I smoked for more than 44 years and knew I needed to stop. I had smoking-induced asthma. My parents, both heavy smokers, died of smoking-related diseases. Secondhand smoke contributed mightily to my four children’s recurring upper respiratory ailments in their younger years. Yet I continued to smoke.
Every winter I dealt with pleurisy attacks from breathing cold air. I had to lie flat on my back for days, the slightest movement sending knifelike pains through my chest. After I’d recovered, the first thing I reached for was a cigarette. And there were the occasional visits to the hospital ER, where I’d get an injection of adrenaline to jump-start my breathing. I endured untold bouts of asthmatic bronchitis. Violent coughing spasms sent me straight to the toilet bowl, each heave accompanied by the vow, “I’ll never smoke again!” It was a vow I never kept.
Did I ever try to quit? Of course. Most attempts were only halfhearted because I was constantly searching for the magic bullet that would instantaneously zap me from smoker to nonsmoker.
That all changed on April 27, 2001, the day I said goodbye to nicotine. I’d finally had it. My motivation? No money for cigs or nicotine patches and a long overdue explosion of more than 44 years’ worth of pent-up anger at myself, at addiction, at nicotine. I shredded the remains of my last pack of smokes into the waste-basket, grabbed a bottle of water, took a deep breath, and prayed, “You have to help me, Lord. I’ll do my part by not smoking if you help me deal with stress.” Believe it or not, from that first day my life did change: Every time I craved a smoke or felt stress creeping in, I’d swig on that bottle of water and/or deep-breathe my way through it, but I didn’t smoke.
Then, browsing the Internet a few weeks into my recovery, I found WebMD’s Smoking Cessation Support Group Message Board. I lurked for several days, reading messages, getting a feel for the place. The posters seemed like regular folks helping each other quit and stay off cigarettes. They talked one another through stressful times and celebrated large and small victories over demon nicotine.