…And then our habits make us.

…And then our habits make us.

Happy Monday ya filthy animals!

I wanted to share with you one of my biggest current life-battles because writing it down is always helpful to clear one’s mind.

As I usually go through my morning routine of rolling around in bed, fumbling for my glasses, avoiding any disturbances of the cat because nevermind that anyone may need to move their legs every once in a while, and enjoying my coffee while I plug in, I also cough and hack and expel interesting substances from my lungs.

Effing gross, I know.

This is something I have gradually done to myself over the course of the last half of my life. But I remind myself that this is a cleanse. A good, natural thing putting me on the road to better health. Because…

I QUIT SMOKING

There.

I said it!

This is the first time I’ve REALLY publicly announced that I’m doing it. Because I have “done” this, hundreds of times before. I have tried quitting smoking more times than Peyton Manning has thrown for touchdowns. And that man holds a record for this. The most successful I ever was at quitting was making it to about three months. I can’t even remember why I started back again. But this time I am determined to Get. Rid. Of. This. Nasty. Habit. It has now literally been half of my life that I have been smoking, and that thought alone is so disgusting to really think about how many of those little buggers I have puffed down to a pathetic little filter. And I did, too… usually because I am such a social smoker chatterbox most of the time that I lose track of what’s happening. I have many times woken up with burns on my forefinger because my cigarette burned like, legit INTO the filter, and well, I guess I never even freaking noticed at the time (alcohol is usually involved in these, shall we say, “special” circumstances).

But that’s not the point.

Taking into account how winded I was constantly feeling. The upcoming move to the Mile High City and having to deal with the thin mountain air. The science experiments that my lungs produced on a daily basis (I literally did an experiment in a Food Science class in college where I coughed on a tomato to see what kind of bacteria would grow – I had so many different kinds of funky critters growing, the teacher was even unsure of what they were). Wanting to get back in shape but feeling like being short of breath was really holding me back.

How could I have let myself get to this point? When people say cigarettes control your life, this can certainly be true. For me, my habits were always having a cigarette or two on the way to work. I had a small crew of friends at work that would take smoke breaks together, 2-3 per day on average. I would always smoke a cigarette (or three if I was on the phone – three!!!!) on the way home from work. Again if I was on the phone once I returned home, which I so often was at this time of day, I’d stand outside and chain smoke. Usually the person on the other end was also smoking. Oddly enough, this is a form of social smoking. You can still hear the other person lighting up and exhaling and you feel like you need to do it too. I’d end up smoking half a pack a day probably, often more than that. If alcohol was involved, forget about it, I could smoke a whole pack easily.

It was getting to the point where I had so much laundry to do because all my clothes stunk and I needed to get the stench away. When it was cold out, I’d have to wash all my jackets from wearing them to work and smoking outside at home. I couldn’t stand the way my car was smelling and I was totally embarrassed to have other people (ESPECIALLY non-smokers) ride in it. I kept three different kinds of air fresheners in addition to the one you stuck in your vent, IN ADDITION TO a box of baking soda tucked in my door that I thought might help…

…But really just ended up in a big freaking mess after the first door slam I ever accidentally performed.

And I’m a slammer.

Doors and drawers. I acknowledge that this is extremely obnoxious human behavior and I try to take notice and stop this, but one habit at a time, okay? WE’LL GET THERE.

But worse, my smoking was getting to the point where I could tell that my health was affected by it. Really, my health has probably been affected by smoking for years. In college, I would get bronchitis at least twice a year. DISGUSTING. How could a person hurt themselves like that over some stupid little habit? Why does it become something we really think we need to do? Somehow we actually think we enjoy it? It REALLY doesn’t taste good. Come on guys. It really, really tastes like shit. We all know it, but we refuse to admit it because the evil tobacca’ has us all tricked into thinking we need it in the way that a gin needs tonic (and we all know gin needs tonic to even remotely be ingestible – They are BFFL and rightfully so.)

But there are so many downsides to smoking! Including the way it comes off to your employer when you are constantly going outside to take cigarette breaks (that sometimes would turn into two or even three cigarette outings.)

And made my mouth dry and sometimes peel in the mornings after using mouthwash. Ew?

And made my car REEK, especially when it rained.

