How I Quit Smoking
I smoked for about twenty five years, the last ten years of which I primarily smoked filterless hand-rolled cigarettes. I was deeply addicted, no doubt about it. Here is how I finally quit.
I was strongly motivated to quit, because whereas before I had experienced few health side effects, now I could see my skin aging and worse, my gums had started to recede pretty quickly. Also I got a boyfriend for whom a smoking habit was a non-negotiable. Probably any one of these would have been good enough motivation, but for me, the signs just all piled up at once. I was about to turn 40 years old.
I planned my quit date, giving myself nearly two weeks. I timed it such that my "Q day" was on the first day of the month, so that my nicotine-free days would count out with the date. I knew it would be nice to have that record, to reward myself with.
F or about a week I just lived with the impending quit date, continuing to smoke while I allowed myself to argue with myself into quitting and then back into not quitting, just having all that conversation in my head. Screwing myself down to the task, you might say. I told a few friends what I was up to, to get some support. Then a week before Q day I started to take measured doses of an herbal tincture blend called Smoke-Free drops by Herbs Etc. It has the alcohol extracts of a number of herbs which take the edge off of the nicotine craving, help you kack up the crud out of your lungs, and mellow out the bitchies. I took about four or five droppers full of the stuff during the day, trying to dose myself in between cravings for cigarettes. The effect is that when you do light up a smoke, it's kind of icky, like you have just already had too much to smoke. I am pretty sure that that is the effect of the lobelia. What I understand is that the lobeline in it fits into the nicotine receptor sites in your brain, which satisfies the craving. But it doesn't cause the mild exhilaration, so it is not addictive. As each nicotine-free day allows you body to detox, the unused, bored nicotine receptors detach from your brain and get recycled. My experience is concordant with this theory, anyway.
By the night before Q day, I had polished off a bottle of the Smoke-Free drops and with its help I had gotten myself down to only four cigarettes per day for the last two days. That was a pretty mellow jumping-off point for total nicotine cessation. The strength of your addiction is directly related to the daily dose of your substance in this case.
I had a non-nicotine smoking herb blend prepared for this phase of smoking cessation. Starting with Q day, I switched from tobacco to what developed into my own Ex Smoker blend. I gave myself two days off work and a TV to watch by myself if I wanted to, and it was okay! On day two, no kidding, I was in a bar drinking beer (before the smoking ordinance ended smoking in bars). During this phase I smoked the blend as much as I wanted. It contains several of the herbs also contained in the Smoke Free drops, which I also continued to take in between Ex Smoker cigarettes.
I did affirmations. Every morning, every night, and ever time I looked into a mirror, I smiled to myself and said aloud, "Congratulations, you're a non smoker!"
Here is where the magic comes in. I had come to see my addiction to nicotine as a dysfunctional relationship. Tobacco was my demon lover. I had noticed that I would make love with my boyfriend and then afterwards sneak out onto the porch to smoke. The cigarette was my real lover. And I was the one to blame for initiating the codependent relationship. I had to smoke the tobacco first; it had not come to seduce me. My own feelings of social inadequacy were at the root of it. I chose tobacco so that I would never be alone, not because we were suited partners.
I made an effigy of my addiction lover. I had already had strong visuals, being an imaginative child and having seen enough horror movies. The demon lover had no feet, just pointed roots which occupied my lungs. He wrapped around my heart and larynx and hid just behind my mouth in my esophagus, with his hungry mouth open, ready for the opportunity to dose. When I smoked, this demon wraith would emerge from my throat just enough to partake in the smoking. I built the effigy, made crudely of packing paper and masking tape, so that I could mentally project my demon lover out of my body into an external form. A few people saw him and were very creeped out, he was so pale and eerie and hungry looking, a parasite. I spent a few nights with him several days after Q day, and we had the breakup talk, cried on each other etc. Yes, very weird, but I really think that having a form like this, a voodoo doll if you will, to project my addiction into was extremely important to my ultimate success. In this way, I was able to metaphysically, perhaps even metabolically, take the addiction out of my body so that my body could begin recovery. Perhaps you can imagine how this technique could be used (or rather has been used throughout history in many cultures) to aid in the healing of many illnesses.
