Young and Free!

As a child I hated cigarettes. Both of my parents smoked and I thought it was the most disgusting thing. There was always smoke everywhere. Even all of my parents friends smoked. I remember my grandma was always nagging my parents and my grandfather to quit. I could not understand why they smoked. I hated it the most when we were in the car. I felt trapped and suffocated by the smoke and I would dramatically stick my head out the window and gasp for air, my mother rolling her eyes and my father giving me a stern look. I wanted them to know how it made me feel, but they always acted like it was me who had the problem and I was overreacting. So sometimes I played tricks on them. I would take my mom's pack of cigarettes and break them all, then put all of the broken pieces back in the pack and put it back in her purse. Or I would take all but one cigarette and flush them down the toilet. I thought if they knew how much I hated it then I could make them quit. But it didn't make them quit, it only made them mad.

Despite how much I hated smoking, I became a smoker at the age of thirteen. My friends were trying it and I have to admit I was curious as to what all the hype was about. I liked the little buzz I got and I also liked being a part of the rebellious crowd in school. Soon we always had cigarettes. My friends were very good at stealing from stores and from their parents. Even when the laws got tougher regarding selling cigarettes to minors, we always found a way. When my mom found out I smoked, she cried. After she got used to the idea, though, she would buy them for me.

Being a nicotine addict in a non-smoking high school did not work very well for me. I did not particularly like going seven or eight hours without a cigarette. I would sneak cigarettes in the bathrooms, on the bus, in the hallways, on the track while "running" during gym class, and outside during breaks. Once I even smoked in class, in a part of the classroom where the teacher could not see me. I also started ditching class altogether. I remember being in school and having this overwhelming urge to just get out. I would find a friend and we would sneak out. I realize now that the overwhelming urge I felt was the urge to smoke. I got caught sometimes for ditching and smoking and I got a lot of detentions, but that did not stop me.

Smoking was also a problem at work. At a waitressing job I was always waiting for a slow moment so I could sneak away to the bathroom and smoke. It was impossible to deal with the customers and the stress without my nicotine. At an office job I had, I was supposed to tell an older woman when I was going to take a break so she could take over answering the phone. It was just my luck that this woman's husband had recently died of cancer. She was still grieving and seemed outraged that I was going out to smoke. Every time I told her I was going to take a break, she would give me this awful look and either sigh or act like she was mad at me. Sometimes I got a lecture. I felt awful about it but I still wanted to smoke. After a couple years I quit the job instead of quitting smoking.

In two of my long-term relationships, my boyfriends did not smoke cigarettes or use any kind of nicotine. I thought I was better than them and that I was in control because I only smoked cigarettes and they were doing worse things than that, like drinking lots of alcohol or smoking marijuana. I was always nagging them to stop their behavior because it was affecting me, yet I got offended when they did not want me to smoke in their cars and did not want to sit in the smoking section at restaurants.

Around non-smokers I felt guilty, shameful, and weak. I felt like an outcast, like I was different. I was not one of those normal people. They did not understand my world. I did not like going to people's houses where I could not smoke. I actually thought it was rude that my family members and friends would not accommodate my addiction. I gave no thought to the fact that I wanted to expose them to the deadly chemicals in my second-hand smoke. I chose my friends according to who would put up with my smoking. I spent as little time with non-smokers as possible.

I really hated going to the doctor and the dentist. It was too big of a reality check for me. When I was sick, I would avoid going to the doctor at all costs. I would only go as a last resort when I knew I needed some medicine. I knew the doctor was thinking about how awful it was that I was doing this to my body and how unhealthy I was. I knew that when he was listening to my breathing through the stethoscope, he was hearing how unhealthy my lungs were. Images of black, charred smoker's lungs popped into my head and haunted me. It was easier to deny the damage I was doing to myself because the worst of it was internal. I could not see it with my eyes, and neither could anyone else. But the doctor knew. It was his job to know. That made me feel exposed - someone else knew that I was slowly killing myself. Someone else knew the truth - that I didn't like or love myself enough to treat my body well.

One night I decided I had had enough of nicotine. It was controlling my life. I knew I was hooked and that scared me. It was also getting too expensive and I was really starting to hate being labeled a smoker. "Smoker" was becoming a dirty word in society. I decided to quit. In a spur of the moment decision, I broke all of my cigarettes so they were no longer smokable. I threw them away, said goodbye to them once and for all, and went back to watching television. After a couple hours I started to get restless and started to feel the craving. I didn't know what to do with myself. I couldn't even sleep. Soon I was on my way to the gas station to buy more.

I also tried to control my addiction by switching brands and switching to "light" cigarettes. My first brand was a full strength menthol. After a couple years, my chest started to hurt when I smoked so I figured they were too strong for me. I switched to a menthol light brand, and then to a different menthol light. After awhile my chest was hurting from those also. I figured it must be the menthol, so I gave that up and switched to a non-menthol light brand. Instead of accepting that it was the mix of nicotine and other deadly chemicals I was putting into my body that was causing my pain, I tried to bargain with my addiction.

About nine years into my smoking career, I started to have serious thoughts of quitting for good. I really wanted to but had never thought seriously about it before because I did not believe it was even possible. I could not imagine my life without cigarettes. I thought about quitting for a whole year before putting my plan into action. After approximately ten years of smoking, I decided to quit.

My plan was to quit with the aid of a stop-smoking medication. The first couple weeks were the worst. Although I could tell that the medication was helping at times, for most of the first couple weeks I could not function. I slept a lot and ate a lot. I had a constant headache, acted very irrational, and basically hated the world. I was also grieving the loss of my cigarettes. I felt like I had just lost my best friend, or like someone had just cut off my right arm. My nicotine had always been there for me when I needed it - right there in my purse, in my pocket, on the table next to my bed, or as close as the nearest gas station.

