Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How I Finally Quit Smoking

I know what you're thinking: "Oh great, more advice on how to quit smoking."  You're correct it is, although probably not like many you will have come across before.  I am the last person to "lecture" others about their vices & bad habits as I live in the proverbial glass house on that one. 

Over the years I've managed to kick one or two bad habits; but smoking was the one that had me hooked.  I never smoked in my school years because it didn't appeal to me, and few of my friends smoked.  Didn't even pick up the habit in Navy boot camp, despite the fact that many around me did.  If fake peer pressure in school didn't get me I wasn't gonna let the stress of boot camp get me started smoking.  When I graduated boot camp & went home on leave the old man was both surprised and impressed that I was still a non-smoker.

A month later I was in the south china sea on an aging navy oil tanker.  Our job was to sail up & down the south Vietnam coastline, delivering food, fuel, and mail to the combat ships fighting the war.  Pretty good duty if you didn't mind living on a floating gas station in a war zone.  As I recall it was my second or maybe third week on board the ship, and I was on fantail watch.  For the nautically impaired, the fantail is the rounded ass end of the ship's main deck, and a natural gathering place for off-duty sailors to shoot the breeze and smoke.  Being on watch I had the very simple, easy and non-stressful job of watching the sea & sky behind us in case of emergency.

It was a little after 3:00 in the afternoon and we were steaming to our next assignment 20 miles distant.  A few minutes earlier we had passed Tiger island, a bare little scab of uninhabited real estate a few miles offshore.  I was engaged in conversation with a couple shipmates when we all heard a loud sound overhead we'd never heard before, which sounded like sound Velcro makes being pulled apart;  seconds later the ocean exploded in a huge eruption of water uncomfortably close to our little gas station.  Seconds later came a second artillery round, and I was calling the bridge as the third one landed even closer.

The officer on deck radioed asking what all the noise was, and guessing he'd never been shelled either, I said "Sir, I believe we're being shot at with artillery from Tiger island."  As the captain ordered flank speed, I told one of my buddies, "Hey give me a smoke..."  Handing me my first cigarette he said, "You don't smoke..."  to which I replied, "If I'm gonna die today I at least want to know what all the fuss is about."   That's what it took to get me started smoking, and I must say, I enjoyed it.  Bought my first pack that day.  Second worst decision I ever made.

So smoking cigarettes was a part of my life, and would continue to be over the course of the next forty four years.  At one point after my service days I was up to smoking two packs a day, menthol.  It was the one constant through all those years, the one thing that was always there for me; and for most of those years the thought of quitting simply never entered my mind until many years later.  I was around 32 years old when I decided to quit the first time.  My strongest motivation that time was my anger at the tobacco companies for selling addictive, unhealthy products; and I was determined to quit "cold turkey" without any external aids or support group.

When you quit "cold turkey" the hardest obstacle comes around day 9 or 10, and that is the nicotine withdrawal symptom that feels like spiders crawling around under your skin, primarily in the arms and legs.  This withdrawal symptom probably varies from person to person, and for me it got worse every day.  Made it two weeks on that attempt to quit; and the memory of "the spiders" remained strong in my mind.  Cold turkey wasn't gonna work for me.

A few years later I decided to give quitting another go.  This time I armed myself with copious amounts of information from the internet; which after a while became burdensome and often contradictory, so I used the Bruce Lee philosophy of absorbing what was useful.  Although I failed (again) to quit I did at least quit the menthol, and chemicals by switching to the all natural American Spirit brand, which is just natural tobacco.

If you surf the net for help in quitting smoking you will undoubtedly come across an article offering advice on when it's a bad time to quit smoking.  The article states very professionally that when you're under stress it's not a good time to quit.  Examples of such times include: loss of a job, or relationship, when you are depressed, starting a new job, or relationship, etc, etc.  While at first blush this may seem solid advice, in reality it isn't.  Having such a list of 'bad times to quit smoking' is actually enabling the smoker to not take quitting seriously by giving them an excuse; a way out of their contract with themselves to quit when their strength falters.  It's kind of like when folks say "I'll work on my spirituality once I get my life in order."  Life, as we discover, doesn't always work that way.

 Another thing you need to understand is that among the many hundreds of nasty chemicals in your cigarette, nicotine is the one that lies to you.  It tells you that your addiction is to great for you to break.  It say's you're not strong enough, and that is the lie.  Nicotine gets help from the ego and before you know it you're buying the bullshit.

