Not Smoking: The 10-Year Mark

I once described smoking as romantic. Not the lovey-dovey kind of romance, but romance rooted in the traditions of 18th and 19th century Romanticism.

According to philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.”


Now, picture a “new and restless” 20-something, standing on the precipice of Expectations in “old and cramping” shoes that don’t quite fit. Nervous. Longing. Searching.

What does she do? She asserts her independence by running to the nearest cigarette vending machine — yes, there were vending machines, yes, inside a Dairy Queen — and kick-starts a habit she wouldn’t quit for more than 20 years.

It was placebo, pacifier, and partner-in-crime through some of the most brilliant and terrifying moments of my life. And some of the most benign.

As a matter of fact, it is the benign smoking moments I miss most, now 10 years quit:

The 5 a.m. drive down an early-winter highway, twilight barely on the horizon, coffee at the ready, window down, and that first, long drag.

Smoke swirling around Orion’s belt from a midnight parking lot, the only sound a slow approach of a car across the West Texas desert.

I will forever miss those romantic moments…painted with warm undertones of memory.

But they hide the truth: the panic of running out of supplies; the exhausted, frantic dash to the store to stock up, the cough that never really passed as allergies; the addiction with its hands around my throat; and the ever-present sense that I was — with every inhale — killing myself.

It’s been ten years now — ten years today! — since I took my last first, long drag. Every now and then I miss it. Every now and then I think about those romantic moments, and then…and then, it passes, “departing dream, and shadowy form of midnight vision.”




ARE YOU READY TO STOP SMOKING? Get support — it takes a village. Read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. And STOP. If I can, you can, too. I promise.


Light-winged Smoke! Icarian bird,
Melting thy pinions in thy upward flight;
Lark without song, and messenger of dawn,
Circling above the hamlets as thy nest;
Or else, departing dream, and shadowy form
Of midnight vision, gathering up thy skirts;
By night star-veiling, and by day
Darkening the light and blotting out the sun;
Go thou, my incense, upward from this hearth,
And ask the gods to pardon this clear flame.

Henry David Thoreau, American Romantic

IMAGE: Girl with a cigarette by Petr Zabolotskiy, 1850

8 Years, No Looking Back

The wall behind the cashier is filled with familiar colorful boxes, and I remember clearly how happy that used to make me. The ahhhhh of the fix, its brand name rolling off my tongue as if I were ordering filet mignon or sauvignon blanc.

Outside of a passing glance, a nod of recognition one might furtively offer an old lover in the check-out line, I have no reaction to the merchandising. There is no impulse or yearning; no longing, except for those romantic moments that must someday find their way to poems: 4AM coffee, midnight highways, Texas horizons, Rue La Boétie.

But memory is funny that way. It can make romance from refuse, and there is nothing more refusious than an addiction — the wasting away of time and money for something that will never fulfill you. Never fill you.

I promised myself, the last time I saw a cigarette, that I would only entertain its companionship again when I turned 80. It was a break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency promise that I might not keep after all.

Quite frankly, I know some pretty kick-ass 80-year-olds, and if I am blessed to be so gifted with a long, creative life? I’ll have no need to take up with the likes of the cigarette again.

It’s been eight years since I last held one, that challenge of break-up barely a memory now. Except today…when I take a moment to honor the anniversary of one of the hardest things I ever did. Except today…when I remember the people who offered their whole-hearted witness and support. I remain forever grateful to each and every one of them.

They…you…saved my life.

With love,


©2017. Jen Payne. Want to stop smoking, too? Please read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It’s the only way to go. xoxo

6 Years? You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!


The first therapist I worked with loved to torment me with moments of silence. I say torment because, for many of us, sitting with that kind of Nothingness is difficult. We immediately want to fill Nothingness up—with Busyness or Somethingness or Stuffness.

We like to fill Nothingness up with cookies! Cookies or cigarettes, alcohol, television, shopping, technology. All of those immediate-gratification things that scratch the itch just enough to let us forget. Or ignore. Or escape.

And if we don’t? GASP! If we don’t forget or ignore or escape, we have to actually face what’s inside the Nothingness, like Hurt, Sadness, Loss, Anxiety, Inadequacy, Fear, Loneliness. You know, all of those uncomfortable things we’d rather hide away than face head on.

