Aug 122007

I’ve been hesitant to make too many lifestyle changes simultaneously. More than once, I’ve gotten mentally excited about living correctly, and tried to quit smoking, eat healthier, and get more exercise, all starting on a Monday morning. That’s not a recipe for just failure. That’s a recipe for spinning completely to pieces, with rivets flying everywhere, billowing oil smoke, and the sickly smell of metal on metal hanging in the air for days afterward.

I really didn’t want to tackle smoking again until I was further along on my weight loss. This was mostly because I didn’t want to spend the mental energy breaking two (tough!) ingrained habits simultaneously, but also because even if it goes as well as it can go, quitting smoking almost always means picking up a few pounds.

However, an interrelationship (unexpected, but one I should have anticipated) has revealed itself. I have recently gotten excited about getting my bicycle back out, walking more, and just generally finding more ways to move around. (More muscle ultimately means more calories burned at rest too, don’t you know.) But my smoker’s cough is bad enough, and my lung capacity compromised enough, to make it much less pleasant than it could be.

So I started planning for my quit attempt a little more than a week ago, and at 5:00 yesterday afternoon I put cigarettes down. Again.

I’ve never been able to accurately convey to someone who never smoked, or someone who chipped but never got hooked, what it’s like to be an addicted smoker trying to quit. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that it’s extraordinarily difficult—indeed, perhaps the most difficult thing a person will ever do that is completely under his/her own control.

The addiction is relentless. It taunts you continuously for a few days, then most of the time for a few weeks, then occasionally for a few months. After that it lies in wait. You can go days without thinking about it, and suddenly encounter some perfect storm of circumstances that makes a cigarette strongly appeal to you. These are dangerous times, because by now you’ve got some confidence built up and become especially susceptible to the “I can handle one” rationalization. That’s classic addict-think, and no, in fact you can not handle one. Your choices are to never smoke again, or to smoke for the rest of your life. You’re an addict. You are incapable of standing any ground between the extremes.

(And if you’re one of these people who smoked for years and just walked away from them without a problem, good for you. Whether the difference was physical, psychological, or whatever, you weren’t as addicted as I am, or indeed most smokers who want to quit are.)

Except for my periods of quitting, which together total perhaps two and a half years, I’ve smoked a pack to a pack and a half per day since I was 16 years old. I’ve quit just about every way you can quit. I’ve quit cold turkey. I’ve quit with bupropion antidepressant medication (Zyban/Wellbutrin), which was my longest success (a year and a half). I’ve quit with nicotine patches. I’ve quit with nicotine gum.

This might be my 50th attempt or so, and it’s at least my 8th considered and serious attempt. This time I geared up for my quit by buying a carton of ultra-light cigarettes that I can’t stand, and smoking only those until they were gone. I also went on the patch as soon as I put the last one out. It’s not altogether pleasant, but it’s doing a nice job of keeping me from being so damned irritable, which is what usually sends me to the Chevron to get a pack after I try cold turkey.

Steady as she goes. I’m going to do 14-mg patches for 4 weeks, then 7-mg patches for 4 weeks, and probably drop them then. That’s enough time for most of the acute psychological symptoms to subside, and the physical nicotine withdrawal symptoms are much more manageable when that’s the case. (And in a way I’ve already started; I could have easily begun with the 21-mg patches.)

So it’s a day (or an hour, or a minute, or 10 seconds) at a time, it’s not eviscerating myself if the scale goes the wrong way for a week or two, and it’s short-term pain in exchange for a sustainable, longer, and more enjoyable life.

Not quite 21 smoke-free hours down as I write this.  Here’s to making it this time.

Thanks to for the image.

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 Posted by at 1:49 pm

  11 Responses to “Stop smoking, take 50”

  1. You know I wish you the best of luck. While I never smoked, I do have my own “lying in wait” substance that I know I can never touch. D smoked for a long, long time. He quit several times. His worst backslide came after he had quit for a good 3 years or more. This time he’s been smoke free for a couple of years.

  2. I, too, wish you luck. Lots and lots of it.

    I was the child of smokers. My parents smoked, my father’s parents smoked – it was horrible. I’ve been to hell – hell is being about five years old and nauseated in the back seat of a big, squashy-suspensioned American car in the middle of winter (so the windows can’t be opened) with both parents smoking in the front seat. Truly; when I think of terrible experiences in my life, that’s one that immediately comes to mind.

    Now, none of my friends smoke, and we go out of our way to avoid it in public places (a feat made easier with the approaching ban on smoking in restaurants). I really do wish you luck, and will rejoice in the improved health you and your family will enjoy when you’ve ditched that particular monkey…

  3. Thanks, both. I’m hanging tough with it. It’s been hitting me pretty hard tonight, but I’m not caving. I can’t throw 53 hours away. 🙂

    Mrs. Chili, it’s just my health (as opposed to my family’s). I never EVER smoked in front of the boys, and I only smoked in front of Lea a time or two a year (typically at Big Spring Jam, an outdoor music festival we have here every September).

  4. Hang in there, Bo. If it’s something you truly, absolutely want to do…not for anyone but yourself…you’ll do it. You have amazing will power when you put your mind to something. Green apple chunks was my key to quitting – every time I wanted one, I ate granny smith apples. They really do make cigarettes taste quite horrible. 😉 Take care!

  5. Thanks, Melanie. I appreciate it. I have a feeling this is the time.

  6. Hey Man,

    The trick is to find something you like BETTER than smoking that you can’t do while smoking. For me, it was bike riding. My bicycle saved my life. I had smoked since I was 17 and was approaching 30. My wife said I should quit before we had kids. I took up bicycling and was able to quit smoking. Hiking can do the same for you. I wanted to ride with the club but I had to be in shape to do that.

    You are very correct about how hard it is and how it NEVER goes away. I started up again after quitting for 10 years. Only four or five smokes a day but still some. Now I have quit for over four years again. I still bike but that time, turning 40 did it. I found the craving never completely goes away, especially in certain places like after a big meal. I don’t like to go to bars now because I want to smoke when I drink.

    Good Luck and don’t give up!

  7. Good for you. Yes, it is upsetting quitting smoking. I am on day three now and am on the back of two days of CONTINUIOUS craving. Not on and off – just a steady tug of war all day for two days. It is very emotional as well – cigarettes are very good at running the mind on from stress – now I find myself staring solemnly into space a lot slightly dumfounded and down from life and all!

    Anyway, liked your post – check out my resolution blog entry:

  8. Thanks, BB and Jimbo. Still hanging tough. Slept much better last night without the patch, and wasn’t particularly bothered this morning before I could get one on. That probably bodes well for eventually dropping them.

    Day at a time, day at a time…

  9. Hey Bo,

    Keep up the good work!! My fiance & I ARE quitting also. This time for good! He is on his 50th day today and I am on my 35th day. We both called the Maine Tobacco Hot-Line & they have been very helpful!! Sending Commit lozenges to our local pharmacy and giving us a call every now and again. Maybe this is something that would be helpful for you also. Again, keep up the good work!!

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