05 November 2012

Quit Smoking


To actually manage to quit smoking, the most important technique is to actually want to stop smoking. No amount of smoking cessation is going to help if the will to do so isn't present. Once you've got that sorted, there's a couple of methods out there available to you. Please bear in mind that everything I'm saying here is strictly anecdotal. It's based on my own experiences and observations. Your results will vary, because addiction is a highly personal thing, and will work on different people in different ways, depending on your life situation, environment, encouragement from casual acquaintances and friends, and your support network.

For whatever reason (my reasons were financial, because the cigarette tax had gotten so burdensome that I was about to have to spend on my weekly cigarettes what I'd spend on food for a month), figure out what those reasons are, and genuinely reflect on what that all means. I wasn't much bothered about the social aspect of it, because my husband didn't mind the smoking. My friends would often join me if I had to step out for a smoke. A couple of them didn't even mind my smoking in their cars, as long as we could keep the windows down. However, once it got to the point where we were only earning one income, and that one income would have to stretch to make us both comfortable, I knew that I had to stop for good. I talked it over with my husband, and he agreed that my math was accurate. Once we both made that commitment, I called the New York City quits hotline, and asked them to send me nicotine patches. Once I made the final decision, I moved onto the next step.

Aside from desiring to quit, breaking my patterns really helped to prime me to put out my last cigarette. For example, I was never an all-day long smoker. Yes, I'd power through the cigarettes fairly quickly, but I never bothered smoking first thing in the morning. 

First thing in the morning, all I want is a tall glass of water, and a couple of minutes to wake up fully. I'll maybe read for a while. When I'd walk to the subway, however, I'd take the stop that runs express (rather than using the local stop across the street from my apartment and transferring to the express 3 stops later), which would give me a five minute walk in which to finish a cigarette. When I'd walk to work from the subway station downtown, I'd light up another. After a big meal, I'd always have a cigarette. If I was drinking, I'd have a cigarette. So far, we're up to maybe five or six. Then I'd get home, pour myself a drink, and light up a cigarette immediately. I'd either park myself in front of the TV, or pick up the phone to call my mother or a friend, and I'd relax that way. Throughout that time, because I wasn't focusing on the actual act of smoking, I'd idly burn through the remainder of the packet.
When I made my decision to stop smoking, I had to begin breaking my patterns. I started taking the local train across the street, so that I wouldn't have time to smoke through a cigarette. I stopped eating large meals (which I was never a fan of to begin with). I stopped watching TV. I stopped talking on the phone for more than a minute or two at a time. If I wanted a drink after coming home, I'd make sure that it was something that I would want to really enjoy, like a glass of wine or a nice cocktail, rather than something that was there to just get me drunk. (The difference being that I wouldn't dream of having a cigarette with a nice glass of wine, because I want to actually taste the wine.) I started reading a lot more than I already was doing. I hated smoking while reading a book, because I didn't want to get cigarette ash onto my book or the computer (depending on what I was reading on). 

My brother took the lighter attachment out of the cigarette lighter in his car. What's the typical ritual for a smoker who drives? Get into car, turn on car, press down on the cigarette lighter, buckle up, turn on radio, when the lighter pops, light the cigarette. If you're with another friend, let them light theirs too. It's another pattern that's easy enough to break. You maybe don't have a cigarette as soon as you pop into the car. Maybe you wait until you hit a long traffic light to allow yourself one. And if the light changes before the cigarette is lit, just delay it a bit longer. 

These weren't sudden changes. It was a process of genuinely sitting myself down, and asking myself when my cravings were at their worst, and trying to interrupt those habits with new habits.

Once I'd managed to break my patterns, I had it down to where a package of cigarettes would last me three days. This took about four or five days. It was work, but it was worth it. I would not have been able to make the leap from smoking a pack a day to smoking nothing at all immediately. For me, it would have been too jarring, and everything I did or was used to doing would make me want to smoke. Breaking the patterns really forced me to examine what it was about cigarettes that I enjoyed, and taking the time to enjoy them, rather than mindlessly pounding through them. That was when I was finally ready to try the patches. By the time I'd winnowed down to three or four cigarettes a day, I was ready to try the patch.

