Don't pull the trigger

The American Cancer Association’s Fresh Start program, ran at the Health and Wellness Center, advises that identifying triggers and overcoming them is an important aspect of staying smoke free.  Triggers are the moods, feelings, places or things you do in your daily life that ignite your desire to smoke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Ryan Conroy)

The American Cancer Association’s Fresh Start program, ran at the Health and Wellness Center, advises that identifying triggers and overcoming them is an important aspect of staying smoke free. Triggers are the moods, feelings, places or things you do in your daily life that ignite your desire to smoke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Ryan Conroy)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Editor's note: This is the third in a series of related articles on the progression of quitting smoking through the first-hand account of Airman Ryan Conroy. The series takes a look at how anyone with the drive and determination can quit for good with the use of base resources and medical professionals.

My hands are shaking.

My thoughts are racing, trying to imagine an outcome where what I'm considering isn't wrong.

Don't pull the trigger.

Don't go back to who you were. Don't disappoint everyone around you - don't smoke.

During the past three months, I've precariously held the title of a nonsmoker. Although proud of the accomplishment, there have been situations where I wish I could go back to my old flame. Situations and places I used to be comfortable smoking in, now stress me out and are awkwardly unpleasant. These times are commonly referred to as triggers.

Triggers are the moods, feelings, places or things you do in your daily life that ignite your desire to smoke.

The American Cancer Association's Fresh Start program, ran at the Health and Wellness Center, advises that identifying triggers and overcoming them is an important aspect of staying smoke free.

When I first quit, I found myself getting into my car and feeling a strong urge to find a lighter and smoke. I would begin to feel stressed and agitated and I would contemplate going to buy a pack of cigarettes to appease the craving. Thankfully, I resisted the initial urge, but months later I still find myself in situations where ex-smokers don't exactly thrive. I continue to avoid people who smoke, I take short drives and I don't drink around people who smoke either.

"Your mind associates certain activities with smoking," says Capt. Monica Beebe, 31st Medical Group tobacco cessation instructor. "Ride out the desire to smoke. It will pass. The worst thing you can do is appease a craving by smoking. There's no such thing as one cigarette."

A big reason I smoked was to handle stress, which continues to act as a relentless trigger to smoke again. This happens because smoking cigarettes actually relieves some of your stress by releasing powerful chemicals in your brain. According to the National Cancer Institute, temporary changes in brain chemistry cause you to experience decreased anxiety, enhanced pleasure and alert relaxation. Once you stop smoking, you may become more aware of stress.

Everyday worries, responsibilities and hassles can all contribute to stress. The longer I go without smoking, the better I get at handling the stressors in my life. Instead of escaping through a cigarette, I go for a walk, work out and handle my stress head on.

Recently, my mom told me that my grandparents attempted to quit smoking several times but never made it stick. I wonder if they were triggered into going back, as if they didn't properly identify their triggers.

My grandfather died of emphysema and my grandmother of lung cancer. My mother described their experience as "suffocating to death." Think of a time you were holding your breath underwater. When your instincts kicked in, you swam toward the surface as fast as possible. Now imagine the surface never comes...suffocating to death.

The next time I'm feeling the urge to smoke and I encounter a new situation that induces cravings, I'll think of my grandparents and I will not pull the trigger. Instead, I'll spend my time dreaming of the day I tell my grandkids of the time I kicked a terrible habit--because I will be around to tell them.