Chemical addiction to smoking nicotine is about powerful brain dopamine "pay-attention" pathways burying nearly all memory of what it was like being free. It's about coming to believe that smoking nicotine defines who we are, that it gives us our edge, that we must have it to cope with stress, and that life without it just won't be as good. What's the truth? What is it like to quit smoking for at least a year?
"Since I quit I now have 3000% more energy. I now enjoy my sports again. I met a beautiful lady and married her," says Tommy who quit in 2004 and resides in Moscow. "I have no cravings. I do not want to smoke. I actually find it funny because most of the time I cannot remember smoking and cannot imagine myself smoking - and I smoked for over 20+ years."
"Quitting smoking is the best thing I ever did, and I have not been sick even one time since I quit, no bronchitis, pleurisy, not even a cold. I am able to walk four miles an hour now, and have joined curves and am working out 3 days a week for 30 minutes," says Kalletta, a former 30-year smoker with emphysema who quit in 2003.
Lisa is a mom with a 14 year-old daughter who quit in 2004. "I am so pleased with myself. I now jog and exercise regularly. I am planning an eight-day trek carrying a 17kg backpack in mountainous terrain. I can't believe I am doing these things - and can afford to do them now I don't waste my money on an addiction. Life is great. I will never take another puff."
Tom was a 44 year smoker from Pennsylvania who broke free in 2003. "My health has improved greatly and my self esteem is completely off the charts. I now feel like I can accomplish anything."
A 34-year Sacramento, California smoker, Richard quit in 2004. "My life without smoking has brought to me an awesome freedom. No longer am I a slave to the demands of smoking dictated by a chemical need to feed nicotine to my brain. I have no more worries about when, where, and how often I would otherwise have to smoke. I have a deep sense of real comfort and am more relaxed and calm. I feel so much better about myself, and my renewed sense of worth is phenomenal. There are no more smoking related anxieties in my life of any kind, and I have absolutely no desire or want for a cigarette whatsoever - and this alone simply amazes me! When I was smoking, I could only dream that my life could be this way."
"I know it's been said over and over but I never thought I could do it and be this successful. It was just plain exhilarating (and still is) to be free of this heinous addiction," writes Bell who quit in 2004.
An 18 year smoker, Jenny started smoking at age 13. "I am using the $1,850 I have saved and taking my daughter to Disney World this summer. And for those who think you will get fat after quitting smoking - that is the opposite of the truth. The extra energy I have now has helped me to lose 15 pounds since the day I quit. I feel better than I did when I was 18 years old."
"I truly thought that I had damaged my lungs beyond repair but recently joined a keep fit class and a hill walking group and these old lungs carry me along nicely," says Janice on her one-year quitting anniversary. "In my smoking days I regularly refused invitations preferring to stay by myself hiding in corners with my 'friends', whereas now, at the age of 54 I'm living a wonderful life which I never really knew existed."
Such stories are more commonplace than not. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2005 there were more U.S. ex-smokers (47 million) than smokers (45 million).
"I am so proud of myself for doing this that I am making other changes in my life too. I have started to run and have entered the 'Race for Life' collecting sponsorship for cancer charities. I could never run before, even when I was young," says Marion, a 55 year-old UK smoker who quit in 2004.
"I gained fifteen pounds initially, but now I've lost that and another fifteen," boasts Paul, an attorney who quit in 2001. "I've never felt better."
"Total comfort without nicotine! My last trigger for nicotine was a fleeting thought over 2 years ago and very easily managed," says Roger of Washington state, a 35 year smoker who quit smoking in 2001.
Valorie quit in 2003. She started smoking to try and lose weight after giving birth. "It's ironic, I started smoking at 20 to lose weight and look good, but now I have 3 kids and am 35 years old and look better than I ever have in my entire adult life. This is because now that I am no longer chained in bondage to my addiction to nicotine, I have the lung power to enjoy inline skating - which I love. I can skate for two hours and feel great! Plus, I work out with weights four mornings a week. I actually am in a gym at 6 o'clock in the morning 4 days a week...something I never had the strength or energy to do when I was smoking."
"I never thought I could do it, but I took one day at a time and now I will be here to see my three young children grow," says Tony, a 2003 quitter.
Nicotine dependency recovery is a temporary journey of re-adjustment which transports us from a time when being successfully quit is nearly unimaginable, to a time where visualizing ourself a smoker becomes nearly as challenging.
At one year Meeshe has her sights on becoming a national swimming champion in the butterfly. "The things I was worried about in the beginning was talking on the phone and drinking wine without smoking. I talk on the phone with my friends and drink wine occasionally and thoughts of smoking never enter into my head. Honestly, I can't remember when and where I had my last craving."
