I grew up watching Claire Danes on My So-Called Life hiding in the school bathroom smoking cigarettes and gossiping with her friends. And she dated Jared Leto, so you can see where my 13-year-old self made the connection that smoking was cool. Then, my friend’s very cool big sister offered us cigarettes. Suddenly, I had reached a new level of badassery — smoking with my friends in the mall parking lot and running inside to douse ourselves in CK One samples from the cosmetics counter before our moms came to get us. The mall parking lot would eventually give way to late-night cigarette-fogged conversations about Beat poetry and time travel. From punk rock shows to poetry slams, every activity was colored by a smoky haze. Everyone around me was doing it, so despite knowing better, I never really wanted to quit.
But just like JNCOs and bucket hats, as I got older, smoking wasn’t cool anymore. Instead of hiding from my mom, I was hiding from employers. Instead of late-night deep conversations over coffee and cigarettes, I was sitting alone on my front porch and dumping the gross ashtray that so stylishly graced my front door. To make matters worse, I was such a hypocrite. Part of my day job was teaching life skills to middle and high school students. So I would literally leave from teaching a class about the dangers of smoking and light up a cigarette. Nothing about the rest of my life aligned with being a smoker. I practiced yoga regularly, bought organic food, made our all-natural household cleaners — but here I was pumping myself full of chemicals 10–20 times a day. I had frequent ear infections and chronic migraines. Every time I had a weird pain in my mouth, throat, or chest I worried it was cancer, every time I got a cough I wondered if it was emphysema. Because all smokers, whether we want to admit it or not, know that the road of prolonged smoking most certainly leads to one of those destinations. I felt like I would never be able to quit, so I never really tried.
One day, thanks to a Groupon, I found myself in the most amazing dance fitness class. It was the catalyst to a love affair with working out, and through that class, I made the most awesome group of friends. But when we went out for drinks, I was too embarrassed to smoke around them. I remember once being drunk and sneaking away only to be caught. “You smoke?” an innocent question that wasn’t judgmental at all, but I felt so small. “Only when I’m drinking,” I lied. Here I was surrounded by the coolest group of women, and I was decidedly uncool. There’s a saying (I couldn’t find attribution) that goes something like, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you who you are.” Surrounding myself with friends who prioritize their health was the catalyst I needed to finally feel brave enough to quit smoking.
Because the truth is, it takes real courage to quit. It isn’t easy, and no one wants to be a failure. So, I’d like to share a few things that helped me to finally stop smoking after 20 years and have kept me smoke-free for five:
1. Frappuccinos, smoothies, anything cold with a big straw really helped to deal with cravings. You can spend $7 a day on cigarettes, or $5 a day at Starbucks — the choice is yours.
2. Find what works for you. For me, finality doesn’t work. As soon as I tell myself I can’t have something, it’s all I can think about. So, for me, I would set conditions — such as, if someone offers a cigarette when I’m out at this event that’s happening in three months, then you can have one. By the time the conditions would be met, I wouldn’t want to ruin the cigarette-free streak, but it helped knowing I could have one if I wanted.
3. Don’t worry about gaining weight. On average, the most people gain when they quit is 5 lbs. Five pounds comes and goes — quitting smoking is so much more important than that. I lost a lot of weight after I quit because I felt so much better and enjoyed my workouts so much more.
4. Splurge on something for yourself. I bought a membership to a boutique gym with the money I saved not buying cigarettes. If there’s ever a time for extravagant self-care, it’s when you quit smoking.
5. You might never stop craving cigarettes occasionally. When I first quit, I asked a friend who was a former smoker, “When will I stop wanting a cigarette?” “Um, never?” he answered. He was probably right. Thank goodness for Frappuccinos.
I’m not sorry I started smoking because if I’d never felt the pain of addiction, I’d never know how awesome it feels to be smoke-free. Healthy is the new cool.