Sergeant overcomes addiction, encourages others to quit

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. C. Michaela Judge
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The addiction consumed him for half of his life.

With 17-years of smoking damage working against him, Tech. Sgt. Mike Dodge, noncommissioned officer in charge, Hanscom 3A0 Training, is just four months away from being tobacco free for one year - a milestone that marks one of his biggest battles.

It hasn't been an easy journey, though. Sergeant Dodge said that he'd tried several times before to quit - and failed. But this time is different - and he's approaching it with new enthusiasm.

"Most people try to quit cold-turkey - which is what I tried to do before. But there is a very small success rate. I had to know what I needed to do personally to quit, and how to get myself mentally ready to do it," the sergeant said.

Overcoming any bad habit, he said, has to begin with educating yourself on the risks and coming up with a plan to reach personal goals.

"Everyone has their own excuses why they smoke. But I decided to dump my excuses and leave them at the door - I'm not getting any younger. I'm not only doing this for my family -- because it's definitely not a good example for my kids - I'm also doing it for my health. I may seem healthy now, but there is damage from smoking 17 years," he said.

Sergeant Dodge said there are three things that are imperative when it comes to quitting smoking. The first is self-education. "Go online, find out what smoking does to your body, but also read about the success stories of people that have quit," he said.

Though education is important, it's just as vital to have a reason to quit. "Whether it's your family, or you don't want your car to smell, or you want to be able to breathe better - find a reason to quit."

Lastly, Sergeant Dodge said that once someone quits, they need to be just as healthy to their body as they were doing harm to it. "Drink a lot of water, exercise and chew sugar free gum - make it available everywhere. You curve one habit by creating a positive and healthy habit."

A support system was also in place to help the sergeant begin the road to quitting. "I used the "Tobacco Cessation: Kicking Butts" class held on base through the Health and Wellness Center - it was very successful. The classes were great - they weren't showing us stuff that we didn't already know - they were giving us an avenue where we're not going to be judged," he said.

The free class, which meets once a week for three weeks, discusses the affects of tobacco, how to set goals, ways to create a social support network and how to prevent relapsing. "The classes are the first step, but following through with my decision to quit, sticking to my plan and achieving personal goals has been extremely rewarding" he said.

The class and his own motivation have gotten the sergeant to where he is today. Since quitting he has already begun to reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. "I've noticed a difference both physically and mentally since quitting. Even though I was active before, there is still a difference - now the legs give out before my lungs do.

And when it comes to self-esteem - you feel better about yourself - you don't worry, 'do I smell like smoke or worry if you have enough cigarettes to last until the next day. It's added stress that you don't need in your life."

Not only has his physical fitness and self-esteem improved, but he is able to perform his job more effectively without the stresses that smoking can bring. "Smoking absolutely affects mission readiness - it affects your job. Everyone needs breaks, but with smoking, you habitually go out and smoke every hour. You're also not going to be as physically fit," Sergeant Dodge said.

Smoking, the sergeant said, can even impact deployments for military personnel. "If you are deployed and in an area where you can't smoke, you become very uncomfortable because you can't have a cigarette - the habit literally consumes you," he said.

Since quitting, the sergeant hasn't been shy about spreading the word.

"If you are going to quit, let everyone know about it. You are less apt to be caught smoking - be proud of what you've done," he said.

His success has encouraged him to talk to others about the affects of smoking as well. "When I tell people to quit smoking, it's because I care about them. I truly don't do it to antagonize them - I know first hand the difficulties in quitting a bad habit, and I share my experiences to hopefully encourage them to do the same."

The sergeant recalls when others used to ask him what caused him to start smoking, and why he continued to do it. "When I was asked that, I automatically evaluated myself and thought 'I was impressionable and obviously mentally weak; I need to be stronger than that,'" he said.

With just a few months left to go before a year of success is behind him, the sergeant continues to stay focused. "Ninety-nine percent of quitting smoking is mental" he said, "I may not have control of a lot of things in my life, but avoiding lighting up a cigarette is definitely one thing I do have control over." 

Click here for more information on Tobacco Cessation classes offered at Hanscom and online.