The Quitiversary

by Gena on April 19, 2009

Hello, all. Hope you’re having a terrific weekend. I’m about to head out to a day of celebratory festivities, since it’s a very special occasion for me. Today is my one year quitiversary: that is, the one year anniversary of the day I quit smoking. So prepare yourselves for an unusually candid post.

Most people who meet me comment upon my lack of obvious vices: I eat healthily, I rarely drink, etc. But you’ll all be surprised to know that I’m a former smoker. And not only that: I’m a former pack-a-day, non-social, non-occasional, totally consistent, smoker.

I remember my first. I was seventeen. It wasn’t peer pressure or the media. It was plain old curiosity. I bought a pack during a free period at school, walked to central park, sat on a bench, and lit up. It tasted, as most cigarettes will to the uninitiated, pretty bad. But even in spite of that, it was incredibly seductive. It made me a little anxious, a little high—it felt like a coffee buzz, but better. And when I got back to class and smelled the rich scent of tobacco on my hands, I had a premonition: uh oh.

No, I didn’t pick up the habit right away. It took college life for that to happen: when you live in a small apartment with your very vigilant mother, it’s not easy to mask a habit. But then I got to Columbia, a schoolyard for the urbane, the neurotic, and the nicotine-happy. Giant stone urns, filled with sand and brimming over with butts, stood outside each building. As on any campus, students gathered before class, after class, and during class to get their fix. And within a month of my freshman year, I joined their company.

For the next seven years, I was a smoker. I wasn’t a social smoker. I didn’t smoke when I was drinking. I didn’t smoke once in a while. I smoked. Period. I smoked a pack a day until the year before I quit. And, truth be told, I relished every cigarette I ever had.

I smoked in with my morning coffee. I smoked when I got home from work (to “unwind”). I smoked during my lunch break. I smoked after meals. I smoked after sex. I smoked after the gym—it was my reward, I reasoned! I smoke when I was stressed, and I smoked when I was mellow. I smoked when I was healthy, and when I was sick (I smoked right through strep throat once; another time, I smoked myself from bronchitis into walking pneumonia). I smoked after tears (I always thought that cigarettes tasted particularly wonderful after a good cry) and when I was happy. Through good times and bad, ups and downs, I smoked.

That I was also a vegetarian, and then a vegan, didn’t seem to deter me. That I exercised daily didn’t deter me. That I had made those choices under the rubric of being “healthy” didn’t really deter me, either, though at a certain point, the hypocrisy started to settle in. I valued a healthy lifestyle, but I made exceptions for the unhealthy habits that I happened to like the most? My doctor once chuckled during a physical and asked, “how does it feel to be compromising all of the incredible things you do for your body?”

I’m not sure of when exactly it was that I decided to quit. The rumblings began two years ago. I was fully vegan at that point, and I felt great. Over the next year, I tossed the idea of quitting around in my head. What would it mean not to smoke anymore? How would I end meals? What would I do at 4 PM when I was tired, or stressed out at the office? What would I do as I waited for people outside of restaurants when they were running late? How would I stay focused when I was editing? What would I do with my hands while I was talking on the phone?

Then I went to Mexico on an eight day yoga retreat. And for the first time in seven years, I went a day without smoking. Then two, then three, then four. I wasn’t trying: I was practicing three hours of yoga a day, running every morning, and cigarettes simply didn’t cross my mind. When I realized how long it had been, it occurred to me that I’d been given a gift: nearly a week without nicotine. Don’t they say that it only takes a week or so for the junk to leave your system, and the rest is all mental? Whatever the case, I knew I’d never have another chance to go five days without any of my triggers: stress, NYC, editing deadlines, etc. So I decided to quit, right then and there.

On April 19th, (in the grips of a lousy case of Montezuma’s revenge), I smoked my last cigarette as a smoker (I say this because I’ve had a few since I quit, in full disclosure) outside of the Cancun International Airport. I threw the rest of my pack away, came back to New York, and with a few exceptions, I haven’t smoked since.

At first, I didn’t feel so bad, and I thought to myself that perhaps I was special, and quitting wouldn’t be terrible for me. Maybe the armor of my healthy living would magically protect me from nicotine withdrawal. Then it hit me. First came the quitter’s flu. For those of you who don’t know, this is a four-day ailment that looks and feels a whole lot like the real flu: headache, fever, sore throat, cough. Then came headaches: dull, achey, unrelenting pains behind my forehead that persisted for days at a time. Then came lousy moods. I was short tempered, cranky, and irritable from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed.

This didn’t last too long, at least not in my case: after three weeks, the worst had passed. But in many ways, the hardest was yet to come. What hurt the most wasn’t the headaches, or lousy moods, or irritability. It was my sense of loss. For many quitters, it’s social gatherings that prove the most trying: being at bars and not being able to run outside for a cigarette; not being able to light up at outdoor concerts; not joining coworkers for midday smoking breaks (interestingly, there’s much research to prove that social smokers have the hardest time quitting: because they associate smoking so deeply with activities that they continue to engage in, they can’t seem to disassociate and break free of the pattern. Chain smokers know that they’ll have to make universal change, and they approach quitting prepared to do it).

