I never thought I would be celebrating a milestone at age 37. Unless of course this milestone was the birth of a child or surviving some sort of catastrophe. Luckily it is not the latter and some might think it’s unfortunate that it’s not the child. Either way it is neither. I am celebrating one entire year, 52 weeks, 365 days of being nicotine free. However this story is really not about me or my nicotine sobriety.
To some a year without smoking may seem a mere speed bump. For me, a milestone. I realized one very cold morning on my drive to work, that I had managed to smoke 2 entire cigarettes in less than my 8 mile commute. This was a shocking moment for me; realizing the ridiculousness that was what I had just achieved. Achieved…what a joke! I heard someone else’s voice in my head that morning – “it’s a deal, my friend”.
For me to celebrate this milestone, I must recognize my very dear friend, my champion, my inspiration, my saving grace, Meghan. If it weren’t for July 4th, 2012, I would not be celebrating today. I may not have given myself a few more years on my life. You see Meghan, Dr. Meghan as it is, came to visit me and spend 4th of July weekend with me at my lake sanctuary, Cordry Lake. It was this day that she said, “Shelley Leigh, when are you going to quit smoking? You know it is so bad for you!” Meghan has been my friend and confidant since our freshman year in college. She is now a Surgical Oncologist, she “cuts the cancer out” (her words, not mine!). On that day in 2012, when she challenged me to quit smoking, I had consumed just enough alcohol to spout back to Dr. Meghan…”I will quit smoking if you agree to start exercising”. You see, Dr. Meghan had succumbed to the overload and demand that it takes to become a successful Surgical Oncologist. She had spent year after selfless year, studying to become the best at her trade. It had left her little time to worry about herself or put herself before her patients and studies. She sometimes spent 16 hours in the operating room, only to find herself at home with a bag of fast food and a couple of gin martinis. And who could blame her? I mean 16 hours on her feet, cutting the cancer out of patients who had a really low chance of survival. Regardless of the excuses to come, we shook hands and made an agreement on July 4th, 2012. I would quit smoking, she would exercise.
You see no addiction can be conquered that quickly. So it wasn’t until January 5th, 2013 that I smoked my last cigarette. It was a month earlier, December 15th 2012 that I started to run again. I always loved running. I ran cross country in middle school and high school. I used to go for a run in college when my studies started to overwhelm me, but had given it up and traded it for a seat at the bar and a cigarette in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I loved smoking! But for me to quit, I knew I would have to replace it with something else. Running it was, I decided.
You can only run so far and for so long on limited oxygen. It was a few weeks later, I chose running over smoking. I didn’t tell my husband or my friends. It would be too much pressure and no one would really believe that I would do it this time. After a week, I caved. I had to tell someone, my husband, I quit. It was so hard. I felt like a piece of me had died. The piece that was calming, soothing, relaxing after a tough day. That comforting friend was gone! Needless to say, my husband was proud. He cheered me on. I kept running. Every time I wanted a cigarette, I laced up my shoes and I ran. It was the only thing that kept me going.
I get asked quite often by others who still smoke, how hard it was to quit. I tell them the truth, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I wanted to tear my face off those first few days, then after a week or two, I cried myself to sleep at night. All I wanted was to have those moments alone with my old friend, a cigarette. I knew it was something I had to do but it was so hard! It was all I thought about. It was like grieving the loss of someone close who had left me forever. I always tell those folks that one week turns into two, two into three and it gets easier to decide not to do it. You put the days in between yourself and the last time you smoked. My coworkers definitely got sick of me…”it’s been 23 days! Go Me!” Those weeks don’t get easier. The choice to not smoke gets easier. I would say to myself, “I’ve gone 23 days without a cigarette, I can go 24!” One day at a time…I can do this.
By March I was strong. I had two and a half months under my belt. I had a weekend long vacation planned to Tampa, Florida, to see Dr. Meghan. Luckily for me I had our friend Cindy coming for the weekend as well. You see, Cindy had witnessed the agreement that was made July 4th, 2012 between me and the doctor. I quit smoking, she started exercising. It was pretty hilarious actually. Dr. Meghan seemed to have a sudden onset of amnesia when I announced that I had quit smoking and she was to start exercising. That is when Cindy became my ally and reminded Meghan of the agreement. Begrudgingly the doctor agreed. We spent the entire weekend, walking and plotting courses she could take to get exercise. Luckily for me her friends from the hospital agreed to help. They would step in once I left and make sure she stuck to the regimen. It was not easy on Meghan. Her feet hurt. She was unsure of herself on how far she could go. We made her take the stairs to the third floor of her apartment, which she never really complained, but am sure it was not easy on her. We talked a lot that weekend on how she would change her ways, pack her lunch, walk the stairs, walk to the grocery store. But after we left, it was up to her. We started a group text. It was an outlet for all of us.
“I did my workout video today and sweated like a whore in church! But the guy on the video is super hot, so that’s a plus!”
“I went to the bar last night with friends who still smoke, assholes, but I made it and never once lit up, yay me!”
“Going for a 2 mile run today because I don’t feel like shit, that’s a first!”
January 6th, 2014, I have conquered a year without nicotine. Dr. Meghan has lost 100+ pounds. Dr. Meghan is my heroine. She accepted the challenge, with only slight hesitation. She is my daily inspiration, my rock. She very well may have saved my life. I need Dr. Meghan in my life and am so proud of her accomplishment. The milestone I celebrate today is life. Meghan has given me more time, more life, together. I am so proud of our accomplishments and milestones. This is why I run. I run because it gives me time by myself to think of how far we have come together and how much further we have to go. Not only do I run for vodka, I run for Meghan!