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 diablonet.net for the image.