By Heather Mullinix
I was sitting at a table on the patio of the restaurant and my friend's pack of cigarettes was just sitting there, within easy reach. It would be so easy to reach over, grab one and light up.
I hadn't had a cigarette in months — about eight months, to be precise — and I wanted one. It had been one of those days, preceded by one of those weeks in a month that was quickly becoming one of those months. Surely one single cigarette wouldn't hurt me.
There it was, the first lie an ex-smoker tells herself.
I sometimes suffer from a distinct lack of will power, as my behavior on birthday cake day at work will prove. And I caved.
Before my friends, smokers and non-smokers alike, could react, I had the cigarette in my hand, with the lighter in the other. I lit the tiny little batch of nicotine. The flame caught and I inhaled, deeply, waiting for the rush that follows that first hit of nicotine after you've been away from it for a while.
And then I started coughing. One little puff, and this former pack-a-day smoker was coughing and hacking like I had never inhaled before. Then the nicotine did hit, and a wave of nausea washed over me.
I put the cigarette out and felt ashamed. All my months of not smoking, after the difficulty of quitting to begin with, had been lost in that one little action.
Except it wasn't.
The silver lining of this little scene was that I didn't like the cigarette. It actually did make me physically ill to take one puff. I don't want another cigarette, and that horrible memory is going to stick with me the next time I get a nicotine hankering.
This week is the one-year mark of when I made the decision that I no longer wanted to be chained to my cigarettes. I wanted to be able to leave my house, or my car, without making sure a pack was secured in my pocket or purse, along with a working lighter. I wanted to be able to save that $5 a pack cost, which I was paying every day. I wanted to be able to walk to the end of the street and not have to stop to catch my breath.
I wanted to be free of this addiction that had been with me for almost half my life.
I'm so glad I did. After I quit smoking, I rediscovered a few things about myself, like the fact I like to be active. I like having the energy to go home and ride my bike or walk my dog and not have to stop and cough up a lung. I like seeing the money that isn't being spent on a substance that would eventually kill me. I like being able to go on car rides with my friends and family who do not smoke and not having to take rest stops so that I can smoke.
I also like that, by sharing my story of quitting months ago, others were encouraged to give quitting smoking another shot.
For those who have been quit a year, you get to enjoy a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, which is now half that of a continuing smoker. I made it through cold and flu season without a major respiratory infection, and my smoker's cough was no more.
There's a few other benefits, as well. I didn't have to brave the freezing cold of the polar vortex this winter out on the smoker's porch. I also had to learn to deal with my stress in a more productive way. Before, I'd go have a smoke. Now, I have to deal with the source of my stress. Am I feeling overwhelmed? I'll make a list of what needs to be done, and mark those items that really need to be done first. I've written thousands of to-do lists in the last year. It's calming.
Or, I'll call up a friend and talk. I've had other friends give up smoking, as well, and they are wonderful shoulders to lean on when I'm feeling weak willed. They say only about 7 percent of people who quit smoking without support make it to the one-year mark. I would likely be among the 97 percent without the support and encouragement of my friends, families and coworkers, who weren't exactly thrilled at the idea of me quitting smoking, but are happing now that it's done.
Of course, this quitting smoking thing is a one-day-at-a-time journey. I've had others who have quit for many years share that, every now and again, they'll catch the scent of cigarette smoke wafting through the air, and the old familiar urge to smoke comes roaring back, but those incidents get fewer and fewer with each passing year.
So, I'm still an ex-smoker, taking it one day at a time and fighting some of those same battles over and over again that I fought in the first few months after I quit, but the fight has gotten a lot easier. In fact, 99.9 percent of the time, it isn't even a fight anymore. And I'm going to stay vigilant against that .1 percent that creeps up here and there.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at email@example.com.