And probably made my breath stink all the time (my poor husband, who quit two years ago!) One time he came home from work and kissed me, and it STUNG HIS LIPS because of the nicotine left on mine. HOLY GROSS!

And made my clothes smell like smoke. Unpacking suitcases became somewhat easier (don’t mistake this for a perk) because I could throw it all in the wash regardless since the smoky smell stealthily infiltrated the threads of everything in there.

I realized I could probably get a whole lot more accomplished if I wasn’t a smoker. My lungs had not had a break in fifteen years and for them, I was feeling the most remorseful. My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer a couple years back (WTF was I thinking to continue on this path???) but he seems to be in remission after radiation treatment, in case anyone was wondering. But STILL. My other grandfather had some polyps discovered in his lungs (luckily not a huge deal) and he quit smoking YEARS ago. It seems disrespectful to carry on with such a habit while members of your family suffers from these types of issues! That gave me some guilt. I was also physically feeling the difference when attempting to be active.

A vendor partner at my last job told me about an app called SmokeFree that he used to help him quit smoking. I already was planning to quit in the near future, but I added this to my arsenal of resources I was piling together to help myself quit. I set my date for January 1st as my husband and I had already made plans to move from the Charlotte, North Carolina area to Denver, Colorado and our date for hitting the road was December 31st. It seemed to me that it would be best to do this at a time when I was rushing into the new year, a new place, a 1600-mile drive to “detox” and do some soul searching. What I did was listen to Serial, XM Comedy channels and podcasts to keep my eyes open while driving through the MF-ing Midwest, but what I didn’t do was think a whole lot about having my cigarettes on me. We did end up with a very good friend driving across the country with us to help us pack and unpack the moving truck. Bless him. He helped us immensely and we are SO thankful for everything he did!

But he is a smoker. I bummed a few from him during those days screwing up my quit date, but I didn’t lose sight. My brother in law came out to help us as well, and I didn’t stop fully until after he had left and I had no one to spend my days with but myself and my non-smoking husband. I recommitted myself.

I still have some slip-ups, completely revolving around alcohol. And being on the phone.

But I realize my triggers and those two things are the biggest ones glaring me right in the face. I’m talkin’ GLARING, just as bad as the HORRIFYING and GI-FREAKING-NORMOUS Chucky doll BANNER that the movie theater in LaGrange, Georgia proudly displayed circa 1991 when the movie Child’s Play 3 came out, and it scared me so badly as a small human that I had to walk into the theater backwards to avoid seeing his face and that terrifying drop of blood coming out of his evil little mouth.

And I was a kid who had a mother who saved all my records from elementary and middle school. She still has a copy somewhere of one of my younger years where they asked me “what are you afraid of?” and my tiny badass self replied, “nothing.”

FIERCE. Just sayin’.

If you don’t remember Chucky’s nightmare-inspiring ugly mug, here’s a reminder:

Jesus Christ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Evil.

Excuse me, while I go drop in on my therapist and pay her a nice EMERGENCY VISIT…

Okay, I have exercised the demons. This head is cleeear. Back to my stoppage of the smoking.

Recognizing your triggers and actually confronting them is proving to be UBER IMPORTANT in making this successful. It is really and truly something I have never done before honestly and aggressively. And I recognize that now. But this time, I plan to take that doll, and TEAR OFF IT’S MOTHERFREAKING HEAD AND MAKE SURE HE NEVER COMES BACK… er, I mean, I plan to face my smoking triggers and make them my bitch.

So here, publicly, I wanted to discuss some of the features of the SmokeFree app that were pretty helpful during the first 30 days. I paid for an upgraded version of the app to include daily missions for me to complete in the days leading up to my quit date and for the next 30 days after it. Supposedly, in trial groups these missions proved successful in the majority of the people who used them. I figured I needed all the help I could get.

