By Miriam Wexler
It’s the toughest thing you will ever do
I started chain smoking at an early age when I was confined to a ten-month psychiatric hospital. I was concerned about my weight-gain so my thought was that if I smoked I would be able to lose weight. Initially I forced myself to inhale—at the start smoking was not very pleasant. No one at the hospital told me that the psychotropic medications along with the unhealthy bedtime snacks would increase my appetite and cause weight-gain.
I left the hospital about 80 pounds heavier than when I came in. I was obese and a chronic chain smoker. My self-esteem was below rock bottom.
In total I chain smoked for thirty years. The first time I stopped I used hypnosis; it was relatively easy. I told everyone at work that I was going to stop and used candy (lifesavers) to curb my appetite. I used lifesavers as a substitute for tobacco. I lost weight and stopped smoking for about five years. I never thought I would smoke again but unfortunately I did.
During another hospitalization, I did the unthinkable. I started chain smoking again. Stopping to smoke the second time was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. The fact that it was so difficult motivates me to never pick up again. Also the cost of tobacco today is so expensive. I would rather spend the money on things I enjoy than something that poisons my body.
I smoked for another twenty years. I was extremely depressed and cigarettes were my best friends. In the early 1990s I was homeless and went to live with a friend for about a month while waiting for permanent housing. I was not allowed to smoke at all during that month.
When I moved to a more stable living situation I started smoking again. I was alone and isolated and again cigarettes were my best friends.
At one point I realized that cigarettes would kill me if I continued smoking. I focused my energy on kicking the habit, using many methods both alone and with the help of others to stop. For me perseverance was strength.
Here are some of the ways I tried to kick the habit:
1) Binghamton University in upstate New York had a 24-hour warm-line for people trying to quit that I called and found very helpful;
2) I went on two tobacco withdrawal retreats that were failures because I was too socially inept to connect with other smokers who probably never had to deal with mental illness;
3) I tried the patch, smoked despite the patch, so I stopped it;
4) I went to several NA (narcotics anonymous) groups, which were somewhat helpful; and
5) I was able to get acupuncture through my medical coverage—I kept at it—and it cured my urges for one or two days at the most.
Over the summers of the early to mid-1990s I tried to quit about 30-40 times. Then on one seemingly insignificant day I had a cold and by an act of God, perseverance and much practice I stopped at long last.
Sometime later, with the help of therapy and DSNY (dress for success New York), a program that provides professional clothes to low-income women, I joined a running team and came in 3rd place in a 5-kilometer race in Central Park. I became a runner.