Everyone’s quitting journey is going to look different. I’m by no means an expert on breaking cigarette addiction, but having been through the battle, I will share in this post some insights I learned through my experience quitting cigarettes. (Just so you know; I never used nicotine patches or any other quitting-aid products.)
This post is Part 2 of 2… you can read Part 1 here.
What’s your vision?
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another. ~Anatole France
In Part 1 I mentioned that I couldn’t picture my future-self as a smoker. I had a vision – a vision of a smoke-free Me. A Me who started her days and ended her meals without the need for a cigarette.
Try starting with a vision. Something to build towards and look forward to. In all honesty (and I know this might sound unfriendly), my vision was largely inspired by middle-aged women in my life who were smokers. What I saw in them I didn’t want to see in myself when I got to their age. I didn’t want to have that cough, that voice, that skin, those teeth, that need. I envisioned myself free… singing with a voice that didn’t crack, breathing with lungs that didn’t wheeze.
It’s gonna suck, big time
When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge. ~ Tuli Kupferberg
Accept the fact that it’s gonna suck. You’re going to suffer mentally and physically. You’re going to question why you’re trying to quit, which by the way isn’t necessarily a bad thing (reexamining your reason or vision). You’re going to bargain with yourself and say things like: “I’ll just start tomorrow” or “ok, just one more” or maybe, if you’re a female: “I’ll just quit when I’m pregnant” (my personal favorite – I used that one all the time). You’re going to be miserable and the days are going to be long. You’re going to crave cigarettes at every turn. Everything is going to make you want to smoke – even reading advice (ha, sorry). But when you accept that Agony is part of the process, you can move on to the next stage: believing there’s life after cigarettes.
“The Last Cigarette”
The best way to stop smoking is just to stop… no ifs, ands, or butts. ~ Edith Zittler
It can be stressful putting so much emphasis on your “last cigarette”, so don’t pressure yourself. Don’t declare a cigarette to be your last. Just take it one day at a time and you will suddenly realize that you can’t even remember the last time you smoked.
I tried to live my quitting days as normally as I could so that in my mind, a day without a cigarette was not a big deal – not a big source of pressure or stress – it was just another day, a regular day lived the way it should be lived. Not thinking about my “last cigarette” and not thinking about whether I would actually ever smoke again relieved so much pressure… and allowed me to embrace, instead of dread, every day that I went without a cigarette.
He that has energy enough to root out a vice should go further, and try to plant a virtue in its place. ~Charles Caleb Colton
I will be honest. I managed to quit forever while I was in the midst of a huge transition in my life. My whole world had changed – I had moved to a new country – which meant my routine and surroundings had completely and utterly changed. I walked down streets I hadn’t walked down before. I had no memory of me smoking by those stairs or with those people or in that room. I had no associations to pull at my cravings.
Quitting cigarettes is as much a mental battle as a physical one, so one of the most important things to do if you’re trying to quit is to change something very definite in your daily life.
Maybe rearrange your room so that the positioning of your bedside table doesn’t remind you that you used to keep a pack in the first drawer. Maybe take a different route to work so that passing by that stop sign doesn’t remind you that you would usually be lighting a cigarette by now. Maybe buy a new purse or everyday sweatshirt so that the pocket of your old one doesn’t remind you of the pack you used to keep there.
Get rid of all your lighters. (Yes, say goodbye to your favorite lighter.) Join a gym or pottery class. Maybe start training for a 5K or half-marathon. It could be anything, even something subtle (buying a scented candle for your home or new throw pillows for your couch), but change something in your daily life. Bring something new to ease the temporary feeling that something’s missing.
Essentially, you need to introduce something that didn’t exist in your life as a smoker. Something new that doesn’t remind you of cigarettes. Something new that will channel your energy and move you forward in your journey.
It doesn’t matter how many times you relapse
Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it hundreds of times. ~ Mark Twain
Relapsing is part of the process – get over it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t let it be an excuse to put off quitting. Sadly and funnily enough, relapsing can almost feel like a rest stop. I relapsed over 100 times, maybe more. It took me years to quit. Remember that you’re on a journey. The important thing is to keep on going. Don’t revel or linger or wallow in the relapse. Relapse is a bully so skillful, you don’t even know you’re being bullied. Don’t let it play you. Don’t give up because of a relapse and don’t hide behind a relapse.
Who’s in your circle?
In a gathering of two or more people, when a lighted cigarette is placed in an ashtray, the smoke will waft into the face of the nonsmoker. ~Author Unknown
For some people, telling friends and family they’re trying to quit helps for accountability purposes. For me, it was nerve-wrecking. It meant people would be watching if I failed. Whichever strategy you prefer – telling people or not (I tried both) – remember that this is ultimately between you and yourself.
But also look more closely…
Who in your life do you feel might encourage or impede your efforts to quit? My significant other doesn’t smoke and that greatly influenced my success. Ironically though, most of my close friends smoke. That made things increasingly difficult for me. I didn’t eject them from my social circle (what kind of friend would I be?!), but I did make it known that my quitting meant a lot to me so that they could either not smoke around me or not offer me cigarettes anymore. (Actually, one of my close friends said I inspired her and… well, she’s also since quit! So you never know who you are inspiring!)
Also – I am a big sister. That role means the world to me. My siblings are a generation younger than me and, recognizing the significant role I play in their lives, I couldn’t envision myself being that older sister who smoked. It was important to me to be a positive role model. To not smell like smoke when I hugged or kissed or tickled them. To not have the smell of smoke remind them of me.
