There is an old Zen saying:
~ Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
As I sit here reflecting on quitting smoking and life after smoking on my 10th year anniversary, I find that this journey has been truly miraculous and at the same time, extraordinarily ordinary.
Those of you that have been here a while may know my story. Those of you who are newer, this is my story.
I had tried to quit smoking so many times and so many different ways that I lost count. The only thing all of those quits had in common was that I was miserable each and every time and they all ended with me relapsing, thus validating what I already thought, which was that I was a hopeless addict who couldn't quit smoking.
After all of these failed quit attempts, I thought I would give it one last shot, so with that, I slapped on a patch and tried once again. The first day was pretty bad, but somehow I was able to scratch my way through, but on the 2nd day I was having high anxiety and panic attacks that felt overwhelming. After suffering all morning, I decided before lunch time that I couldn't do this and was giving up. I made the decision that when lunch came around, I was going to go across the street to the mini mart and buy a pack of cigarettes. Once again, I had come to the same conclusion. I was just too weak to quit smoking.
So as lunch came, I started to make my way to the store. As I was walking though, I passed by one of the work's computers. Something told me to go to the computer and look for something on the internet to quit smoking. I decided to do so and rationalized that I could look for some miracle pill to help me quit sometime in the future (if I was even going to attempt to quit again), that way I wouldn't feel so guilty for giving up and going to get cigarettes.
I sat down and started searching and I quickly came upon a site called, "WhyQuit.com". My first thought was that the title was a bit patronizing. "Why quit?!!" I thought, "because I need to!!" Intrigued though, I clicked on it and began searching. I stumbled upon a post by John Polito called, " Have You Ever Embraced a Crave?" and I began reading it. As I read the words talking about anxiety and asking how much do we feed this anxiety, I began to step back and look at how I was feeling at that moment with these panic attacks and anxiety. How much of it was me and how much of it was the actual withdrawal? I began to see that quite a bit of it was me! The penny dropped! My anxieties began to be replaced with hopeful excitement! I began reading Joel Spitzer's articles and thinking, " Yes, yes!! That's me! I do that! I think that!"
I read the entire lunch time and I never made it to the store that day. It seems that I did find that "miracle pill", just not in the form I thought it would be. In fact, I was so excited by the end of lunch time that I ripped off the patch right then. I'm not advocating anyone else to do any such thing, that is only what I did. I went home that night and read all night at WhyQuit.com. Within a couple of days, I signed up to be a member.
The early days of my quit, I practically lived at WhyQuit.com. I read and re-read articles. I read other veteran member's posts and felt inspired by their words. Old Bob being one of my favorites. You may know his post here that has been re-titled, "Climbing the Rope". I didn't post that much there though. I was more of a sponge soaking in all these new perspectives on smoking/quitting/ and life after smoking.
Within about 6 months I wanted to chat with people about this new awesome freedom I had found, so I decided to go to a Nicotine Anonymous meeting. It was not what I expected and it was quite a somber experience. The people at the meeting didn't seem to share the same excitement I had about being free from this addiction. In fact, I was the last to speak and by that time I didn't really want to, but I did anyway and I shared my experiences and feelings about quitting. After the meeting a few people came up to talk to me and one person asked how I was able to be so positive and confident about quitting smoking. Before I could think, I blurted out, " I lost my fear about this addiction." I think both of us were a bit puzzled about this response. The person asked me what I meant by that, but I didn't know what to say, so I sheepishly just repeated myself. It was then that I began to ask the question, "Why out of all the times I tried to quit was I able to do it this time? What changed?" This is when I really began to think about that.
Since the WhyQuit.com message board was set up to be all "business" I decided to see if there were other message boards a bit more casual. I found Quitsmoking.com and decided to join. It's funny, my first reply was to a lady that was struggling. I replied that she might want to go to WhyQuit.com and read some of the articles. Well that suggestion was met with replies that maybe I should take myself back to where I came from, along with some other derogatory remarks about WhyQuit.com. I replied to a couple of more posts, but thought that maybe this place wasn't for me, so I left.
