I smoked my last cigarette 365 days ago, on June 25, 2011. In case any of you are wondering, one year is officially the mark at which former smokers can become justifiably self –congratulatory. I had attempted to quit dozens of times in the years leading up to my success, and I want to share how I finally did it. Yes, I may come off as a little superior, but I deserve it. So deal. Everyone is different, so all I can do is relate what worked for me. Here goes, and best of luck to anyone else trying to kick the habit:
It is a tad redundant and—to be honest—not terribly well written, but the points it makes are valuable. The redundancy in some ways actually serves a purpose, as addicts often need frequent reinforcement of certain themes. As an added bonus, smokers are actually encouraged to continue smoking while they read it. So don’t be scared. The author does not preach at you or even tell you to quit right away. Read it while you puff.
2. Understand the difference between addiction and habit.
The only beef I have with the above book is that—while it does an excellent job of addressing the addiction to cigarettes—it doesn’t adequately cover the habit. I’m bringing it up because the “withdrawal” symptoms you fear will last—at most—a few days. Nicotine is out of your system in just two to three days. Period. End of story. The hard part of quitting is not the physical addiction; it is breaking the habit. If you’ve made it more than a week, there is no withdrawal. Stop telling yourself you are experiencing withdrawal. You aren’t. You simply want a cigarette because you are engaging in a behavior you used to combine with smoking. You now have to relearn that behavior.
The worst thing about smoking is that we tend to attach cigarettes to all manner of pleasurable and relaxing activities. You have one with your coffee in the morning to wake up and prepare for the day; maybe that is your only alone or quiet time. Your smoke breaks at work are your only time away from the daily grind; that is when you can bitch and moan with coworkers and get out your frustrations. You have one after work to unwind, maybe with a glass of wine or cocktail. You have one after a good meal. You have one after sex. You have one (or several) when you are out having fun and/or drinking with friends. You’ve taught your brain to expect a cigarette when you do any of these activities.
Just be aware of this. This is the part of kicking the habit that is the toughest. You have to learn to do a lot of things all over again, and this time without a smoke. It is going to be really, really, tough.
3. Keep doing all of the above activities.
As is the case with most smokers, I tried to quit several times before I was finally successful. My previous method was to divorce myself from all of the above enjoyable activities simply because I associated them with smoking. No coffee in the morning, no taking breaks at work, and no going out with friends drinking. This method proved to be a big fail. This is the best way to train yourself that you enjoyed smoking and that you are depriving yourself of something.
Don’t deprive yourself of anything. Have that coffee in the morning. Have it out on your porch or wherever you had it when you used to smoke. Take breaks at work. Hell, go out and chat with the other smokers just like you used to. Definitely go out and have drinks with friends. Do it often. I know this sounds crazy, but it really does work. You get to do all of the things you used to enjoy, but you have to learn how to do them without a cigarette in your hand. If you attempt to deprive yourself, you will eventually cave. Learning to re-incorporate all of the activities you love back into your life without smoking, however, will assure you long-term success.
4. Try to avoid nicotine replacement therapy.
The book touches on this as well; I am a bit more permissive than the book, as I got through the first two weeks with an e-cigarette. Others may wish to use the gum or the patch. Do what works for you personally, but I would suggest only using the nicotine replacement during the times you feel the most desperate. There will be times you are willing to strangle a kitten just for one hit. That is when I would suggest taking a puff on the e-cig or popping in some of the gum.
Know, however, that the longer you use the replacement therapy, the longer nicotine will be in your system. You are never dealing with the first and easiest part of the battle: getting nicotine out of your body. Try to get off the patch or gum or e-cig as soon as possible, or it is only a matter of time before the replacement stops working . Then you will cave and have a real cigarette. My tip is to chew on cinnamon sticks. They’re cigarette shaped, you can chew them to handle the oral fixation, you can do it anywhere, and your breath will be fresh and cinnamon-y!
5. Get a new hobby.
I used my newly found free time to learn a lot about cooking and baking. I took up gardening. I have also read considerably more than I used to. I know someone who taught himself to knit. You are going to have a lot of time on your hands that you didn’t have before; this is a good thing. This is an awesome thing.
The moment you let yourself be bored, your brain will tell you that you want a cigarette. Your mother or some other authority figure likely told you at some point that “only boring people get bored.” This is accurate. Find something to do and you won’t think about a smoke. But cigarettes do not cure boredom. When you smoke, you’re still sitting on your ass doing nothing. You’re just doing it with a cigarette in your hand.
So get off your butt and do something else.
6. Accept that you will probably put on some weight.
Some facts: nicotine speeds up metabolism and suppresses appetite, and the smoking itself deadens your sense of smell and taste. Without cigarettes, you will be hungrier. Your food will taste better so you may want to eat more. You will burn 200 fewer calories per day just by not smoking. The average weight gain is only 5-10 pounds, though. So deal with it. Even if you totally pig out and put on 15-20 pounds, big effing deal. You will work it back off when your energy comes back (when your blood starts getting the oxygen it needs). Your fear of gaining the weight may in fact be the only thing you need to control it and prevent it from happening. Don’t use the fear of weight gain as an excuse; that’s all it is.
