The Rush University Prevention Center offers a comprehensive Smoking Cessation Program, which starts Oct. 4. Call (312) 942-3227 to register. A free informational session will be held at noon on Sept. 21. Learn more
By Karen Clayton
I loved smoking. I loved the smell of the box of cigarettes in my purse. I loved lighting cigarettes. I loved holding cigarettes. I loved the assumed friendships you’d make with other smokers as we huddled outside restaurants during Chicago winters and complained about being “second-class citizens.” I did not want to quit for all these reasons and many more.
I quit smoking just more than one year ago: November 1, 2009. It’s an important day for me. I remember my last cigarette very clearly. I was driving back from spending Halloween with friends in Iowa. I lit the cigarette, took a few puffs and then tossed it out the window and thought, “I’m done.” I had spent the night before smoking outside in the cold alone and making peace with the idea of being done.
I wanted to quit because I did not love the smell of smoke on my coat or in my car. I did not love being sick all winter. I did not love the idea of being an adult who smoked. I did not love the fact that something was stronger than me.
Many attempts to quit smoking during the course of my life had been made. I tried in college. I tried after college. I tried using medications. I tried cutting back and being a “social smoker.” When Rush went smoke-free in 2008, I tried the free classes it had for employees. Each attempt would be initially successful but I always got in my own way.
I’d think I could have “just one.” I would rationalize smoking, as if it didn’t really count if I wasn’t purchasing cigarettes myself. Eventually, I’d slide right back into my old habits. I got to the point where I truly thought I couldn’t quit for myself and figured that the only thing that would make me quit would be if I started a family. I hoped I could quit for my future, unknown children – but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to.
When I first heard that the Rush University Prevention Center was going to offer the same class I’d taken before, with the same instructor – Carol Southard – they made it hard for me to refuse. The introductory class was offered for free in the clinic across the hall from my office and I could choose between going at noon or 6 p.m. So I signed up.
I stated my reservations about quitting. Then I started planning to quit, along with the others in the session. I didn’t know if I could do it. I decided not to try medications again but this time I took the free samples of nicotine lozenges that Carol was offering. She gave me an unlimited supply and encouraged us to use them as often as we needed them at first. From then forward, every time I wanted a cigarette I put a lozenge in my mouth instead. I kept an ample supply with me wherever I might need them – in my office desk drawer, in my purse and at home. Eventually I stopped using them as much. And now, a year later, I still use them once in a while but not daily.
The real change for me this time around was something Carol said early on. She said, “You are probably always going to want to smoke. Now you just have to tell yourself ‘I don’t do that anymore.’” And now when I’m really craving a cigarette, even a year later, I tell myself “It’s not fair,” then grab a lozenge and move on.
I’ll forever be grateful to Carol for her help and to the others in the class who helped me feel normal during a very uncomfortable time. Something finally clicked and I decided I wasn’t going to smoke again. Ever.
Karen Clayton is manager of Physician Referral Services at Rush University Medical Center.