(First posted to alt.support.stop-smoking on
January 9, 1998 The original with responses is here)
I smoked a pack a day for about 35 yrs. I tried more than my
share of "methods" to quit. Some were helpful, most
were....less helpful. I seemed to go though the same stages
and feelings with each "quitting" experience. The
clenched fist, foot stomping, "this is the last one"
determination to quit. - the "last cigarette" leap
and it's heart thumping fear. - the terrifying march of the
hours, one after the other, as I waited for the urges - and
then the slow erosion of my resolve as I craved and said "NO!",
and still craved and said "welllll", and finally caved
and said "oh, what the hell. I'll have just one.",
and once again "that was that". A creature of habit?
A creature of patterns? Yes, lots of patterns. Aren't we all?
There was nothing
odd about my quitting attempts. I had tried gum, patchs, cold
turkey, hypnosis, SmokEnders, LifeSign, and a mouth wash called
Tabinol. They all seemed to revolve around the nicotine cycle.
How to go about getting off the nicotine merry-go-round. How
to stay off cigarettes long enough that I wouldn’t want
to smoke. Ahh, but here was the problem. How long would it take
till I wasn’t plagued by urges? How long till I could
be free of always wanting a cigarette? I had succeeded in quitting
once before for about 8 months. And during those 8 months there
were many times I thought that a cigarette would be "nice".
There were many times that I felt urges to smoke and managed
to beat them down and live through another day without a cigarette.
That is until I had "just one."
I finally quit cold
turkey on March 15th of '96. I expected the pattern to start
out pretty much the same as it always had in the past. But,
hope springs eternal, and I was hoping that this time would
be different. My quit buddy group was emailing fast and furious.
I had all my quitting paraphernalia in place; my orange juice,
my tooth brush and mouth wash, my apple flavored rice cakes
that are great with butter or peanut butter and jam. Had my
puter cranked up and I was "ready".
I didn't have to
wait long before the rollercoaster started rolling. I remember
that first morning sitting and pecking furiously at the keyboard.
I was trying to document some thought that was swirling through
my head and I jumped up to go to the kitchen. I had always smoked
in the kitchen with my cigarette held under the stove exhaust
fan. As I got half a dozen steps toward the kitchen it suddenly
occurred to me, "Hey!! this is my "going for a smoke
motion". I stopped dead in my tracks and thought a moment
about this action I had repeated so many times. Why was I going
through this motion?? Where did it come from?? I had been wrestling
with an idea, up against how best to phrase a sentence. My train
of thought had felt blocked and for some reason, I automatically
headed for a smoke as I searched for a way to continue writing.
But how would a cigarette help me complete a sentence? Where
was the reason? Where was the connection? What irrational behavior!
Why not just sit back down and think? Turning back to the puter,
I watched these thoughts follow one after the other. And as
I sat back down, I realized I felt an odd, sort of out-of-synch
sensation. Why?? Well, I had been on my way to light up a cigarette
and in the span of a few thoughts, I had done a u-turn back
to my desk. Why wasn't something inside me screaming "Give
me a smoke!" Where was that invisible hand that had always
taken hold of my being and gripped me tighter and tighter until
I fed it a cigarette? I didn't understand what was happening.
However, I continued to type away until the next mental obstacle
was encountered and I started to leave my chair to "go
smoke." Half way out of the chair I stopped and said, "I've
seen this pattern. This has nothing to do with smoking. This
is about a sentence that I can't complete." Once more I
sat down in the chair and continued typing.
The afternoon passed
with me watching familiar patterns materialize, be judged, be
rerouted, and each time that internal tug/urge would quickly
dissipate and disappear. With each cycle some sensation inside
of me would cue the start of a smoking pattern. They all seemed
to come from an incomplete sentence, or from being hungry around
noon time, or later from simple fatigue at having been at the
puter for several hours.
Part way through
that first cold turkey day I realized that I was following a
behavior modification process that I’d been exposed to
years before. Where I had always believed smoking to be simply
one nicotine fix after the other, I now began to suspect that
my years of smoking had really been a pattern of behaviors,
and here I had stumbled onto a tool for dealing directly with
the urges instead of just hoping that they would go away with
time. That "tool" for altering behavior is based on
the idea that: between the *occurrence* of an event and our
reaction to it, there is a mental dialogue that determines what
our reaction will be to that event. And also that the dialogue
is usually one that we are unaware of on a conscious level.