7. Take walks. A lot.
This will help with any nervous energy you have at the times when you are craving a smoke, and it will also offset any weight you might put on. I got into the habit of walking to Starbucks (on breaks from work, during lunch, after getting home from work, etc.) for a green tea every time I wanted one. I know it sounds lame, but give it a try.
8. Understand and accept the health risks from smoking, but don’t freak out about them.
I know this sounds odd, but stay with me. Your non-smoking relatives and loved ones are going to throw a lot of scary facts and statistics at you, and possibly show you photos of diseased lungs. They probably already have. You have my permission to ignore them. Non-smokers are well-intentioned people, but they don’t know jack shit about what this addiction entails. They don’t get that smokers already are well aware of the risks. They especially don’t understand that—when faced with stress, such as about one’s health—an addict will run screaming into the arms of their addiction (in this case cigarettes).
So know and own that smoking is bad for you. If you have been smoking for a long time, you may have already done irreversible damage to yourself. You may not get 100% back to where you would have been if you had never smoked. You really need to process that and get it out of the way, because it will come back and haunt your thoughts later. During those times (and there will be many) when your brain tells you to have a cigarette, you will tell yourself “It doesn’t matter if I have one because I’ve already done irreparable damage and there is no turning back.”
This is a bullshit tactic your brain is trying. The addiction wants you to freak out so you will cave. Don’t freak out. Own that you have harmed yourself for however long you have smoked, but tell yourself that you are not going to do any further damage. There is always a chance to turn back.
9. Stop telling yourself you enjoy smoking.
Seriously. Stop it. No. For real. Stop saying this. Hearing this from a smoker is the only time I will pull attitude and get preachy. You do not enjoy smoking. You do not enjoy going outside in freezing weather or in extremely hot weather just to have a puff. You don’t enjoy having to excuse yourself from the presence of non-smokers when in the middle of a conversation. You don’t enjoy your friends and loved ones and coworkers preaching at you every time they smell it on you. You don’t enjoy having to sprint all over an airport between flights to look for an exit, then having to come back through security, just to get your fix (this is the thing I miss the least). You don’t enjoy stinky clothes, yellow fingers and teeth, your morning cough, the inability to have a hearty laugh, or the inability to walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing. You don’t enjoy the risks you know you are taking with your life. You don’t even enjoy the act of smoking itself.
“Yes I do!” you will insist as you read this. “No, you effing don’t!” is my reply. I used to tell people this pervasive lie when I smoked too. So you’re not fooling me (and if there are any non-smokers reading this, don’t believe the smokers when they say this). Even if you don’t curse yourself every time you stub one out (ending every smoke with the thought “I really need to quit” is common whether smokers admit it or not), you do not “enjoy” smoking.
What you enjoy is the temporary release from withdrawal. When you own that nicotine is an addiction like any other, you will understand that—as a smoker—you are in a permanent state of withdrawal. The blessing and curse of nicotine is that it leaves your system relatively quickly. This means that—as soon as the nicotine in your blood drops—you crave another cigarette. Until you have another, you are in withdrawal. So you don’t “enjoy” the cigarette. The cigarette doesn’t “relax” you (another lie that makes me laugh, given that nicotine is a stimulant). You are just experiencing a temporary respite from your constant state of withdrawal.
You know the way you feel when you’ve gone all day without a smoke? Or perhaps you were on a long flight where you couldn’t? Or you spent all day with judgmental non-smoking friends and couldn’t get away? You know that feeling you get when you finally get to light one up after such a long stretch?
That’s the way non-smokers feel all the time.
So. You enjoy the temporary release from withdrawal, and you enjoy the activities you are pairing with smoking (see #3 above). But the cigarettes themselves? You hate every single one of them and the power they have over you. Don’t even bother trying to argue that.
10. Don’t set a date. Don’t tell people you are quitting. Just don’t smoke anymore.
I am really going to contradict most of the non-smoking gurus on this one. Don’t set a date. Don’t tell your friends. Don’t post on Facebook that “I am quitting on July 1st.” Just quit smoking. Quit buying them and quit smoking. Do it quietly. Don’t set yourself up for any expectations on the part of your friends. Creating too much pomp and circumstance will put undue pressure on you. It will also make your non-smoking friends pressure you and then make you feel bad when and if you cave.
I told friends and family that I was quitting so many times that they stopped believing me. That would often make me feel as if I had no support. So forget all that. Don’t go searching for any recognition. Don’t set a date that you will worry yourself to death about (and probably smoke like a chimney leading up to it). Once you have gone a certain amount of time without one, and are relatively certain you really have kicked it, then feel free to brag away. I waited until six months to really brag, and promised myself a real self-congratulatory nod at the one year mark. This blog entry is the result of that.
Do I want pats on the back? Hell yes. Do I feel really good about myself right now? Hell yes. Is it possible some continuing smokers are going to roll their eyes at this and make fun of me? It is certain.
I don’t care, though. I just wanted others to know it is possible to get rid of this habit once and for all. You too can get on your high horse one day! Best of luck!