And these things were hard, believe me. Hardest, though, were the hours after I’d gotten home from work. For seven years straight, this was the time when smoking helped me to relax. More importantly, these were the quiet, contemplative hours when smoking gave me company, bolstered me against negative feelings or a sense of isolation. Many recovering alcoholics describe a dread of evenings, a fear of coming home and not being able to pour themselves a drink. As a friend who was trying to sober up once put it to me, “What will I do if I have to be alone with my thoughts?” I wasn’t afraid of my thoughts, but I did feel, suddenly, very alone. Cigarettes were my little friends, and I missed them.

I missed a part of myself, too. Gone was the type-A woman who inhaled a cigarette on her rushed morning commute. Gone was the convivial colleague who went downstairs for chatty smokes during the day. Gone was the girl who lingered at parties so that she could get to know the smokers outside. Gone was the stress-addled editor-on-a-deadline, who chain smoked out her kitchen window as she worked into the wee hours. When I told my friend Jordan that I had quit, he expressed huge admiration, but also confessed, “I dunno. It’s just hard to imagine you without envisioning you outside John Jay [our freshman dorm] with a cigarette in your hand.”

Hey, it was hard for me to imagine myself without a cigarette in my hand, too. As we all know, smoking is a habit, but it’s also an aesthetic. From images of old Hollywood to passages in Fitzgerald novels to the downright erotic billows of cigarette smoke curling around Don Draper’s shoulders in an episode of Mad Men, cigarettes carry heavy connotations: sex, seduction, cool, fashion, aloofness. I never smoked to impress my peers, but I did fall for all the symbolism, the style, the timeless lure. And I missed it.

I wish I could say that it got easy quickly. It didn’t. It got easier, but it took months. Evenings were hardest. Each night, I sat at home, my right hand (the smoking hand) itching for the feel of a cigarette between my fingers, and fighting the impulse to run to the corner deli and pick up a pack. Each night, I promised myself that, if it all became too terrible, I could buy a pack tomorrow. But I just had to get through the night. Getting through the night turned into getting through the week, then the month, then the year.

Certain things helped. The fact that I could suddenly run a few miles without heaving helped. The energy I woke up with every day helped. The bright skin helped. My coworkers helped, with sweet emails and encouragement. My friends helped with their support. The look of utter, unabashed relief on my mother’s face when I told her I hadn’t smoked for a month helped.

And so it went, until the day (and I don’t remember which day it was, but it was early summer) when I realized that I hadn’t thought about cigarettes in a while. Hadn’t remembered them fondly, hadn’t lusted after them, hadn’t sniffed them outside and reminisced. After that moment, I think, it all became much easier.

Now, a year later, it seems a bit crazy to think that smoking ever figured so prominently in my life. It’s like trying to remember the intensity of being in love with someone long after you’ve fallen out of it: you know it occupied every corner of your consciousness for a while, that it obsessed you, that there wasn’t anything you did without thinking about the love object. But you simply can’t evoke that feeling again. I loved cigarettes. Some people smoke because they’re addicts; I was an addict, but I also savored the taste, feel, smell, and ritual. But I am, fortunately, no longer in love. I still feel pangs every now and then, but for the most part, it’s ancient history.

I wish I could give you some prescriptive advice here, magic tricks that helped me. I’ll say that quitting cold turkey was the best way to go. I’m a compulsive person, and if I had started with Nicorette I don’t doubt I’d have gotten hooked on that, too. Tea, oddly, helped: I think it satisfied the oral fixation (I like ginger tea). Running and exercising definitely helped. Drinking more coffee than I usually do helped, too: I needed to re-create the buzz, at least for a while. The push up trick definitely helped.

At the end of the day, though, it was a matter of determination. Quitting smoking, like giving up any bad habit, is predicated entirely on willpower. No one can make the process easy for you. So you’ve got to call upon your biggest reserves of inner strength. Those of you who have achieved healthy and necessary weight loss know a lot about those reserves: the commitment it takes to keep pursuing a healthy goal in spite of so many impulses to give up, skip the gym, and make food choices that are not worthy of you. Those of you who are recovering from disordered eating know a whole lot about it, too: the courage it takes to keep moving back towards normalcy, even when you secretly want nothing more than to stay skinny and stay sick. Will power doesn’t just manifest itself in the obvious or dramatic scenarios, like quitting smoking: we need to use each and every time we choose to do what’s hard instead of what’s easy, what’s new instead of what’s familiar, what’s ultimately rewarding versus what’s momentarily pleasing.

