Lifting the Nicotine Fog: logo with tag Imagine More

An Update: Lifting the Nicotine Fog

smoker at graveyard

This is an update. I originally published this September 16, 2015. I quit smoking, "cold turkey" on April 10, 2015. It was easy because in December of 2014, I got sick: as sick as I can ever remember being. It lasted until I quit smoking. I owe my success in quitting to that illness.

A nicotine fog is more than smoke that fills a room, it's a fog that clouds your brain.

Nicotine fools you into believing that although you want to quit, you can't. The bad news is that there are a lot of cigarette substitutes on the market today that keep the addiction going. I quit cold turkey. You can, too, by changing one word and flipping two words of the sentence, "I want to quit but I can't" to "I can smoke, but I don't want to."

I thought it was just a cold.

I rarely get colds which is why I never thought smoking was really affecting me. Of course, I had that morning smoker’s cough—well several-times-a-day cough—but it was like clearing my throat and was no real problem.

Then, I thought it was some weird flu bug. I’d be quite sick for a week or so and then I’d start feeling better. Then I’d get sick all over again. I coughed so hard that I was waiting to start coughing blood but it didn’t happen. I could have gone to the doctor, but I didn’t want to hear that it was only a cold or the flu and, “Thanks for coming in. Leave your $$$ at the reception desk.” I also didn’t want to hear my doctor bitch about smoking. After all, I was getting enough of that from the TV commercials.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that smoking is a vile, dirty habit. Any smoker who has knocked over a full ashtray, burnt a hole in something precious, or mowed up more cigarette butts than grass will agree. Still, you can't shame or nag smokers into quitting. Like any addict, smokers quit when they reach the "bottom" not on well-meaning advice.

I had tried to quit smoking several times, using several methods.

Nothing worked. I tried nicotine gum. I also tried the lozenges and hated them. I tried the patch. I found that, although I didn’t like the raw spots on my skin, I could smoke as well with them as without them. The same went for the gum and the lozenges. I guess you could say I was a hard core smoker.

I made a substantial cut back. Fifteen years ago, I did quit smoking inside my home. At that point I thought I would never quit altogether. I told myself I enjoyed smoking. I just didn't want the nicotine in our home, dirtying up the walls. I never minded going outside or in the winter going to our porch to smoke.

Then about five years ago, I had a breast cancer scare. Although I finally admitted that I should quit , I was sure, after smoking for 45 years, I didn't have the willpower. Besides, if the first cancer scare wasn't enough to make me quit, chances were nothing would be. I resigned myself to be a smoker until my dying day.

I cut back further. I had good reasons to quit besides my own health concerns. My husband has a heart problem and I worried about the effect second hand smoke might have on his health. Although I no longer smoked in the house, he still had to walk through the porch on the way in or out. Additionally, I did still smoke in the car.

Moreover, the dog didn't like being around cigarette smoke. I worried about the effects smoking had on him as well. I cut back to 4 to 5 cigarettes a day. For those of you who don't smoke, that's about a pack and a half per week. Even cutting back was hard. Lighting up was such a habit that I often forgot that I was trying not to smoke. Even so, for the final couple of years, I rarely smoked a whole cigarette at one time.

Over the years, it had become more and more difficult to breathe.

For several years, I attributed shortness of breath to my weight. The last year, walking the dog around the block would take my breath away. In the Minnesota winter, I spent the first block coughing as my lungs tried to adjust to the cold. Shortness of breath was also making me lose control of my bladder. It's ironic that I didn't realize that until after I quit smoking. In fact, I didn't relate many tobacco-based problems to smoking until after I stopped.

When I had cut down to less than four cigarettes a day, I decided to try to quit smoking at some time in the near future. Still, I found reasons to delay. I figured that since I was smoking less, I was getting healthier. At least, I thought, I was healthier than I had been when I smoked two packs (40 cigarettes) a day. The first thing I wanted to do was work at losing weight. If I gained weight from quitting smoking, I resolved to, at least, not end up heavier than I was before I quit. Then, in December I got sick.

This on-again/off-again illness lasted until April. (I am a stubborn, slow learner.) On April 10, every single draw on a cigarette sent me into spasms of coughing. I couldn’t breath. Smoking was scaring me nearly to death. I knew that if I couldn't quit, smoking was going to kill me.

Quitting wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. If I smoked, I couldn’t breath. I mean, I really couldn’t breath. I resolved that if I kicked this 50-year habit, I would use the memory of gasping for breath and the discomfort of coughing spasms to keep me smoke free.

Finally, I had made the right choice.

I chose to breathe. In the aftermath. I didn't gain weight. I stayed true to my resolve. Food does taste better, especially fruit. I began eating more of it. I drink less coffee. I broke the cycle of fill up the cup and go have a smoke.

I don't cough any more. My husband commented the other day that he hadn't heard me cough for a long time. It felt myself blush with pride at the unexpected compliment.

Have you ever wished for more time? I still get 24 hours in a day, but I have way more time than I used to. All those trips to the front porch to light up, even for only a couple of puffs, used up hours of my time!

I know I'm saving money. These days my brand of cigarettes retails for $7.12 a pack. In Minnesota, the cheapest brand is over $5.00 and top of the range is over $10.00. Still, it isn't the savings that make smoking worthwhile. It's not having to skip buying other things so that I have enough for cigarettes. (Further Update: I am happy to no longer be sure of the price of a pack of cigarettes.)

If you are a smoker, my story will likely not give you the push you need to quit. Everyone has to dig their own way out of the pit. Over the years, I saw gobs of scary things that should have made me want to quit. What finally made me quit was that I scared myself. If you're a smoker, you will have to find the demon that scares the desire to smoke out of you.

Yet, if you have committed to trying to quit or are in the midst of quitting, these tips may help.

How non-smokers can help smokers

If you are reading this and you are a non-smoker, please take it easy on the smokers in your life. If they're like me, the more you nag, the longer they will smoke. Quitting smoking is a horrible demon to face, but a smoker has to face it alone. It's almost impossible to do it with someone looking over your shoulder, even if they have the best of intentions.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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