The app shows you a dashboard which displays the amount of money you have saved and that which you could save in a year, hours of life regained (based on a super-scientific algorithm of some sort – I don’t know, they don’t pay me to understand the statistics methods), number of cigarettes not smoked (I’m currently at 392!), and number of cravings resisted. Assuming your phone has literally become an extension of your anatomy where you manage to record each and every time a craving or thought about a cigarette pops into your head, this “number of cravings resisted” could actually be a number reflecting real life. But I happen to be a person who has not reached that pivotal point in my evolution where my hands started turning into gadgets, so my cravings number is nowhere near accurate. But now, when I do have one, and then I remember that my phone is not an extension of my arm, and then I concede that recording this craving in the app isn’t something I’m going to do, I do take just a moment to think about why I’m having it. Did my phone ring? Am I bored? Did that beer just go to my head? Would drinking water help? This moment of reflection has been exponentially helpful in turning my cravings into quick pangs that I swiftly recognize as such in my head, and I give it an internal super-smug MUWAHAHA, STOP LOOKING AT ME, SWAN! And we move on. I take a moment to remember how far I’ve come and how much better I feel, and how I don’t think I have any gum on my person to help out my stankbreath afterward anyway…

The SmokeFree app also has progress bars showing you things such as when smell and taste should have returned, when your coughing-shit-up status might come down from invasive lab experiment level (Code Red!) to that of an average person, when your circulation should have improved, and also when your risk of heart attack and lung cancer can reach about half that of a non-smoker. I have a looooong way to go on these last two, but every little bit is a step in the right direction.

My missions are part of what I received for the paid version of this app. Since my quit date was January 13th, I am done with my missions, but I did want to list a few of them and provide my honest answers accordingly since I have not been doing a good job of completing the missions by physically typing in my responses with what must be a size 2 font on a cell phone that could give Superman eye strain. So I will complete some of them now to a larger audience than just me and my pal SmokeFree. I hope that if you are thinking about quitting smoking that these could help build your arsenal against the nicotine brigade, just like I was mentally building up before I committed to a quit date.

Quit day 4 Mission:

“Today is about future preparation and the well-tested idea that the best way to deal with a difficult situation is to have an advance plan for it. What are the triggers that might tempt you to smoke again? Your mission is to imagine three of these situations, then to write down an if-plan for dealing with each one.” The exerpt also encourages you to research quit smoking sites, groups and forums for other ideas.

Here is my plan for my biggest obstacles:

Trigger: Social situations and hanging with smokers

Remember: You don’t have to deprive yourself of going outside or hanging with the group just because they smoke and you don’t! Why would smoking be a requirement for that?

  • Drink water instead.
  • Keep your hands busy.
  • Go to the bathroom, linger and clear your head; the group should be almost finished by then.
  • Remember THAT TASTE. Eat or drink something else instead.
  • Let everyone know that you QUIT. They should be supportive!

Trigger: Alcohol (aka THE. WORST. TRIGGER. EVER.)

Remember: Try to sit/stay inside where possible. If outside, play a game, be active somehow, walk around. Drink water! You need it anyway when you’re drinking to stay hydrated. This will help you to have something to do with your hands and mouth if other members of the group smoke, and it will help with that hangover. You know, the one that is now three times as long and painful as when we were 18, as well as makes you question your sanity, now that we’re thirty years old.

As a mantra, as soon as you get to the bar, remember all the thoughts stated above and repeat them periodically. I feel great without cigarettes. I don’t need them. They taste and smell horrible. I personally remember the progress bar on my old trusty SmokeFree app and all the effort I’ve put in to get to this point. Convince yourself that you are a non-smoker so even your uninhibited brain-on-alcohol believes it. That guy is like Mayhem from the Allstate commercials, patiently waiting for you to drink a beer and screw up so he can crash your ass into a tree. Don’t allow your brain-on-alcohol to be like Mayhem!

So we all know, I am still struggling with this trigger, so I’ve been cutting back on my alcohol intake. It’s necessary for me and alcohol has been the biggest contributor to my smoking I think thus far. Just the other day I was with some friends and I could NOT stop thinking about smoking. I talked myself out of buying cigarettes on the way home, a personal achievement, and I made it another weekend without my favorite worst frenemy.

 

Trigger: Talking on the phone

Remember: Do I have NOTHING better to do than chain smoke while I’m on the phone? YEAH, I do have more important things to do…

Make a list of menial crap you need to do. We all have some. Designate tasks to do while talking on the phone, keeping your hands and mind busy. It was mindless to have a cigarette or 5 while on the phone; make it mindless to do other things from now on.

Again with the mantras. But mostly just keep busy. Simply end the conversation if you feel you feel that you just cannot live without a cigarette. This is still a tough one for me and I spend a lot of time pacing around the house. I am not yet at a place where just sitting my tail down and sitting still is enough. We’ll get there.