If you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s a sense of possibility, an assurance that there is an ultimate reward for all the willpower you’re trying to muster. Whatever your goal is—whether you’re trying to quit smoking yourself, trying to lose weight, trying to gain weight, trying to coax your mind out of disordered habits, or simply trying to eat and live in a healthier way—you can achieve it. There was a time when I believed I’d never be able to kick smoking: I didn’t want to, and I didn’t think I could. It took me a while to really want to quit, but once I did, I shocked myself with my own steadfastness. You can—and will—too.

I won’t pretend it’s always easy, even now. Springtime is the hardest, for me: the smokers are starting to emerge from hibernation, dotting the sidewalks and releasing seductive clouds of tobacco into the air, and I miss being one of them. The other day on my walk home, I was behind a smoker. At one point I caught a whiff of her cigarette and was so overwhelmed with nostalgia that I almost burst into tears on the sidewalk. But it does, I promise, get easier. So hang in there. Be encouraged by this. And good luck. xo

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{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

Happy Herbivore April 19, 2009 at 8:38 am

I was never a smoker but I have watched my husband and parents (and friends) struggle to quit. Making it a full year smoke-free is something to be proud of. It’s something to celebrate and rejoice over. You are an inspiration and a success story!

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elise April 19, 2009 at 9:05 am

i really enjoyed reading this post about your triumph in quiting. i have never smoked and im pretty vocal about my anti-smoking feelings not just as a nurse, but as someone who enjoys living the healthy life. i even ran in the 4M run as one to fight lung cancer today! i know what you mean about having vices…you may have been the picture of health otherwise, but its a serious SERIOUS risk that is avoidable, and i think its FANTASTIC that you have made it a year without one. i actually have a question for you though. i often have a hard time holding my tongue when fellow colleages take smoke breaks, i mean, they are in the healthcare field! did others ever make comments to you about quiting? did you find it annoying? was there anything that was particularily inspiring?

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Hi Elise!

I haven’t gotten any comments yet, but I think a gentle, kind reminder that I was undermining all my hard work to be healthy would DEFINITELY have been welcome! I would sweetly say something in that way: not “wow, you’ve got a lousy habit,” but, “wow, you’re so healthy in most ways, wouldn’t you like to feel healthy in EVERY way?” Thank you so much for reading, and I hope this helps you with your colleagues!

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nancy April 19, 2009 at 9:11 am

This is a great, eloquent post! My father was a lifelong smoker and quit 7 years ago. I was the kid who always wanted him to quit…and then picked up the habit in college. Of course, I rationalized my smoking – as if “in moderation” is okay. My most recent trend, for instance, has been only smoking on vacation. This New Year’s, however, a couple of Spaniards and I on a Costa Rican beach vowed to quit together. While I haven’t kept in touch with their progress, I’ve only smoked half a cigarette since and like yours, it tasted bleh.

Congratulations Gena!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Thanks dear! And congrats on your “meh” cigarette. I’m so happy your Dad quit, too!!

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VeggieGirl April 19, 2009 at 9:36 am

Gena, I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I am of you – we talked about some of this yesterday, but you know it makes me smile :-) Hugs!!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Hugs back, my dear!! xo

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Kari April 19, 2009 at 9:37 am

I recently discovered your blog while searching for some inspiration while on my journey to health, and most recently on my interest of eating raw.
I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this post. I soaked up every single word of it. I even had to call my husband in so that I could read bits and pieces to him. Especially as an ex-smoker the pieces that I felt I could really relate to.
Thanks for being an inspiration, and congratulations!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I am so happy you like it, Kari!! And I really hope this helps your husband! Thank you, and please keep visiting for raw ideas!

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beck April 19, 2009 at 9:40 am

I can relate to this 150%. A similar pack a day college and after smoker of about 7-8 yrs, I celebrated my 8 YEAR non smoking anniversary in December. Yes, I still celebrate. Yes, I still remember that first year and thinking “when I hit my 5 year, I’ll do something big”. It seemed so far away! But it’s not!!! First year is the hardest, and you made it! Keep it going and congrats!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

CCongrats on your quitiversary, too, Beck!!

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Melomeals: Vegan For $3.33 a Day April 19, 2009 at 9:51 am

Congratulations! It IS hard!!

For me, it was like losing my best friend.

I started smoking at 12 and smoked a lot until the age of 18 when I got pregnant. I quit during my two pregnancies and nursing, but went back to it at 23 until 25 (I smoked outside because of my kids).. but my son said to me that he wanted me to quit smoking for my birthday and he didn’t want me to die, so I quit again.. but then started again at 28! I finally quit for good in 2002 when I was 30.

It’s been almost 7 years and I STILL crave them. Of course, it is easier than it was, but probably at least once a week I have to talk myself out of buying a pack.

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm

OOh, Mel, I’m so glad you can relate. Congrats on your quitting, too. It IS like a friend, and that’s what’s so hard. Thanks for the shout.

