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If I can quit, you can quit!
At the moment I typed the word “quit” in the title of this story, it had been 21,504,997 seconds since my last satisfying drag on a cigarette. That is 358,416 minutes. That is 5,973 hours. That is 248 days. That is a long time to be smoke free, but make no mistake, I was as addicted to my cigarettes as you are to yours. I basked in the feeling of that smooth smoke as it massaged the cilia in my lungs. I relished the subtle head rush I got from the first puff every morning. I enjoyed slapping the pack in my hand to make sure each butt was tightly packed; ensuring the optimum burn. I joyfully cranked the radio in the car while lighting up to my favorite song. I cherished the time sitting on my front porch with a fresh cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was fun to flick the ashes off the glowing ember with my thumb while the aroma chased away the mosquitoes. I could keep going, but I would rather let you fill in some of the blanks to emphasize my point. What are some of the things I may not have mentioned that you find endearing about your habit? Stop reading right here and think about it for a moment.
The reality that most people don’t realize, or care to admit, is that smoking is a ritual. You may not consider yourself a religious person, but the fact is, as a smoker, you are indeed a card-carrying member of the Church of Philip & Morris. There is more form and protocol to accompany your habit than the highest Roman Catholic Mass! I honestly had never considered this fact until moments ago, when I wrote the first paragraph of this essay. As I reflected on my routines, documenting the emotions so intertwined with my memories, it hit me right between the eyes... THAT WAS A RITUAL… AN ACTUAL RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE! If you don’t believe me, consider the designated smoking areas where you and your fellow smokers congregate. There is a fellowship, a sense of belonging, that rivals even the most friendly house of worship. In the same way that we all stood up, sat down, or knelt as instructed, you now obediently go outside to the designated smoking area. In the same way the ushers took up a collection every Sunday, your health insurance company now hits you with a higher premium because you smoke. As you visited the Priest to confess your sins, you now confide in your fellow smokers around the outdoor ashtray.
Now, I could tell you how long I smoked, how much I smoked, or what brand I smoked, but I won’t. I won’t because once I do, your addicted mind will start comparing your situation to mine in a desperate attempt to convince you that you are unique; that what worked for me could not possibly work for you. Your addiction is already working overtime to find every reason in the world to dismiss me. I know this because I am an addict and that is how we roll. We are the terminally unique; the eternal victims. We sit on the top of our houses as the flood waters rise, turning away every offer of help because we just aren’t ready to be saved. We lock ourselves away in a prison of our own making convinced that the key we need, even if we had it, could not possibly unlock our chains, because of course, OUR CHAINS are different!
We all possess the raw materials necessary to manufacture the key that will free us. I seek to provide you not only with instructions to make that key, but the faith and the strength to use it. We know intellectually a thousand reasons why we should quit. In our hearts, we feel a desperate need to quit. Our loved ones beg us, our employers penalize us, our bodies punish us, our peers shame us, yet we still get up every day and VOLUNTEER to be 21st century lepers. We aren’t required to walk on the other side of the road and call out to everyone we see, “Unclean, Unclean!”, like the lepers in Old Testament times were. Nevertheless, the smell of our clothes, our hair, and our smoker’s cough does that for us.
I know you even though I have never met you. You are indeed one of “my people.” I know intimately what makes you tick, because I play the same games you do. I smile when I hear the justifications you use for your behavior because I used the same justifications for far too long. If you are still reading, then I’m happy to inform you that you will be a non-smoker very soon. You will succeed. Of this I am certain. How do I know this? I know this because you are still here. Those smokers who will likely die smokers have already stopped reading. The fact that you are still here tells me that you genuinely want to quit, that you have a humble heart, and that you are teachable. These characteristics are your recipe for success.
Setting the Captives Free:
Do you want freedom from this self-imposed bondage? Are you ready? I mean, are you really ready? I think you are. Actually, I’m sure that you are!
Allow me to share with you what I have learned—call it the secret to my success, if you'd like. I have discovered two ingredients to victory that are absolutely imperative. There are many other supports that will help your quit to be more comfortable, but these two elements are all you need.
The first tenant is something I hope you already have. If you don’t have it, you will need to get it as soon as possible. I can’t give it to you, but I can tell you where I got it. There are millions of non-smokers who have it that did not get it where I did. This is good news, because If you don’t want to go where I went, there is still hope for you. Your freedom has already begun! The bottom line is; you absolutely need component number one for your quit be legitimate. You can choose to get it where I got it or keep looking elsewhere but you need to get it, the sooner the better.
The second rule is an absolute truth that you need to receive and accept in the core of your being. If you don’t accept this truth as fact, if you deny it, or cling to the idea that it is not true, then you will smoke again. The first precept starts you on your way and the second one keeps you on the beam.
Compared to the smokers of fifty years ago, there is bad news and good news for the smokers of today. The bad news is that the tobacco companies have chemically engineered a more addictive product. Most of us are smoking a lot more than tobacco when we light up, and those additives have dramatically increased how addictive the product is. The good news is that the support for people who want to quit is dynamic and significant. Take advantage of every piece of support you can find. It won’t be the reason you are successful but, as I said, the tools available will make your quit more comfortable, especially in the first month when it will be the hardest.
