Name: Ginger R.
LIVESTRONG.COM Username: grogers511 (member since 2013)
Number of Years Smoked: 34
Smoke-Free Since: October 27, 2013
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your life like before joining LIVESTRONG.COM and quitting smoking?
I began smoking at the age of 22 and smoked a pack a day for 34 years. (I did manage to quit once for about a year in the '90s.) The irony is that I was so against smoking as a child. My parents and many family members were smokers, and I can remember as a child telling my mom that she was going to give me lung cancer. I originally started smoking to rebel against someone who told me he better never catch me smoking. He's no longer in my life, but smoking stayed for more than 30 years after he was out of the picture.
I smoked from the time I woke in the morning until I went to sleep at night -- sometimes even waking up in the middle of the night to smoke. I smoked before starting any task and immediately after it was completed. I tried to hide the fact that I was a smoker from my employer and co-workers, so I didn't smoke from the time I left for work until I got home in the evening, and then I chain-smoked like crazy until bedtime.
Each year, as a result of being a smoker, I dealt with allergies, ear infections, sinus infections and bronchitis. I maintained an arsenal of allergy meds, inhalers and a nebulizer for bronchitis (which I usually got once or twice a year). I was diagnosed with osteopenia (bone loss). I have ocular hypertension and must watch the pressure in my eyes. And then there's the dental work! I've spent a lot of money trying to save my teeth. Smoking causes bone loss and decay, and that leads to lots of dental work. I knew I needed to quit.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your inspiration to make a change?
I've always wanted to quit smoking, but I thought it was impossible. I live with two smokers who smoke in our home. I begged them to quit, but no dice. I was fortunate to be able to retire early in November 2012. In January I sat down to create some goals for my new life in retirement. I came up with nine goals. One of those was "improve health," and from that stemmed an action list that included things like getting a physical, getting up to date on all of the recommended tests and exams for a woman my age, eating more healthily, exercising regularly and quitting smoking. Because, seriously, how can you improve your health without quitting smoking?
Throughout 2013 I mostly worked on the other goals. As fall approached, I knew it was time to start working on my "improve health" goal, so I made an appointment for a physical. As we began scheduling appointments for the recommended tests and consultations, I knew those doctors were all going to start telling me to quit smoking. I wanted to beat them to it and be able to tell them I had already quit.
I had two packs of cigarettes left. I decided I would smoke those and never buy more, so I made up my mind that my quit date would be in two days. I learned later that this method was called quitting "cold turkey."
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did LIVESTRONG.COM help you quit smoking?
I like technology, so after I quit I began looking for an app to help me stick to my resolution. I was already familiar with LIVESTRONG.COM because of the MyPlate app, which I was using to track my food as part of my new healthy-eating goal. When I found LIVESTRONG's MyQuit Coach -- Dare to Quit Smoking App, I downloaded it and started using it immediately. The first few days I hit the "I Craved" button several times. I was surprised to discover how much it helped to simply acknowledge and track the cravings.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your support system like?
My family members were supportive and proud of me, but my real support came from others who were also quitting smoking. While playing around with the MyQuit Coach app, I discovered the Quit Smoking community message board. Wow! If you looked up the word support in the dictionary, I'm pretty sure you'd find a picture of this community. There are people participating there from all over the world, so fellow quitters were available to me 24/7. There is no feeling like posting your daily progress and getting instant positive feedback. When I had a craving someone was always available to talk me "off the ledge." When I needed a distraction I found it sometimes helped to offer support to others. And, of course, I could also ask for support myself when needed. In my experience, the best support in this battle is support from people fighting the same fight. They know.
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did you strategize for your quit?
Several members of the Quit Smoking community recommended I make a quit plan -- a list of crave-busters and distractions for each of my triggers. This piqued my curiosity, so I began doing some research. A YouTube video by DocMikeEvans about quitting smoking and a book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, were some tools that helped me create a good quit plan.
I learned that I needed to detox for 72 hours and create new habits or retrain my brain to do something different than reach for a cigarette. And -- I needed to get very clear about this -- I must never take another puff.
I learned about the Habit Cycle, in which a cue or trigger leads to a routine response, which leads to a reward. In order to break the cycle it's important to make a plan, so I made a list of all my triggers and crafted a new response for each and assessed the reward. I taped this chart above my coffee pot and practiced it daily. It worked! Very quickly I stopped automatically thinking of cigarettes or smoking. My new routines were crowding out any thoughts of smoking.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's the biggest challenge you faced?
My biggest challenge was stress. Stress is one of those things that you can't really plan for. You don't know when it will hit, and when we are stressed we don't always think, we react. Stress hit me one day, and I realized I hadn't planned for it. After a bit more research I discovered deep breathing was a great stress reliever. I practiced a deep-breathing technique daily until I felt comfortable doing it. When stress hits now, I automatically do my deep-breathing technique. It helps to slow down the anxious feeling and allow me time to think about a logical solution.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What advice for success do you want to share with others who are just starting out or still struggling in their fight to quit smoking?
I recommend educating yourself about nicotine addiction. I never really thought of smoking as a true addiction. Before I quit I didn't know about the 72-hour detox period. I didn't know cravings would drop in intensity and frequency after detox or that carbon monoxide levels would drop to normal and blood oxygen levels would increase to normal almost immediately after quitting. I didn't know I would quickly see improvement in my breathing, energy and stamina. I didn't know the effect nicotine had on my brain chemistry -- how it actually highjacks the dopamine (feel-good chemical) in your brain and therefore keeps you hooked and coming back for more. I didn't know the feeling of relief after inhaling nicotine was actually only relief from nicotine-withdrawal stress, not relief from any real stress. I began to really understand why nicotine is so addictive -- and why I must never take another puff.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your life like now?
I'm proud to say I live a much healthier life now. I haven't had any problems with allergies. (I was probably allergic to smoke!) In fact, I haven't been ill at all since quitting smoking.
Quitting smoking was one of those keystone habits for me. Once I quit, I felt so good I wanted to do more to improve my health. I walk every day, and I completed my first 5k in August 2014. I've lost nearly 60 pounds and continue to eat a healthier diet. I was pre-diabetic, but my blood labs are all perfect now. My doctors gave me a clean bill of health!
I have conquered smoking. I know I'll never smoke again. Still, it's become my habit to check in daily with LIVESTRONG's Quit Smoking community. I'm happy to be part of the community and hope to help other quitters experience this true freedom from the chains of nicotine addiction.
Thank you, LIVESTRONG! I'M A QUITTER!