(warning: this is NOT a short post)
I have made a few posts to the forum - all of which have been met with lots of great advice and genuine encouragement. After reading a countless number of other posts, I thought I would share my story – for both cathartic purposes as well as to potentially help others who have been or are still in my same position.
I am currently 41 years of age. I’ve been married for 14 years to an amazing woman and have two children who are my world (boys age 6 and 8). Now to my story as a closet smoker…
My parents both smoked when I was young. I can specifically remember thinking how foolish and gross that was as child and then more so as a teen. I can even remember chastising them and their “cancer sticks” as I was growing up. I never smoked through high school or even through college. A short time after graduating college (in January of 2001), a new manager was assigned to my branch at a financial firm. He was a heavy smoker, but we soon became best of friends. He would eventually even become a groomsman in my wedding. During the course of a typical work day, he would step out back of the office several times to have a smoke. Initially, I would merely join him in order to take a break from work and chat some. After a few short weeks of this, I remember asking him to let me bum a smoke one day. Hmm…that does help relieve some stress (or so I thought). So that smoke led to the next and the next, and within the week I purchased my first pack of cigarettes. I’m sure you guys know where this story goes from here. In no time at all, I was a full-blown smoker – 1.5 to 2 packs per day. I smoked in the car, outside my apartment, at work – at most every event in my life. Everyone around me soon accepted me as a “smoker.”
About a year and a half later, I met my wife. She was a smoker too – but more of a casual smoker (mainly when she drank an occasional glass of wine or was bored…often going days at a time without a smoke). For no particular reason, she quit cold turkey about 3 years after we got married. She seemed to have almost zero difficulty quitting. It was as if she decided to quit eating ice cream one day. I, however, continued to smoke.
Fast forward another couple of years to February of 2008. My wife and I had been trying to get pregnant for the past several months. After no success and several doctor’s appointments later, we were told that our only option to have children (outside of adoption) was IVF – or in-vitro fertilization. OK – we can do this. During our final consultation before beginning the process, I can distinctly remember my doctor looking at me and saying “oh by the way, you have to quit smoking today – at least until the IVF process is complete in order to give you the best chance of success.” I don’t remember much else past that. The music seemed to stop. Despite having felt that I was always very sensitive and conscientious of my wife’s feelings, I could think of nothing else except that I was just told I had to quit smoking. However, I had no choice if the procedure was going to be successful they explained to me.
So, in February of 2008 I quit smoking. I told everyone what I was doing in order to help encourage me and even hold me accountable. Most everyone was really great. I don’t remember too many details about that quit. Except that I didn’t really want to do it. I remember being really grouchy and borderline mean to those around me. That…and also the fact that I didn’t really quit. Oh, I paused for a short period of time. I can’t remember exactly how many days now, but only long enough for my part of the IVF.
At first, I was just sneaking a smoke here or there – when the “stress was more than I could handle.” As time went on, I naturally began to smoke more and more. BUT…no one (and I mean no one) knew. Or could know. Not my wife. Not my family. Not my friends. Not my co-workers. No one!!! And so began the sneaking around and my next 9 years as a closet smoker.
Part II of this story is likely to paint me in a very poor light. Truth be told, that’s OK with me. I’d rather be honest. Initially, figuring out how to “closet smoke” seemed to be a monumental effort. How could I keep the smell off of my clothes? How to keep it off of my breath? However, I soon began to figure out how to feed my addiction while avoiding detection. I had a “smoking jacket” or “smoking overshirt” that I always used. I used latex gloves every time I smoked (washing that smell off my fingers was almost impossible). There were also breath mints, toothbrush & toothpaste, deodorizing spray…the list goes on and on. These items were hidden in bottom of a tool box in my car. I had a “spot” where I would go during the day that was both inconspicuous and convenient. Actually, I had multiple “spots” over the years, but settled into the most recent one over the past 3-4 years. At night, I would wait for my wife to go to sleep first before sneaking out the back door to feed the nicodemon one last time. I would always position myself such that I could see through the house to the door leading to the bedroom. Just in case she woke up (as she did a handful of times in the past 9 years) and I had to quickly “un-gear” and jump back in the back door claiming to have walked out to my car to get something (or whatever other excuse I had prepared). After a while, this behavior – which in retrospect seems borderline manic – became second nature. As embarrassing as it is to type this out, I didn’t give it all that much thought day in and day out. Again, it became second nature.
Weekends could be tough, but I always knew that Monday would come again when I would go back to work and be able to easily fall back into my routine in order to feed my addiction properly again. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I made a quick trip to the hardware store or the grocery store or God knows where else on the weekends in order to get my fix. Vacations? Dreaded them. The moment that my wife would mention a vacation, my initial thought would inevitably be “holy crap, where and how am I going to smoke?!?”
