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Ending the drag of cigarettes - Heather Middleton

I'm a smoker trying to become a non-smoker ? again.

I tried to quit once, about six months ago, and after four days I gave into my urges and smoked a cigarette.

I'm now on day five of my new non-smoking life and it's one of the hardest things I've ever tried to do.

I made it through eight long, painful weeks of bootcamp. A time that challenged every physical and mental thread of my being. One that forced me to face my greatest fears and overcome them. And after all that ? stopping smoking is going to be my most difficult challenge.

First, let me give you a little background on all this smoking. I'd tried smoking once when I was 12. I hated it. It made me sick to my stomach, and I carried around the guilt of lying to my parents for days afterward. That experience made me never want to touch the cancer sticks again.

Fastforward 14 years to March 2003. I was hanging out with some friends partaking in a friendly drink or two. Out of nowhere came this desire to try a cigarette. Where this came from I have no idea. I'd spent all of my life giving my smoking friends and family the business about the disgusting habit and giving lectures on how bad it was for them (insert every bad thing about smoking here ... because I've said it).

So from that fateful day last March till now, I've been smoking. At first it didn't seem that bad and I wasn't buying my own cigarettes. I'd just bum a few from various friends when I wanted one. That didn't last very long. By July, I was buying my own and smoking almost a pack a day. It's amazing how that happens - you don't even realize it.

Of course, this information began to trickle back to my family in Cleveland. My brother vowed to get a picture of me with a cigarette, so the next time I gave him heck about smoking he could throw it back at me. Same goes with everyone else in the family. I can't tell you how many times I heard the phrase, "I never want to hear anything from you again about smoking," while I was home to celebrate my sister's graduation in May.

Now nearly a year has passed and I've known for a while that I must quit smoking. What really triggered me to take action was my friend Anthony's big moving day. We were heaving boxes and furniture up three flights of stairs and the only thing I could feel was a stuffy pain in my chest. I knew it was from the cigarettes. And it scared me. I'm too young to be dealing with chest pains. And too young to be unable to take a deep breath without hacking up a lung.

There's also the cost of smoking to consider. At a pack a day the average monthly cost is around $95. I'm giving away almost $1,200 a year to people who make my hands and clothes stink, make my chest hurt and put my friends in compromising positions by asking them be around my second-hand smoke.

What am I thinking?! That's what I keep asking myself. So now, when I get a really strong urge to smoke I chew a piece of gum. And talking about it seems to help too. At first I thought it would make me want one more, but it's helping. The talking distracts me from the physical need.

In addition to the physical desire, comes the mental struggle as well. This is one area that doesn't seem to be addressed in any of the Web sites I've visited over the last few days. How do you break the routine and not miss it? For example, almost any time I got in the car, I'd light up. Now that I'm not, I really miss it. I'm not sure what to do with myself. Same goes for the cigarette after eating and the mid-evening break at work. What do I do with all this free time?!

So, those are just a few of the hurdles I'm trying to overcome. Right now I feel pretty strong. I'm trying to stay optimistic that with every passing day, this desire will fade more and more. And hopefully in a month, I won't wake up anymore with the overwhelming urge to light one up.

Wish me luck.

Heather Middleton is the News Daily page designer. She can be reached at hmiddleton@news-daily.com