Kicking the habit: Chronicles of smoking from a personal perspective

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kristopher Levasseur
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Editor's note: This is the first part of a three part series documenting a smoker's attempt to quit. The Great American Smokeout was Nov. 15.

I started smoking when I was 16. I did not have a steady home. It was difficult finding a place to stay most nights. When I could, I spent the night at my friend's houses, but when I couldn't, parks, benches and alleyways were all I had.

At the time I started, I was living in an apartment with a friend. We had no heat, no hot water, no electricity and no food. It was a very difficult time for me. My girlfriend "now my wife" had just given birth to our son, Jesse.

So there I was, living in a run-down apartment, stressed-out and hungry.

I like to say that there are many reasons why I started to smoke. It helped control the hunger, it was readily available and it took the edge off the stress.

But I think the real reasons I started was because the people around me were smoking. It made me fit in; it gave me something to look forward to. I had nothing in my life. I had nothing to wake up for, nothing to look forward to. Cigarettes gave me something to occupy my time.

Since I took up the habit, it has taken over my life. For the past six years, I have been smoking off and on. It has a grip on me that I cannot shake. There are times I enjoy it, there are times that I don't, but the physical need for it remains constant.

I have quit on two separate occasions. The first time I quit, I used the patch and I quit for eight months. This was made easier because I was in basic military training for two months.

I relapsed when I was in technical school. Even though you are not allowed to smoke in tech school, I found myself surrounded by smokers and I was again very stressed out. I know that is no excuse; maybe I just wasn't ready to quit in the first place.

The second time I quit I was stationed here, but I started dipping to replace it. I basically traded one bad habit for another. I knew I couldn't keep dipping and the pull of the cigarettes was too strong. Simply seeing someone smoke was enough to set off a craving.

I decided to quit smoking this time for my family. I know a lot of people say this, but my reasons are a little different. Most people say they want to quit for their family's physical health, but that's only part of the reason for me.

When I was a child, I begged my parents to quit smoking because I didn't want them to die. They never did though. Now, just the other week, my son did the same thing; he begged me to quit smoking. It hurt to think that I am doing the same thing my parents did. I owe it to my son, my daughter and my wife to break this cycle.

I went to a smoker's cessation class at the Health and Wellness Center to help support my quitting. Originally I only went there to get the nicotine patch for free, but while I was there, I found that there was a lot of useful information I could really relate to.

One of the larger points that was made in the class was that you can't only have one. One of the biggest reasons for smokers to relapse is that after they quit, they say to themselves "I can have one and be fine," but that's never the case. Smoking one cigarette leads to two, and two leads to buying a pack. Before you know it, you're smoking again.

Some people in the class shared stories of failed attempts to quit. Other people shared stories of driving 20 miles in the middle of the night to buy a pack of cigarettes. It was good to know that I wasn't the only person going through this.

I am now two days away from quitting. I don't know how I feel about this. In some ways I am happy, but in other ways I'm not. I am happy to get rid of this disgusting habit. I am tired of people giving me dirty looks for smoking in my car, or coming inside smelling like smoke.

But on the flip side, I am going to miss smoking. It was my best friend through the bad times and the good. It was the first thing I did when I woke up and the last thing I did before I went to bed. I couldn't even eat a meal without having a cigarette afterwards.

Smoking has entwined itself into my daily routine. On any given day, I smoke between 15 to 25 cigarettes, depending on whether I am at home or work.

I have many different "triggers" for smoking. I'd have to say one of my biggest triggers is when I am watching a movie or television show where people are smoking. Just seeing them smoke makes me want to smoke. Other triggers I have are eating, driving, stress and other triggers smokers usually have.

With such a short amount of time before I quit, I am trying to figure out what I am going to do to replace these triggers.

I can always tell if a person used to smoke. They are usually fidgety, always trying to find something to occupy their hands. Ex-smokers are usually the first people to know where the smokers are. They can smell the smoke from a mile away.

This is exactly how I am going to be. I get fidgety just thinking about quitting.

Many people replace smoking with a less detrimental habit like chewing gum or toothpicks. I personally am going to try toothpicks.

I am getting the patch in two days; I am starting it the next day. If I can make it 30 days, then I know I can do it for the rest of my life.