The truth about willpower
Willpower can produce short-term change, but it creates constant internal stress because you haven’t dealt with the root cause. ~ Rick Warren
Quitting cigarettes, in my experience, has less to do with willpower than it has to do with the sincere desire for change. If you don’t have that sincere desire, if you don’t have that sure vision of what you want for your life, then relapse and temptation will always crush your willpower. Willpower cannot stand on its own. Willpower means denying yourself something that you want. So you have to not want to be a smoker.
You will reach a point in your quitting journey where declining a cigarette will either make you feel anxious and antsy, or make you feel confident and glad. When you reach the latter bridge, you’ll know that the worst part of your journey is over.
You’re not actually doing anything
The believing we do something when we do nothing is the first illusion of tobacco. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Smoking has a way of making you feel like you’re doing something. You know what I’m talking about. You’re waiting for a bus or phone call or for your stew to finish simmering – and you find yourself wanting to light a cigarette.
When you do something, you’re investing time and energy into a purpose. Smoking accomplishes nothing… nothing that contributes to your well-being. Nothing that moves you forward.
It’s an empty act.
The C word and… “That would never happen to me”
There was a young lady named Mae
Who smoked without stopping all day;
As pack followed pack,
Her lungs first turned black,
And eventually rotted away. ~ Edward Gorey
I’m not at all saying that health is not a legitimate reason to quit (and certainly it highly depends on one’s health situation) – I’m just saying not to put all your motivations in one basket. Holding yourself hostage with fear is not only hostile, it associates quitting with something negative instead of positive.
So don’t make fear for your health a driving force of motivation. Maybe that tactic works for some but it certainly didn’t work for me. You have to want to quit is my philosophy. Not because of fear of illness or death, but because you want to live a life without cigarettes. And what are your reasons for wanting to live that life? Reflect on them daily and let those reasons guide you. If your reasons are all wrapped up in fear, I personally don’t think that’s very effective. Why? Because of the “that would never happen to me” mentality that unconsciously plagues each and every one of us, smoker or not.
There are many advantages to “that would never happen to me” – for one, it helps us sleep at night. Horrors happen every day… but usually in that infamous “somewhere or to someone else” place. That thought helps us feel safe and keeps us from living life constantly paranoid and afraid.
Simply put, dwelling on the long-term consequences of a thing that provides you with instant gratification is not very effective. So forget fear tactics and get to the point. Do you want to quit or not?
He who endures with patience is a conqueror. ~ Latin Proverb
Part of what makes quitting so difficult is that you have to remold many aspects of your life. Quitting means no more cigarette-breaks at work or gathering with smoker friends on sidewalks or porches. You will no longer pair cigarettes with your morning coffee or share a cigarette with that one friend. You are reshaping routine, familiarity, attitude, identity. You will feel weary and wonder what to do with that five minute gap you usually spent with a cigarette. You might feel left out if your friends step outside for a smoke.
So be patient with yourself. Be forgiving. Be encouraging. Recognize that there is a lot you are unhooking yourself from as you remove cigarettes from your life. You are in a process of transformation. You are recovering. You are learning a new way of life. Quitting is going to take time… lots of time… and with time comes the requirement of patience.
Truly appreciating your body
Health is not everything, but without health, everything is nothing. ~ Anonymous
The body is an amazing beast. It’s perfect and imperfect all at once. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful. And it’s only ours for a short time. To be quite honest, a new-found appreciation for my body was one of my biggest motivators to quit.
I suddenly became very aware of how blessed and privileged I was to be in good health… to be young and to be in good health. The way I perceived cigarettes began to slowly change…
Smoking became, for me, an act of ungratefulness. Smoking, in essence, is deliberately inhaling toxic, poisonous fumes into your body… a body not meant to process those fumes. Our lung’s tissues are pink… and smoking blackens and paralyzes them.
Smoking suddenly felt to me like pouring petroleum into a pool, like watering plants with acetone, like spitting on a wet painting. I suddenly saw smoking as tainting my body… I wanted to stop ruining a gift that was so freely given to me.
Make a decision
Your life is in your hands to make of it what you choose. ~ John Kehoe
After all that’s said and thought and done, ultimately, you have to just make a decision. Realize that it’s not about what you or they think you should do or not do; it’s about what you decide to do. You either want to quit – I mean in your heart of hearts you either truly, genuinely, truthfully, want to quit – or you don’t want to quit.
I believe there’s such a thing as being ready and not being ready to quit – and by ready I’m not referring to convenience and external circumstance, I’m referring to psychological readiness. You have to be self-aware enough to know whether you are ready to go into the battle of quitting, because it is a battle. You have to prepare your heart and mind for the undertaking. If you’re not ready, it’s okay. But don’t use “I’m not ready yet” as an excuse for years on end. Otherwise just admit to yourself that you don’t want to quit and move on.
Don’t “decide” that you want to quit when your heart is not in it. You have to own your decision, feel good about your decision – no matter your decision. Understand that you will live your decision and be your decision. We are products of decisions we make.
There may be a philosophical and medical “right” and “wrong” when it comes to smoking, but when it comes to you and your person, I don’t believe there is. I believe there is only what you choose to do and what you choose to not do… essentially, it goes back to free will.
So make a decision. Whether you want to smoke or don’t want to smoke, or just don’t know… make a decision. And no matter how long it takes… see your decision through.
Decide on the life you want to live.
(Part 2 of 2)