We moved to a tiny village north of the city shortly before our daughter started 8th grade. It was the first year she attended school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. When she asked why it was not considered a holiday, like it was for her friends in the city, she was told it was because, “we don’t have many black kids who go here”. The next year she was given the same answer by another teacher. I shuddered at the message that children in her class took away from that statement. Would they ever know that Martin Luther King Jr. championed equal rights not only for black people, but for all people? For us it provided an opportunity to discuss people’s prejudice and Dr. King’s message of equal opportunity for people of every economic status. Dr. King recognized the inconsistencies between classes, the lack of opportunity for children in poorer neighborhoods and the discrimination faced daily by those considered less-than. Dr. King’s dream was inclusive of all people. We talked about compassion, even for educated people who are still ignorant, and our responsibility to speak up. And so my child went to school armed with “my Mom said I can tell you that you are wrong” the second year. You never know if risking your neck for a truth will make a positive difference, especially when you are only twelve, which is what makes it a brave action. Brave action is what changes the world.
I chose not to smoke a cigarette on January 10, 2013, and made the same choice every day since then, sometimes several times within one day. You see: I’m a hard-core, full-on addict who feels tempted every single day and life is hard at times, especially as you grow older. Quitting is not new for me. I wholeheartedly quit at least fifteen times with patches, hypnosis, antidepressants, nicotine gum, candy, and a support group. I am hopeful that this quit will stick because it is my longest nicotine-free period since I started smoking 30 years ago, but I know that I cannot let my guard down. I have friends who have fallen for the “just one cigarette” routine after being free of it for years.
My addiction is rooted in my youth, one of the markers on the road to becoming a truly committed smoker. Ten years in to my commitment the game changed and smoking became uncool, the antithesis to why I began smoking in the first place. Nicotine addiction is tricky, though. By then I considered cigarettes an essential tool for creativity, especially writing. Then tragedy visited and my cigarette addiction dug its roots even deeper. Sometimes life is so cruel and loss so great that being happy and healthy seem impossible. This is not the time to quit smoking.
When I rejoined the land of giving a damn I started hiding my addiction and was a closet smoker for the past decade, unless around other smokers, where I’ve always let my habit run wild. A frequent hand-washing routine was born during this time. I then went to work in a hospital, where it became harder to ignore the consequences of smoking and my desire to quit grew.
A series of quits ensued, each utilizing a different formula, and each ending with me smoking. Again. I felt like a big stinky failure. Then I met David, a volunteer at the hospital and founder of our local nicotine-anonymous support group. I developed a deeply meaningful friendship with David, but I kept smoking and did not attend his meetings. At this point you may say, “My God, Woman! How could you not see the messages that the universe gave you?”. I could see, and it was making an impact. I came out of the closet because I realized my shame was pretty unhealthy (like shame always is) and with David’s urging, I started being kind to myself. And THAT is how I quit smoking.
I stopped the negative self-talk and scare campaign that left me riddled with guilt and feeling stupid. David told me for five years, “You will quit when you are ready. I know you will”. Shared knowledge whittled away at my desire to smoke, but David’s acceptance and kindness were what helped me most. I found more of it at his Nicotine Anonymous group, although I still smoked when I attended the first few meetings. Acceptance and kindness were a formula I had not tried before. People in the group were rooting for me!
As any addict will attest: recovery is a process that requires learning and letting go. By establishing new behaviors I began quitting long before I smoked my last cigarette and still rely on a few.
- I distract myself with a glass of cold water, a warm bath, pancakes, online shoe shopping, or gummy worms. Gummy worms are by far my biggest ally.
- I could not have quit without the dopamine dump I get from 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Walking or biking also helps with stress and post-quit weight gain.
- I immediately do something after I finish a meal. My favorite thing to do is go outside and walk around my garden, but throwing in a load of laundry or folding socks works, too. Anything to distance myself from triggers.
- I did not drink alcohol for the first few weeks because I was always drinking when I relapsed. It is also my strongest trigger. I drink less often and less when I do.
- Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Quit Smoking helped me change my thinking in regards to nicotine addiction. Thanks to a change in thinking, I can banish cravings with my mind. I know that it is only a slightly uncomfortable feeling that will go away if I just wait it out and I no longer believe I am being deprived of something I want. If you are a smoker, just read the book. It may not help immediately, but will help lay the groundwork. Yes, I do know he died from lung cancer. I think it gives him credibility.
- While it does not bother me when other people smoke, I do not sit next to someone and try to carry on a conversation while they are smoking. I have quit before and let my guard down on this one. The fact is that every time I relapsed I bummed a smoke off someone when I was socializing.
- The Nicotine Anonymous support group proved invaluable with love, acceptance, and tips galore to get me started and help me stay quit. When my friend David died this year, I revisited the group and still walked away feeling accepted and stronger in my commitment to stay quit, despite our profound loss.
- I know I can never take it for granted that I will never smoke again. It is important that I don’t let the lies sneak up on me, again. This works for me.
I wish I had your formula, but it seems to only work if you come up with your own. My only advice is that you add love and acceptance to the mix.