I smoked my last cigarette three years five days ago, on August 31 2015 if you are not keen on doing some quick math. And for the first time, I forgot all about my quitiversary.
I was at About Thyme for dinner with two friends last Friday. I mentioned that the last time I was at the restaurant was with my ex and we sat outside because we both smoked. One of my friends was impressed that I managed to quit cold turkey and we had a bit of a conversation about it. The most interesting thing is that not once during the conversation did it hit me that on this same evening 1,096 days ago I was smoking my last cigarettes.
I started smoking in December 2008 for the dumbest reason. I went to Mombasa, for the first time, with an ex-boyfriend and mutual friends. I was cheating on him and foolishly left incriminating chats on my phone. We were at a bar having drinks and my ex asked to use my phone as his was dead. Minutes after giving him my phone I remembered the darn texts. He was sitting with his friends a few tables away from me and I could see he was on my phone but I could not tell exactly what he was doing. So my “brilliant” plan was to ask a friend of mine I was sitting with to call my phone on private number to see if he would pick up. If he did not, it would “confirm” he was reading the texts … of course he was reading the texts! Please note all this went down on day one of our five day holiday so the next four days were extremely long. Being my first time in Mombasa – yes I really went to Mombasa for the first time at 21 – made it all the more daunting. So what did I do to ease my “broken heart”? I stupidly picked up smoking.
Fast forward to 6 ½ years later and I still smoke but I derive pleasure from it less and less every day. I realize I am smoking out of habit, not because I enjoy it. The taste of cigarettes no longer appeals to me. I no longer feel any relief from smoking in stressful situations. Even smoking in social situations is no longer fun. That is when I really start to think about quitting. Of course I had tried quitting a few times in the past, but I never made it further than one week before I was back at it. I read somewhere that the average smoker will try to quit 11 times before it finally sticks. I do not know how true that is. What I do know is that I was no longer a happy smoker.
In 2014 and 2015 my mum was dreadfully unwell. She would be admitted to hospital on a monthly basis. Sometimes Nairobi Hospital, other times Aga Khan, but every month there was always a crisis that she had to be admitted for. I shall post more about this with time, but it goes without saying that her illness took a toll on me. Few things are harder than seeing the love of your life fight so hard to live. A fight you cannot quite tell if they are winning or losing. It made me desperately unhappy and after a year or so I was tired of living. I was not suicidal, let me make that very clear. I do not believe in suicide. It is taking the pain you feel you can no longer deal with and passing it onto those who love you most. Life is tough, but we are tougher. Eventually, humans win. So I was not suicidal, but I was happy to die from causes not my own. If I were hit by a bus, attacked by thugs, had a heart attack, or however death chose to come for me I would be fine with it. I thought about it so much it became an unhealthy obsession. I no longer wanted to exist in a world without my mum. So I hoped that when she died I would soon follow suit, because dying first would surely send my mum into an earlier grave.
Then I received a lifeline.
One of my cousins noticed how distressed I was and decided to organize a surprise party for my 28th birthday. My family and friends formed a group chat and spent time planning all the details to ensure I had the best birthday ever. They checked out my wish list on EatOut to see which restaurant I would enjoy for dinner, deciding on Soko at dusitD2. One of my best friends picked me up from home as “the plan” was to have a low-key dinner just the two of us. We get to the restaurant and she is leading me towards this large table but I figured we were sitting at the one next to it. Till I saw my people come out from where they were hiding … it was the most amazing evening. I mean just look at the cake.
Speaking of the cake, my mum inadvertently ruined the big reveal. She was well aware of the surprise party as my sis kept her in the know of all their plans. Before I left that evening I was helping my mum make ndengu for supper when my sis came to say bye. I asked where she was off to because she was decked out in all her finest and she lied it was dinner with her best friend. My mum though was very much aware of where she was going. So the minute I settled down at the restaurant I texted my mum all stoked that my people had planned a surprise party for me. She texted back with a pic of the cake saying “Surprise!! Happy birthday”. Of course at that moment I did not think it was cake. I was euphoric from the surprise and did not really look at the pic.
I have never felt as loved and appreciated as I did that day. I am sure I will never have a better birthday. Not just because of the beautiful, loving, well-thought-out surprise, but because of what the gesture did for my soul. It reignited my fire for life, it made me want to continue living. That party was my lifeline.
It was after that I decided to stop smoking. My mum and maternal grandma had cancer, which made me very high risk. If I continued smoking I would move from very high risk to cancer victim/survivor. And I really really really wanted to live. So I set a date when I would smoke my last cigarettes, settling on August 31, the last day of birth month
When the day came, I smoked five Embassy Lights. Those were the cigarettes I started with, and it felt very full circle to end with them. I had graduated to the red Dunhill pack over the years, but I did not have any with me then. I did not feel like buying a pack either as there was no way I was going to smoke 20 cigarettes in one evening. And I cannot stand waste so no way was I going to throw away what I did not finish. Plus for some reason the lady near my local who sells single sticks of Embassy lights was not around. So what was the solution? “Borrow” five cigarettes from a stranger at the local.
September 1 2015 is my quitiversary. I entered a new chapter in my life where cigarettes were no longer welcome. They were no longer a part of the new me that wanted to keep on living. Was it difficult? Not in the least. People do not understand it when I tell them that I set a date, woke up the morning after said date, and that was that. How can they though? Unless you experienced what I went through, you cannot understand that my reason for quitting was bigger than my reason for smoking. I wanted to live more than I wanted to smoke, and that assertion is stronger than the pull of any cigarette.
Of course I also did my research. Quitting cigarettes is no walk in the park, and it would be naïve to assume that my iron will alone would make me kick the habit for good. Become An Ex has excellent resources, especially with identifying triggers and unlearning habits. I also found invaluable solace and affirmation in the community on the LIVESTRONG MyQuit Coach app. They cheered on all my milestones with the enthusiasm of old friends, and their positivity and encouragement really motivated me to keep going. To count down 21 days, then 100 (the Triple Digits Club), then one year, now as at the time of this post I am 1,100 days smoke free.
On the app is also where I came across six words that I live by till today: Protect Your Quit. Don’t Fucking Smoke.