Further, by altering the script of that dialogue we will alter
our reaction to the event.
When I look back
at why I smoked, what I remember is that I seldom smoked a cig
because it tasted good or because it felt good. I usually, like
any chemical addict, smoked so that I wouldn't be/feel uncomfortable.
A sagging nicotine level brought on that awful feeling we called
a nicotine fit. What were it's characteristics? Nervousness,
trembling, sweating, irritability? I remember these and there
are probably others, all uncomfortable sensations. And how did
we "cure" the condition? We smoked a cigarette. Pretty
simple solution, and effective. This is where I see the internal
dialogue being established. As neophyte smokers we "learned"
to relieve discomfort by smoking a cigarette. I'm sure very
few of us willingly waited till we were uncomfortable. The onset
of the sensations associated with a sagging nicotine level triggered
a response that, with practice, happened more and more automatically
until "we" were no longer consciously in the loop.I
believe that once we had established the dialogue that went,
"When I feel a sensation that feels like a nicotine fit,
I'll smoke a cigarette to cure it", then ANY EVENT that
produced feelings similar to a nicotine fit should/could be
cured with a cigarette. I doubt that we looked closely at "why"
we lit a particular cigarette. With every one smoked, with every
repetition, the pattern became more ingrained. Soon, any and
every discomfort or stress was "cured" by smoking.
If that dialogue never changes, are we destined to repeat the
same patterns over and over? Even when I’d been quit for
8 months, were the patterns still buried inside? How long can
we hang tough and hang on? Seems to me to be an awfully precarious
position. Certainly in the initial stages of a quit, hanging
tough is what gets us through. But as a long term modus operandi,
it's way too risky.
Urges can be about
anything. We might have an urge to eat or cry or go for a walk
or avoid the boss. As smokers we turned almost every urge into
an urge to smoke. The following is how I see the anatomy of
1- Our bodies experience
a sensation. The first sensation/cigarette connection was the
nicotine need. As a smoker's nicotine level drops he begins
to experience that feeling we call a nicotine fit. In time it
also became the physical manifestation of anger, hunger or fatigue.
(Or any other stress).
2-Some part of our
mind "decodes" the sensation and makes the association
with a cigarette. As a smoker, this association would be valid
since smoking a cigarette is absolutely the best way to "cure"
the discomfort of a falling nicotine level. However, that decoding
part of our mind doesn't distinguish between discomforts. It
associates cigarettes with any discomfort, i.e. lowered nic
level, anger, hunger, fatigue. Further, on this level these
associations are usually unconscious in that these connections
have been made so many times we don't need to "think"
3- Our conscious
mind then thinks "Oh, a cigarette is what I "need".
That will make me feel better." It’s at this point
that we experience the urge to smoke. And this is also where
the mind games are played out. If we relate to an urge to smoke
only at this last step, we've already "assumed" that
a cigarette is the correct and proper response/association to
whatever discomfort/sensation we're experiencing. Once that
"assumption" has been made, the stage is set for the
play that goes... "I really want a smoke! But I quit! But
I want one! But I won’t!". It's not suprising that
our "I won’t smoke!" often seems so weak against
an association we "assumed" was correct many thousands
of times. It’s also at this point that, "Just one
won't hurt" or "Just one and I'll feel better",
begin to sound like perfectly valid arguments.
However, if we can
catch the process at the 2nd step, then we can consciously decide
whether smoking would be an appropriate response. This requires
that we search out the root emotions/sensations/events. If we
can identify them, then instead of automatically thinking "Oh,
a cigarette is what I need.", we will look for more reasonable,
rational responses. If we're hungry, we'll eat. If we’re
fatigued, we'll rest. If we're angry, we'll yell. If we feel
terrible and have no idea why, at least we won't automatically
assume that smoking will make it better. And we won't be caught
up in the nicotine mind games but, rather, be one step ahead
By identifying the
smoking patterns we followed, we can begin to see how smoking
was connected to our lives. As we break those connections, we
begin to experience all the emotions that go with living. And
we experience them without the "urge to smoke".
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