I suppose that’s what my therapist was trying to teach me all those years ago—how to sit comfortably with that Nothingness, with that silence that makes all of the painful things louder. How else could I start to tell her about them if I didn’t know them myself? How else could I heal?

I didn’t totally understand that until SIX YEARS ago today, when I put down my last cigarette and had to sit quietly with my own painful things; when I couldn’t hide behind that cloud of smoke anymore, and had to meet my monsters face-to-face.

And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Face-to-face every day for the past 2,190 days. 2,190 days and counting, because there is no quid pro quo about this process. The monsters don’t disappear just because you find the courage to let go of the placebo—nor does the discomfort.

Being in the moment with those monsters is still difficult—life is difficult—but as you go along, you gain muscle memory. The more you hang out with the monsters in that fully-present kind of way, the stronger you get, and you figure out new ways to deal with those painful things that don’t involve causing yourself more pain in the process.

Sure, sometimes, you just go buy cookies…but others times you take a nice long look back and realize “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.”

Lots of love and gratitude to the folks who were there on Day One, holding me in their hearts as I started on this journey. I, quite literally, owe you my life.



It’s hard to believe it has been FIVE YEARS since I quit smoking. Five years, today!

It ranks in the Top Five of my proudest accomplishments, sharing space with starting a business, buying a house, visiting France, and writing a book. It is that big.

It is that big because it was not just about quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is not just about quitting smoking.

Quitting smoking is about making a commitment to being healthy — mind-body-spirit healthy — and deciding to change your lifestyle so completely that smoking is no longer an option.

Quitting smoking is about making peace with the empty space — and the fear, loneliness, sadness, and grief that tends to congregate there. Everyone has an empty space. Everyone. And nothing fills it up — not cigarettes or alcohol or shopping or sex…or even cookies. You just have to make peace with it.

Quitting smoking is about the long haul. It’s a marathon event that might be helped by pills or patches or programs, but in the wee hours of the morning, it’s just you and the long, quiet road ahead. You have to feel safe there.

Quitting smoking is about support. Friends and family and loved ones who support your effort 100%. Who don’t let you slide, cheat, reconsider. Who cheer you on with love and atta-girls and encouragement — the day you quit, the week you quit, the month you quit. And yes, even five years after you quit.

But ultimately? Ultimately, quitting smoking is about loving yourself enough. Finally.

To Fred, MaryAnne, Martha, Bob, Carol, Dale, the folks at K&G, Mary, Pamela, Rhonda, Stef, Steve, Tara, DeLinda, Melissa, Doreen, the wonderful women from my Sharing Circle, Dr. Brainerd, Dorothy, David Sedaris, Pat and Betty at CVS, and everyone who stood witness, I thank you from the bottom of my healing heart and lungs.

If you want to stop smoking, please read this book now.

Releasing the Need For


Four years ago today, I stopped smoking.

Four years ago today, smoking became the thing I would no longer do.

It was not about quitting. It was not about depriving myself. It was not even about becoming healthy, really.

It was all about letting go.

Letting go, at first, of the chemical need. Letting go and allowing my body to function without the dependency of chemicals holding up my infrastructure.

And then it was about the emotional need. Letting go of the feeling that I needed the cigarettes to support me — to calm nerves, to ease pain, to celebrate joy. Reminding myself that nerves and pain and joy come and go on their own accord, no matter the addiction on which we lean.

In the big picture, it was about that kind of letting go. But in the smaller picture, in those first days and weeks, it was about a minute-by-minute letting go:

No, I do not need you.
No, I do not need you.
No, I do not need you.

I pushed the thoughts away like flies. In my mind with a word I pushed — away. In the air with my hand I pushed — away. I pushed and pushed until they appeared less and less.

In a way, it is the same effort I make now — in my meditations, in my walks, in my yoga. A minute-by-minute letting go of thoughts, instead of nicotine.

No, I do not need you.
No, I do not need you.
No, I do not need you.

Letting go of things must be that way — in the minute-by-minute, in the day-by-day, in the year-by-year.

No, I do not need you.
No, I do not need you.
No, I do not need you.

Until you feel it release from your soul…

• • •

I remain in daily gratitude to everyone who supported this effort four years ago, and now. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I love you!

• • •

©2013, Jen Payne