If you knew me in my past life, you knew that I was a ferocious smoker. Two-and-a-half packs a day, the classic example of a chain smoker. Everything I did revolved around my smokes. I stood outside in the rain and the snow, I drove around with my car windows open, and I’d walk out in the middle of a Broadway show for a quick one.
I once walked down a dark highway at 2 a.m. in Texas, surrounded by noisy critters, just to get to a 7-11 because I was out of smokes.
I started smoking when I was 16, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I began smoking in earnest. I can’t say that I enjoyed it at first, but I grew to like it, and then I grew to love it. I smoked heavily for 26 years.
I put all this out there so that if you’re reading this and you are a smoker, you’ll know that I understand you. I’ve been where you are now. I tried quitting several times; I became quite adept at quitting, in fact.
And with each attempt that fell short, I became more and more convinced that I would remain enslaved to these things. I became completely sure that I would die a smoker.
That all changed on Wednesday, January 28, 2009. The day started off no different than any other, and by mid-morning I was in the midst of my third conference call of the day. I lit up a cigarette and inhaled deeply, just as I had a million times before.
If someone had told me right then that this would be my very last cigarette, I would have thought that meant that I was going to drop dead.
As it turned out, that wasn’t too far from the truth. I began to feel short of breath, my face grew numb, I felt my heart pounding like a car stereo passing by on Jamaica Avenue. I stubbed out my smoke and went over to the couch, trying to calm down but it was not happening. I was in full panic mode.
Now, I don’t know who I started talking to; maybe myself, maybe my wife, maybe God. But I made a promise at that moment that if I got out of this okay that I’d give them up. I swore that I would start that very moment, not next Monday or the first of next month. Right then. Right now.
I took the cigarettes from my opened pack and ran them under a cold tap. The unopened packs went back to the store. On the day I quit, I was paying $8.25 per pack. In a few weeks they were over $9. I have no idea what they cost these days, but I always use the $8.25 figure in my calculations.
At two-and-a-half packs a day, that works out to approximately $20.60 every day. I saved $618 in my first month; $7,519 in my first year. To date, that works out to $37,600. And over those five years, we have really felt that difference in our finances.
It wasn’t easy. I got antsy and irritable, and I gained a lot of weight. But I was able to pull away, and if there’s one thing a smoker should take away from reading this, it’s this: If I could quit smoking, then absolutely anyone is capable of quitting, because I was as hooked, I was as addicted, as anyone ever was.
I’m not lecturing you, and I’m not going to bombard you with statistics and reasons why you should quit. You know you should quit. But, hopefully if you’ve gotten this far in this column without tossing it aside, you’ve moved from thinking that you should quit to thinking that you can quit.
And I hope that you take that next step and toss your smokes aside, because you can do it. Not next week or the first of February, or when your current pack is empty. Right now. Good luck.