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earthmother April 19, 2009 at 10:20 am

Congratulations on becoming Smoke Free!

I was a pack-and-a-half-a-day gal myself. Started when I was twelve years old. Eee gads! My Day of Independence was July 4, 2007.

Today, when I catch a whiff of someone smoking, I don’t get nostalgic. I get nauseous and gag!

How will you be CELEBRATING your freedom today, Gena? Have FUN and count your blessings, whatever you decide to do!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Earthmother, I’m a huge fan of your blog, so thanks for being here! I am celebrating with lots of raw food (photos TK) and time with friends and my Mom :) Congrats on your own quitting — it’s so hard, but rewarding, no?

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Shelby April 19, 2009 at 10:28 am

I am really really proud of you! My dad is trying to quit now and he is struggling a lot. I’ll be sure to share your story with him =)

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Tara April 19, 2009 at 10:44 am

What a great post!

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Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) April 19, 2009 at 10:56 am

Gena,
Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey with us. I know this post will speak to many, myself included. Although I’ve never smoked, I do have my bad habits and guilty pleasures that I wish were not a part of my daily routine…read caffeine. Like your smoking, I don’t want to give up my habit. I love my morning coffee, but I really need to stay away from anything acidic. So, thanks for the encouraging words and Happy Quitiversary!!!!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Thanks Heather! If you ever need a hand with the coffee urges, email me!

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ashley (sweet & natural) April 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

Congratulations on your year quitiversary Gena. I’ve never been a smoker, but I certainly have my own vices, as most people do. It’s so true how so much of getting over them is mental. You really are shedding a part – albeit a not very positive part – of who you are when you let them go.

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Bianca-Vegan Crunk April 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Happy quitaversary! I used to smoke in college, and then I quit (except for when I drank) a few years back. But I started to notice how bad my lungs hurt after a night of social smoking. When you’re doing it all the time, the next day is awful. So for New Year’s, I gave up social smoking. Now I VERY OCCASIONALLY allow myself to have one when I’m really upset about something. But that’s the only time….

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dreamin'itvegan April 19, 2009 at 12:32 pm

What a great story! It’s so nice that you shared this with everyone. You may just help someone else out there who is having a hard time quitting. I’ve never been a smoker so I don’t understand. It’s great this blogging we have so we can share our stories, to give support and to get support, such as you were given.

My husband quit smoking right before we had our son. My mother and father-in-law quit almost 10 years ago, after my mother in law saw her sister die from lung cancer. My father-in-law told me he wanted to see his grandson, my son, graduate from high school and hopefully college. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about when he told me this. Anyways, now my in-laws are on track to lose weight, eating healthier(it’s nice to know they eat more veggies and fruit due to my lifestyle), excercising, again they want to be the healthiest so they can be around alot longer.

Now that I’ve rambled on…..I’m so happy you quit, it’s the best decision you could of made!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

TThank you, thank you! Glad this struck a chord.

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Kristen's Raw April 19, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Happy Quitaversary! You’re awesome :)

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S. April 19, 2009 at 2:03 pm

This was my first time to visit your blog. (I linked over from Kath Eats.) In general, I’m more of a lurker than a commenter, but I wanted to thank you for your story. I have never smoked, but I do suffer from other vice-ish addictions and compulsions, and your honesty and eloquence was just what I needed to read today.

Congratulations on the quitiversary! You should be proud!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:20 pm

SSS, thank you for taking the time to be a non-lurker! Your comment means so much to me. Please visit again :)

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Michelle Hisae April 19, 2009 at 2:17 pm

You are a great writer, my dear. Your compelling story inspires me to take hold of my bad habits and stick with the good. Write on!

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:21 pm

MMMichelle, thanks so much for being here. Glad to discover your blog, and thanks for such nice works about my writing!!

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Emily April 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I smoked from the time i was 14 until i got pregnant with my first at 22. I quit cold turkey, and didn’t pick up a cigarette again until i went back to work when he was 6 months old (restaurant biz, only way you get a break is if you smoke)

I smoked for another 2 years until i had an ectopic pregnancy, i quit when i read that smoking can up your risk for having an ectopic . I haven’t smoked since, and its been 2 years this time. I haven’t touched a cigarette since, and it smells so gross to me now. I used to lust after cigarettes, but now i don’t. I really agree with how you compared it to an old love. At first , it hurts to think about letting go, and you think you’ll never get over him, but then eventually you realize you haven’t thought about them in years :)
Congrats on your quitiversary!

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Steph April 19, 2009 at 2:21 pm

I absolutely love the realness of your story. Everyone has their struggles, whether it is smoking or something else. I think many individuals who have read this have sensed inspiration! Congrats :)

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 2:25 pm

ThThank you, thank you, everyone!! These comments make my day so much better.

