I’ve often joked that it took me three weeks to get hooked on smoking and the next nine years to quit. But as toxic as cigarettes are to the body and to those around me, perhaps it’s less a joke and more a sad testament to how strong the addiction to cigarettes can be. During those nine years I went through endless cycles of quitting and starting, each time insisting that this was the final quit, but it wasn’t until several years ago that I finally gave up smoking for good.
Different methods work for different people, and I’ve tried them all: The patch, the gum, cutting down on the number of cigarettes over time. All of the methods had varying success in the short term, but the only method that worked to help me quit smoking in the long term was abstinence–that is, “cold turkey.” I’m the living proof that you can quit smoking for good. All it takes is the kind of dedication that says “no” no matter what excuse or deal your head conjures up to justify a short-term reward.
How I Quit Smoking: Cold Turkey
People who don’t understand how hard it can be for habitual smokers to quit laugh when I tell them that cold turkey for me was not unlike the infamous withdrawal scene from the movie Trainspotting when one of the characters locks himself in a room to overcome his heroin addiction. While I’m trying to make a little light of the situation (I didn’t actually lock myself in a room for several days), I did experience sweats, tearful depression and was irritable when quitting smoking.
Three or four days in I experienced a pleasant but frustrating observation: My body felt physically healthier, but my mind was still feeling the angst of withdrawal. This split sensation only increased in the coming weeks, and by about the one-month mark I made a startling realization: Most cigarette addiction affects the mind, more specifically, the neurotransmitters in the mind, and that’s why it’s harder to quit the longer you’ve been smoking. Patterns in the mind are hard to break. Having smoked off and on for nine years was making it harder on me.
The biggest challenge in quitting smoking came when I met up with friends who still smoked or attended social events that I previously associated with smoking. It was really hard to say no. In fact, there were times I didn’t, and I had to start all over again. While it feels like a small feat to quit smoking for a short stretch of time–days, weeks, or even months–the true test of whether you’ve quit for good is whether you can say no to smoking when the physical craving is not that overwhelming, such as at a party or other social gathering, or when you’re in the presence of another smoker. If you can abstain even then, you’ve “stayed quit.” If you haven’t, you’re still a smoker.
“Social smoking” is a euphemism much like “friendly fire” and “rightsizing” (e.g., layoffs for downsizing in companies), so don’t kid yourself. Sure, there are people who say, “I’m a social smoker; I can start and stop whenever I want,” and if it’s true, they have a type of body chemistry that quickly overcomes withdrawal. You, however, do not. Quitting for several weeks or months shows perseverance, but it doesn’t change your body’s rapid addition to cigarettes. You will never go from being a habitual smoker to a “social smoker” without having to face the awful withdrawal symptoms over again–why make it harder on yourself?
Each social slip-up I had, I suffered withdrawal. Even if it was only for a day or two or a week where I felt more “emotional” and ate more, it was too long. A few slip-ups later, I realized I had to make a choice: To quit or kid myself I’m not a “true smoker,” while I continue to cycle through slip-ups and withdrawal.
It helped to have a close friend to talk to who was not a smoker. For me it was my amazing boyfriend who really stood by me. He was the first to really open my eyes to how gross and bad smoking really was. When in social situations where I could slip up, he reminded me to ask myself what I really wanted and that there were consequences for my actions. Over time, I could remind myself on my own, and I’m happy to say that I am no longer tempted in social situations and laugh when I find myself annoyed at other people’s smoke in public. It truly grosses me out, and I never thought I’d say that. I guess I’m a “true non-smoker” now, and it feels great.
The benefits of not smoking are amazing: No coughs, no bad breath, no dry skin, no nicotine fingers, no cigarette smell on clothing and hair, and best of all, you can smell and taste everything so much better. One word of caution, though: Since it’s thought that cigarettes affect serotonin in the brain, your appetite may increase when you quit. As someone who let myself eat whatever I wanted, I caution you to try exercise and better nutrition instead. I gained a lot of weight after quitting, and did not realize that I was, in a sense, trading off nicotine for sugar. All in all, a little extra weight can be easily taken off, whereas the effects of smoking on the body can be permanent. All bad habits, whether smoking or overeating, come with a price. Healthy habits are much better choices.
Things to watch out for
-Headaches, irritability, depression or increased emotions, tiredness.
-Wanting to smoke after seeing other people smoke or hanging out with people with whom you’ve smoked in the past or in locations where you’ve enjoyed smoking before.
-Seeing people smoke in movies.
Things that can help
-Let yourself sleep as long as you can. Go to bed earlier, and take naps if your schedule permits. I slept for almost 10 hours every night for the first few weeks, and even more on the weekends.
-Drink lots of water, and eat properly to help calm the nervous system down. I found that chamomile tea and fruits and vegetables worked wonders. The liver’s job is to break down toxicity in the body, so be kind and eat well.
-Exercise; even walking can help your outlook and nervous system a great deal. Since exercise increases “feel-good” endorphins in the body (some of which may be triggered when smoking), it will lessen withdrawal symptoms.
-Cut out complementary items you associate with smoking, such as coffee or alcohol–just until you’ve gotten over the physical addiction hump of about one month. Vaping is also something that you may or may not consider. Some say it is a good alternative but there is no general study claiming that it is really effective. Hence, make sure to conduct your own research.
-Temporarily hang out with other friends until you are able to see them without slipping up, or avoid certain recreational locations that you associate with smoking, such as certain bars or restaurants.
-Enlist a buddy to help keep you on track, and let any friends or colleagues know of your plight. Support is a wonderful thing! Stay away from other smokers who try to get you to smoke again. They just want the company.
Good luck, and remember: You can do it!