January is the first month of a new year – a time when many of us either make resolutions, or think about goals for the year, or at least think in terms of new beginnings. So I am inspired to share one of the most difficult “new beginnings” for anyone, but especially for those of us who live within LGBTQ communities – the intention, resolution, goal to quit smoking. I know how hard it is, because I quit over 20 hears ago after smoking for only about 10 years. I have to say it was the hardest thing I have done! I have to admit, often if something is terribly hard, I tend to re-evaluate whether or not it is worth it, so perhaps I have abandoned challenges that are even harder! But for this one, as a nurse I knew full well all the reasons I needed to quit, but that was not enough. In fact I would have never started smoking if the facts held any influence in my behavior!
I honestly cannot tell you exactly what carried me across the line to be able to say with confidence that I had quit. Like most others, I attempted this at least 3 times before it actually “stuck.” I do know that many of the barriers in my attempts to quit were related to my experience as a lesbian. I won’t try to over-analyze this, but the fact is that most of the circumstances that drove me back when I was trying to quit had to do with what I now realize is “minority stress.” Of course anyone who tries to quit, regardless of sexual or gender identity has more than enough stress that gets in the way of quitting. But awareness of the particular challenges of LGBTQ experience can hold a clue as to where to turn when the going gets tough.
The smoke-free.gov website that focuses on Breaking the Cycle of LGBT Smoking fits my experience almost perfectly! I was not (to my knowledge) subjected to direct tobacco marketing to the LGBT community, but I do know that the factors of stress relief, expressing myself, and fitting in exactly mirror my experience! I have often related to my post-smoking friends that the one thing I miss the most about being a smoker is the social interaction that smokers share during breaks at a professional meeting. This was my attempt to “fit in.” Yes, I have always had sufficient professional connections that I could rely on for social connections in a situation like a professional conference. But the reality was that in most of those situations I had almost nothing in common with other attendees, whose social chatter would never have accommodated casual sharing of my experience,in the context of their chit-chat focusing on husbands, children, churches, etc. In the company of smokers we at least shared a common identity as smokers (lame, but anything helps!). Yes, the banter still had a predominant hetero-relational tone, but in the context of smokers, I found a bit more courage to dare to mention a holiday with “my girlfriend,” and even some talk about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival!
Eventually I began to do what the “Breaking the Cycle” webpage recommends .. I found LGBTQ friends, as well as straight friends, with whom I had enough in common to be more real, and with whom I could freely banter casually about my life with a level of comfort. And, I made a “turn” emotionally/mentally – I really wanted to quit. I did rely for a few weeks on nicotine gum, and used it in line with the instructions to gradually reduce my physical craving for the stuff. Yes, I fully acknowledge that I still value the social upsides (for me) of smoking! But I now have a more sustainable social environment, a greater appreciation of my own physical and emotional vulnerability, and a strong commitment to my longevity!
If you are struggling with this challenge, and some discussion here might help, please leave us your comments! We will respond!