 

Quit day 5 Mission:

“It can be good to spend time in the company of quitters and if that’s hard to in person the internet can help… Your task today is to visit a site and read 10 posts from people in the early stages of quitting.” I wanted to use this mission to enter a short list of helpful sites in case you or someone close to you are looking to quit smoking or for support:

  • www.Reddit.com/r/stopsmoking
  • www.smokefree.gov
  • http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/best-quit-smoking-blogs#1 (a compilation of links to non-smoking blogs and other helpful sites)
  • www.whyquit.com
  • Google images of “smoker’s lungs”. I dare you.
  • And maybe even the good ol’ KuriousKaleidoscope because reading about real life experiences and achievements is more effective than a bulleted, generic site, right? I’m sure this will not be my last post on the subject!

 

Quit day 6 Mission:

What are the five biggest benefits you’ve found from giving up smoking? Write them down and come back to this mission if you’re ever tempted to smoke again.

  1. Breathing! I can run farther and I can ski down a Rocky Mountain slope and not need to stop because I’m out of breath.
  2. Smell – on my clothes, in my car, on my breath, tasting it after smoking, on my fingers, in my hair… NO MAS
  3. Saving money! According to my handy dandy SmokeFree app, I will save an average of $803 this year.
  4. Health – this is a toughie because it’s not exactly tangible…until it’s too late. This is where the app comes in! I like being able to see my progress bars about where I am in relation to reaching heart attack or lung cancer status back at half that of a non-smoker. I would assume that I will also not be getting bronchitis as often which in turn saves a doctor’s trip and money spent there. Double win! In general I am tempted to invest more time and energy in my health and “recovery” for my body and lungs for what I’ve done to myself for the past 15 years by smoking all these cigarettes. That never hurts.
  5. Confidence – That feeling of badassness, of inner goddess, where you kicked butt and took names and overcame this thing that used to hold you back. Marlboro? You and I are like Targaryans and Lannisters from now on, pal. And for those who don’t know the reference, it’s not a good thing. Parliament? You’ve got a short little baby filter anyway, you puny weirdo. Camels? I’ve really never liked you anyway but beggars couldn’t be choosers…or so I thought.

 

Quit day 21 Mission:

“What is the furthest you’ve gone to have a smoke? Have you fished out butts from the bin, stood smoking in the pouring rain, driven miles in the middle of the night to get another pack? Spend a couple of minutes reflecting on the way cigarettes used to have a hold over you and all the things you used to do to feed your addiction. As you do, take pride in the fact that you don’t need to do that any longer.”

This one kills me. I have done some pretty ridiculous things for cigarettes and it really, REALLY is crazy to think back and wonder why I thought I needed another pack of cigarettes so badly that I’d risk my life. Literally. A few years ago, we went to the Washington D.C. area for a wedding. There was a group of us from high school there who lingered on the hotel’s rooftop for a good while into the night just catching up. I ran out of cigarettes and decided I was going to just shady dip and go get some more before anyone noticed. I walked for.ev.er to find some, into the next town I’m quite certain. Females have no place to be walking around by themselves in these types of areas at night. I also have no idea how long I was gone but I am sure it was at least an hour, because when I came back expecting to walk back up to the table and rejoin the conversation as though nothing had happened, there was no one there. Everyone had gone to bed. Instead of spending time with my friends, I spent all that time wandering around a strange town looking for something to further kill myself with. Doesn’t that seem intelligent?

I used to live across the street from a grocery store. My best friend and her husband were visiting and in these cases, he and I typically end up staying up til 4am drinking, chain smoking and talking about life. He and I rode our bikes across the street in the middle of the night to go purchase more cigarettes. As often as I hit up that grocery store, which often on the weekends would be upwards of three times, you’d think I’d know that it was closed at that hour of the night. So after seeing it was closed, we then drove about 5 miles away to go get some more cigarettes. I have made this drive countless other times to go get more in the middle of the night. Where was my angel on my shoulder saying “give up and just go to bed”? Maybe your conscience about quitting is the angel. I didn’t have her there then, or at least she was hibernating sweetly somewhere in the depths of my brain. But she’s awake now.

