When I was 15, I was a bit of a rebellious teenager. I made the mistake of lighting up a cigarette, and it was a habit I didn't kick for almost 13 years.
Back when I started smoking, it wasn't as frowned upon as it is today. Over the last 10 years, society's perceptions on the matter have massively altered. When I was younger, there were still smoking areas in restaurants. These weren't outside, they were actual sections inside the open space where people could smoke. On my 18th birthday, you could still smoke inside at the pub. You'd walk inside to a haze and stench of both stale and fresh cigarette smoke from years of people smoking inside, day after day. There were ashtrays under the bar and cigarette butts littering the floors where people just stomped them out - even on the dancefloor. Thinking back, it was kind of gross.
Almost everyone in my circle of friends smoked, or had smoked. It was a common thing. The tobacco taxes hadn't yet come in, and a pack of 25 cigarettes would only set you back about $9. The packages weren't covered in confronting images like they are today, instead they were appealingly coloured with their trademark designs.
We all knew smoking was "bad", but so many of our parents smoked - how terrible could it really be? None of us were too concerned about our health, in our youth, like many, we didn't consider our mortality. But as the years went by, the dangers of smoking became almost impossible to ignore.
Year after year, new laws came into place, laws which pushed smoking away from most public areas. No more smoking in restaurants or pubs, no smoking on beaches or in parks, no smoking in cars with children or in the entryways to shopping centres. Packages were stripped of their classic designs, and embellished with gruesome images. Prices started climbing, so much so that nowadays a packet of 25 cigarettes is likely to cost you upwards of $30, a far cry from the days of the $9 packets. If you can afford these poisonous darts, finding a place where you can smoke them in peace is tough. And that's fair enough - passive smoking is extremely dangerous for everyone.
For me, smoking was a stress reliever, and I felt it was a compulsory part of my day. It was as important to me as any meal; I was addicted.
Eventually I was constantly coughing, and soon it became impossible to deny that I was causing irreparable damage to my body. My conscience was finally shining through, past the clouds of nicotine; I had the constant thought in my mind that smoking was bad. It was no longer an enjoyable thing, I felt guilty every time I lit up knowing just how many chemicals I was inhaling with every puff. So, with the help of patches, I managed to quit smoking for all of six months. Then, I fell back into the habit again. I made sure I did it away from the view of my children and I gave myself excuse after excuse: life was too stressful, two kids under two was unbelievably difficult, smoking was my coping mechanism, how on earth could I just stop after all these years? So I didn't stop. I just pretended it was okay.
Then one morning, my daughter picked up my (childproof) lighter off the bench. In her gorgeous little two year old voice she chimed, "Mummy, you like cigawettes and coffee. Here's your cigawette!" And she held out the lighter to me.
My heart literally dropped - I was horrified that my little girl even knew the word, whether she had it a little mixed up or not. How disgusting. What kind of parent was I? Not the one I wanted to be. Despite my attempts to hide my dirty habit, my children truly were watching my every move.
In that moment, I decided to quit for real. I finally had the motivation I needed to stop smoking forever. I couldn't stand the idea of my children growing up to think that smoking was a good thing, something they should want to do. Seriously, I wondered, what kind of example was I giving my children in this instance? It is my job to be a role model for these two children of mine. Whether I like it or not, they will copy my words and actions as they see fit. I need to make sure whatever they're watching is what I want them to become. You can tell a child that smoking is disgusting and dirty, but if you continue to smoke, the message means very little.
So I quit. Right then and there. Just over a year ago.
If I'm honest, even with my new mindset, the first few weeks and months were really hard. But I refused to give in this time. I stuck to my decision and I haven't lit a cigarette in over twelve months. I finally acknowledged that it was detrimental to my health to continue smoking, and if I kept it up I was risking my chances of living to see my children grow up. This thought was the real kicker for me, and was what kept me motivated to not light another cigarette, ever again.
I appreciate my life and my family too much to keep slowly killing myself, one cigarette at a time. If you're like I was and you're struggling to find the motivation you need to quit a habit you yourself aren't proud of, think about your beautiful, innocent children. They're likely to be all the motivation you need.