I had my first cigarette when I was 13. I grew up in the South, where tobacco's a way of life, and I was influenced by my grandmother -- a woman with wit, flashy clothes, and a weakness for smokes. By 20, I was puffing a pack a day.
For me, smoking was more than a habit: It was my personal reward system. I'd tell myself, "If you make it through this test or that meeting, you get to have a cigarette."
I quit cold turkey when I got pregnant at 26 -- I knew I had to. But I craved cigarettes the entire time and was smoking again two weeks after my son's birth. I justified lighting up as a reward for surviving a complicated pregnancy and as a way to ease the anxiety of being a new mom.
But this time, my old way of coping became a new source of anxiety: Each cigarette meant hand washing, toothbrushing, and changing clothes in order to keep any lingering smoke away from my baby.
I finally weaned off cigarettes by taking up another habit: photography. Holding a camera relaxes me; it keeps my hands occupied and my mind busy. On especially stressful days, I'll fit in an extra shower or ask my husband to take our son to the park. Even sitting outside for five minutes while breathing deeply can calm my cigarette cravings.
Sometimes when I'm around a smoker, I still feel like a dieter at a dessert buffet, but I no longer envy everyone I see with a cigarette. Sure, I remember when smoking helped me through rough patches, but now my actions affect more than just me. Knowing that has helped keep me smoke-free for two years and counting.