Throughout my spiritual sojourn I've noticed that an awful lot of spiritual people smoke cigarettes; both the professionals and the seekers.  I've also noticed that a good many authors and writers smoke quite heavily, myself included.  It never occurred to me that I could write an entire blog post without smoking, or go without that after dinner smoke, even with my awareness of how deleterious it is to my health.  Despite a growing list of personal medical/health issues; I continued to smoke long after I educated myself to the dangers. 

Then suddenly four years ago, I lost the use of my legs to atherosclerosis.  I'd been dealing with some peripheral artery disease for a few years but it never took away my ability to walk or drive like normal folks do. That all changed over the course of one very long night.  My left leg seized up in terrible pain one night, not a muscle cramp or 'charley horse'- but the whole leg felt on fire, and resisted all attempts at lessening the agony for several hours.  For those who have never experienced acute pain over many hours, it is exhausting, and at some point when the pain subsided enough, I passed out asleep. 

When the VA finally got around to seeing me a week later the news wasn't good.  With their regimen of MRI machines and other scanners they determined the cause of my leg problems, and the rest is history.*  My point in bringing this up, I suppose, is that despite a very crucial medical condition, I continued to smoke.  Even knowing that smoking was making my health issues worse, I still smoked because I still believed the lies told by the nicotine, and some asshat on the internet said that quitting when under big stress was a bad idea.  That's a pretty powerful hold over us by the nicotine, but as we have all learned, there are several hundred toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke helping the nicotine keep us captive.

My previous attempts to quit failed in large measure by following internet advice on when not to try quitting, because that  is bullshit'll always have an 'excuse' to smoke and never a 'reason' to quit.  Any technique that encourages you to fail, isn't helping you.  Quitting tobacco requires a certain motivation because we know only too well what a challenge it will be.  An old adage says that we only change when the pain of remaining the same is too great, and there may be some truth in that.  Something has to come along and motivate or inspire us to make the effort to quit, and succeed.

Besides, quitting smoking right now never made better sense for important reasons beyond health, (as if that alone isn't enough.)  The cost of cigarettes increases at least once a year and the odds are good that the giant tobacco corporations will never lower the price.  I did the math & in the last 12 months my own smoking habit has cost me over $3200 bucks.  Not an insignificant sum.  I can think of a good many other uses I can put that money to, and that's assuming that Trump doesn't start world war three with Russia or Iran, Australia or Meryl Streep.

I've given no small amount of thought to the kind of future the Trump regime is going to get us into, and none of it is very reassuring.  We are on the precipice of serious financial catastrophe as well as other calamities waiting in the wings.  My point is a simple one; aside from the saving of money, I'm no longer addicted to an expensive habit which might not always be available in the future. The future is going to be rough enough, now is a great time to beat this addiction!  Imagine if you don't decide on your own to quit; what if someone else makes the choice for you?

Quitting smoking boils down to one thing, and that is desire.  If in your heart of hearts you really don't want to quit, you will just find a reason not to.  If you are going to be successful at becoming a non-smoker you are going to need to desire that outcome more than any other factor.  You have to want it, simple as that, because when you want it you will find a way to accomplish your goal.

Your personal level of commitment will determine your success or failure.

As mentioned, I have tried five times before to quit smoking, and each time because I did not desire it enough, it didn't work.  What I ultimately did to quit smoking was simple only because of my desire finally being strong enough.

My point here is that if you pick a stop smoking technique/program, go cold turkey or whatever; I believe any of them will help you succeed but only if your desire is powerful.

 It isn't about one technique vs another, not about better than or hard strict maxims.  What it IS about; is designing a quit smoking plan that will work for you, and then doing every step every day, until you come out the other side a non-smoker.  I'm not saying that the method I used will work for you, just that it worked for me, once I committed to quitting.

When Trump was selected president I could tell right off that it activated some long dormant PTSD because my smoking went from half a pack a day up to a pack and a half in less than a month.  Simultaneously a few other stressors gained intensity in my life, and to help cope, I was practically chain smoking despite the effect it continued to have on my health.

Over my several attempts at quitting I have tried seemingly everything to gain a little edge over the addiction.  Tried gradually reducing the number of cigarettes, tried patches, with no cigarettes on hand; tried the gums, & nicotine candy and none of it worked until I hit upon the right combination of factors.  This time my desire was thru the roof because continuing to smoke even half a pack a day was having noticeably bad results on my already challenged health.  I'd finally had enough of the coughing, hacking up phlegm every morning; not to mention those horribly effective anti-smoking public service announcements.  I Finally got tired of having folks (and myself) think I wasn't strong enough to quit.  Finally the time to quit arrived, I could feel it in the air.

