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My parents were smokers, and I said I would never smoke. Then came high school and teenage rebellion, so I tried smoking, but I was always athletic and it never really took root.
After high school, I joined the military, which had a strong smoking culture at that time. It was a social thing -- taking a break with a friend and having a smoke. I continued smoking until my late 20s. When I quit, I got athletic again and ran four marathons.
Then, in my mid-30s, life got rough. In a period of 6 months, my mom died, I went through a divorce, and I suffered a bad back injury. I self-medicated with alcohol and fell into the habit of smoking again. I smoked in the morning after coffee, after meals, and when I felt stress, like after getting a bill in the mail. Before I knew it, my half pack a day turned into a pack a day.
For my 40th birthday, I convinced some friends to do something challenging: Get in shape and climb California's Mount Whitney, which is 14,494 feet. I was going to the gym but I still smoked. When we climbed Mount Whitney, I developed high-altitude pulmonary edema, a potentially fatal condition where my lungs filled with fluid and I was gasping for air. I don't know if it was smoking-related, but I have a hard time believing it wasn't.
After that trip, I continued smoking, though I tried to quit. My mom had died from cancer, and my dad had emphysema. I didn't want to be like them. For me, an athlete caught in the body of a drinker and smoker, I realized I wasn't in alignment with my values -- a commitment to health and fitness.
I started changing my habits. After work, I stopped going to the gas station where I bought beer and cheap cigarettes. Instead, I went directly to a yoga class before heading home. I stopped drinking because beer and cigarettes went together for me. Instead of having a cigarette as a reward, I'd do something physical instead, like 20 push-ups. I collected my smoking money and put it in a coffee can. At the end of the month, I'd reward myself with a gift like new running shoes.
But I struggled with quitting and would relapse. Then I started dating a woman and hid my smoking from her. I knew she wouldn't date a smoker. Dating her was a catalyst to quit for good -- I didn't want to expose that part of myself to someone I cared about and wanted to have a future with.
It's been about a year now since I quit. I've dropped 40 pounds because I'm exercising more. My blood pressure numbers dropped from borderline high to a healthy normal. I'm running again. I feel pretty darn good.
"The biggest thing for me was to install a positive habit in place of the negative."
"The last pack you buy could be your last pack if you want it to. You don't have to wait for a big event to quit."
"You can choose the habits you want and don't want from your parents."