"I used smoking as a way of dealing with my emotions for so long, I had to relearn how to deal with my own feelings," says Bernadette, a 27-year smoker upon celebrating her first year of freedom. "But what I feel now, more than any other emotion, is calm. My mind and emotions had been hijacked by smoking. I'm so glad I took them back. My whole body thanks me everyday for quitting; my lungs say they are especially grateful."
Sarah from Houston quit with her husband in 2004. "We are healthier and happier. We were actually trying to have a child with the thought that we would both quit smoking as soon as the test was positive. We had no luck other than a miscarriage during a two-year time frame. Now our baby is due in May and I am so happy that I was not smoking during those first few critical weeks of the unknown."
Annette smoked for 27 years. "So many things have happened this year, relationship and lifestyle change issues, brother's death, stepfathers death, brother moving in, kids moving out and on, and through it all I have remained smoke free. And because I truly began believing in the fact that I can accomplish and do anything I want to, today I celebrate my one year anniversary of nicotine freedom."
Dennis started smoking in college. "I've been smoke free now for three full years. There are so many great things that will happen in my life that I would have missed out on if I hadn't stopped smoking. I am now 31 years old and it scares me to think that I would quite possibly be past the middle point of my life if I chose not to give up smoking."
"I was a queen smoker," says Rose who quit in 2004. "I smoked for 12 years -- from age 16 -- and almost 2 packs a day regularly. I probably got up to 4 packs a day while drinking. I had a horrible smokers cough from about one year after I started. I couldn't walk up stairs without huffing and puffing - even when I was 20, 21 and 25. Now I can run up stairs and although I'll breathe heavily, I'll breathe!"
A smoker since age 15, Jim had two heart attacks and stent surgery by age 61. His cardiologist told him that if he kept smoking that soon there would be nothing more he could do. He quit on New Year's Day 2005. "On occasion I dream that I've smoked and wake up angry that I have to go through that quitting struggle again, only to realize with gratitude that it was only a dream - a nightmare. Smoking still intervenes, unbidden, in my thoughts but no longer in my life."
Joe, a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker for 35 years, quit smoking nicotine in 2004. "I'm not saying it was easy, but it was not nearly as hard as I had anticipated. I think the fear of quitting is worse than the actual process. I now teach smoking cessation at my workplace and I encourage people to try cold turkey."
Judy, a 28-year smoker from Alberta, Canada started smoking at age 14 is celebrating one year of freedom from nicotine. "I joined a gym and find that daily exercise helps me manage my stress levels. My children have been so proud and supportive of me throughout the year and tonight we are going out for dinner to celebrate! As an ex-smoker, I realize I may have done irreversible damage to my body, but I hope I have increased my odds of living a long and healthy life by quitting smoking when I did."
John from Athens, Greece lost his 33 year-old sister to smoking induced lung cancer on June 20, 1999. Both were Camels smokers. "Quitting is probably the best thing I have done in my life," says John.
"Believe me when I say, if I can give up smoking anyone can. Every day I remind myself how great it is to be a non smoker, it truly is a liberating experience." Pauline quit smoking on Thanksgiving Day 2004. "You might wonder why I chose Thanksgiving as my quit date. I am a foreigner living in the USA so I do not have that deep emotional connection to Thanksgiving that is peculiar to an American. You can of course imagine how wonderful every Thanksgiving Day will be for me from now on. My own very special Thanksgiving Day!"
"I couldn't believe how much better food tasted and how much better I could smell different things," says Elaine who quit in 2004.
David, who quit in 2005, works in a hospital where he says he watches smokers die. " To me it feels so good to no longer be under the control of nicotine. It feels great to be free and the money I saved, and when I pass by and see people shaking in the cold or rain to smoke or out in the heat, I just can't believe that was me at one point. I am living proof that if I can do it then anyone can."
Michael from Wester, New York, was a pack-a-day smoker for 11 years who quit in 2005. Before quitting he was deeply concerned about developing a smoking related disease. "Carrying this inside of me was like walking around with a bowling ball in my stomach. Every time I smoked, I felt guilty, a little ashamed. I now have so much self confidence! I am no longer under the power of anything but myself."
