It really is amazing
On the Bright Side
September 14, 2019
(Once again, especially for S. and E., with love.)
TV ads say, "It's amazing what happens when you quit smoking," and the pictures are of people smiling and enjoying the good life. As if quitting smoking makes everything better – amazingly so! – the very moment you snub out your last butt.
I kicked the habit 16 years ago, and I can tell you it was amazing – it was amazing to me how hellish it was at the time.
I finished my last cigarette at 3:32 p.m. on December 23, 1993 (ex-smokers remember things like that). I was fine for a few hours and, in fact, I was almost euphoric that night thinking, "I CAN DO THIS!"
But the next morning I had a headache. I became nervous and irritable as the days went by and my body realized it was going to be denied the drug it was used to getting regularly. My headaches increased, and a little voice (that sounded very much like my own) kept telling me I could put an end to the pain if I'd only take a good, hard drag of smoking tobacco.
I ate chocolate covered peanuts to distract myself. That helped, but not enough. I was a basket case before the New Year. I hadn't really been prepared to put quite so much effort into becoming un-addicted, or for the fact that I would feel like death warmed over instead of doing cartwheels in the park. No wonder it's so hard for so many people to quit!
I coughed up all the gunk in my chest, my throat hurt and my nose was stopped up all the time; I had trouble breathing, which I thought was downright wrong and cruel. I was miserable, but my usual remedy for misery was to light up and calm down, and that was no longer an option for me...which made me even more miserable.
I felt irrationally deprived and I had trouble sleeping. When I did sleep, I had wild and vivid dreams that often featured me or someone else smoking. I was tired and crabby a lot. My bathroom habits were affected; food tasted bad instead of better. I wondered if the very act of quitting cigarettes might kill me, as if my body was held together with nicotine and, by taking it away, I would fall apart.
I stayed messed up for weeks, but over time my system cleaned itself out and I discovered I had a better sense of smell (I'd never before realized how bad smokers reeked!), I could breathe better, food tasted better, and I generally had more energy both physically and mentally. I gained weight, yes – chocolate covered peanuts will do that – but that seemed a small price to pay for the happier feeling of well-being and self-confidence.
There is that eventual payoff – the one they show in ads – but the problem is that period of time right after a person quits and feels extra terrible; when you think you are making a good and healthy choice for yourself and then your resolve gets tested in ways you never imagined and you feel rotten to the core. It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when no one has warned you how long and twisty the tunnel can be.
I'm leveling with you – it's a long tunnel and it will take a concerted and determined effort to get through it. I'm also living proof that the rewards will come for you after the battle – sometimes a long time after – but you WILL be rewarded. I have not taken a single drag on a cigarette since that day in 1993 and I still feel great about it. If I can do it, anyone can.
There's no getting around the fact that you'll feel worse before you feel better when you quit smoking, but remember that, as with most things, it really is amazing how the rewards are ultimately worth the trouble and effort of getting there.
© Copyright Marilda Mel White. Mel, local photographer/writer and co-owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking "On the Bright Side" for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.