At the end of the month I will celebrate my one year anniversary as a non-smoker. It has been a long road: very steep at the start with a few ups and many downs. Throughout this time I have maintained a focus on one thing – do not smoke. It sounds so simple. And it is. But as with many simple things in life we tend to overcomplicate it. Throw in one of the most highly addictive substances known to man and we get one hell of a rollercoaster ride.
When I quit smoking I searched the web for tips and stumbled upon this forum. For me it was very helpful and served as my crutch as I limped through the early dark days. I would definitely recommend this forum to anyone who is quitting and I wanted to take this opportunity to give something back and hopefully help others. Here’s my story:
As with many people I began smoking in my early teens when I was just 14 years old. My best friend at the time and I had arranged to meet some girls at the local ice rink on a Friday night, and being a couple of quiet lads we were concerned that the local thugs might give us a bit of trouble and show us up in front of the ladies. As a solution we came up with a cunning plan: divert any aggression away from us by offering cigarettes as bribes. Thus armed with 10 Regal we set off on our hot date to the ice disco. I can’t remember what exactly happened with the girls but needless to say it was a great night and not once were the ciggies required to fend off the local neds. My friend - who shall remain nameless - refused to hold the ciggies and so I agreed to keep them. The next day while waiting for the bus home I found myself with 10 ciggies, a lighter and a 20 minute wait. Being a curious teenager ....
I must admit my first fag was an unusual experience, and thinking about it now it is unbelievable why I continued. I smoked the whole cigarette, felt extremely light headed, boarded the bus, started to feel sick, was sick in my mouth, swallowed the sick, got off the bus and was sick again in a grass verge.
I continued to smoke for 15 years.
Over this period I have quit numerous times however only three of these I consider to be serious attempts: that is a conscious planned effort rather than taking a few days off and smoking again at the first twinge. My first quit attempt was extremely easy. I was 17, just started university and one of my new friends challenged me to quit smoking for 2 weeks which I did. I stopped for about a month or so before I started again. At the time I didn’t find the nicotine withdrawal particularly painful, however I did eat lots. I gained about 3 stone in a month - no lie! I started smoking again a few months later. My second quit attempt was the following year and again evolved from a bet with a friend to see who could quit for the longest with the wager set at £1 a day. After 28 days John packed it in first and I celebrated winning the bet with a smoke.
From then I smoked more or less consistently for the next ten years, quitting from time to time but never lasting more than a week or so. Looking back it is clear to me now why I failed in these quit attempts: I didn’t really appreciate the true nature of my nicotine addiction and accordingly had no concept of the actions required to break it.
For me there is no quick fix to stop smoking. If only there was a magic pill to scare the Nico-demon away for good. Quitting smoking was (and still is) a long slow journey, intense at first and requiring much strength and stamina: a sprint followed by a marathon. The journey lasts one day at a time (and sometimes just one hour, or one minute, at a time) and at each stage I am faced with a craving, which boils down to the simple choice of whether to smoke or not. With each ‘no’ I gain a little strength which helps me to deal with the next choice. By no means easy, this is without doubt the simplest way to quit smoking: deal with each craving one at a time. Don’t look back at the last one and never think ahead. By focusing on the present and dealing with each craving individually I managed to accumulate the strength to stop smoking for good.
In my first month the cravings were so deep and intense that I found it near impossible to ignore them and my saving grace was this forum. I would just read all the different posts and threads and I found it easier to deal with cravings in this way. The internet as a whole has so many websites dedicated to quitting and I embraced them all. It is almost like I was squaring right up to it. In my opinion trying to ignore a craving is a recipe for disaster because it will just increase in intensity until you crack. Instead I found that I would turn into it and face it head on. Let the craving consume you, let it break you down into a shrivelling mess. Eventually the craving will subside but you will emerge a stronger being. The next craving is never as intense.
I think many smokers fail in their attempts to quit smoking because they are put down by others (mostly never-smokers) who don’t really appreciate that smoking is a genuine addiction and should be treated as one. I think that there is a general perception that whereas, heroin for example, is an addiction, smoking cigarettes is merely a bad habit, or a bad lifestyle choice that can be simply altered in the same way that you may decide to change your eating or exercise habits. Because smoking is so widespread and done in full public view there is a perception that it isn’t a real addiction. It therefore follows that it shouldn’t be hard to break the habit, and this is where smokers fail because this perception doesn’t correspond with the complete torture experienced when attempting to quit.
Smoking is a real addiction: (i) we are required to regularly replenish the body with nicotine and (ii) we experience extreme physical discomfort when replenishment is denied.
Accepting that you are a nicotine addict is half the battle in quitting smoking. It is also my opinion that cold turkey is the only way to break the nicotine habit properly. All NRT (gum, patches, etc) drip-feeds your nicotine addiction and prolongs the necessary task of breaking free from nicotine once and for all. Although I accept that cold turkey is not for everyone, for me it was the quickest way to flush my body of nicotine that would allow me to move on and deal with the mental and habitual addiction that remains long after nicotine has gone. The memory of cold turkey is also a useful deterrent when cravings appear – who wants to go through that torture again!?!
Many successful ex-smokers put their success down to a ‘lightbulb moment’: a sudden realisation, or a feeling that something has clicked, and they now know what they have to do to quit. I think for most ex-smokers this is the realisation that smoking is simply an addiction to nicotine. Yes everyone knows that nicotine is addictive but I think very few us appreciate what this means in practice. Although we may enjoy the act of inhaling smoke, or the comfort from playing with a cigarette in hand or mouth, or the look, or the smell, or to complement a meal or drink, it all boils down to the fact that our body craves the nicotine. In this way, smokers are in perpetual nicotine withdrawal. Once a cigarettes is finished it is only a matter of time before the next one is required and it is this cycle that has to be broken.
Another reason why it is clear to me smoking is more than just a bad habit are the physiological changes to the body; that is actual physical changes to the body and bodily functions. These vary from person to person but for me they manifested themselves in increased appetite (and consequential weight gain), increased sense of taste and smell, increased saliva production, and (wait for it) terrible constipation. It is extremely discomforting to have to go through these physical side effects while all the time battling the mental torture that nicotine withdrawal produces. If you have just started to quit smoking be prepared to deal with these side effects as they are not pleasant but will subside in time.
Time itself is another key tool to quit smoking. The intensity of the first few months rapidly declines and over time the body learns how to function without smoking. You need to give your body time to learn how to do things as a non-smoker. The first time you go out for a drink will be torture. My advice is to have a few drinks then call it a day; get too drunk and you risk letting your guard down. The next time you go out certainly won’t be as bad, and over time you’ll get used to drinking without smoking. This applies to all things in your life and simply requires time. I went on holiday seven months after quitting and found that lying on the beach caused really intense cravings – it was the first time I has been on holiday as a non-smoker. Being realistic it probably takes a whole year to experience everything as a non-smoker (birthdays, Christmas, New Year, holidays, weddings, funerals, ... , the list goes on). Don’t be put off if you get a craving several months in - this just means the quit process is working.
Although I now consider myself a non-smoker I still get cravings from time to time, but I have accepted these as an occasional punishment for my years of smoking and a useful reminder of how tight the cigarettes grip. They also remind me to avoid complacency and that I am just one puff away from having to start the whole bloody thing again. Apologies to anyone who’s been near me mid-crave and felt my wrath, anger, frustration, cries and pleas. Here’s to another year smoke-free, and many more thereafter.
My advice to anyone quitting smoking is to be prepared for all the different side effects. Research as much as you can and listen to everyone’s advice because you may find one little gem of knowledge that works for you.