It’s probably true that one of the biggest obstacles to quitting smoking is all of the hype that surrounds it…and ironically, a lot of that hype is geared to support people through the process. My friend Kevin once (Who am I kidding? More like fifty thousand times) told me that the trick wasn’t to quit smoking…rather it was to become a nonsmoker. This was incredibly sage advice, but I wasn’t hearing any of it, in large part because nonsmokers telling us to quit, or why we should quit, just doesn’t work. Even if they were smokers before. That said, when the time is right and the smoker in question does take the plunge, a lot of that great advice comes in handy.
Having been smoke free for a year now, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I did wrong all those years…and what I did right this time around. As previously mentioned, these lists are exclusively the product of my own personal experience, and it just might be balderdash to everyone else out there. Bear in mind, if you’re a smoker, I’m not telling you to quit…only you will know when the time is right, and rushing it, or doing it for somebody else…well, it didn’t work for me (although that didn’t make it to my previous list…maybe it should have?). I think this is more about planting seeds…thinking about something is the first step in making that thing a reality, and thinking about becoming a nonsmoker in a healthy, positive way…well, like I said, it’s only a start.
So these are some of the things that did work for me. The list is a little longer, but I really felt that each item was truly imperative to my process:
Forgiveness…and my finger pointed squarely at the real culprits. I decided to smoke my first cigarette all by myself. And the second, third, and so on. At first, they tasted god-awful (although there are some people for whom cigarettes are delicious right from the start). They gave me headaches, made me nauseous. It was decidedly unpleasant. But I kept on smoking because of the many perceived positive things that I got – protection from my own bumbling idiocy in public situations (read: I felt cooler), a go-to when my emotions got the better of me, an appetite suppressant…but I knew from the start that they were bad. I knew they could make me sick and could very likely kill me. I didn’t start smoking in the Ozarks in 1933 – there were no blinders over my eyes. But kicking myself for this just didn’t work. It only fed the self-loathing that was part of my reason for starting to smoke in the first place. So instead of being angry with me, I redirected that anger where it belonged: the corporations who work so hard, and spend a lot of spondoolies making sure that you and I just can’t help ourselves…particularly when we’re teenagers. There is nothing good about these companies – they are drug pushers. And they aren’t just giving us pure tobacco, either…there’s lots of additional chemicals added to keep us hooked, and apparently this is most extreme in the U.S. At any rate, that anger helped me a bit, too.
Education. I’m not talking about educating yourself about why cigarettes are bad…we all know that. I mean that you have to really understand why you smoke, what keeps you smoking, what makes you want to stop. That part’s pretty internal. But I found a really excellent tool to facilitate my process. In 2007, as part of the lead-up to the smoking ban in the U.K., the Guardian and the Observer gave a free 2-part illustrated edition of The Easy Way to Quit Smoking by Allan Carr. It took me three years to get past the part where he says something along the lines of, “If you’re not ready to quit, close the book here and start over.” But I liked his logic from the outset, and he made me consider things in a different way than I had before. There are so many resources out there…it’s just about what works best for you.
Building a solid and personally appropriate support network. This time mine was pretty small. It consisted of a couple of former smokers at work, my afore-mentioned excellent nurse, and, once again, Chris. I told everybody I had quit, but I didn’t rely on them to support me. It’s not that my other friends weren’t supportive – they were – but I didn’t expect them to be. I think I kept it small because I wanted to be the one who dictated when the subject would come up (which was often, but on my terms), and because I was still afraid of failing. Chris was amazing on so many levels…this thing – quitting – seriously preoccupied my waking life for several months (still does sometimes), and he never devalued that. If I needed to talk about it, or had an observation to make, it was always a good time, it was always of interest to him. My nurse had helped me through my last attempt (gum – didn’t work), and I knew I liked her approach. She’s this 60-something English woman with hair so blonde it’s nearly white, but not greying in the least. She has the best posture I’ve ever seen, carries herself with grace and poise, and speaks in perfect British diction with a soft, soothing voice. She was always firm, but never condescending. She had loads of faith in me, and shared my joy when I’d made it through another two weeks. She scolded me for not making best use of the resources when I didn’t, and listened patiently when I was going a bit nuts. Knowing I was going to see Nurse Stewart in a few days always made me want to hold out just a little bit longer…I liked her, I wanted her support, and I wanted to make her support worth it in the end…if that makes any sense.
Recognizing that literally everything has to change. I had to know that my life couldn’t be the way it had been before. I couldn’t party the way I had – cigarettes were too much a part of that. I couldn’t sit with friends over two bottles of wine and a month’s worth of gossip…not at first, anyway. I had to commit to using the online resource Champix provided because I had to make monitoring my progress an every-day thing. I had to pay delicate attention to what I was eating. I had to introduce exercise into my life…like, seriously. I had to meditate. I had to process all this stuff, do it consciously, and do it regularly. I knew I’d have to re-learn how to cope with negative emotions, but I also had to re-learn how to cope with the good feelings, too, because I found out that I had even treated tremendous joy as an emotion too overwhelming to be handled without nicotine. I had to find self-confidence in places I didn’t realize existed before. I had – in the words of my dear friend Kevin – to become a nonsmoker.