Ten Years, One Day at a Time

I knew instinctively that this quit would be different from the others. Instead of quitting when I had run out of cigarettes ("...I'll just finish this carton or this pack, and then I'll stop...") I found myself at my kitchen sink late on a Sunday night wetting a half a pack of perfectly good cigarettes before tossing them in the garbage. It was a truly surreal, out-of-body experience. Prior to that moment, I would NEVER have wasted one precious cigarette, let alone ten or more! That's when the hope that this could be done really sank in.

I'd had a glimmer of that hope the moment I set foot in my first NicA meeting some two or three months earlier. It was there that I heard the same insane thoughts and feelings shared (ALOUD!) that I'd secretly thought and felt on my own for the almost 15 years I'd wanted to quit but couldn't. I attended meetings week after week, torn between wanting desperately to have what these people had (freedom, joy, relief, spiritual connection, good health...) but not really believing that it would be possible for me or that I really wanted to live without cigarettes.

I kept going, smoking up to the minute I walked in the door, lighting up almost immediately after the meeting (when I could be reasonably sure that no one would see me.) I took a literature commitment early on which meant I HAD to show up whether I wanted to or not. That was the best thing I could have done. Except when it came to smoking, I was a really good quitter. Had it not been for a sense of responsibility to the group because I had agreed to this service position, I might not have returned.

I hadn't picked a quit date as was recommended. I frankly just couldn't picture my life without smoking. But my birthday was coming. It was only a few days away and I was suddenly struck with the idea (which I credit to my Higher Power) that I could try to give myself a birthday gift: 24 hours without smoking. It seemed almost impossible, but there I stood at my kitchen sink that Sunday night and I knew the chance was there for me to take.

My birthday was on a Monday. Not a good day under the best of circumstances. I rose that morning to face my daily cup of coffee without a cigarette. I managed to shower, dress, put on my make-up, drive my car and get to a job that I hated all without smoking. I passed the two traffic lights where I would normally have lit up, because I would have had enough time to smoke them AND chew some gum before getting to work. When my mother phoned me that morning to wish me a "Happy Birthday" and asked what I was doing that day I BURST into uncontrollable tears that came on and off (mostly on) for the first three days. My loss was enormous. Indescribable.

That Wednesday, I was able to raise my hand that I had 24 hours. People applauded. It was such a high to know how much I was supported, especially by people who knew exactly what I had accomplished. That first chip was one of the most meaningful gifts I've ever received.

It is hard to believe that ten years have passed... sometimes waiting ten minutes to smoke another cigarette felt like an eternity. As I consider the changes that have occurred in this past decade, it's pretty astounding. First, I have a connection to a Higher Power today, something that I had felt as a child but became increasingly elusive as I entered adolescence and then adulthood. I came to learn so much about myself...how my fears and other feelings became the foundation of my judgmental and controlling behaviors. I learned about and began to practice humility, forgiveness and acceptance. I began to choose faith instead of fear, enabling me to buy a house on my own, chair World Services, and most recently, accept a new job which is completely different from my prior work experience.

I have met so many new friends and expanded my interests. I no longer consider exercise to be getting off the couch and driving to the convenience store for more cigarettes. Instead, I ride my bike to my home group in nice weather and practice yoga. I no longer fantasize about what it's like in other parts of the world or dismiss the idea of traveling as too much money spent on something that won't last. Instead, I've traveled to a variety of places, many completely on my own, not knowing the language. I no longer assume that people don't remember me or that my opinions don't matter. Instead, I express myself and allow myself to be seen and heard. I no longer exaggerate or outright lie. Instead, I am honest and face up to it when I make a mistake. I no longer dwell in what is absent from my life. Instead, I am continuously in awe of all that I have and consciously appreciate with gratitude all the gifts I've been blessed to enjoy. I no longer externalize the blame for my experiences and inhale thousands of chemicals as a way of coping. Instead, I pray, talk to my sponsor and friends, attend meetings and practice these 12 Steps to the best of my ability.

These are just some of the ways my life has been transformed in these past ten years. Stopping smoking was just the beginning. I had no idea that by coming to Nicotine Anonymous I would not only be granted a daily reprieve from the insanity of smoking: the anxiety, shame, fear, but that I'd be handed a blueprint for living with joy, love, compassion, honesty and faith. Thank you Nicotine Anonymous, for these ten years of a renewed life.

In gratitude,
Martha K.
East Quogue, NY

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