Make yourself comfortable.
The first things I used to minimize the discomfort were nicotine patches, which I highly recommend. You might have thought I would recommend a drug like Chantix, but no, I am not a fan. I guard my mental health diligently. A drug that warns of potential side effects that include suicidal tendencies and depression is not something with which I am interested in experimenting. If you decide to use pharmaceuticals, PLEASE pay attention to your body and your mind; if you notice ANY side effects stop them immediately. A potential side benefit of the patch I enjoyed was vivid, epic dreams. I personally enjoy long adventures in dreamland, however if it’s too much for you, just make sure you take your patch off well before bedtime. You may want to remove the patch as early as suppertime if you find it hard to get to sleep.
While I strongly discourage vaping, I will admit that there is a place for it during that first hellacious week. Don’t go out and spend big money on a fancy set up with giant batteries and holding tanks for the many amazing flavors of juice! Remember you want to be free from your addiction and trading in one form of nicotine indulgence for another does not equal freedom. Nevertheless, the purpose of this section of my essay is to help you make your quit more comfortable and an e-cig will absolutely make you more comfortable in the very beginning while you hone and sharpen better coping skills. I found some help during week #1 from a Mark 10 e-cig but soon it failed to satisfy and at that point I was strong enough to muscle through the cravings.
A word about the craving: What you will absolutely experience, if you hang in there long enough to notice, is that even the strongest cravings only last a few minutes. As you go about your day and do what your employer is paying you to do (assuming you still have a job) or involve yourself in serving others through some form of volunteer work (highly recommended for the unemployed quitter) you will absolutely find that your mind leaves the cravings behind. You will suddenly realize “HEY, I haven’t thought about a cigarette in over an hour… two hours… three hours, etc. Each time this happens, your faith will increase and you will become more resolved.
Other common helpers I used quite successfully were nicotine gum and lozenges. Don’t be afraid to use them along with the patches, but read and comprehend the instructions carefully. I found myself eating close to the same number of lozenges as the number of cigarettes I had been smoking and experienced gastrointestinal distress as a result. You may be surprised that I am suggesting both patches and oral nicotine supplement at the same time? Absolutely, I highly recommend using both. Nicotine patches are like background noise. They release a controlled amount of nicotine throughout the day. I found that while this takes the edge off, it wasn’t enough to eliminate all the intense cravings. Remember, there is an oral component to smoking, so it makes sense that adding a nicotine boost through the mouth when a craving is particularly strong makes things significantly more tolerable.
The third “friend” I kept with me constantly was probably my favorite. The suggestion for this tool came from a quit coach at a monthly support group through a local hospital (you should try and find one of these in your town and get plugged in). Her suggestion was to buy a bottle of cinnamon sticks, which are found in the spice isle of your local grocery store, and to chew or suck on them. I thoroughly enjoyed gnawing on these. They really helped me because they are the same size as a cigarette and because they are like a straw, allowing you to suck air through them, as you would a butt. The cinnamon has a spicy bite which is refreshing and keeps your breath fresh.
Most, if not all, states have quit smoking programs for their residents. These typically offer free nicotine patches and/or gum/ lozenges along with many other resources that will help your quit be more comfortable. It has been my experience that the state-sponsored programs are the same caliber as the ones that are offered by many employers. In fact, when I quit for nine months (the first time) I was enrolled in both at the same time! If your employer offers a program join it today, if not Google “free nicotine patches” with your state abbreviation and you will likely find a program that will provide a great deal of support. In addition to the free patches, I was given a “quit coach” who called me at pre-agreed-upon times during the first few months to offer encouragement and suggestions. She also set me up with a service that sent me text messages to encourage me further. In addition to enrolling in a program, I strongly recommend downloading one of the many apps that are available on your smart phone.
I used one called “QUIT NOW” and found that it really helped motivate me when I saw how much money I had saved. It also offers rewards/ achievements that you can post to your social media feed. Speaking of social media, the support I received from my Facebook friends was remarkable. Telling friends and family you are quitting is something many folks delay because they don’t want the world to know, just in case they fail. It has been my experience that the support far outweighs the potential shame so broadcast your intentions! Tell everyone who will listen that you are quitting because a reluctance to promote your intentions represents a lack of commitment. Be bold!
Finally, I don’t have any idea how much it helped, but there are a ton of subliminal, meditation and self-hypnosis videos on YouTube. Since they cost me nothing and I was desperate to minimize the discomfort, I often fell asleep listening to a playlist of these that I had created. I can’t vouch for the science behind these but I do know that I listened to them and that I am a non-smoker today. Whether it helped to make me more comfortable, I am not entirely sure, though it certainly did not hurt me.
I realize I wrote that two ingredients were all you would need, then went on to elaborate on many other supplemental resources that helped me quit. I did this because there is no reason for you to suffer more than is necessary. Quitting cigarettes was the hardest thing I have ever done but you don’t have to be a martyr! I encourage you to use medication, technology and the support of friends and family, yet in the final analysis these won’t be the reason you are successful.
