting to know each other.

As our relationship developed and our time together increased, I became A Bonafide Big-time Smoker. I started smoking about a pack a day after a couple decades of a couple cigarettes a day and more when partying. My boundaries around smoking shifted. I smoked in the morning, which I’d never done before. I smoked in the bedroom, which had been a sacred, smoke-free zone before. I smoked in teh office. I smoked all day and all night.

And, while this is a story with many more chapters, I’ll cut to the part where our relationship ended. Because when it ended, I found myself without a home, with but two suitcases of clothes (that I didn’t even like) and with not only not a penny to my name, but some pretty hardcore debt that while shared in its creation was mine in name. I was depleted. Exhausted. Lost. Confused.

Plus, I was now A Bonafide Big-time Smoker.

At first after the separation, I kept smoking as I had been before. Well, a little less than before, as I no longer had all the lifestyle/habit/situation elements that had triggered smoking before. But I was still puff-puff-puffing.

I started to notice that without all the lifestyle elements triggering my desire to smoke, i.e. prior activities with and around my soon-to-be-ex-husband, I was developing an awareness of my interior experience of when I wanted a cigarette. I noticed a sudden urge to smoke when I felt sad. Or vulnerable. Or hopeless. I especially noticed the desire to smoke when I felt mad, which, I’m betting, is some twisted version of feeling sad and vulnerable with a few other things thrown into the mix for good measure.


I thought, “My, isn’t that a curious thing? It’s as though my body chemistry is placating itself with the cigarettes and resulting physical experience.” I watched with fascination as my desire moved up and down with my emotions. And I then started to understand what, for me, was one of the most important elements in how I came to quit smoking: I realized that cigarettes were my dear friends when my emotions were leaning toward darkness.

And, inside that understanding, I was able to explore my own life and decide who I wanted to be. I knew I was in transition. I knew I’d been through the ringer. I knew I had choices to make (didn’t know which ones yet, but that something had to be different if I were to find myself again). I knew I wanted vitality and joy.

I honored and respected each cigarette I’d smoked over the years as a friend. As one who’d kept me company and been by my side. As one who’d sit with my dark emotions and not run away. As one who’d shared good times and lots of laughter with friends. As one who’d kept me company while I worked late into the night. And I loved each and every one of them for who they had been to me. I had no judgment of them. Or me. Equally, I knew I wanted something different. And as countless people have done before me, and countless others may do after me, I made a choice to leave old friends behind and to seek a new path and way of being in the world.

My smoking decelerated quickly. And then I met Eric.

Eric was hot. As in, crazy hot. We met, both dressed as Vikings as part of Fourth of July parade. He with his He-man bigness, bald head, Viking hat, bare chest and leather vest … along with shorts, tennis shoes and sunglasses. Me in some I-threw-it-together Girl-Viking outfit plus my Uggs and mud slathered on my face and body for effect. He looked at me. I looked at him. And I knew this man wanted me. And I was happy about it.

Thing is, Eric didn’t smoke cigarettes. He was a two-pack-a-day guy many years back and even had ashtrays around his place to accommodate his friends who smoked. But when I met him, he didn’t smoke. And I wanted to be intimate — very intimate — with this man.

That was the trigger for me. The final push. After decades of chipper smoking and a spate of time where I smoked a pack a day, I quit smoking within less than two days of meeting him. And other than the one cigarette I had the first time I ever drank vodka and Red Bull and somehow managed to put down six — count ’em — six drinks in one night before telling my friends I needed to take a nap (in a public bar, no less!), I haven’t had a cigarette since.

In the beginning of my Quitting Time, I would sometimes feel the urge. It would come on strong and intense when it did. Just a few days ago I was wishing I was a smoker so I could quell the emotions I was feeling. I probably made myself a nice big bowl of popcorn instead.

But, overall, I have to say: I loved smoking and being a smoker. I truly enjoyed it. I absolutely loved quitting and the process I went through and experience I had. And I am delighted beyond measure that I don’t smoke now … and don’t see any reason why I would start again. (Although I do consume a heck of a lot more sugar and popcorn these days.)

The long and the short of it: once I decided that being a non-smoker was a higher desire than being a smoker, the process of quitting was 1,000 times easier. Every time the desire to smoke rose up, I checked in on my decision and looked at that desire and how it aligned, or didn’t align, with my own internal preference to be a non-smoker.

Quitting was remarkably easy then.

See, for as many times as I had previously had the thought, “I shouldn‘t smoke,” that had no internal weight. It carried judgment, alright. And logic. Smoking stinks. It harms my health. La-de-da. Endless list of reasons why I shouldn‘t smoke. But such thoughts did nothing to motivate me.

I had to make the decision for myself. It wasn’t about facts, or logic, or some ad campaign from an anti-smoking group. Or societal pressure to quit smoking. It was my decision. And I don’t think I could have gotten to it without recognizing first the value and connection cigarettes had provided me. It was critical to me that I embrace them fully before I could let them go.

Well, that’s my story about how I quit smoking, cold turkey.

Rock on.

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