It does help to have a quitting buddy, to whom you can turn when the cravings get bad. Since s/he is also going through the same things, s/he can commiserate with you about it, and help you find something to distract you from lighting up another cigarette. My friend Dan did a combination of Chantix and self-help book. I'll get into both later on. Either way, around the time that I quit, about four of my friends (two of whom I knew in person, and the other two online) were quitting at the same time. We'd complain to each other when times got rough, and helped each other with techniques to get through the tougher cravings.
I started with the nicotine replacement patch.

Quitting Cold: For my brother, this was the most effective method. He'd decide that he didn't want to smoke anymore, and would stop smoking. And that would be it. However, my brother has an inherent stubbornness (OK, willpower, if you're being kind) that won't let him bow to someone else's pressure. If he has someone or something telling him that he has to do something, he'll find a way to not do that thing out of pure spite. If you've got that particular bent, and are willing to give it a shot that way, by all means give it a shot.

The Patch: This was, for me, the worst of all, next to quitting cold. I had horrible side effects, from shaking to nausea to dehydration. I felt horrible all the time. I got very violent, disturbing nightmares that I couldn't explain. I don't watch violent films, I don't watch violent TV, I don't read violent books, and I try to avoid violence as much as I can. Where were these disgusting, gory, horrible nightmares coming from? The box said that this is normal, and that I should just stop wearing it at night if I get nightmares. Should have thought of that first. Who the hell smokes while they're sleeping?

I did stop wearing it at night, but the symptoms never got any better. I was still having horrible shakes throughout the day. I couldn't hold my knife steady at work, so I had to go at a slower pace. I was drinking those sugar and salt mixtures to rehydrate myself, and it still wasn't working (it didn't help that I embarked on this journey in the summer, where I was sweating already, due to the heat). When I ran out of the patches, I decided to try something else instead.

Chantix: My friend and his wife were on Chantix to stop smoking. Essentially, it works by blocking the nicotine receptors in your brain, so that even if you have a cigarette, you don't get the pleasure from it. Any lingering nicotine in your system doesn't have any more effect on you. Initially, you take two a day, and then ratchet down to one a day.

If this were a birth control pill, I'd be pregnant with a large family by now. The problem for me is that I can't remember to take the thing every day. I would set an alarm, I would write myself notes, I would carry the thing in my bag so that I could take it in case I missed a dose at home. So a one month supply took me about three months to work through. It did help to get that last bit of cravings out of my system, however. For me, it was effective, as it was for my two friends who tried it. We were all quitting at the same time, and the Chantix helped us all to clear it out.

It's not for everyone, because it will interfere with other medications you're taking, so it's important to know what the complications are if you are on any kind of medication, to prevent drug interactions. Either way, it's prescription only, so talk to your doctor before you try the stuff.

Self Help Book: I hate self help books. They come off as smug and annoy me to no end. They're featured on certain talk shows who shall remain nameless, which are also filled with smug and annoying people. I'm sure there are some folk who are helped by self help books. Bully for them. I hate them.
It is with that in mind that I was bowled over by how useful this one self help book was. It's called The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, by Allen Carr (ISBN: 0615482155). Like Chantix, the book works with you while you're still smoking. For me, it was mainly to understand the process of addiction and how to break it. Either way, it is highly effective.

Smoking is a weird addiction, in that the high, or the comfort, or the pleasurable feelings, only come from satisfying the withdrawals to the drug. The second you put out your last cigarette, your body starts screaming for the next one. It's not loud at first. Initially, it's just a whisper. Then it becomes more and more urgent as more time passes. Finally, when you're ready to break, you light up a cigarette, and feel this rush of pleasure. That's your body telling you that you've fulfilled its need for more nicotine. Allen Carr explains this a lot more eloquently, and it's what really helped me to break the hold that cigarettes had over me.

E-Cigarettes: I have a friend who's been on them for over a year. That's all I'll say about them.

Gum: Ew.

I'm sure there are other methods, but these are the ones that I've explored myself. There are other methods out there. If you've got your own stories, feel free to share them. Again, your results will likely be different from mine. Again, these are purely anecdotal, and are shaded by my own experiences and prejudices. Take it with a grain of salt.

Before you try any method, however, give yourself permission to be human. I had managed to stop smoking for about three or four days before lighting up a cigarette again. This happened more than once. Clearly, for me, quitting cold was not an option. However, I didn't let myself get discouraged. It's an addiction. That means that there are physical and psychological ramifications to it. If you don't genuinely allow yourself the permission to be a human being, and try again if you don't meet your expectations on the first try. Notice how I didn't say "when you fail". Failure is giving up.

Failure is never trying in the first place.