Without any further ado, allow me to introduce the one thing that you absolutely must bring to the table: A genuine WILLINGNESS TO QUIT. Until you are willing to make changes and do things differently, you will continue to smoke. When you sign up for a quit smoking program your quit coach will help you select a quit date. I chose July 4th 2017 because I thought Independence Day would be a great day to make the break from my bondage. Unfortunately, I did not become truly willing to quit until July 9th. As much as I wish I had an impressive quit date like the 4th of July, I don’t want it bad enough to smoke for another year…so July 9th it is!
What changed between the fourth and the ninth that made me willing to quit? I wish I could tell you that it was a vitamin or a new brand of coffee but it is more mysterious than that. I wish I could point you to a significant event, something I was told, or something I read. That would be much easier to pass on. The change, in reality, was a transcendental one. Something I cannot explain occurred; something changed inside of me. Suddenly I became willing to change my habits. I became willing to pay for my gas at the pump (so as not to go inside and be tempted by the cigarettes behind the counter), I became willing to listen to audio books instead of the classic rock that I associated with lighting up (temporarily), I became willing to delay the steps necessary to place a cigarette in my hand long enough for the craving to pass. Simply put, I became willing to modify my behavior.
What brought about this change? How did I become willing? The only tangible thing I can point to is PRAYER. I was praying and my family was praying for me. This might not be what you wanted or expected to hear but it is the only thing I can point to. Since I have not had a cigarette in over 8 months (as of March 8 2018) and you probably had one within the last hour, why not humble yourself and give it a try.
The second element that you will need, the one I lacked the first time I successfully quit for nine months, is a total and complete acceptance of this fact: You may never take so much as a single puff on a cigarette ever again. You need to completely disregard the lie that you can cheat. The acronym I was given by my quit coach was N O P E (Not One Puff Ever).
Many a non-smoker has returned to their former life because they thought they could just take a drag or bum just one from a friend. When your addiction tells you that it is “okay to cheat and just take a drag or smoke just one cigarette as long as you don’t buy your own pack” you need to recognize this for what it is, make like a cheetah, and RUN! You have successfully put the receptors in your brain into a state of dormancy, but just one puff will wake them up and cause them to multiply. This mental picture helped me a lot because I imagined aliens in my brain multiplying and taking control of me (which is exactly what you cause to happen when you wake them up). Remember the N-O-P-E!
If you had terminal cancer and were successful in beating it into remission, I suspect the last thing you would ever consider would be an activity that would bring the cancer back. That is our reality as non-smokers! Our addiction is a cancer and one puff will call it out of remission. Those of you who have successfully quit for a period of time only to go back after thinking you could take a drag or bum one: Am I right?! I’m damn right.
The person who smokes has a form of cancer that is consuming their time, their relationships, their money, and their health. Once you have the willingness and are successful in putting together that first 24 hours of a smoke free life, embrace the acronym N-O-P-E and never look back.
The addiction to nicotine, much like the addiction to alcohol (for an alcoholic), is insidious. Even after you quit, the addiction, like an evil spirit, will appear out of nowhere with insane enticements. For example, remember the smart phone app, “QUIT NOW,” I recommended? Get this: it reports how many cigarettes you have avoided. This statistic provided incredible motivation as the number of smokes I did not take added up quickly. I can remember the satisfaction I felt when I saw that I had avoided one hundred cigarettes, then five hundred! It was amazing how fast they added up. When it hit one thousand cigarettes avoided, to my astonishment, I found my demon whispering in my ear, “Wow, you have avoided one thousand cigarettes, one won’t hurt you.” That is insanity, and the reason it is crucial that you cling to the N-O-P-E.
Another time, I was minding my own business driving down the street, not even thinking about smoking, when I passed a cigar shop. My old friend was right there. “Hey, you could have a cigar! You didn’t even like to smoke cigars so what’s the problem?" Let me get this straight, you want me to go buy a cigar, something I didn’t even like, and smoke it because it is NOT a cigarette? N-O-P-E.
My addiction to cigarettes will be with me until the day I die, but thanks to the fact that I quit smoking, I won’t die broke! The amount of money that I am saving is ridiculous. I strongly encourage you to put in place a mechanism for setting aside the money you were spending so that you can reward yourself for your victory. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t do this, the money will find a way to spend itself and you will be how I was eight months into my smoke-free existence, with nothing to show for it. If I had started setting aside my cigarette money on July 10th I would be at least $1,500 closer to the cruise I have always wanted to take.
A fantastic tool I am now using to ensure that the money I would have spent on tobacco gets spent on something better is called STASH. STASH is a method of investing that allows you to deposit as little as $5 a day into your account and invest in mutual funds, ETFs, or stocks!
Visit this website and sign up the for this service on the day you quit. You can easily deposit the money you would have spent on cigarettes with one click on your smartphone and I promise that watching your balance grow will be a great motivation for you.
You can do this!
Willingness + N-O-P-E = FREEDOM!