For reasons that I still can’t understand, I let this grow and grow until it became part of who I was. I never took the time to stop and really think about it. I guess that I thought I was avoiding disappointing my wife, family, and friends. At least that’s what I told myself. But that’s not really true if I’m being honest with myself. I was terrified of what they would think of me. I have always been extremely successful – from school to my career. Admitting this part of me seemed like it would be admitting I was “less than” or a failure. The fact is, I was a very dishonest person for the past 9 years of my life. I hid this part of myself from everyone around me that loved me. I even hid it from my doctor until just a few months ago for crying out loud!!
Roughly four months ago, I started feeling this pressure or burning sensation in my upper back where my lungs are. When it didn’t resolve itself after a couple of weeks, I began googling. Without going into even more detail, I essentially decided to self-diagnose myself with lung cancer. I talked my doctor in ordering me a chest x-ray, and then a chest CT scan. When both of those came back negative, I talking him into an abdominal CT scan, and then…well you probably get the picture. Seemingly out of nowhere, I had convinced myself that I was dying of cancer. And smoking was the cause. For the first time in my life, I had what my doctor would later diagnose as “generalized anxiety disorder” and panic attacks. These were legit panic attacks where I was absolutely certain this was the end for me. I was terrified. Why did I ever pick up cigarettes? Why did my old manager have to move here in January of 2001? Why didn’t I really quit when I had the chance back in 2008 when we were trying to have children? Why did I put myself in this position? Why am I still putting myself in this position? The day I was cleared of the chest CT scan – how did I celebrate?? I snuck off and smoked 3-4 “celebratory” cigarettes! If that isn’t a clear picture of the perverse mind of an addict, I don’t know what is!!
Despite ultimately being cleared of any imminent health issues, the health stuff scared me. It scared me a lot. For reasons I may never know, it was the first time in my life where I really thought about what I was doing to my body. But that wasn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was that I finally realized and then admitted to myself that I was missing life. Every time that I snuck off to grab a smoke, I was missing time spent with my wife and boys. Oh, I never missed any big event or soccer game, but I was still missing part of their life. The vacations where I wasn’t 100% present at all times. The nights where I couldn’t WAIT for my wife to finally fall asleep so I could feed my habit one last time before going to bed. I told myself for years it was simply because I enjoyed smoking – and no one would really understand. But what I now realize is that was a bunch of BS! That time spent alone in my “spot” drinking coffee, relaxing after a hard day at work…that was a mirage. An illusion. I was simply feeding my addiction. I am just now starting to get it. Key words: “starting to get it”.
Over the past 23 days that I have been a non-smoker, I have had to remind myself of that over and over and over again. Every time that I feel like I just can’t take it anymore and want to run to the convenient store to “soothe the pain,” I try and picture myself the evening that my first child was born. This is actually very hard to type. It was the happiest day of my life (tied only with the eventual birth of my second son). I remember every wonderful moment of that day. Including that evening when my wife sent me to grab a few items from home. Rather than going straight home and back, what did I do? I went to my “spot” to smoke and “chill” for a few minutes. I wasn’t chilling. I was ingesting poison. In fact, I was ingesting poison only a few hours after the absolute best thing in my life had occurred. It makes me sick to my stomach to even type that.
This quit has been something else to say the least. Although the first few days were much easier than I anticipated, the past two weeks have been much harder than I expected. I am on this site almost daily. Either reading the affirmations given to others or reading and re-reading the responses you guys have already given me. In fact, I’m not sure I would be here on day 23 if not for you wonderful, generous souls who are simply trying to help those of us who are desperately fighting for our freedom.
Well, that’s my story. I apologize for its length and for those who dredged their way through all 1,800 or so words. I would be lying if I didn't admit that I’m not still fearful at times as to how this story will end. That’s not to say that I am not optimistic. I am. I dream constantly of the day that I will be free of thoughts of smoking. I trust those on here who tell me that day will come, and to remain steadfast in my commitment to myself. I hope and pray that I am able to stay on this path until that path begins to clear. I can’t think of anything better in my life than take a trip with my wife and sons and enjoy every single waking moment with them – to never even have the thought of smoking a cigarette enter my thoughts. That right now is my Heaven. That is the freedom I so long for!
The past two days of this journey have been the toughest. They’ve required every ounce of resolve to honor my quit – to not give in or give up. But I’m here right now. And today I am a non-smoker. Tomorrow I know that I will be a non-smoker. And I genuinely believe that’s how this story will ultimately end…with nothing but a lifetime of tomorrows as a non-smoker.