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Amanda April 19, 2009 at 2:30 pm

I loved your post so much. Your insights into this rarely talked about subject brought up a lot of feelings for me that I haven’t thought of in a long time.

December 4, 2005 was the day that I smoked my last cigarette. My story was oddly similar to yours, experimented in high school, and became a “smoker” outside my dorm freshman year. I was the smoker in every group, associated with. That was my “thing” for 8 years.
Ask anyone who knew me, I always said, “I will never be a ________ who smokes”-fill in the blank with any noun-student teacher, teacher, woman trying to lose weight, etc. But I had come so far and had no intentions of quitting. I would only smoke after-school so my brand new colleagues, friends and students wouldn’t know. (Secret smoking then) I healthily lost 40 pounds by watching my food intake and portion control, but still was smoking. I was in control of my body, however I never put the pieces together that the cigarettes were really preventing me from being healthy. But then after that I was scared that if I quit, I would eat and then gain the weight back. It wasn’t until 3 years later that I even considered quitting and that was when I met my now husband. He’d been a smoker in college but had not been as serious (addicted) as me. It didn’t take much convincing…he basically said “I love you for being you, but it isn’t you. Deep down I know you know it.” He loved me and wanted a future with me there, and not hooked up to an oxygen tank. I loved him for wanting that for me, and I guess that’s just what I was waiting for. A reason, my future. Our future.
So, this year I will celebrate my 5 year anniversary from smoking. Congrats to you, it gets easier each year.

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Matt April 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Well written!

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Jess April 19, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Wow! What an encouraging and brave story, thank you so much for sharing!! I have a close friend going through the same thing right now, and it makes me happy that you found encouragement through friends, that means all my phone calls and pep talks are helping.
Did you have a blog before this one? You seem to know the whole blogging world, Kath, Jenna, etc, but I don’t remember seeing a blog by you before?
Thanks again for being so open and sharing your story, congrats on the quitiversary, hope you celebrated with a yummy raw treat!!

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Whitney April 19, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Congrats on becoming a non-smoker and for such a honest post.

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jenna April 19, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Aww Gina, this was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing and giving us a window into your soul. You are such an inspiration! :)

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Jenn (eating bender) April 19, 2009 at 3:45 pm

This was such a thoughtful and incredible post, Gena. Although I have never smoked, I feel as though the topic of “quitting” is related to so many different areas of life. For me, I have had tummy troubles for the past two years and have read about all the various “elimination diets” out there, but have never taken the full-on initiative to try one of them (whether it be dairy, gluten, etc.) and “quit” a food that could, potentially, be the source of all of my problems. I know that I just need to try because I could find an energy and happiness that I never knew I had. This post provides me with a lot of inspiration. Thank you :)

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emily April 19, 2009 at 7:18 pm

I’ve never smoked (literally, not even a puff) but not-smoking is something I’m really passionate about. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us.

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Gena April 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Amanda, it means a lot to me that this brought your sense of pride back. Congrats on your five years!

Jess, I know bloggers simply from reaching out and reading! This is my maiden voyage as a blogger. And I celebrated with not one, but two fabulous raw meals, and not one, but THREE fabulous raw chocolate desserts! More on that tomorrow :)

Matt, Whitney, Jenna, and Jenn: Thank you!!

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Rose of Bohemia April 19, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Hi Gena,

CONGRATS!!! I feel like everyone above has already said the things I would have wanted to write, but I just have to say I hope you are working on your own book in addition to editing others works because you are such a good writer! I tried smoking once when I was 15 and then I was afraid that I smelled the rest of the evening so I never did it again. However, I think anyone with vices (probably everyone) can relate to your post. I hope you had an awesome celebratory day (sounds like it from the above:).

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vegan on stage April 19, 2009 at 8:24 pm

omg congrats!!! ive actually never even taken a puff in my entire life.. but i have lots of friends who just cant seem to kick the habit… i totally respect you for it!

keep up the good work!

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Hangry Pants April 19, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Congratulations Gena. My mom quit smoking cold turkey a few years ago. While she will fully admit that she did it because she wanted to prevent further aging affects, I think she will also admit that she feels better. Although she does tell me that the smell does not bother her and she actually likes it! Further, like you said, I think this post is extremely encouraging for those who want to quit or achieve any goal. Right now I am just trying to stop biting my nails, which is just a habit, not a chemical dependency and I know that if you and my mom can stop smoking I can stop biting away.
Again, congrats on working hard to live a supremely healthy life.

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Anne P April 20, 2009 at 12:54 am

Hi there, I’ve never read your blog before, but found this post through Kath’s site and just wanted to say it was beautifully written. I especially loved the comparison of remembering the lure of smoking to remembering a love that has long since been extinguished. That’s so true (I’ve never smoked, but know what you mean on the love side… it’s interesting how all of a sudden one day it’s like… wait, really? I can hardly remember how that felt…). Anyway, congratulations :)

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Emily April 20, 2009 at 1:07 am

Hi Gena,

Firstly, congratulations on your one year free of smoking!

