I have a few blessings to count in my life, but every time I have to choose my biggest achievement, it is always quitting smoking.
I loved every single bit about smoking. I loved the feeling of holding a cigarette between my fingers, the hand gestures that seemed more elegant once I was smoking and the entire ritual of having my morning coffee and cigarette.
I loved to watch people smoking and women with long vintage cigarettes, in particular. I found it so feminine and chic.
In a way, I still love it, and I often have dreams that I’m smoking.
Since I was so much in love (read: addicted) to smoking, I decided to quit when I was having more than two packs per day. Basically, I was smoking all day long.
And one of those days, I realized I had smoked enough for this lifetime. My boyfriend at the time, who was an athletic, outdoorsy person, loved the realness of life. He showed me I didn't need an extra habit like smoking to see the beauty of it, and he triggered my motivation to quit.
Regardless of what your reason is, the most important thing is to really want to quit smoking.
In the beginning, I, of course, tried to quit cold turkey several times.
Since smoking was such a big part of my life, the withdrawal effects were so strong, I couldn’t manage them for more than a week. Nothing worked, not even nicotine patches and chewing gum.
I was always restless, nervous and on the edge of a tantrum. I couldn’t sleep well. I had episodes of overeating followed by guilt-induced depression, which made me think I would never be able to quit.
But then I remembered a method called systematic desensitization, which is mainly used in the treatment of phobias. It is basically a progressive, step-by-step exposure to the topic that generates fear, so one can get used to it and perceive it as less threatening.
For instance, in the case of fear of heights, going cold turkey would mean to have one go up to the last floor of the tallest building in town and make him watch over the balcony.
But with systematic desensitization, it would have him first go up to the lowest levels and take a peek outside, do relaxation exercises. Then he would climb one more flight and so on, until the big top doesn't seem so frightening any more.
This is exactly what I did with smoking. In my case, I did this by trying to reduce my exposure to cigarettes.
After 10 years of smoking, I quit after a 10-month process, in which I was gradually reducing my addiction.
In the first month, I decreased my consumption to 10 cigarettes per day.
In the second month, I went down to a daily dosage of nine cigarettes.
In the third month, I only smoked eight cigarettes each day.
You get the numbers.
In the last two months of my consumption, I fluctuated between two and three cigarettes per day. I was able to quit at two, that was my magic number.
This was my recipe, which I highly recommend to anybody who truly desires to quit smoking and had difficulty doing so in one go (and who does not have an urgent health problem caused by smoking).
Do you think it was easier? For me, definitely yes.
But was it easy? Hell no! Don’t kid yourself; smoking is as bad as any other addiction. It is not only physical, but it’s emotional as well. It’s part of who you are and your daily routine.
Quitting smoking does not only mean quitting cigarettes, it means abandoning major habits that represented central points in your day. There is no more going out onto the balcony in the morning, taking mini-breaks every other hour at work, socializing in bars, etc.
Smoking is one hell of a battle, and you’ll need all your weapons to win. If you want to follow this war strategy, these are the rest of my learnings.
I believe you’ll find it useful no matter how you decide to attack smoking.
1. Think of a bigger objective than quitting smoking.
Even if you don’t see it at first, giving up an unhealthy habit is never the end goal; it’s just a means to an end.
For me, the biggest goal was to become a healthy person, someone who was able to enjoy life freely without being controlled by an addiction. It was almost like regaining my independence.
Having a bigger objective, always expressed in a positive way, will definitely help you stay more focused and motivated.
2. Set up clear planning.
If you don’t have a schedule, you might find yourself drifting away from controlling the number of cigarettes.
Write down the number of months you intend to quit after, the number of cigarettes you want to smoke per day and when you want to try quitting.
After crunching all the numbers, even the most right-brained person can try out a career in accounting!
3. Use all the help you have.
Go to a therapist.
I can't stress enough the importance of doing this. Not only do you need to learn how to cope with a lot of stress, but you also need to better understand your relationship with smoking.
Why did you start in the first place? What role did it play in your life? When are you most vulnerable to relapse and why?
And most importantly, you need to have a specialist point out your strengths, which will help you get through this.
After going to group therapy, I finally figured out that I began smoking because I didn’t see myself as an interesting enough person. Eventually, I learned that I am one, even without holding a cigarette.
I also realized that my most vulnerable moments were when I was alone, so this was how I coped with loneliness.
Therapy was definitely the most helpful support I had throughout the process.
Try group therapy.
Always talk to people who are dealing with or have dealt with the same issue as you. This is why AA works so well: You meet people who understand you the most and with whom you can share opinions and exchange advice.
And they won’t look down on you if you happen to relapse. Why not make a smokers anonymous group? It’s a brilliant idea, don’t you think?
Lean on friends and family.
After therapy, your family and close friends are the ones who need to guide and help you. Tell them exactly how they can help, and make a daily routine out of it to replace the old unhealthy one.
Surround yourself with healthy food.
Of course, there’s the big scary question, did I gain any weight? Yes, but not a significant amount.
Make sure you always have a bunch of healthy snacks on hand, like carrots. That did the trick for me, and having extra orange cheeks for a while was totally worth it.
After my 10 months, I did not smoke for an entire six years. In my sixth smoking-sober year, I tried out a cigarette, just to see if my addiction was gone.
It was like meeting an old, dear fried, someone you know you can’t cross paths with anymore. I knew I would never be fully over my addiction, but I was stronger than it.
I could control it because I got rid of it one step at a time.