People & Places

Clara Garcia
VCNB Editor

No one ever says they want to be an addict.

However, plenty of people struggling with a bad habit have made a conscious decision to try and overcome the addiction.

I’ve made that decision time and time again.

Like many, I became addicted to cigarettes at an early age. I think I was about 18 years old when I had my first puff in my best friend’s bedroom the day before she was set to move away.

It didn’t take long for those first few puffs to make their way to a lifetime of coughing and decreased lung capacity. I couldn’t walk very long or very fast without trying to catch my breath.

I knew all the health risks — cancer, COPD, heart disease, gum disease, just to name a few. Even though I knew smoking was probably the worst thing I could do to my body, I couldn’t — I wouldn’t — stop.

I have met lots of people who have been able to stop, but I never thought I had the strength to be a successful quitter. Honestly though, I really never wanted to stop.

Those who smoke cigarettes knows exactly what I’m talking about. Much like other drugs, nicotine causes the brain to release adrenaline, creating a sense of pleasure.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve quit, but I have — numerous times. Each time I stopped, I thought, ‘maybe this time it would be for good.’ But it wasn’t. I always went back — snuck a puff here and there when I got stressed, when I finished a good meal and even when I was in a social situation.

For more than 30 years, and after numerous failed attempts of quitting my addiction to nicotine, I realized I had never wanted to stop in the first place. Smoking was something just for me to enjoy, my way of taking a break during my day — from work, from family, from life.

It wasn’t until that one person who meant everything to me was taken away from me that I took it seriously.

My dad had smoked nearly all his life. He never liked that I had taken up the same habit, and had encouraged me to quit multiple times.

He quit several times himself. The last time was after his triple bypass heart surgery. He would pick up a cigarette here and there, but never smoked regularly since.

It was about 15 years after his heart surgery that he was diagnosed with invasive, terminal lung cancer. Six months later, he was gone — all because he smoked.

Those six months were very hard on him, as well as for his family who helped to care for him, and knew how much pain he suffered.

Throughout his last six months of life, and even after my dad’s death, I knew that if he hadn’t smoked, he would probably still be here.

I thought to myself I needed to smoke to help me through the grieving process, to take the edge off when I was feeling stress. It was one excuse after another.

I’m not sure what came over me in the months after my dad died. Maybe it was because I didn’t want my own family — my husband, my daughter, my stepsons and our grandchildren — to go through what I went through with my dad. I decided to stop smoking — again.

In the past when I would quit, it would last a few months, maybe six at the most. This time was different. I wanted to quit. I really didn’t want to smoke anymore.

On June 6, 2022 — one year and one month after my dad died — I smoked my last cigarette.

I was a pack-a-day smoker for years. Like a lot of other smokers, I had a routine. It was the first thing I did in the morning; when I got into the car; after eating a meal; after completing a task at work.

I’ve had to change a lot of things in my life to accommodate my new lifestyle. I’m now getting a lot more done with all the extra time I have on my hands. My car sure smells better, and my puppy dogs sure love my kisses a lot more now. My husband does too.

It’s been eight whole months since my last cigarette. For the first few months, I carried a pack in my purse — just in case. Smokers know the anxiety of not having a cigarette nearby.

I took the pack out a few months ago and left them in the glove compartment of my car — just in case. Finally, last month I handed that pack of cigarettes to a friend. I no longer needed that “just-in-case” pack. I was done.

I’m not so naive to think I’m not at risk of relapse, but for the first time, I don’t need to live life just in case.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.