I smoked for a year (I can’t really recall why I started, only that after a year I figured I’d had enough so just stopped). For years afterward, the smell would still seem kinda nice to me, but I learned last Friday that nowadays I just can’t tolerate it. I like to think this as proof our bodies change and maybe one of these days a baked NY cheesecake will no longer look like heaven to me :) (NB: I actually haven’t had any in years, but I still dream of it!).

Have a great day,
Emily.

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Dori April 20, 2009 at 6:04 am

Wow, I had no idea you used to smoke. I (unlike the friend you mentioned here) can’t imagine you with a cigarette at all! I am so proud of you for overcoming this and being as healthy as you possibly can be! You are very inspiring.

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fitforfree April 20, 2009 at 7:24 am

I’ve never been a smoker, but the process of leaving behind unhealthy habits and learning to navigate life without an unhealthy “crutch” is something that I can definitely relate to!!! Congratulations on your accomplishment, and thank you for sharing your story :-)

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Gena April 20, 2009 at 11:04 am

Thanks Vani!

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Michele (aka Raw Juice Girl) April 20, 2009 at 8:09 am

I’ve never smoked but am so glad I went ahead and read this heartfelt, beautiful post about your journey! <a href=”http://www.katheats.com/”Kath directed me to this post from her blog. So glad I followed the link over! I’m loving your site and I know I’ll be kicking my shoes off and coming back often to gobble up more and more of your rawesomeness! ;-)

*smiles*
Michele

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Gena April 20, 2009 at 11:04 am

Michele,

I love your nickname AND the fact that you’re lovin the site! Please keep reading, and thanks.

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Michele (aka Raw Juice Girl) April 20, 2009 at 8:11 am

Oops! Forgot to close my link! That would be: Kath. Sorry about that!

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gina (fitnessista) April 20, 2009 at 8:52 am

whoa… what a beautifully written, honest and amazing entry. thank you so much for sharing with us! so cool kath could help you out- she’s incredible. congrats on sticking with it <3
i have decided to kick up my raw-ness to the next level by only having cooked food for dinner. i’m excited and will definitely be looking to your blog for help
have a great day :D

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Gena April 20, 2009 at 11:06 am

Gina, thank you! I am so excited that you’re trying “raw till dinner,” which is an approach I like to promote with my clients!

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Sara April 20, 2009 at 9:09 am

First of all, congratulations on your Quitiversary! Reading this post was like taking a trip down memory lane. I was a pack-a-day smoker who quit smoking twice, the first time lasting for about a year and a half (with a fast downward spiral after smoking two cigarettes on a particularly stressful day); the second time has been permanent for several years now. I relate to everything you wrote about the seduction of the act of smoking, the despair over leaving behind a “companion,” and the difficulty going forward. It definitely got easier every day, but I learned the hard way the first time around that I would never be able to “just have one.”

Having been smoke-free for a few years now, I can honestly say that I never, ever crave cigarettes anymore. The new challenge is starting a healthy lifestyle for the second time…

Congratulations again, and thank you for posting this – I know reading a story like this would have helped me a lot several years back, and I know it will help people who are working on quitting right now.

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Gena April 20, 2009 at 11:07 am

Thanks so much, Sara! It makes me so glad to know that in a year or two, I may never feel nostalgic for them anymore. That is a huge, huge relief. And thanks for such a great comment.

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Susan Eitelman April 20, 2009 at 10:06 am

CONGRATULATIONS Gena!!!

I quit over 5 years ago, and it gets even better! Eventually, the smell will be a big turn off and you may find yourself avoiding the smoke-friendly entrance to buildings. KEEP IT UP!

Thanks for the inspiration too. I have some other goals I’m working on now, and reading through your entire post reminded me that “success is boring” (a la Christine Kane: http://christinekane.com/blog/the-boringness-of-success/) and that it’s that boring road, where each tiny decision is not glamorous, but oh so important, that gets us where we want to go. Thanks for the reminder and the inspiration!

Take care!
-Susan

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Gena April 20, 2009 at 11:07 am

Thanks, Susan!!! And thanks for the link! I’ll check it out.

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Mariposa April 20, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Gena.. congrats on quitting!! I hate to admit that I was a smoker. My love affair was less severe though and in times of boredom and great stress i would be lighting up. then it just became something i needed to do- like i needed something to do with my hands while i was sitting around. talking on the phone. driving. stuff like that. my other half has been trying to quit smoking for almost a year now and its been such a struggle for him because like you said- he wonders what he will do. he laughed at the commercials where the people who are quitting “re-learn” how to do everything. i had to remind him- what is he going to do with his hands when he is reading the sports section on a sunday morning? driving to the store? what will he do when hes waiting for dinner to be cooked? (he likes to sit in the kitchen and smoke while Im cooking). so many other things he will need to “re-learn” how to do. hes down to around 2 packs a week which is great- but he can get there- that last little bit.. i know he can!

im definitely going to show him this post!

