By By Libby Sentz
February 29, 2016

help-libby-quit(123RF/ISTOCKPHOTO/HEALTH) I just lost two small battles, but Im prepared to win the war.

I smoked a cigarette Thursday (Day 4 as a nonsmoker) and a second one Saturday (Day 6—or do I have to start the count over?). I do commend myself for not smoking the other 198 cigarettes I wouldve normally smoked by now (Day 10), but I dont want to smoke anymore at all.

I do not approach this blog space as my confessional, seeking forgiveness, but more as my workshop, a place to figure out what went wrong, so it doesnt happen again. Heres what went down.

Battling temptation
Thursday night I desperately wanted to go out; Id been such a loner all week after quitting smoking. So my husband Todd and I made plans to get silly at this underground "booty bass" dance party in our neighborhood. I beat him there by an hour. A long hour.

Free drinks were slated to start at 9 p.m. so I arrived there on the dot. Then I stood (no seats) alone in a crowd of some two dozen chain-smoking teenagers. (They were half my age. I was the only one drinking. Awkward.)

9:20: No one was dancing yet. The room was filling with smoke. My second free vodka drink was kicking in.

9:35: I paced around with my third drink, trying not to think of smoking. Temptation was everywhere: in the sweet sulfur smell of a struck match, in the orange glow of a drag taken, in the smoke dancing slowly in the blue light. I knew where every lit cigarette was at any given moment.

"Hey! Are you OK? You seem kinda...I dont know." The girl working the door was talking to me. I had been staring at the cigarette in her hand.

"Can I have a cigarette? Ill give you a dollar," I said, a bit too desperately, flipping a bill toward her. The guy next to her offered me a Marlboro Red (no charge) and made a comment about my obviously really needing it.

9:45: I hid in a corner, happy to have a cigarette but angry that the guy thought I "needed it." After two or three drags, I tamped it gently and "saved" the rest. Within 10 minutes it was gone.

Wracked with guilt, I texted Todd and told him what Id done. In moments, he swooped in to offer some hand-holding and words of wisdom. Soon the party got more fun, but I was distracted with the emptiness in my lungs—the pang was even worse than before the cigarette. By feeding the dying nicotine monster inside, I had made it stronger, hungry for more. So my prince whisked me off to chill out at home and I promised myself: never again.

Battling anxiety
Friday I holed up most of the day and looked forward to Saturday. My Afro-Haitian dance-and-drum troupe was set to open for Kassav', the top band from Martinique, at a big concert. But on my way there, my day went offtrack when a downed subway train forced me onto a poky bus. Anxiety crept in and for the next four hours, nicotine ruled.

I dove into five different bodegas, asking if they sold "loosies" (single cigarettes, which are illegal to sell). "No!"

I was unwilling to buy a pack (that would be an admission of failure), but thoughts of doing something far worse crossed my mind as I began sizing up some butts on the ground: That one seems kinda clean.

I made it to the venue without smoking, but my obsession had worsened. I dug through my bag searching for some nicotine gum or a patch. Frustrated, I dumped everything out. Then, for no good reason, I started worrying about the show. I snapped at everyone who approached me. And then it was time to go onstage!

A sudden burst of energy, happiness, laughter, pure fun. All was well with the world…

But as soon as I stepped offstage, the feeling slowly returned, something like the beginnings of a nervous breakdown. I wanted to see Kassav', but I just couldn't stick around. I finally broke down, rushed outside, and cried out for a cigarette. A few puffs were followed by tears.

Ready to win the war
Now in my second week, I feel stronger, happier. The fits are fewer and farther between. Ive sparred with each of my triggers—boredom, social gatherings, stress, writing, relaxation—and they are weakening. Deep breathing, the only new habit I want to form, always helps, but sometimes it takes more to kill the pang. My top tactics: jumping around, wrestling someone, taking a walk, hugging Todd, putting on goofy rubber teeth and making faces, napping, punching a pillow.

Tomorrow I will visit the smoking-cessation clinic a second time for more basic training, and soon this struggle will be a distant memory. I just hope that with all my odd tactics and moods, no one has me committed in the meantime.

Read previous posts:
Catching My Breath After Years of Running on Smoke (July 25, 2008)
Thank You, Wise Ex-Smokers, et al (July 18, 2008)
Can I Walk and Not Smoke at the Same Time? (July 15, 2008)
Dare Me to Quit (July 9, 2008)

Read Katherine's quitting blog