It was about 5 months later that on a whim I check out the message board again. I saw this hypnotherapist named Ralph creating quite a stir (a whole other conversation), so I joined in the conversations. I noticed people posting had certain questions and concerns that I felt some of Joel's articles would be extremely helpful in answering. I remember though the initial reaction I received the first time I came here, so I created an account under the nic, "UCanQuit" and would post an article that I felt was relevant to the question or concern. I thought that this way, if these articles were met with negative feedback like I experienced the first time I came here, "UCanQuit" would take the brunt of it, I would just quit posting them and that would be that. This time around, these articles were met much more positively. I did this for a while until a few people accused Joel Spitzer of being UCanQuit, so I came clean that it was me.
I still had that question in my head though, "What exactly changed that I was not only able to quit smoking, but fell in love with not smoking?" This is when I started to piece together my thoughts and started writing my own posts on quitting and life after smoking. I spent years here, not because I needed to, to keep my quit, but because I wanted to help pay it forward for the miracle that was given me. I don't get to come here very often anymore. Life is pretty busy and there are new adventures, no to mention that I always seem to have a tough time signing on here.
But as I look back to that day that I decided to sit at the computer at lunch time it truly felt/feels like a miracle, yet the journey that we call life kept chugging along. I remember when I first quit, I had all of these expectations about what life would be after quitting. It was going to be like this and like that, etc., etc. Life was going to be perfect! Yet, after I quit smoking, I was hit with the very real fact that before quitting smoking, life happens. After quitting smoking life happens.
Don't get me wrong, some of my expectations did come to fruition. And with the money I saved (over $36,000) I have been able to do a lot of wonderful things like go to Japan multiple times, I just got back from Hawaii not too long ago, I paid off my car, paid off my credit card debt and bought quite a few luxuries with money in the bank. I've also went back to college and got a degree, I learned a new language among other things.
Yet the other side of life has happened too. Loved ones have died. Both me and my wife have been laid off of work. There was a time within about a 6 month period that I lost my mom, my step-dad (who was like a dad to me), my job, and both my pets. We were at a point when financial uncertainty caused us to put our house on the market, because while we never missed a payment, things weren't looking so good at one point. Thankfully it all worked out.
But through all the good times and the bad times in these last 10 years, there was and is one constant. I didn't/don't HAVE TO smoke through any of them. Whether I was/am happy, worried, excited, angry, or sad; through these 10 years I have lived my life on my terms, not nicotine's. And for that I am very grateful.
I'm not sharing this anniversary here as some accomplishment, because after a certain amount of time, I'm not really doing anything. I didn't "make it" to 10 years, 10 years have simply passed since I quit smoking. For me, not smoking is as natural as breathing and smoking is a complete non-issue in my life and it has been that way for many, many years. So I'm not proud that I quit smoking as so much as I am grateful to have been able to free myself not only from this addiction, but my belief in this addiction. And that is what I hope for everyone here. I just hope to inspire that yes you can quit and stay quit!
This is something that I really want to stress to the newer quitters. I was a person who thought he was too weak to quit smoking. I thought I was different than other people, that while others could quit, I couldn't. This addiction was much too powerful for me to break free of. I really thought all of these things. Before that miraculous day, I had pretty much resigned to the fact that not only was I going to die a smoker, but there was a good chance that I would die from smoking. What changed for me was the realization that I didn't necassarily need to be stronger, but smarter, and with that understanding it gave me strength.
And when I first quit smoking I had questions, concerns, doubts, and even a certain amount of fear. Like everyone else, I went through withdrawal. I had to deal with those pesky craves and I had the thoughts to smoke too. Even when that penny dropped and my outlook on quitting changed, I still had all those years of conditioning from addiction to go through.
So my question is, are any of these things I mentioned happening to you? Do you have similar thoughts? Doubts? Maybe you also have questions and are a little scared about this journey into the unknown? It's OK. I just want to say, it's OK. But just have faith in yourself that you can do this. As MLK jr. once said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
So what changed? Quite simply, my mind did. I changed my mind about smoking. I once read a woman say that fear is only misguided faith. And for me, that misguided faith was in the cigarette. It was the belief that the cigarette did something for me rather than to me. Taking back my belief that I held in the cigarette and putting that belief within myself changed everything.
And so before quitting smoking, chop wood, carry water. After quitting smoking, chop wood, carry water. I think what I have found is that the miraculous lies within the ordinary. Life wasn't perfect before I quit smoking and life hasn't been perfect since I quit smoking. The miraculous doesn't lie in life now being perfect, but experiencing all the imperfections of life without the need to smoke being so very ordinary. It is natural. And for a former heavy smoker like myself, it is that which is miraculous.