By David Rachford as told to Kara Mayer Robinson

I’m turning 51 in March and I’ve never felt better. After decades of smoking on and off, I finally quit for good. It’s been 7 years and I’m still smoke-free. I've lost 25 pounds and improved my metabolic health. I’m healthier than ever. I also feel more confident.

My Path to Quitting

The first time I quit smoking was in my late 20s. I was mostly smoking socially, and it wasn’t too hard to stop. But in my 30s, I went through a rough patch. My mom died, I went through a divorce, and I had a bad back injury. Before I knew it, I was back in the habit of smoking again.

In my 40s, I wanted to quit again. I’d always been committed to health and fitness, and smoking didn’t align with my values.

But starting a family and wanting to be a good example to my kid was the biggest part of my decision to quit.

My dad was a lifelong smoker and he developed emphysema. I saw his health issues from smoking eventually catch up with him, which cost us quality time together. Instead of spending time on an annual fishing trip, I visited him in the hospital after he had a stroke. I wanted it to be different when I became a father.

How I Quit for Good

The first step for me was to change my habits.

I realized that transitions were a main trigger for me. I reached for a cigarette anytime I went from one activity to another, like waking up, leaving for work, going home after work, before meals, and after meals.

So I changed what I did. After work, I stopped going to the gas station where I bought beer and cheap cigarettes. Instead, I went directly to a yoga class  before heading home. I stopped drinking because beer and cigarettes went together for me.

I also replaced old rewards with new ones. I collected my smoking money and put it in a coffee can. At the end of the month, I'd reward myself with a gift like new running shoes. Instead of having a cigarette as a reward, I'd do something physical, like 20 pushups.

The real change for me came when I invited someone into my life who supported my quitting. Before we got married, my wife, Ava, and I moved in together. There’s no hiding a habit like smoking when you live with someone; they will know.

I also told Ava that I really didn’t want to smoke, and that she shouldn’t tolerate it. So she became my partner in making me better and holding me accountable.

How I Stay on Track

Thankfully, I haven’t relapsed. I don't feel much temptation anymore. I still recall what it felt like to be winded and out of breath. I also remember the fear that people would find out I smoked.

It helps that I’ve built my identity around health and fitness. I work out at the gym almost every day. I practice and teach yoga a couple days a week. I work out in the morning while my family is sleeping. I take our baby for a walk during my lunch break. We take a family walk before dinner. It helps that my life is now super active and health-focused.

Focusing on health and fitness instead of smoking has also helped me get through the pandemic. Staying active helped me avoid anxiety and depression. There may be a link between obesity, smoking, and worse outcomes from COVID-19, so I’m grateful for my decision to stop smoking and take better care of my health.

How I Feel Now

The biggest change since I quit smoking is that I am more confident. I don't feel like I have to hide my behavior, worry about smelling like an ashtray, or experience the shame and self-loathing from doing something I know is bad for me. I'm congruent with the person I want to be and in alignment with my values.

My motivation to stay smoke-free is strong. I think about the example I want to be for my daughter when it comes to health. My parents both smoked around me when I was growing up, and even though I didn't like it, I still became a smoker. Kids learn from watching their parents. I want her to see me being active, not smoking.

While I don't save my smoking money in a coffee can anymore, I can say that financially, I'm a lot better off since my priorities are straight.

Since quitting smoking for good, I built the relationship I wanted, got married, and became a dad. I feel more confident and aligned to my values of health and fitness, personal growth, and family.

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David Rachford, health and fitness coach, Santa Barbara, CA.

CDC: “People with Certain Medical Conditions.”