Thursday, March 15, 2012

Five Smoke-Free Years

Nearly 3½ years ago, the Montgomery County, Maryland, government officials observed the fifth anniversary of a policy banning smoking in the county's restaurants and bars.

It's been a long time since I was in Maryland, but I'd like to have that banner today. I'd hang it from my balcony, where it would be clearly visible to the cars that pass by.

You see, I smoked my last cigarette five years ago today.

I must say that I am proud of that achievement — I'm almost as proud of it as I am shocked by it. I honestly thought I was a lifer — however long my smoking addiction would permit me to live. I never expected to give it up, not for five hours, much less five years. That is a milestone that I never thought I'd reach.

Nevertheless, here I am, five years later, still smoke free.

It hasn't been easy, and I sincerely sympathize with anyone who may be taking his/her first steps down that long, often dark road today. There are still times when I miss it, when I crave it — there have even been a couple of times when I damn near pulled in to a convenience store parking lot, planning to buy a pack, and I had to talk myself out of it — but those times aren't as frequent or intense as they were and they don't last nearly as long as they did.

A friend of mine told me long ago that those cravings would become less intense as the nicotine left my system. I had my doubts at the time, but it really is true. They haven't gone away — I'm told they never really will — but they are easier to ignore.

If I could, I would tell this to someone who is attempting to quit smoking — If you stick with it, it will be worth it.

It will be worth it in many ways, some you probably can't even imagine today — and there may be benefits to come of which I still am not aware. But, after five years, I can tell you this:
  • Not having to pay for cigarettes put a dent in my monthly expenses in these last five years — and that has meant a lot in this economy.

    I mean, by itself, my cigarette purchases probably didn't amount to a massive chunk of my monthly budget (although I noticed recently how much cigarette prices have risen since the last time I bought a pack), but when you multiply the savings over five years, well, it has become a tidy sum.

  • I don't cough when I get up in the morning, anymore — unless I am congested from a cold. I've discovered that I really like breathing — and I want to keep doing it.

  • My home, my clothes and my vehicle don't reek of smoke anymore.

  • Food tastes better. In fact, I find myself discovering all sorts of flavors now. Where has this been all my life? I often ask myself. The answer is quite simple. It's been there all along. It just couldn't get through the smoke to my taste buds.
And here is one for parents.

I don't happen to be a parent so this has not been a benefit for me. But if you are a parent, this is one that you cannot ignore.

You will no longer expose your child(ren) to second–hand smoke.

Actually, come to think of it, I was a parent (in a way) when I was smoking. I owned a very lively dog for about 5½ years, and we were a family, the two of us, until he got loose from me one night, ran into the street and was hit by an oncoming vehicle.

After he was killed, I thought, from time to time, of the occasions when I had seen him cough, and I did wonder if he was affected by second–hand smoke. If he was, I deeply regret reducing the quality of his life. (For all I know, if he hadn't been hit by that car, he might have died prematurely from some smoke–related illness.)

Of course, there are other, more cosmetic benefits. One such benefit is that my fingers were stained yellow from all the nicotine but no more. That stain has disappeared.

Little by little, my body seems to be reclaiming what it lost to my years of smoking — and I sincerely wish I had given it up earlier. I did try, from time to time, but, while the spirit was willing, the flesh was always weak.

The time was right five years ago, I guess, and I am proud to be able to say today that I am still smoke free. It hasn't been easy. It still isn't easy.

But it's been worth it.

And I urge every smoker reading this to make the attempt.

Even if you fail.

Keep trying.

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