Shortly after I turned the big 4-0, I awoke one day to find I was feeling a pain in my right lung. I had been smoking menthol cigarettes, 1-2 packs per day, for nearly 25 years at that point. I worked out several times per week, alternating aerobic and strength training. I figured, as a smoker, it was important and maybe helped my body deal with the bad effects of smoking. This is what I now know is called, “silly thinking.”
Anyway, there was this pain, and as I was dipping my toes into middle age, I realized it was time that I quit smoking. I had tried it once. When I was 20 or so, and had only been smoking 5 years. It seemed impossible at that time. The urges were too strong. However, in the ensuing years, researchers developed nicotine replacement therapy, which was available first, by prescription, then later over-the-counter. By the time I decided to quit, availability was over-the-counter.
Basically, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. Some recommend that you do that … make announcements, plan for the big day, etc. I told myself that I’d just give it a try, that whole quitting thing. No pressure.
I got my nicotine patches, and started with them. I wore the strongest patch first, as it recommended. I found that I didn’t want to smoke as much. Hmmm. Working pretty well so far.
I continued with the patches, and smoking only when the urge was too strong to resist. However, about 2 weeks into the program of using the patches, I had an allergic skin reaction to them. I awoke in the middle of night, feeling pretty sick, heart racing, stomach churning, and developed red welts in the last 4-5 locations where the patches had been applied to my skin. I think the adhesive was the issue … I have since that time had big problems with any sort of medical adhesives. I think they caused this inflammation and allowed too much nicotine to get into my system, and I had a mild overdose of nicotine that night I described.
So, not near completion of the patch program, unfortunately I had to discontinue it, but good news, the nicotine gum was available. So I stopped smoking at that time, and used the gum for a couple of weeks when the strongest urges hit. They were not frequent.
That’s the physical side.
The more important, and possibly more difficult battle, is the emotional one. They say to avoid triggers. What, don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t talk on the phone? This was before the Internet … that was how you communicated. Scratch those recommendations.
For me, the real tricks of being successful were in programming success.
Every time I had an urge to smoke, I said, either aloud or whispered (depending on where I was): RIght now I really want to smoke. But I CHOOSE not to. (What does this do? It acknowledges reality — trying to tell yourself that you don’t want to smoke only empowers the cigarettes. Acknowledging the urge gives ME the power, as does the follow-up statement — that I CHOOSE not to smoke.)
When I had the urge to smoke, I also told myself this: Whether I smoke or do not smoke right now, it will not be enough. It will never be enough … it will not make me not want to smoke. Smoking will only satisfy the urge momentarily. It will be back again. (That helped me realize that smoking is a short term series of little satisfactions, but it never provided long-term satisfaction.)
After a short time of not smoking, I realized 2 important things:
- I was just like those people I saw huddled outside smoking. They are, and I was, an addict. Smoking was just like sticking a needle into my arm to give me the drug I needed. I often told myself I smoked because I loved the taste. I realized that was self-serving rationalization. I smoked because my body needed nicotine.
- Smokers stink. I could smell them each time I walked past them … and I realized I used to stink too. What a nasty smell. Smokers can’t smell it on themselves.
Frankly, I was surprised that it was not as hard to quit as I remembered from my attempt 20 years previously. I think the main difference was that during those 20 years, I lived. When you live, you gain experience in dealing with adversity, you gain strength, you gain the ability to make choices and stand by them.
One lady I knew, who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was headed outside to smoke. She had just revealed the cancer. I said, “So why are you still smoking?” “Oh,” she said, “I’m just not ready to quit.” I told her what I had discovered … you are never “ready.” There is never a good time. There will always be stress at work, a partner that you argue with, a sick relative, final exams, debt, worry about affording the new itoy, whatever. There will always be adversity. Cigarettes do not obliterate adversity. They only add to the burden: the cost, the toll on one’s health, the augmenting odds of serious disease as the years pass.
Anyway, that’s my story about quitting smoking. Hopefully, someone can glean something useful from it.