How I finally ended a life long battle with smoking

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My mother smoked while she was pregnant with my sister and me. I used to light her cigarettes while she was driving. One time I handed her a lit Benson & Hedges backwards, burning her lip and nearly causing a huge freeway accident. Swerving wildly, she managed to avoid the car in front of her — and quickly grabbed for the cigarette, which had flown out of her hand. Puffing rapidly, she got the cherry back up to a glow, and a look of calm passed over her face as she blew out her first inhale.

Growing up, we lived in a cloud of smoke. I emptied bottles and cans stuffed with butts, I did my schoolwork engulfed in a haze of fluffy smoke and I knew how to blow rings by the time I was 10. I would walk to the corner store with a note that said “Please let my daughter buy cigarettes for me” and they would. I didn’t have to steal cigarettes from anyone as a child; they were everywhere and I only had to pick them up. I bought my own personal pack at 13 years of age from a doughnut shop vending machine half a block from my house. Newports, because I didn’t want to be like my mother (funny I know).

Most kids have to work a little bit at getting hooked on cigarettes. Your first smokes hurt your chest and make you want to throw up. I had one initial punch to my chest with my first Newport and then nothing. It was like breathing the free air to me. Newports are the worst of the worst of worst for those who don’t know. They take the shake of other brands and treat it with thousands of more chemicals and menthol … so all you feel is BIG ole nic’ hit and a cool frost that immediately numbs the path of carnage you just blew through your trachea. Newports are to smoking what crack is to coke or Madonna was to pop…..cheaper, harsher and more addicting in a horrible way.

The first time I tried to quit smoking I was just 14. I vividly remember getting through two days, spaced and jittery, and then finding a pack my mother left on the couch. I remember telling myself “don’t smoke one, if you do you will never quit” and then watching my hand slowly take one out, light it up … And so began a long and bitter battle that would last until I was 42. At 15, I was in Montana, super happy because Newports sold for half price in most QuickStops (they were not a popular brand with country folk). Using my fake ID, I was buying as much as I could hold in my van as I headed west. Once I drove my van halfway off a cliff, staring down at a 75-foot drop. I scuttled out the back doors onto the road — and then realized in horror I had left my smokes in the front seat. I slowly and carefully crawled back into the van to retrieve them because I didn’t think I could get through the trauma of it all without them. Yes I did that, and it’s not the worst thing I have done for my addiction. I secretly smoked during both of my pregnancies. I cry just typing that but I did it; it’s true. I tried to quit and I know everyone reading this will shudder in disgust but I have to be honest. I could not quit and I smoked while carrying my babies. Thank God, not me, that they are both healthy and perfect. Everyone should be so lucky. During my first pregnancy, after a week of not smoking I was spacey and couldn’t focus. I rear-ended a car in front of me and a forgotten pack of smokes flew out from under my car seat. I grabbed them and lit up faster then you could say “pathetic much?” My point is that I would die for my children, I would be happy to die for either of them, but I couldn’t not smoke for them.

I helped my best friend take care of her father while he slowly died from emphysema. He smoked two packs of non-filtered Camels up to the very end and we smoked with him. At first we tried to get him to quit, but he flat-out refused. As the drugs took their toll on his body, his bones got weaker and weaker and he had fractures constantly. He was a sweet man and vaping could have saved the quality, if not the quantity of his years with us. Don’t I wish I knew then what I know now. Dawn, his daughter, still smokes to this day. Death doesn’t stop addiction, love doesn’t break it. I have watched heroin addicts quit with less pain then smokers and more success. If you think quitting is just a matter of willpower then your mistaken. It’s not.

I was hypnotized once. It didn’t help. I have tried patches 13 times. I had a needle in my ear for a week. I have used gum, lozenges, prayer, scent therapy, positive thought, Wellbutrin, read every death/horror story I could find, posted cancer pictures on my walls and every other thing I thought would help to quit, and for all of my efforts I quit once for eight months and once for a year and two months. I have smoked my whole life really … 42 years of smoking. Forty-two years of hell.

Look: Smoking hurts. It limits your ability to live your life. I have spent my life feeling like I was less than others because I smoked. I felt like I was less capable, less intelligent and less in control of myself. I wanted to do a triathlon but couldn’t because I had no wind. I wanted to be a nurse but didn’t even try because I found getting through a day of classes too hard without a fix. I have turned down or quit jobs that interfered with my need to light up every two hours, choosing to work in bars my whole life where I could be the addict that I was. I have left movies early, cut dates short and once left James DePriest’s very last symphony because I had to have a cigarette, after having paid $200 for the tickets too. I have wheeled my ass out to the smoking area at hospitals, pee bag in my lap, to smoke. I have been humbled, I have beat my head against walls and I have cried thousands of times over cigarettes. They are so small and so unimportant but oh my God they dominated my life. They defined me.

