On Smoking (Habit, Part 8)

Another guest blog from a beloved client.  Enjoy!

Quitting smoking is easy…I’ve done it a million times. Yeah. That was me. That nasty, smelly, unhealthy, awful habit was mine…on and off…for decades.

I started smoking when I was very young, nearly single digits. I mean, everyone did it. My mom and my stepdad both smoked. It was everywhere. When I was young, you could smoke in restaurants. There weren’t any non-smoking sections yet. Smoking was accepted, normal, and something adults did. It was right up there with drinking alcohol, but more romantic. Growing up Jewish, we drank small amounts of alcohol at some religious celebrations, and my grandpa used to let us dip our pinkies into his whisky, so alcohol didn’t have the same dangerous and taboo feel to it for me.

My big sister gave me my first cigarette. I knew it was wrong and stinky, but it was also cool to have a secret with my big sister. For a long time, I didn’t smoke with her. I don’t remember when I became a regular smoker, but I know I was up to a pack a day by the time I was in high school. Marlboro Reds was my pack of choice. I told myself they were short, so it wasn’t as bad. Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. I started high school just after they got rid of the smoking section on campus. Yes, there was a time when high schools had smoking sections for the students. By the time I graduated, the culture had changed considerably, and we weren’t allowed to smoke on campus at all, not even on the sidewalk.

I remember quitting three times. The first time was after a trip to Europe. I had been weaning myself from cigarettes by eliminating where I could smoke. That was working pretty well. I didn’t smoke at law school. I didn’t take cigarette breaks at work. I didn’t smoke in my apartment. I smoked in my car and I smoked when I was out with friends. We called that “social smoking”.

I was down to one or two cigarettes a day when I went to Europe. They smoke everywhere! I was in Europe for three weeks, smoked a lot while I was there and, by the time I came home, I was back up to a pack a day and I was smoked out. I felt like my pores were saturated with the cigarette stink. Even my clean clothes smelled like cigarettes. After being surrounded by cigarette smoke continuously for so long, I just couldn’t stand the smell of it by the time I left Europe. It was too much and I was sick of it. I didn’t want to see cigarettes and I didn’t want to smell the smoke, much less smoke myself. I was a confirmed non-smoker shortly after that for many years. Then I started smoking again.

The second time I quit was after binge watching Mad Men. I just kept watching it and thinking, “God! Everyone’s clothes and furniture must stink to high heaven! Yuck!” That made a big impression on me and I quit again…temporarily, again. Just like before, it was because of the horrible smell and the idea of being in a smoke-filled room. The thought of it still makes me a little nauseous. This time, the break didn’t last as long and I started smoking again.

Picking up the habit after quitting was like visiting an old friend. Whether it was a craving that I indulged “just this once” or an impulsive “yes” to an offer of a cigarette from a friend, I told myself that I wouldn’t get back up to a pack a day. I told myself I wasn’t addicted, or that I was smoking “healthy” cigarettes that didn’t have all of the chemicals that my old brand had. I told myself all sorts of things to minimize the fact that I was inhaling smoke into my lungs…on purpose. I never got back up to a pack a day, but it was so comfortable to fall back into that rhythm…hop in the car and light up for the drive. It was familiar and there was a relaxing feeling when I smoked. I liked that relaxing feeling.

The third time I quit was at the urging of my children. That one seems to have taken hold. They both hated that I smoked. I don’t remember exactly how it went but, one of them challenged me not to smoke for a week, then it was two weeks, then it was a month. This all happened during one conversation. I promised. I haven’t had a cigarette since and I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the stink or spending the money (those things are expensive!). It has been three years now, I think.

I like that my children challenged me, and I made a promise to them, and I kept it. It is important to me to be a good role model for my children. To be a strong woman. To be a good mother. To be a mother who keeps her promises to them. I don’t know if this promise is as important to them as it was to me, but I know that I don’t want to let my children down. I remember that every time I think about having a cigarette and it stops me. I don’t want to start again for so many reasons, but letting my children down is the one that stops me every time. Who knew?

–Elise Baker, Placer Law Group
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There are a lot of strategies and things that work with changing habits. One that worked for awhile for Elise was deciding locations where she was “allowed” to smoke. Ali did this in her post on not using her phone in the bedroom. This is a useful technique.

At the end of the day, though, sometimes it’s about knowing your purpose. A purpose that is so strong you are willing to commit and figure it out. Why are you changing this habit? Elise’s purpose was to be a strong model to her children. And to keep her word to them. This was strong enough for her to stop and not go back. I have seen people struggle with weight their whole lives only to finally drop it when the doctor told them they were in danger. Purpose. If you want to stop one habit and start a new one, ask why? If you get to a compelling why, it will support you in making the change. And then commit. Many people change challenging habits out of the fact that they “said so.” And it is their word. Commitment. Finally, tell someone. We talked about this in my mom’s blog on changing the way she was walking. The value of accountability cannot be overstated. Elise’s children are watching. Because she promised.

In the end: purpose, commitment, accountability.