"I went to sleep after staying awake all night in dread, and then I woke up an ex-smoker. Those first few days were tough." Ashleigh smoked her last cigarette on July 2, 2006. "Now I know that my fear was because I thought that I'd continue wanting a cigarette every hour for the rest of my life, like I did as a smoker. And that, of course, simply isn't how it works. Those hourly cravings all go away, as long as you don't give in to them again. "And on a lighter note, I had to temporarily order my hot wings a little less hot because my sense of taste got so much better! I have enough energy left after work to do other things if I want to. The little signs of healing are really incredible when you stop to notice them."
Allison quit on September 11, 2005. "Quitting smoking was one of the most difficult things that I have accomplished, but it is definitely the most rewarding. I have enjoyed the past year without cigarettes more than I ever thought possible. Until I got rid of the addiction, I did not realize how much it controlled me. I was always contemplating the next cigarette; any activity had to be planned with smoking breaks included. I did not realize how isolated I had become in a society that no longer tolerates smoking. The freedom that I have now is beyond compare."
Lisele quit on November14, 2005. "I was one of those 'committed smokers'. I'd smoke everywhere I legally could. I felt it was my right as an American to smoke. I felt superior to other addicts, my drug didn't intoxicate me, I was somehow 'better.' I now realize how wrong I was. I feel like a different person. I feel that since I quit smoking I'm capable of accomplishing more then I used to imagine. Many more doors have opened in my life. I have become much more optimistic/positive about my life and what I can do. My perspective of the world has changed."
Cheryl quit in 2004. "I can honestly say that it didn't take long into my quit where I didn't even think about having a cigarette anymore and I really started to feel sorry for those still running outside in the cold, rain, and snow to light up. That used to be the old me, but never again!"
A 52 year-old smoker of 25 years, Greg quit in February 2005. "It was not easy, probably one of the hardest things that I have done in my life, but it is not only possible to live and function without smoking, it is the greatest feeling ever! You can breath so much easier, you are so proud of yourself, and it is probably the best present you can give to yourself, and your family!"
Tom quit on January 5, 2006 and has zero regrets. "All the money I saved, I spent it on my children. All the time I wasted, that time is spent with my children. No one hears me say anymore, 'Wait until I finish my cigarette.' I don't miss looking for a lighter, or a smoke, or stress out about when I need to get my next pack. Heck, I found better things to do."
"You never realize just how bad cigarette smoke smells until you quit. I still like to go out after work and have a few beers, but I have to take a shower as soon as I get home because I can't stand the smell, " says Jerry who quit on March 19, 2006. "Well I can't believe it has been an entire year already. What a wonderful feeling it is to know that I am no longer a slave to nicotine. This is my way of climbing on top of the highest mountain and screaming at the top of my smoke-free lungs I AM VICTORIOUS!"
"Three years ago, on March 15, 2004, at 12:00 midnight, I ended a 28 year addiction when I stubbed out the last cigarette I will ever smoke in this life, in a hotel room in Santa Cruz, California," says Lee. "I know you are supposed to say you are only quitting for the next minute, hour, day, etc; but I am in such a comfortable place with my non-relationship with nicotine that I can confidently say that I will be nicotine-free for the rest of my life."
"A cardiologist actually told me that I was addicted. I did not believe him. I was 32 at the time," says Chavet, a 16-year former smoker on her first anniversary. "I am on the 'other side' now. I have been living in comfort for quite a while and I'm only '1'. I do not spend time thinking about smoking, I do not miss it, I do not need it. I never did. Last night was my official birthday and this time when I cried I cried tears of pride."
"Just celebrated 1 year of smoke-free living on March 19, 2007," says Bill. "I quit cold turkey after my son mentioned that my cough sounded bad and that statistically smokers die in their sixties. He said he wanted me to know my grandchildren and linked me up with the WhyQuit site. I'm 55 years old now and feel better than I can ever remember."
Coming home can be the most amazing journey in self-discovery we'll ever take if we'll only open our minds to the reality that we became as lost inside our addiction as the alcoholic or heroin addict inside theirs. Shed all needless fears as, contrary to the de-sensitized feeling you may experience during the first couple of weeks, it's temporary and you are leaving absolutely nothing behind.
It takes up to 72 hours for the body to become 100% nicotine-free and withdrawal to peak in intensity. If you smoke any nicotine after quitting, even one puff, you will either relapse to full smoking or again need to endure another 72 hours of nicotine detox. We're not that strong. Just one rule that determine on which side of the bars we'll spend the balance of life ... no nicotine just one hour, challenge and day at a time, Never Take Another Puff!
Story Source: The above quotes of long-term ex-smokers are from WhyQuit.com, a free online education, motivation, counseling, and peer support forum. WhyQuit is staffed entirely by volunteers, sells nothing and declines all donations.