Then, I stuffed all my remaining tobacco products into his mouth and burned him in a backyard campfire. Goodbye demon lover.
About a week after Q day, I was able to stop taking the Smoke Free drops. Really, I think the lobelia is kind of toxic, it satisfies the nicotine jones but it makes you feel icky. Likewise I had had enough of smoking the Ex Smoker blend after about two weeks of using it. It is smokable but it is slightly harsher than hand rolled tobacco, so after awhile you are sick of it. Time for the final phase.
I had another substitutive behavior lined up, just in case. I got ginseng roots, about 3 inches long, and I would chew on them when I drank coffee or beer, or at parties. Ginseng tastes good with both coffee and beer, and it is a mellow, nutritional stimulant, which helps you to be more social, more extroverted. Cigarettes are used to compensate for social anxiety (although they actually contribute greatly to feelings of social anxiety), so I think this is an important problem to address for anyone who is quitting smoking.
All along this process I was regularly blessing myself with the "Congratulations, you are a nonsmoker"" affirmation. I added another: "It just keeps getting easier, the longer you go." I also had to avoid marihuana use, because for me it was a serious trigger for social anxiety. The couple of times I failed at this were the scariest trials of my nicotine withdrawal.
It has been nearly four years that I have been nicotine free, and I mean totally. Yay for me, but let me warn you about a few traps that could force you to start over again at Q day #1.
- Having "just a drag" from a friend's cigarette or --who's proud?-- a butt from a public ashtray. Just don't, because this sets the biochemical addiction withdrawal phase back to the start. The use of the substance is the reason for the addiction. This danger presents itself strongly in the first week. Take a dropper of Smoke Free drops instead.
- Using a cigarette to reward yourself for successfully quitting smoking. Sounds crazy, but those are the last starving nicotine receptor sites in your brain making that plea, and they will say anything. They belong to your demon ex lover, don't pay them any mind. Take my permission to externalize them from your body. They really are not you, your desires, your will.
- Allowing yourself to use a traumatic or unsettling life experience as an excuse to go whistling at the graveyard for the demon lover you dumped. Smoking will not help you cope with your problems, not in the least. It will make you worry, fret, waste your time, and it will give you back your demon ex lover, a problem you really don?t need to add to the pile.
- Dreaming that you smoked. Sounds even crazier? This one almost undid me. I would (still occasionally do) have dreams where I noticed myself smoking. In the dream it seemed reasonable, I had fast-forwarded myself to a time where I could enjoy a smoke at a party and not re-enter my addiction contract. This is absolutely not true. If you smoke, you re-enter your addiction contract, and I am sure you know who has the upper hand in that document. My problem was that the dreams were virtually indistinguishable from an actual memory. I had to do deeper dream work to catch myself and be able to remind myself in the dream, "No, I do not smoke, no never! Because that would be re-entering the addiction contract." Again, this is the last few nicotine receptor sites on your brain talking. For me this danger dwindled to very seldom after three years off nicotine.
The Rest of Your Life without cigarettes
Because it is probably going to be longer than it would have been! While many people describe having a lot more energy, that didn't happen for me, possibly because I was very physically active during my smoking years. What did happen was very positive, however. I could see the fine lines in my face disappear, and I actually aged backwards for the next three years, as far as my facial appearance went. The receding of my gums reversed itself, I actually gained ground in dental health.
The forecast may be better for quitters because social norms have grown towards strong negative reinforcement against smoking. This is a persuasion of personal liberty in favor of the greater social good, but when does negative reinforcement become a violation of personal liberty? I am very much in favor of persuasion over the use of regulation as far as personal liberties are concerned. While new anti-smoking regulations have definitely given society some tools of negative reinforcement, I would ask you to look for any negative reinforcement in my successful smoking cessation program. What worked was a program of substitutive behavior and positive rewards in a context of self-compassion. Remember, it just keeps getting easier. I hope it works for you.