Written by a Saskatoon Health Region employee
As this week marks National Non-Smoking Week (January 15-21, 2017), I'm compelled to reflect on my own struggle with kicking the habit.
I grew up in a small town in the1980s. It was a time when it was common to see people smoking just about anywhere; in the mall or in a restaurant, and the dangers of second-hand smoke were barely a thought. Most adults I knew smoked, including my mother, although she made sure to lecture my sister and me on how bad it was for us. I don't think it was a message that ever really sunk in.
I remember smoking my first cigarette when I was 19. I was at a club with my boyfriend at the time and we were chatting with another couple, a guy and a girl in their mid-twenties. She turned to me with a pack and asked "you want one?" Being new to the bar-scene, I was desperate to be thought of as a grown-up, so I casually said "sure". That was back when you could smoke right inside the building.
Soon, I was buying my own and it wasn't long before my mother noticed the pack inside my purse.
"Since when did you start smoking?!" she demanded.
"Whatever. I just bought some because I wanted to", was my response, attempting to brush it off as nothing to be concerned with. She told me she was disappointed in me because I watched her struggle for decades to quit, and she didn't want me to have to go through the same thing. I dismissed her because I was just smoking "sometimes", I told myself.
I never fully accepted myself as a full-blown smoker; billing myself as an "occasional smoker", instead. But eventually, cigarettes became my crutch. I depended on them in times of stress, but little did I realize they were doing more damage to my heart and lungs than the stress of life ever could.
When I began dating my current partner, he never mentioned to me that he hated my smoking. It was months later that he told me about his grandmother, who was slowly dying of emphysema, after years of smoking. He never actually asked me to quit. I think he wanted it to be my personal choice. But like most of us who try to quit smoking, there are some stumbles before you get to that moment when you realize it's now or never.
That moment happened for me when I had gone outside with a work friend to have "just one" on a particularly tough day at work. As fate would have it, my partner came driving by. Scared that I had been caught red-handed, I promptly threw the half-smoked-cigarette to the ground and pretended I was just having a chat. You know, just a work chat, outside the building, on a freezing cold, rainy day.
A few days later, my partner finally said, "You know, I'm not upset because you smoked. It's that you felt like you had to lie to me about it."
I realized then that every time I lit up I was really lying to myself and hurting the people who genuinely cared about me.
The resources were always there to help me. There were smoking cessation programs, like the ones available through the Saskatoon Health Region's Mental Health and Addiction Services. But it wasn't until I was serious about quitting that I made it a priority to seek out those services. When I did, I met with a counsellor who helped me to understand that my addiction was not physical, it was mental. He helped me to see that if I could just get control of my mind in those moments of weakness, I could kick the habit for good.
I haven't smoked a cigarette for more than three years now. In the year that followed my decision to finally quit, I experienced some emerging health issues related to asthma and high blood pressure. Now, in my early thirties, I'm still a young woman, but I've had to work hard to get my health back in check. I'm proud to say that while it's a slow process, I'm getting there.
I still crave cigarettes occasionally, though. I don't think those cravings will ever completely go away.
But each and every day, I make the choice to quit. I choose my health, not my crutch. It took more than a decade to do it, but I've realized that's the real grown-up choice.
The Saskatoon Health Region offers a free education session and materials to help adults who are considering cutting down or quitting tobacco use. There is a free workshop on Tuesday, January 24 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Sturdy Stone building (Suite 156 – 122, 3rd avenue North. Please use back door entrance facing 4th avenue north.)
For more information, or so R.S.V.P, you can call Lynn at 306-655-4125.