How I Quit Smoking and Became Healthy
In a few months I will be 68 years old, the age at which my father passed away from heart disease. Yet, in spite of his genetic contribution I am a very healthy person. I do not require any prescription drugs; I am an active sports enthusiast, baseball in the summer and basketball in the winter; I sleep well and never lack the energy I need to do all the things that I want. But I wasn’t always this way.
I used to be a smoker. Unlike most of my friends I actually made it through high school and University without smoking but the desire to smoke marijuana without choking started me on the path of a habitual smoker. I originally used cigarettes to teach myself how to inhale smoke and in the late sixties and early seventies I became quite proficient at smoking both regular cigarettes and marijuana. Pot and I did not get along too well so I gave it up but I found that I could not give up cigarettes as easily. I was a pack-a-day smoker; that is, I smoked a pack of 25 cigarettes each day and lied about the extra 5 cigarettes I smoked during the same day.
In my youthful days of smoking cigarettes I worked very hard long hours, drank much more alcohol than was necessary and the thought of exercise never crossed my mind. I had not played any sports since my 2nd year of University. In your late twenties and early thirties you think of yourself as indestructible. I was strong. I could put in a 12 hour shift at the Pharmacy and go out that same evening until the wee hours and be back in the pharmacy the next morning feeling no pain.
I smoked for about 20 years until I was approached by the manager of the store manager of the supermarket across the street when it was known as Miracle Mart. I was working in the pharmacy and used to sneak puffs in between filling prescriptions. The store manager wanted to stop smoking and he asked me to quit with him for support. I didn’t want to quit because at that time I really enjoyed smoking. However, a few days later I was shoveling the snow and I felt a sudden pain in the vicinity of my heart. It was probably just a gas pain but I started to change my mind. Eventually we agreed on a contest. We would each put $500 in a safety deposit box and if one of us started smoking again, the other would take home the $1000. After 6 months without a cigarette we both took our money back and neither one of us has smoked since. But it was not as easy as it sounds.
To this day I remember vividly the very last cigarette I smoked. It was 11 pm and I was now going to bed with the thought that when I wake up tomorrow I will not be having a cigarette with my coffee. For the next two years I suffered the most horrible withdrawal symptoms you can imagine and the only reason I did not give up and start to smoke again was that I felt I could never go through the withdrawal again.
It is very important that you understand that the majority of people who quit do not succeed on their first try. In fact, the average person usually makes 3 attempts before they succeed. This was my first time. I just quit cold turkey and at that time nicotine patches were not even available. I tried the gum for a few days but I couldn’t stand it. The horror story of my withdrawal is a result of a first and final attempt after 20 years of smoking.
Quitting smoking is not a single thing but a multi-stage process that requires constant vigilance. At first you learn to quit smoking at home and this was very difficult for me because my wife was still smoking. Now you go to work and the mindset from home does not apply here. You must reteach yourself that you also will not smoke in this environment. Once you have mastered home and work comes that first night out with friends and you sit there totally uncomfortable and squirming in your seat finding that your easy relaxed manner with them has gone out the window and all you feel is tension and anxiety. When I smoked everyone smoked in bars, restaurants and even on planes and your first visit to a restaurant or bar is torture. Once again every new environment forces you to reinforce your goal and you must relearn how not to smoke in these places. The final and most painful destination I could not smoke was my first smokeless vacation.
All I felt was anger and frustration. I was convinced that smokers were the only ones who went out to bars and restaurants and took vacations and that non-smokers were party-poopers who just stayed at home and never went out. I was angry.
My anger and edginess was so intense that everyone around me, friends, relatives co-workers pleaded with me to start smoking again. If I was murdered the police would never have solved the crime because there would have been hundreds of suspects all with a very good motive.
The Long Winding Road to Good Health
One day after completely destroying a garage door I knew I had to do something to relieve the built up tension caused by my addiction to cigarettes. Sometimes when you have an argument you just run out the door and I soon found that by running out that door and running up the street the cravings went away. Of course I was in horrible shape and I could not run for long but I could alternately power walk and sprint and when I got home I felt really good and the cravings were gone. I didn’t know it at the time but my exercise regimen had begun.
Very often as the evening dragged on, even with exercise I would have the cravings and so I would just go to bed, sometime as early as 9pm. And so in a strange and not too subtle way I was now exercising and getting more rest. No more burning the candle at both ends.
Smoking is a very oral process; you are constantly sticking this cigarette into your mouth. Without any cigarettes your oral fixation changes to food. A person who quits smoking finds that nothing takes away the cravings better than shoving handfuls of food into your mouth. But in a very short period of time that weight starts to pile on. It seems that those handfuls of cashews and the bags of potato chips are just a little fattening and in order to stop yourself from becoming overweight you find yourself looking for healthier snacks.
And once again, even though the intention was not there I am not just exercising but I am eating healthier snack food.
I mentioned earlier that first vacation without a cigarette. I made up for those cigarettes with copious amounts of food and alcohol and continued that way for a while after I came back until I found 189 pounds on this body that always stayed around the 165 pound mark. On my afternoons off, lunch would consist of hot dogs and beer and many afternoons at the pool I would consume a whole bottle of wine and just fall asleep. I deserved those 189 pounds and I decided to do something about it. I started having salads for lunch and I found that I could actually drink water at the pool instead of wine. I started taking salads to work instead of sandwiches. I snacked on peanuts in the shell because they required work and I could not just swallow a mouthful. I started eating lots of fruit, red grapes in particular because they kept me full and were not fattening. I had fallen into a state of health and I did not know it. I was still working as a pharmacist and this was years before I even thought of opening a health food store.
Finally, two years after my last cigarette the cravings are gone. In fact each year since then I become more irritated by cigarette smoke. Eventually I got myself back to my healthy 165 pounds and you think everything has worked out. And then along comes age. Unfortunately as we age our metabolism slows down and if we eat the exact same amount of food each year we will actually gain 5 pounds a year. More cutbacks. At least the kids are older now so you no longer take them to fast food restaurants where you snack on their fries. You start to go out less and you even check the menu more carefully. The balsamic salad instead of the Caesar; fish instead of steak or pasta. No more sharing a whole bottle of wine with your spouse at dinner. A glass will do. You can drink that whole bottle on those occasions when you go out for dinner. Desert is a thing of the past and the coffee shop is for coffee only, not high caloric barista concoctions at Starbucks or donuts at Tim Horton’s.
It was never my intention to get healthy but it all happened because I quit smoking. I did not learn how to quit smoking any more than I learned how to eat healthy foods. What I learned was discipline. The discipline to make sacrifices in order to achieve your goals. That is why I know that if I go through a period of time in which I hardly exercise and start to eat some of the wrong foods it will be easy for me to get back on track because I learned how to discipline myself.
When I first quit smoking I was very disappointed. I missed my cigarette with a coffee or drink so badly. I was still coughing and my breathing did not seem that much better. But I was impatient and did not realize at the time that this is a long haul. Stopping smoking was one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I ever did and it never occurred to me at the time that this would be such a factor in my good health today.
Everybody has their own way of doing things and maybe by sharing my story with others one more person will be encouraged to quit smoking.