Common Dialogs


   I was wondering why some quitters think they'll be 'addicts' all their lives? Why is it so accepted that some of us will 'always' suffer? I mean .... aside from the fact that we repeatedly tell ourselves, based solely on our own past experience, that we're destined to suffer, what foundation do we have for those most fervently held beliefs? Upon what is that "Even if I quit, I'll always...." dialog based?

   At the same time, why shouldn't we believe our own inner dialogs? Weren't they correct? Weren't they ALWAYS correct when we were smokers and got stressed and our voice said, "A cigarette will calm you."? And did it calm us? Yep, sure did. So was it correct? Yep, sure was. Not only was it correct, but we revalidated it's 'correctness' every time we lit a cigarette and 5-8 seconds later felt calm spread over us.

   The dialog that went, "A cigarette will calm me." was accurate. We listened and never questioned that 'truth'. We reacted in the only logical way we could, or would even consider. We followed the proven path. So, the dialog, "A cigarette will calm me", became THE 'standard' for any sort of stressed sensation regardless of it's source. I wonder what other 'standard' dialogs or scripts were part of our smoking response inventory?

   Nicotine is both a sedative and a stimulant.

As a sedative:

   1- "A hit of nicotine will calm me down."
   Every time we felt 'stressed' and felt the need to calm down, we lit up in response to that 'truth', and felt calmed within 5-8 seconds. Once again reinforcing that "A cigarette was valid". I don't think there's any difference in the experience of stress between, "I need to calm down because my mother-in-law is in the next room." and "I need to calm down because my nic level has dropped and I'm experiencing the first stages of withdrawal." Or between, "I must calm down and not let my emotions get the best of me." and "I've just started detox and I'm in withdrawal and my emotions are starting to bounce all over the place." Do we use the same established dialogs in every instance? Is that were our inner struggle takes place?
   2- " A cigarette will relieve my hunger."
   I know I often used a cigarette as 'a hold over' until I could get some food. Sometimes, too often, it was a complete replacement for food. All the vitamins and minerals....? Nah, probably not. But so what? I was staying slim ... right? OK, we can add 'food replacement' to the list of 'standard dialogs' that I used while smoking.

   As a stimulant:

   3- "A hit of nicotine will perk me up."
   Didn't we put a cigarette together with our morning coffee as THE 'get up and go' prescription? If I wasn't saying "Boy! do I need a coffee", you can be sure I was saying, "Boy! do I need a cigarette and a coffee". What about through my day? What about mid morning after my first couple of coffees and the 'breakfast bagel' had been burned up? What about that dragged out feeling that was the period before lunch?? A cigarette was the cure for that sag in energy! And then there was the after lunch "Could I ever use a siesta". Again, a cigarette was my perfect cure .... a couple of quick drags and I was primed to head into the afternoon race to quitting time.
   4- "I'm bored. I need a cigarette."
   What did boredom feel like? Did it include physical and mental inactivity? Unstimulated physically or mentally? Shallow breathing? Maybe something that feels like the 'non-specific restless crankies'? So I'd light up and within 5-8 seconds I felt .... something. A change? A nicotine rush? Well that's a change isn't it? Where did anyone say anything about appropriate change? Boredom begs change and a cigarette provided it. That the 'change' lasted only a very short time was completely beside the point. As soon as the bored feeling became too noticeable, I lit up another.

   These are only 4 situation/conditions that were a normal part of my days. Yet I can see how just those 4 situations and their accompanying dialogs could account for about 3/4 of the cigarettes I'd smoke through a day.... Everything from my morning wake up, to my mid morning pick me up, to the stressed phone call, to a delayed lunch, to the rush home, to the early evening after dinner 'Ahhhh'. And through it all, through my whole day, my own inner voice was telling me that a cigarette was an accurate and effective way to deal with 'life'. But were those cigarette responses really accurate? Well certainly within the context and requirements of a smoker dealing with his day, they were very accurate. I think the problem is that when we quit, most of us don't take the effort, or know how, to step outside of that context and examine those established inner diolags. If that's the case, what reason or need is there for the dialogs to ever change?

   Those dialogs were revalidated about 20 times a day throughout my 35 years of smoking. Is it realistic for me to expect that those dialogs will simply fade away or disappear on their own because some 'higher' part of my brain has decided it wants to quit? Through my smoking career, there were many times I tried to quit. I'd decide to quit smoking. I'd decide I wanted my life back, that I wanted to improve the 'quality' of my life, that it was a filthy, smelly, costly habit and I wasn't having any more of it. So I'd flush my cigarettes at midnight, look in the mirror and tell myself, "You DONT smoke!!", and pack myself off to bed. Next morning I'd awake thinking, "Is it time to get up already? Oh , and I don't smoke." And a small voice inside me said, "You feel the need of a 'first thing in the morning get up and get going pick me up'. A cigarette will do the trick." And I'd reply, "But, I don't smoke." And the little voice, in a slightly louder tone said, "Pardon me? You don't what? You feel the need to get up and get going and a cigarette is the way to do it. So, please DO IT!" And I'd answer, "But, I DONT smoke!" And the voice said, "It's THE way to get up and get going! It's THE ONLY way! It's ALWAYS BEEN THE ONLY WAY!!" And I'd insist that, "I DON'T SMOKE!!" The stronger the need to get up and get going, the louder and more intense was the argument between me and myself. This 'argument' was repeated throughout a day in lots of similar forms around stress and hunger and boredom and fatigue. With time, there were fewer and fewer arguments. However, from time to time, one would crop up and, once again, I'd feel the uncertain fear of how the argument would turn out. 'Who' would win? Would it be me or some inner voice of my own?

   If you're wondering where I'm going with all of this, here it comes.... When we quit smoking we experience an amazing range of changes and discomforts. While I certainly don't want to make mole hills out of mountains, as bad as 'brain fog' and 'rollercoaster emotions' and the feeling of 'loss' can be, it was always the inner argument that I feared the most. It was that inner struggle around how to respond, to smoke or not to smoke, that was always where I'd lose a quit. I needed a way to become more than just one side of an argument. I needed to find a way to do more than just desperately repeat, "I DON'T SMOKE!". Behavior modification in the form of a simple 3 step, ABC exercise was the tool that worked for me. It taught me how to offer several effective options to the little voice that had always known "ONLY one way", and it obligated me to choose one or several of those options. As soon as there was timely choice, the arguments began to disappear.

   We learned to connect a cigarette to every instance of our lives. We can learn to disconnect them.