Today is the 37th annual Great American Smokeout. Are you quitting? Know someone who is? Here’s the post for you!
I made a promise to myself when I quit smoking that I wouldn’t become one of “those” former smokers. I wouldn’t proselytize, wouldn’t nag, wouldn’t indulge in the obnoxious behaviors that make smokers want to punch you in the mouth. For the most part I’ve kept that promise – although if I see a social media post about someone quitting, I always jump in and offer any help I can give. I don’t nag. I don’t offer unsolicited advice, but I am an ardent cheerleader. I know you can do it, I say, because I truly believe you can, and I want you to believe you can. I want you to know it is absolutely worth the pain and misery. I want you to know that however good you expect it to be on the other side, the reality is it’s even better than you can imagine.
But I also want you to know just how hard it is. It’s not hyperbole to say quitting smoking was the hardest, most painfully brutal thing I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t want the reality to sideline you. I also don’t want you to be discouraged by past attempts. It often takes multiple attempts to successfully quit (six serious attempts for me). Each time you can’t make it, well, just take what you’ve learned and keep it for the next time.
So with all this in mind, here’s what worked for me – and what didn’t.
What didn’t help:
- The buddy system. This was probably the biggest fail for me. All my previous serious attempts involved buddying up with my husband, who has never been truly ready to quit. Every time he gave in, I’d throw my hands up and give in as well. If you tie your success to someone else’s, you’re also tying yourself to their failure.
- Zyban. We tried this back in the late ’90s, during one of my first very serious attempts. Within three days, I was on the verge of becoming psychotic. I thought it was simply from not smoking until my husband mentioned his thoughts were getting a little weird. Turns out there’s a big ass WARNING about some of the nasty side effects. (I never tried Chantix – it came out a year after I quit. But after the reaction I had to Zyban, I wouldn’t have tried it anyway.)
What did help:
- Changing my hair color. About a month or two into the last time I was seriously struggling, unable to really see myself as a non-smoker. I bought my first pack of cigarettes when I was 13, by 41 it was as much as part of my personal image as my (dyed) red hair. On a whim I dyed my hair black, a new color for me. And it helped. As a redhead I had always been a smoker. As a jet head I had never been a smoker. I could see myself as a new person – one who didn’t want to smoke.
- Herbal smoking substitute. For me it was reefer, but I know that’s not a choice for everyone. The good news is there are many herbs that can be smoked; legitimate, legal ones that don’t buzz you up. Here is a good place to start looking. Depending on what you choose to smoke, it can not only help with the actual smoking habit, it can also help with the emotional and mental upheaval.
- Admitting that for me there was no such thing as “just one.” That’s pretty much how I fucked myself every. single. time. Somewhere around week 3 or 4, shit would start to get really intense, and I would seriously start reconsidering whether anything is worth such pain and misery. It was too easy to buy into the “just one, to take the edge off” school of thought. But somewhere along the way, you have to step up and own your addiction, and the only way to do that is:
- Admit you are, in fact, addicted. It was hard for me. Over the course of my life, I had grappled with other substance abuse issues, and each time I could not only easily walk away, but also keep partaking without relapsing into dependent behaviors. I always tried to convince myself I could do the same thing with cigarettes. But I couldn’t because it wasn’t the same thing. One was a short-term dependency; the other was a long-term, full-blown addiction. As soon as I recognized the difference, I knew just one drag off one cigarette would start the mess all over again.
- The sheer misery. This one ties in with number 3. I knew if I ever smoked another cigarette, one day I would have to go through the same hell all over again. It was so awful, I was determined to do anything to never go through it again.
I’ve probably gone on long enough, but before I go, I want to add a few more things.
I haven’t mentioned any nicotine replacement therapies because I never tried any. To me they make no sense, but that is only my opinion. If you feel they will help you, by all means go for it. Anything that will help is fair game.
If you’re not ready to quit but know you will be one day, this is my only piece of advice: If you use cigarettes as a reward, stop. After I got sick, I used them as a motivator to get through housework, and when it was time to quit that bit me in the ass hard. I’d get through with the dishes or the sweeping and my automatic response would be to head for my chair and my cigarettes. The cravings at those moments were some of the hardest to work through.
And the last thing, a bit of reality: Don’t expect this will be over and done in a week or two. After a week, the physical withdrawal was mostly gone, but the mental and emotional addiction took probably six months to get through. The whole process goes from bad to worse to fucking-just-shoot-me-now-this-is-hellllll. But before long, it will start easing up, and from then on, each day gets easier.
Resources for support and tools:
OK, I’ll hop off my soapbox for now. Good luck, and please know if I can help in any way, all you have to do is holler at me.