I even caved a few weeks ago and decided I needed to get a pack of cigarettes on the way home from a friend’s house. Wanna know what I did? As I walked away from that gas station attendant window after a successful purchase, fiending and feeling excitement about my next hit like a heroin addict might, I realized quickly that I locked BOTH my cell phone and my keys in the car. You tell me: was it worth it, or nah?

Your cigarettes don’t mean anything when you’re stranded in a strange place on a night with temperatures into the ‘teens in Colorado and you’re miles from home (assuming that you know in which direction home is. Which I did not since I’ve haven’t lived here long enough to wean myself off of the GPS just yet.) I didn’t even know a Honda could allow your keys to be locked inside, but funny things happen when you’re up to no good.

 

So, I feel a lot more open now that I have shared with the world this news of mine. It is miniscule to others, but monumental to me as this has been a habit for half of my life. This little evil sidekick that tricked me into thinking it was tasty, relieved stress, and would keep me meaningful company. Lies! I am still teaching myself to hate it this much after drinking any somewhat significant (who’s measuring?) amount of alcohol, but let’s not put the horse before the pony. For now I tell myself that I’ll get there and my determination to do so grows a little bit more each day. I can tell a major difference in my hacking and my ability to breathe during activity and it’s nice to have finally gotten somewhere where I can tell the difference. When people say “one day at a time” in regards to smoking, that’s really all you can do! I’m still on the struggle bus, and I’ve still bummed cigarettes in moments of weakness, but what really matters is that once the alcohol has fizzled away, my head is still in the game.

Are you looking to quit smoking or know someone who is? Please let me know in the comments any experience you have with this including what works for you and what doesn’t. I’d love to hear your success stories and maybe someone else will read this and decide to stop for good.

Remember: the habit doesn’t make you! 

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13 thoughts on “…And then our habits make us.

  1. Ashley

    Way to go Kell!! So proud of you. I tell my mom she needs to quit all the time. Her uncle just passed of lung cancer and she had a collapsed lung years ago when I was in elementary school. Somehow that hasn’t scared her enough to quit the yucky habit..

    1. Mike

      Well Sis I smoked three cigarettes just reading this on my phone I guess you and I share a trigger? Seriously good luck I’m going to tray real soon but as I tell my sweet mother I do quit every night.

      1. Kellie K.

        yes we do 😉 Was that your “social” smoke? Virtual ones are real too, I swear…

  2. Debbie Sweeney

    excellent job! Proud of you!

  3. Congrats, Kellie! Quitting smoking is the hardest thing I ever did!

    1. Kellie K.

      I remember hanging out with you at OBX right after you quit — you held strong that weekend! Despite the drinks 😉

  4. Katy

    Yaaaaaaah girl – so proud of you! When Weston quit he would do push-ups when he got the urge, something like that might not be a bad idea either. I’ve also known people to eat M&Ms or another candy to trick the ‘hand to mouth motion’ with something else. We will be in Colorado soon, so we can help be positive motivation!

    1. Kellie K.

      I might try that!! Sammy keeps losing a bunch of weight (this is where I insert the emoji with the squinty eyes and straight lined mouth which is basically my face when he mentions his “problem”) due to increased activity here, so I’m sure he’d be willing to join me! Can’t wait to see ya’ll — calendar is MARKED!!

  5. Megan

    So proud of you, Kel! You know we are behind you 110%. Looking forward to more mountain adventures. Those lungs will LOVE you when they’re working above 14,000ft!

    1. Kellie K.

      Definitely was talking about standing around at your house itching in my skin like, I need a cig!!! And yes, they are thanking me already 🙂 Can’t wait to tackle some 14ers!

  6. Renee

    Way to go Kellie – you can do it, just replace one habit with another – knitting ?? suduko ??

    1. Kellie K.

      Or 30 new things I’m trying at the same time… Ha! But yes, you are right, just make it a good habit this time 🙂

  7. Robin

    Hell yea girl! I promise it will get easier… but more than 2 years after quitting I still have those serious drunken cravings, especially when I’m hanging out with folks that I have a long history of smoking with (like you, maybe). Occasionally I give in to those cravings, but now I know I’m at the point that one or 2 cigs isn’t going to be the catalyst that spirals me back into being a slave to the nicotine. So expect to keep slipping up, that’s OK, it WILL get progressively easier! We’ll be in Colorado in a couple of weeks… I will get in touch with you!

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