Name: Mike M.
Number of Years Smoked: 40+
Smoke-Free: 3.5 years
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your life like before joining LIVESTRONG.COM and quitting smoking?
My life was relatively sedentary and unhealthy before I quit smoking. I smoked at least a pack a day for over 40 years. I did not exercise outside of the day-to-day physical activity of my work as an occupational therapist and occasional walks with my dog. Smoking was an integral part of my life. It pervaded my waking life and saturated me and my home with smoke and chemicals. I lit up a cigarette every time I initiated a new task, getting up to go into another room, going to the bathroom, cooking, taking the dog outside, getting into the car -- it was ever-present. The only time I didn't smoke was during work, although I did take smoke breaks every few hours. I had tried to quit once or twice in the past and decided that I must be unable to quit, a thought I spent decades reinforcing to myself. I was convinced that quitting was impossible. My health was fair at best. I got frequent respiratory infections, which usually settled into bronchitis. In addition to smoking, I also lived on coffee and, as a result, ate little and was seriously underweight.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your inspiration to make a change?
A few years ago my employer required all smokers to enroll in a smoking-cessation program or face huge increases in cost for health insurance coverage. I saw the writing on the wall, but I still held firm to the notion I would actually be unable to quit. Still, I enrolled in an online program with my insurance company, the first step towards quitting. The program had me explore many thoughts and beliefs about smoking, and somewhere along the way I had a fleeting realization that perhaps quitting actually was possible. About that same time I decided to look for an online support group for additional help, and that was when I found LIVESTRONG.COM and the MyQuit Coach app for help with quitting smoking. My online coach recommended the patch as well as the support group. I started researching nicotine-replacement methods and discovered that doctors were recommending they be used for up to six months by long-term smokers who really wanted to succeed. My insurance company mailed me the nicotine patches, I set a quit date and joined the LIVESTRONG.COM Quit Smoking community.
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did LIVESTRONG help you quit smoking?
The LIVESTRONG Quit Smoking community, which is also included in the MyQuit Coach app, was key for me. The patch helped me deal with physiological aspects, but the community helped me connect with others who were going through the same thing I was. I found an interesting and engaging group of people all working toward the same goal, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I felt a real kinship there. Of most interest to me was the discovery that providing support to others strengthened my own resolve. I also discovered that I did believe I would quit successfully. That was a major buzz for me and incredibly motivating.
Many people in the community were athletic and fit, despite being smokers. They were very motivating and encouraging to me. I started taking daily walks with my dog and eventually bought a hybrid bike to ride along the Rio Grande where I live. Before I knew it I was riding five to 10 miles at a time, and then 15 to 20 -- at 60 years old! That was something I could have never imagined myself doing before. It's hard to convey the significance of that for me, both mentally and physically. So, secondary to the obvious reward of becoming a nonsmoker was becoming healthy!
By this time I was six months into my quit and had not smoked one puff. I stopped using the patch. I did not miss smoking at all -- still don't. I consider myself very fortunate to have escaped that addiction. To this day, three-and-a-half years later, I've not had any interest in taking a puff. Being a smoker is history for me.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What was your support system like?
I spent time each day on the LIVESTRONG Quit Smoking message board for at least the first year. I would often spend hours each day talking with others who were struggling far more than I ever did, which served to reinforce my healthy, nonsmoking life even further.
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did you strategize for your quit?
I think the critical piece for me, and for many others addicted to smoking, is simply realizing that it actually is possible to succeed at quitting. Each challenge or stressor I faced in life without reaching for a cigarette (or even thinking of one), took me that much farther away from the addiction and made me that much stronger as a nonsmoker.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's the biggest challenge you faced?
I didn't struggle as much as others I've watched trying to quit smoking. Using the patch for six months allowed me the time needed to really eliminate all smoking rituals from my mind, home and daily life without any physical problems or suffering a relapse. I knew I was really done in the early days of my quit. Perhaps it was how long I had smoked (more than 40 years!) combined with the real understanding of what was at risk. That knowledge made my escape from smoking that much more meaningful and profound for me.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What advice for success do you want to share with others who are just starting out or still struggling in their fight to quit smoking?
I think the first piece of advice I'd share with others is to really examine the reasons you want to quit. Use the LIVESTRONG.COM Quit Smoking community discussions to help you clarify and focus on what your reasons are. Once you know them, they become your mantra to revisit daily for reinforcement as you struggle with addiction. My own reasons were to stop killing myself, poisoning my life and the lives of my pets. Those reasons were hugely important to me.
Keep your reasons for quitting close at hand so you can access them in moments of panic or stress -- on the fridge, smartphone or computer home screen, bathroom mirror, in the car, etc. Constantly reinforce to yourself and others that quitting is within reach and in your control. Change your belief system.
Stay close to your support systems, such as the LIVESTRONG community, family and friends. Avoid situations that might result in stress reactions as much as possible, and recognize and appreciate that every stressful situation you get through without smoking makes you stronger and takes you further away from being a smoker. Reinforcing the mindset that you can indeed cope with life without reaching for a cigarette is an important lesson.
LIVESTRONG.COM: What's your life like now?
Today I am in good shape, especially for my age. I exercise every other day at the gym, doing cardio workouts to challenge and strengthen my heart and lungs after decades of nicotine abuse. I run one or two miles and cycle eight to 10 miles each time I go to the gym, and on weekends I ride my bike 10 to 20 miles. I have gained 35 pounds and am no longer too skinny. I am so very thankful to have succeeded in escaping this horrible addiction and finding a new life. Quitting smoking was the single most important thing I've done in my life.