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An Update: Lifting the Nicotine Fog

by Linda Jenkinson |

smoker at graveyard

This is an update. I originally published this on September 16 of last year. 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 just 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 simply 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 just like clearing my throat and was no real problem.

Then, I thought it was just some weird flu bug. I’d be really 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 just a cold or the flu and, “Thanks for coming in. Just 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 just mowed up more cigarette butts than grass could agree. Still, I don't think you can shame or nag most smokers into quitting.Just like any addiction, people quit smoking when they are at their bottom not when they hear about somebody else's problems.

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 and found that, although I didn’t like the raw spots from the patches, I could smoke just 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 did cut back substantially. Fifteen years ago I quit smoking inside my home. At that point I thought I would never quit smoking. 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 5 years ago, I had a breast cancer scare. Although I finally admitted to myself that I wanted to quit , I was also pretty sure that after smoking for 45 years, I didn't have the willpower to quit. 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 decided to at least cut back. I had good reasons to quit in addition to my own health concerns. My husband has a heart problem and I was concerned about the effect my "second hand" smoke may have had on his health. Although I didn't smoke in the house, he still had to walk through the porch to get through the front door and I did smoke in the car.

Moreover, the dog doesn't like being around cigarette smoke and I worried about the effects smoking had on him. I slowly cut back from a two pack a day smoker 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 had become so habitual that I often forgot that I was trying not to smoke.Even so, for the last 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 couple of years, 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 temperatures. 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, there were a lot of tobacco-based health problemsthat I didn't relate to my habit until after I had quit.

When I had cut down to less that 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 (erroneously) that since I was smoking so much less, I was probably getting healthier or at least healthier than I had been when I smoked two packs (40 cigarettes) per day. The first thing I wanted to do was work at losing some weight. If I was going to gain weight from quitting smoking, I resolved to only “gain it back" and not become any heavier than I already was.Then, last December I got sick.

This on-again/off-again illness lasted until April. (I am apparently 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 would kill me one way or another.

Quitting wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be because if I smoked, I couldn’t breath. I mean, I really couldn’t breath. I resolved that if I was able to kick a 50-year habit, I would use the memory of my inability to breathe and the discomfort of the 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. Began eating more things like fruit. Food does taste better, especially fruit. I drink less coffee. I have broken 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 or a long time. It was as good of a compliment as if he had said I was beautiful.

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 just a couple of puffs, sure used up the 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.Update: I am happy to no longer know for sure the price of a pack of cigarettes.

If you are a smoker, I don't think my story will give you the push you need to quit. I've seen lots of scary things that should have made me want to quit, but what made me quit was that I scared myself. If you're a smoker, I imagine you will have to find what scares the desire to smoke out of you.

Yet, if you are committed to trying to quit or in the midst of quitting here are a few tips that may help.

  1. Most importantly, do it your way. This is really a "my way or the highway" situation. Ignore these tips and any other well-meaning advice that you think won't work for you. If you think something won't work, it won't.
  2. Know why you are quitting and the reason has something to do with you, not "for" your husband, your kids, your dog, or anybody else. Remind yourself of your reason every time you are tempted to light up.
  3. One site says it is imperative to set a quit date. No it isn't. I didn't. I just quit.Mostly because I couldn't smoke and breathe at the same time, but I did quit on the spur of the moment.
  4. I didn't tell anyone I had quit until I was sure I was going to make it this time. I didn't want anyone's encouragement or helpful hints and I didn't want to feel the humiliation if I failed again.
  5. Most people will tell you to throw out your cigarettes. I didn't. I still have a pack and a half in our freezer. Every time I want to light one up, I remember how totally miserable I was. How I couldn't stop coughing long enough to get my breath and how afraid I was I would be coughing up blood, although I never did. The reason I don't throw them out is because I am the kind of person that will go through old pockets and even trash looking for butts if I want to smoke one. I will never need to do that again, because I have plenty of cigarettes to smoke. I can smoke them, I just don't want to right now. (I threw them out this year in April)
  6. Before you quit, start thinking about things you don't have time to do. When you quit, you will have time for them.

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 nearly impossible to do with someone looking over your shoulder, even if they have the best intentions.


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