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.”

WHOA!

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.”

Amen.

 

 


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.


SMOKE

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,

JenSig

©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!

6years

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.


The FIVE YEAR Mark!

5years

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.


One Day at a Time

Today I am celebrating 3 years of not smoking.

At the beginning, the idea of not having a cigarette to manage, cope with, enjoy, celebrate or otherwise make my way through life was daunting. Terrifying. In the end, there was only way to do it: day by day. And so day by day I…

sent my writing out into the world

stood up for myself

mourned the loss of my cat

practiced yoga

joined a gym

drank iced coffee for the first time

made art

made love

flew on a plane

rode the New York City subway

traveled solo

wandered hundreds of miles in the woods

swam in the ocean

walked across the Brooklyn Bridge

was disappointed

(and amazed)

visited with friends

played with my new nephew

loosened up

healed old wounds

read Walden

lost a mentor

gained a new friend (or 2)(or 3)

weathered a hurricane

made peace with spiders

At the start of those 1,095 day-by-days, the very idea of doing any of these things without a cigarette seemed crippling.

The idea of having done any of them WITH one now seems the same.

• • •

I remain forever grateful to the people who held on to me those first not-smoking days. I love all of you for loving me enough.

From the Bottom of My Heart

If you still smoke, please read Allen Carr’s book: The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, because I love you.

a CELEBRATION and some statistics

Today I am celebrating 2 years of not smoking!
That’s 730 days,
or 14,600 cigarettes.

I have saved approximately $6,000,
and 1,217 hours.

I have gained probably 20 pounds…maybe 30…
but I haven’t looked at a scale in 2 years.
The nicotine-free curves are small consequence.

because…

20 minutes after quitting, my heart rate dropped to a normal level.

12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in my blood dropped to normal.

2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, my risk of having a heart attack began to drop and my lung function began to improve.

1 to 9 months after quitting, my coughing and shortness of breath decreased.

As of this time last year, my added risk of coronary heart disease was half that of a smoker’s. And, I am close to having my risk of stroke and cancer reduced—but that takes 3-12 more years of recovery.

I breathe easier.
Sleep better.
Walk faster.

I don’t cough as much,
or stop mid-sentence to clear my throat,
or stop mid-sentence to light up,
or race out in the middle of a blizzard to buy cigarettes.

I don’t dream about them,
think about them,
or wish for them…ever.

(And I won’t touch them again…until I’m 80 years old, watching the sun set with a dear old friend, drinking whiskey on our porch in the West Texas desert.)

Until then, I remain healthy and eternally grateful to everyone who encouraged, supported, consoled, atta-girled, rooted, and made this effort all the easier.

I love every one of you for it!

• • •

Postscript re 80: It was common, when I would attempt to quit, to have an emergency stash somewhere. A partial, stale pack in a glove compartment or drawer. The “just in case” smoke. It also served as a counterpoint to the agony of “never again.” There was no “never again,” because if there ever was an emergency, I’d get to smoke that “just in case” one. Well, THAT never worked. I’d devour that stale cigarettes as soon as the willpower ran dry and be up the road at the store buying the “just one more pack” to proliferate the habit.

NOW, if things get really bad and I need a smoke—which I never do but “just in case”—I know I get to have at least one more…when I’m 80.

Call it what you will, I call it 730 days and counting!

• • •

Quitting smoking statistics from the American Lung Association.

If you still smoke, please read this book now: The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, Allen Carr.

From the Bottom of My Heart

thank you

Today I am celebrating 365 days as a non-smoker!

Today, I am also celebrating the folks who made the journey that much easier in the bearing…

First and without question, to Fred, who arrived on Day 1 to hold my hand through Weekend 1, and let me be as foggy and weepy and irritable as I needed to be in those first few days…weeks…months.

To MaryAnne, who arrived on Day 8, my second shift, and cheered me on with her infectious enthusiasm. Her daily doses of “I’m so proud of you” kept me strong.

To my loyal friend, Martha, for just letting me be “as is” each and every one of those days, with no apologies needed.

To those who listened, talked with, walked with, sent emails, whispered words of wisdom, and pretty much just loved me through it all: Bob, Carol, Dale, the folks at K&G, Mary, Pamela, Rhonda, Stef, Steve, Tara.

To DeLinda, who blazed the trail a year before me, then lovingly held my hand from 2,000 miles away as I took my first steps.

To Melissa, whose beautiful metamorphosis continues to serve as amazing inspiration.

(She also recommended the book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, so additional thanks to her and to author Allen Carr.)

To Doreen, who took on an even bigger challenge with great chutzpah. I am humbled by your tenacity, my friend.

To the the wonderful women in my Sharing Circle who never let me doubt I could do it.

To my naturopath, Dr. Brainerd, for her steady presence in those first weeks; for her compassion, her magic potions, and her calming acupuncture sessions.

To my massage therapist, Dorothy; her kind and healing hands eased me out of my addiction and back to health.

They say laugher is the best medicine, so thanks to David Sedaris, whose book When You Are Engulfed in Flames was my constant companion for the first month; I laughed so hard I nearly peed my pants—but for pages and pages, I easily forgot about the smoking.

To Pat and Betty at CVS who happily offered up daily “atta-girls” instead of packs of cigarettes.

Theirs was the kindness of strangers…but to all of you—my friends, family, loved ones, clients—to everyone who stood witness, I thank you from the bottom of my healing heart and lungs.