Then, a sort of "high" period kicked in. I discovered I could exercise again and joined a gym. I could walk up stairs without getting winded. I did not always reek of smoke and was not always worried about when and where I was going to have a cigarette. I felt free. Other people were as amazed as I was that I had quit. I felt like I had accomplished something great and I was special. My parents, friends, coworkers, and others were not able to quit but I had done it.

Soon, the "high" period wore off and the reality of my life kicked in. It was very hard to live my life without cigarettes. No matter what activity I was doing, I was used to doing it with a cigarette. Therefore, normal everyday activities such as waking up, fixing my hair & putting on makeup, driving, sitting, standing, walking, taking a break, talking on the phone, watching television, sitting at my desk, doing homework, doing housework, having a conversation, or going to sleep became a struggle for me. Even just being in my own house was a struggle for me. I was in college and still living with my mother, who is a smoker. Thankfully, she gave in and went outside to smoke during the first couple months after I quit. Eventually, though, she started smoking in the house again.

I felt cut off from my friends. For a long time I felt I had to stay away from social situations where there was going to be smoke. I knew I would not be able to handle it. I would either start smoking again or just sit there thinking the whole time about how I wanted to smoke and not enjoy myself. I wasn't sure what I would say or how to act because I didn't even know who I was without my cigarettes.

Emotions were a new thing for me. I had no idea how to deal with the emotions I was feeling. Smoking had helped me to stuff my feelings and now I was on an emotional roller coaster. I had started smoking when I was thirteen but I could not remember ever having such intense feelings before in my life. I never knew such emotions even existed inside me. As a smoker, I could never understand why people cried at sad movies and why some people were so emotional about things. Now, I was crying when someone squashed a lightening bug and snapping at people if they looked at me funny. I felt out of control. Everything I did felt like work, even if it was supposed to be fun.

In a nutshell, I felt insane and my life had become unmanageable. Even on the best of days I had an uncomfortable feeling that would not go away. Thoughts of smoking again started to creep back into my brain. I knew that I had come so far and I should not go back. I realized that I had been in denial about my addiction and about some other things in my life. However, denial was starting to look like heaven to me. At least when I was smoking I had a "smokescreen" that protected me so I could be happy and enjoy life sometimes, even if it was an illusion. I just kept telling myself that it would get better soon, but it never seemed to improve.

I was seriously thinking about taking up smoking again. My best friend, who is in recovery in another 12-step program, was visiting me from out of state. Through a series of events that my Higher Power had to have orchestrated, I ended up at some other 12-step meetings with my friend. Although they were not Nicotine Anonymous meetings, I saw myself in the personal stories of the people who spoke at the meetings. Many of them had been through much more than I had because of their addictions, yet they seemed much happier than I was. I started to realize the role that my nicotine addiction was playing in my life. I thought that a 12-step meeting might be good for me, but not the one that my friend was a member of. I had heard of Nicotine Anonymous awhile ago while browsing quit-smoking websites, but at the time I had no idea what it was or what they did there. I did not know they were having meetings in my area, and even if I did know I doubt I would have tried it. But now I wanted to try going to a meeting.

At my first meeting it felt really good to be able to talk about how I was feeling with people who seemed to understand. Before then I didn't think anyone really understood what I was going through with my smoking. At that time, I wasn't sure if I was going to go back to the meeting again or not. The fact that they prayed and talked about "God" and a "Higher Power" really turned me off. I liked the Serenity Prayer because it made sense to me but I didn't like that they said the Lord's Prayer at the end of the meeting. In the end I decided to keep going to meetings but just ignore the "religious" parts. Since then I have accepted the presence of a "Higher Power" in my life, although I have not defined who or what that "Higher Power" is yet. I still do not recite the Lord's Prayer, but no one seems to have a problem with that.

Since I have started going to Nicotine Anonymous, my life has started to change for the better. I am learning how to live my life free of nicotine. Through going to meetings, working the steps, and talking to my sponsor I am taking a close look at the role nicotine played in my life. One of the "benefits" of my smoking was that, as I mentioned before, it created a "smokescreen" between me and the rest of the world. It helped me to stuff my feelings. One reason I needed to stuff my feelings was that many of the relationships in my life were unhealthy or dysfunctional. This smokescreen prevented me from seeing this clearly and allowed me to hide and be in denial. Instead of examining my feelings in a healthy way, I smoked and stayed in unhealthy situations. This caused me to repeat the same mistakes over and over in my life.

Another role that smoking played was to distance me from other people. I am shy and at times self-conscious person and smoking helped to calm my nervousness around people. It also helped to keep people away. In the literal sense, the smoke from my cigarettes kept non-smokers away because they were bothered by the smoke. I would only hang out with other smokers or people who would tolerate my smoking around them. Smoking would give me an excuse to leave because I had to go outside to smoke, or because I had to go and buy more cigarettes. It also distanced me from people in that I was not fully participating in any of the relationships in my life because my feeling were deadened by nicotine. Nicotine cushioned me from the bad things, but it also kept me from fully experiencing the good.

I am very grateful for Nicotine Anonymous. Without it, I am sure I would have started smoking again. This program offers me a way to not only survive my life, but to actually live it and be excited about the journey. I am also very grateful for the people I have met in the fellowship, especially my sponsor. When I feel like I want to smoke or I find myself in the midst of insanity, there are a variety of things I try to do to help myself get through it. I try to talk about it with my sponsor, say the Serenity Prayer, read some of the Nicotine Anonymous literature ("Our Promises" is my favorite), or go to a meeting. Recently, I have even tried praying to my Higher Power. I am very proud to say that today I have been free of nicotine for one year and five months.

Kelly C.
Brookfield, IL

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