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Lake Baringo, Kenya. All rights mine. © 2015

Colleen Corcoran, my fellow smoker! Thank you for sharing your story with me.

I think quitting smoking is like a lot of endeavors in that there’s no one way to do it. If there were a one-size-fits-all methodology that actually worked there wouldn’t be many smokers left.

The first time I quit was for eight months. I honestly don’t even remember how/why I started again after that long. But like a lot of smokers I realized my servant had become my master. And I kept smoking.

I have a lot of thoughts on quitting, so I’m just going to throw them all out here for you to pick and choose. My first thought is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I heard her interviewed about this book, the title of which was inspired by her brother being overwhelmed by a looming school report due on birds. She overheard their father try to calm him down, “just take it bird by bird.”

That has a much lovelier ring to it than Cigarette by Cigarette. But that would be my advice to you. Enjoy each cigarette you decide to smoke while you try to quit. Praise yourself for how much time passes between each cigarette knowing that you can go a little bit longer each time. Don’t trash-talk yourself for any relapses. Cold-turkey quitters are the exception, not the rule.

While you are busy with your relationship with grad school it can be difficult to date, let alone maintain a loving relationship. I would suggest three things. First of all, give yourself enormous credit for getting into grad school in the first place. That is an important accomplishment. Secondly, give yourself credit for staying in grad school and committing to getting the best grades you can. This is a commitment you are making to your future. Be grateful that you have the opportunity to learn and be proud of yourself for making the most of this opportunity. Thirdly, it might bear mentioning how important it is to love yourself. Relationships can be a proxy or a salve for our own unexamined insecurities. So can smoking. If you feel weird saying positive things to yourself out loud in the mirror start by thinking positive things about yourself. Tell yourself everything you wish a loving partner would appreciate and admire about you. Repeat as needed :)

For what it’s worth, the loving relationship I describe in my article and the ex-boyfriend that I mention with the new girlfriend who also smokes are one and the same. We’ve stayed friends and I can’t overstate his role in helping me finally quit. But we broke up a year ago and I am still a former smoker. So I am also allowing myself credit for remaining nicotine-free.

My smoker friends have played an important role in my quitting as well. A Venezuelan friend of mine is the daughter of a diplomat. She has lived and traveled all over the world. She is an attorney who speaks five languages. She dances several Caribbean dances beautifully. This is all to say that she’s an impressive woman I’m proud to know. One night when we were smoking after dance practice, (and laughing about how ridiculous we looked smoking outside of a gym), she told me about a diplomat’s wife she knew growing up. This woman was apparently as sophisticated and worldly as they come. At a time in my life when I was feeling incredibly unsophisticated and the most like a failure my friend offered me the story of this woman as a sort of anecdotal role model. This woman had smoked her whole life but when my friend visited her after many years the woman had quit smoking cold turkey. My friend asked her why and she answered with all of her elegant self-assuredness, “A woman like me cannot be smelling like cigarette smoke.”

Ever since she told me that story we started using that line, “a woman like me …”, when we need to build ourselves up about anything. So in your case we would say, “A woman like me is too busy investing in my education to bother with cigarettes.” Or “a woman like me quit smoking when I was good and damn ready.” “A woman like me cannot be bothered to go smoke first thing in the morning when I’m enjoying my coffee and a good book.”

I also started practicing a line in my mind. And then I just started saying it out loud to myself, “Oh, no thank you. I don’t smoke.” Mila Kunis said it in a movie I don’t even remember. But I do remember thinking, “I wish I were a gorgeous non-smoker who could just politely turn down a cigarette and look lovely and kind doing it. “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t smoke.” I would repeat it to myself with a rueful but grateful smile while I was doing the dishes or laundry or whatever.

And a final thought: the gum is fantastic. Which is likely why I didn’t quit sooner. You get all the benefits of nicotine and it tastes better. Which is why I don’t recommend it. Even though it’s less harmful than smoking you’re just switching from smoking nicotine to eating sugary nicotine.

I wish you well on your journey. There will be times that you miss smoking and that’s okay too. I just say reminisce out loud, I want a cigarette … and the craving passes. But when you are ready to be a former smoker you will quit. And you will love yourself for it.

Congratulations in advance! It’s gonna be great ❤

twitter @h_m_edwards unsplash @heathermedwards

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