Last updated: Jul 09, 2008
kelly-rusinack
Kelly quit smoking at age 25, and it's still her proudest achievement.
(KELLY RUSINACK)
I started smoking when I was 15 years old. My parents were smokers, and I was one of those kids who thought it looked cool. But within two years, I wanted to quit, and tried for the next eight years before I finally kicked it.


At age 25 I worked at a law firm where the smoking policy was that lawyers and administrative assistants could not smoke in the offices, but paralegals (like me) were allowed. I was engaged at the time, and had promised my fiancé that I would quit that year before we moved in together. That date was rapidly approaching—less than a week away! Earlier attempts at weaning myself off cigarettes and setting a quitting date had failed miserably.

Making the decision to quit
One day our firm administrator passed around a survey asking our opinions about the smoking policy. I filled out the questionnaire, and at the end it had little check boxes: I am a smoker/nonsmoker. I checked "smoker," and for some reason, it really bothered me the rest of the day. I hated that label. I didn't want to be known as a smoker.

At 8 o'clock that evening, I had my fiancé throw out all my cigarettes, ashtrays, the garbage with my butts in it, and all of my lighters except for one. He took all of it to the Dumpster, completely out of my reach. I was done with cigarettes.

The first couple of weeks were so hard! After two days, my fiancé actually broke off the engagement; I was so evil toward everyone. I thought maybe going back to smoking would help, so I bought a pack, lit one up and instantly didn't want it. That was that—a cigarette has not touched my lips since that moment on May 23, 1990.

Fighting cravings and finding support
I started getting into arguments with the firm's lawyers, which prompted a visit to the administrator. In the course of explaining my behavior, it came out that I had just quit smoking. I found out that he was a 30-year ex-smoker himself! He had so much good advice for me; it has helped me greatly throughout my life. Mostly, he told me to never give in to my cravings, ever.

My supervisor was a smoker, but she told me she had quit several times. Despite taking up tennis and other physical activities as soon as I quit, I gained about 25 pounds the first month. My supervisor reassured me, "The weight will come back off; don't worry about it. The biggest thing is to stick with nonsmoking." I heeded that advice, and within two years of quitting I had the body I always wanted—thanks to my new lung capacity.


Looking back—and toward the future
I never did marry that guy—we went our separate ways within the following year. And I sucked at tennis. But I have stayed a nonsmoker. Are there days when I think about smoking? Sure! I just spent the past two and a half years taking care of my mother, who died of bone marrow cancer at a young age. Every day I wanted a cigarette; it was so stressful. But I didn't do it.

Now I'm 43, and the thought of putting one of those icky things on my lips disgusts me. But it's strange: When I show up in my own dreams, I am always smoking! At first, after I quit, it scared me into thinking I had lit one up in my sleep; it was so real, and I would wake up panicking! Now it just amuses me, 17 years later, that I smoke in my dreams. And that's where it stays.

I hope my story can help anyone thinking of quitting who maybe doesn't have the money for patches or gum or classes. I quit cold turkey. I did substitute sugarless bubble gum for awhile after I quit but slowly got off the gum too. It acted as a buffer between the smoking world and the nonsmoking world. I always tell my doctors, though, that I am an ex-smoker because I still worry about the effects of what I did to my body all those years.

You have to think of the long run, not the short run, and be positive. I hear people say, "I haven't had a cigarette in four days." Don't say that; it just opens up your mind to the possibility of having another one. Instead, say, "I quit smoking four days ago!" That's a more positive image. And be proud of yourself for every day you don't have a cigarette. I have graduate degrees and other achievements in life, but quitting smoking is the one of which I am still the most proud!

Kelly shared her story with Health.com in hopes that it will inspire others. What about you? Did you quit? Are you struggling with cigarettes now? Please email us at tellyourhealthstory@health.com (with "Quit Smoking" in the subject line) and share your strategies and struggles. You may help someone else overcome a nicotine dependence.