I want to tell you about the last year I had quit. In 2009 I quit, I made it and I couldn’t believe it. Everyone said they never believed I would do it. I started training for my first triathlon and started my prereqs for nursing school. I was sooooo happy I had finally triumphed! I would run past the smoking areas outside of the hospital and think “thank God I am finally free” everyday. I begged my husband to quit and watched him struggle to do it and fail over and over and I couldn’t help him. Occasionally, on a really tough day I would sneak a hit of his cigarette and think “oh I don’t even like the way it tastes. I am cured”… but I never really was. I sometimes dreamt I was smoking. It haunted me.

Of course, I gained 15 pounds and spent the whole year trying to lose it. I ran a mile every day, ate little, I even tried fasting periodically and it just wouldn’t come off. That wasn’t so bad, I guess, except that I woke up every day and tried not to smoke, tried not to eat and tried to get along with my day. Now my whole life had become a battle of willpower. Every day I went as long as I could until one day I was smoking again and I didn’t even realize how it happened. I had just thrown away a year plus two months of not smoking and it was so depressing I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t run anymore, I couldn’t breathe. I would go to sleep at night thinking that tomorrow I would do better, get control again and not smoke. By noon the next day I would be searching through old coats or asking my neighbors for a smoke. I have picked butts up off the ground and smoked them for God’s sake. Then one night, driving in my car and feeling very sad that I had smoked that day my husband called me and told me to turn on the radio. That’s where I was when I heard Bob Alexander’s story about e-cigarettes on Mike Malloy’s radio show and it changed my life.

E-cigarettes. Nicotine (as low a dose as you choose or no nicotine at all), polyglycerol — the same as they use in asthma inhalers —and food products. Flavoring if you want it. True to form I chose menthol and mint. You can vape, blow mist just like smoke, get the nicotine just like a patch and it’s as good as smoking but so much better. Ecigs...the reduced risk alternative. The harm- reduction option. The little battery operated solution that gave me back my life and my mind.

I went to Bob’s website and ordered a kit from Frank over at EasyCig before the program was even over. In fact I sped home to do it. I got my kit three days later and I for the first time in my life I am free. My husband is free too, but that is his story, not mine so I will just note it here. True, we are not free of nicotine but that wasn’t really important to me (it’s not the nicotine that kills, it’s the smoke). Now I can vape and it makes everything okay. I get a small amount of nicotine and no harmful smoke or chemicals. No carcinogens, no ammonia, no cancer, no COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), no wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath. No smoke.

You want to know all of the things I am free of? The list is huge! Free from watching my husband struggle; he quit the first day easily as did I. Free of the guilt, the shame, the persistent nagging worry about my health. Free of the smell, the mess, the cost, the cough and the wheeze. Free to not crave all of the time! Not having this persistent itch that I just have to scratch is AMAZING! Free of the depression, the grief and the ever-present sense of being a bad person for smoking. Free of the hunched-over smoking areas, free of guiltily sneaking off and free of fear of being judged. Free to not have to suffer anymore. That is such a big statement I have to say it again: Free to Not Suffer Anymore.

I can run again. My wind is great. I can breathe without wheezing. I am dropping the extra weight while eating whatever I want (within my vegan restrictions). I go to school and know that once I am in the field, with my RN degree, I have a extra tool to help others. My mind is finally free to think about things other than cigarettes and how I shouldn’t and why I can’t and why I am … freedom.

I know there are people out there who feel I should pay for getting addicted to cigarettes. That it is fitting and right I should suffer for it. I know there are people who will feel I should quit nicotine all together. However I am no longer blowing second-hand smoke into the air and that is a good thing. I am no longer filling up endless ashtrays, and eventually landfills, with my poison butts and that’s a good thing too. I know in my heart I tried as hard as I could to quit and failed again and again. Now I am not hurting anyone else and that is a good thing. If you know someone who just can’t quit smoking then put away your judgments and get them a ecig immediately. Would you rather have your smug superiority or save a life? Refer them to the ecig forum and go to Super Beans and read “How I Quit Smoking” by Bob Alexander. Sometimes you have to pick your battles and lives can be saved, be improved, by the e-cigs.

Listen it is wonderful to not be carrying this huge burden anymore. I wish it for everyone who got trapped by smoking. Please try vaping if you can’t just quit, and be free to live your life again.

A pre-nursing student living in Portland, Ore., Gabrielle Lange is training to complete the Portland Half-Marathon. She is not affiliated in any way with any vendors or people mentioned in this article. A previous version of this post first appeared