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Gena April 21, 2009 at 6:37 am

Mariposa, thanks. I hope you show your partner this post! HE CAN quit. I’m confident, too :)

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Rebecca April 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this. It was exquisitely written. You should write candid posts like this more often!

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Gena April 21, 2009 at 6:37 am

I will, Rebecca! thanks.

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s April 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Wow, this sounds so much like me. I quit about 2.5 years ago. Smoking was (and is, to me at least), as you say, so seductive.
Also, you said you went to college in Columbia, and I was wondering if you meant Columbia, Missouri, as you’re now an editor. Mizzou, perhaps?
s

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Gena April 21, 2009 at 6:36 am

Hey S! Congrats on your quitting. It wasn’t Mizzou, actually: I meant Columbia University, not Columbia, SC. But a good friend of mine at Columbia U was from Columbia SC :)

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Rose-Anne April 20, 2009 at 3:21 pm

This post was amazing! I am deeply impressed and inspired. It’s so true that we come to identify ourselves by our habits: I’m a vegetarian, a cook, a walker, a talker, etc. To give up a habit really is like giving up a piece of ourselves, even if it’s a piece that we know we’ll be healthier without.

The part of your story about your first cigarette sent chills down my spine: “I’m screwed.” Addiction is so scary and powerful, and we need to remind ourselves that we play with fire when we play with these highly addictive substances. I’m too scared to try anything that might get me hooked!

But like a lot of other commenters, I too have my struggles, compulsive thoughts or behaviors that threaten to derail my efforts to be happy, healthy, and successful. Thank you for sharing your story, and I wish you happy, healthy days for the rest of your long life :-)

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lauren April 21, 2009 at 5:56 am

Hi Gena,

Sorry I am so late on this post, I am a little behind on blogs lately. I just wanted to tell you that your post was beautiful!! You should be so proud of yourself! I smoked from age 15-17, mostly do to stress in my house. My mother and older brother both smoked too (both quit as well). Actually, I stopped on my own when I met my husband, I didn’t need cigs anymore. That comfort I found in him! :) Congrats on your anniversary! I am sure you will make it 100 years smoke free!! (Hey, on a raw diet, why not?)

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Gena April 21, 2009 at 6:33 am

Thanks, sweetie! I am so happy that you stopped, too — household stress makes it all so hard, doesn’t it? I still feel the urge to pick up the smokes when I’m at my Dad’s house.

xo

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christine April 27, 2009 at 10:57 pm

gena, you are a fabulous writer! this was very eye opening into the mind of an addicted smoker. i smoked on and off for 2 years but LUCKILY i never got addicted so quitting cold turkey took very little effort for me. i can’t imagine going through this and now i understand why it is so hard for my brother to quit. thanks for sharing and congratulations!

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Gena April 28, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Thanks a million, Christine!

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ovammafar May 12, 2009 at 3:50 am

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Maybe.
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Jess of Veg Out! January 21, 2010 at 11:07 am

I hadn’t found your blog yet back in April, and am currently browsing through your old posts. I just read this one & wanted to say that it’s my favorite – which says a lot since I love your blog!

I’ve never been “a smoker” (aside from the occasional drunken one in college), but like you said, we all have our vices. This is a really eloquent & profound post, Gena, and I really love it. Your writing style is so great, too!

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Maggie March 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Just rereading this. The part about being scared of evenings is much more relatable now.

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Anastasiab March 30, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Almost 2 years now! Well done lady :)
Your post struck major chords with me (those memories could have been mine, and I really wanted to light up while reading them) I gave up 5 weeks ago (3x smoke relapse over the weekend). I obviously was addicted to the nicotine, but it was, is, the social aspect I truly miss (yes, miss). Its so hard to sit out with mates and not smoke, to drive in my car and not smoke, to wait around for someone and not smoke, to get home at 4pm and not smoke…as you mentiond, what is my right hand meant to be doing in these times?! It was great to read this blog, I could relate to every point and I am glad to see you made it and youre now a non-smoker! Thank you for the inspiration to keep going (or rather, continue being a quittter :) )

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zoe April 3, 2010 at 6:50 am

Gena – thanks for this post. I’m a freshman at Columbia, sitting in my John Jay dorm room, in the process of quitting. I haven’t been a smoker for too long and never smoked more than 5 or 6 cigarettes in a day, but am still finding the process difficult. I can relate to your attitude towards smoking. It’s my favorite activity to sit outside on the benches at night and have a couple minutes to myself, with a cigarette to distract and comfort me.
I’m six weeks in. I needed this to keep me going! It’s also motivating me to make that trip to the gym I was reconsidering.
Almost a year after your quitiversary you’re still inspiring!

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Cathy April 3, 2010 at 7:14 am

Thank you for writing this. I have been off and on cigarettes since Sept 2, 2009. You are right, if I can exercise everyday and watch what I eat, why can’t I just put these damn things down…forever?! I’m going to mark this as a favorite place and read it often. Thank you! And thank you to Kath for linking this to her website, that’s how I found you! I feel better already.
Cathy

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Robyn July 25, 2010 at 7:30 pm

wow! I am on day 4 and it SUCKS! Great timing as i was browsing through recipes and found this post. THANKS for sharing…you are exactly like me and although i know there is light at the end of this suck tunnel it’s great to see it in writing.

Thanks again!

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Kate July 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

You rock. And when I went to Columbia, I was SHOCKED by how many of the students smoked. One day, I walked out of a class with the other students and the professor and EVERYONE except for me lit up and stood there, talking critical theory and smoking coolly. I felt like I had nothing to do with my hands.

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Georgia April 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Congrats Gena!
April 19 is specially for m too- it is my vegan anniversary. 3 years today!

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Lauren April 20, 2011 at 7:47 am

This was an incredibly candid and passionate post. loved it. I actually smoked one pack of cigarettes on my 18th birthday (over prom weekend). It was my form of rebelling.

Today, I am surrounded by people with COPD daily… some of which still smoke… others that have a 40 yr history of a pack a day. I just want to beg them to stop. It is such a terrible disease. Congratulations on quitting. I think this should be an article for young high schoolers to read. Bleh cigarettes. Blah copd.

<3

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Wai Gloff May 7, 2011 at 11:47 am

With all the doggone snow we have gotten recently I am stuck indoors, fortunately there is the internet, thanks for giving me something to do. :)

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Cyndi August 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm

August 26 2011 is my one year anniversary of not smoking after 40 years of one pack a day. I feel great, joined the gym and am weight training. I do think of smoking at least once a week at certain times of the day, or when I am stressed, but when I walk by a smoker I am nauseated by the smell. Best thing I ever did for myself. I wish I could let every smoker feel how good it is not to smoke, how good it is to breath.

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Tracy March 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

Wow, what an amazing piece of writing! It’s 5 years after you wrote this article and I’m only reading this now because I was looking for tips to buy for my Mom who next month will be celebrating her 1-year anniversary for quitting smoking.

I have to tell you, I don’t think I ever fully understood what she went through until I read this. I have never been a smoker. I have never been addicted to anything or dependent on anything. My Mom however, picked up her first smoke before she was even in her teens and though she tried several times throughout the years to quit she only now succeeded in her 50s. All growing up I feared for her health, and then in my late teens when the “second hand smoke” issue started to gain momentum in the media I feared for my own health. She had smoked right through both her pregnancies and all through our childhood – what had that done to US!? I resented her to a degree too (sometimes secretly, sometimes vocally) for shortening the time I would have with her and possibly setting my brother / me up for future health issues. But mostly I could just never understand what the big deal was. Just put down the damn cigarette! I understood she was “addicted”, but she KNEW it was unhealthy, she KNEW it was dangerous, and she KNEW it was hurting us – I didn’t understand WHY the logic couldn’t override the addiction. I didn’t understand all the small social, ritual and emotional attachments she had to smoking, attachments she’d have to give up to really quit. I knew she enjoyed “being a smoker”, but I don’t think I fully understood that her very identity was tied to being a smoker.

Thank you so very much for sharing your story, and in such an eloquent & profound way! I know now that more than just a gift for her 1-year anniversary, I will be giving her my understanding, my patience, my gratitude and my support for something she went through in a very real way, and mostly did all by herself.

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Alanna April 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Hi Gena,

Ok, this is probably going to sound kind of stalkerish, but I can assure you it’s not: happy 5-year “quitiversary”!

Now, I only started reading your blog this winter, so I didn’t even know until today that you were once a smoker. But, this afternoon I happened to be reading Bonzai Aphrodite and stumbled upon Sayward’s brief mention of her own experience quitting . . . along with a link to your blog post. As I was reading, I realized that the date you quit was also TODAY’S DATE. Weird! I’m not a smoker, so it can’t be a hidden message nudging me to quit; but it was remarkable enough to me that I thought I’d write and say congrats. :)

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Gena April 19, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Oh wow! Thanks, Alanna! I’d totally forgotten, so it’s really nice that you reminded me :-)

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Denise May 1, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Like you, I LOVED smoking: everything about it….the smell, taste, feeling, rituals, all of it.
And I quit 5 years ago. Cold Turkey. Surprised the crap out of myself that I actually wanted to quit.
You described it perfectly when you said it’s a bit like falling out of love. Its hard for me to remember how essential cigarettes were to me for many years.
But it does give me a deep appreciation and respect for people trying to quit their vices……To anyone trying to quit, HANG IN THERE: you can do it!!

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