My master plan for finally giving up tobacco began with the Nicoderm transdermal patch system, which became a daily regimen.  These patches leach nicotine into the system, and some folks skin is a little sensitive, so it is best to switch sides from day to day, and also to use three or four locations (front/back) on each arm, making sure never to put a patch near your heart.  Now, you can smoke a real cigarette a few times a day if needed to help wean yourself, bit it is not recommended as it could cause heart palpitations.  If you must sneak a smoke here & there to augment the patches, just remember each one is reinforcing the habit you want to stop!

From previous attempts I already knew that when I was on the quit it was very difficult to have any cigarettes in the house without smoking.  Conversely having none at all when the cravings hit was far worse.  I had to have a different approach, so I set last December 31st as my absolute quit day after being on the patches nearly 10 weeks; and got rid of every cigarette in the house, except for one...which I told myself I could smoke any time I wanted to flush away my string of non-smoking days.  It worked!

The first 2 weeks was the hardest for me.  I have my one cigarette in a clear plastic tube displayed on my computer desk, right in plain view.  I must have looked at it a hundred times the first 14 days.  Every time I wanted to smoke that last ever cigarette, I'd breathe deep, loving the ease with which I could now fill my lungs; and remembering all the reasons I quit.  It soon became a test of strength, and the cigarettes lost.  As long as that one last cigarette remains imprisoned on my desk, I win. 

Testing has shown that just 12 hours without smoking returns your carbon monoxide levels to normal.  After 2 weeks with no tobacco both your circulation and lungs will improve.  From 2 to 9 weeks after quitting tobacco, coughing has reduced because the "cilia" lining the lungs are working normally again.  After 1 year of being smoke free your risk of heart disease drops by half.  Start today!

So tomorrow will be 40 days of freedom for me.  By using the patches to gradually decrease my nicotine intake I never had to deal with the dreaded crawling spiders withdrawal symptom, and once that was de-fused the rest as they say was a walk in the park.  Already I am noticing very nicely improved breathing, that raspy sound all but gone now, lung capacity is returning.  At the same time I was quitting I installed  a Pur water filter on my kitchen sink with the attitude that if I'm dumping all the chemicals I used to put in my body; I may as well get serious with it!  So now my lungs are breathing free again, and coffee tastes awesome without all the chemicals in the water.

I can easily say that quitting tobacco has improved both memory and other cognitive functions for me, it's kinda like when the fog burns off over the golden gate bridge every morning...everything's clearer now.  Most of all I have proven false the notion that it's a bad idea to quit smoking during stressful times.  I think it works just the opposite; I think the stress is a great motivator to quit for good.

Now, I'd be lying if I implied in any way that I haven't had to deal with a few urges to smoke over the last 39 days.  Certainly the urge does arise; sometimes at predictable moments, and other times not so much.  I think not smoking while writing has been the hardest, as if the plume of cigarette smoke was necessary somehow.  The key is in winning the fight one urge at a time, you just keep saying "No" to the urges, every one of them.  Before long those urges become memories, as in  I remember when I used to smoke, the key here is reinforcing the notion that I don't do that anymore.

Smoking didn't put me in a wheelchair but it was sure keeping me in one by robbing my legs of precious air in the bloodstream.  The longer I put off quitting smoking, the less stamina I had for walking.  At its worst, before I quit smoking, I could be on my feet no more than 3 or 4 minutes before the legs began screaming in pain for air; forcing me back in the wheelchair.  39 days smoke free and the stamina is back up to around 10 minutes on my feet before I must sit down again.  It will never give me back my legs, but quitting tobacco has given me back my lungs, and that ain't small potatoes. 

 If there is any downside it's that I gained 15 pounds during my quit process.  No problem, I can shed 15 lbs, done so before; can do so again.  That's another positive side effect to quitting, it shows you that you can do something you thought you'd never be able to do.  To walk away from the one master that can influence your life so much is a powerful thing; and after the doing of it, you are filled with a renewed sense of self confidence; on the hunt for the next nasty habit in need of breakage.  To break free from tobacco you must break it's hold on your psyche, and that is done by no longer accepting as truth, the lie that the nicotine tells every day.  The lie that you cannot break free.  Think about it, if that was true, why the need for daily reinforcement?  Quit believing the lie. That is the first step in quitting tobacco.

What I am telling you is that if I can walk away from cigarettes after 44 years a smoker; so the hell can you.  If your desire to stop is great enough and your motivation powerful enough nothing can prevent you from just walking away from smoking.  But first you are going to have to want to quit.  Until you want that outcome, it will never happen, because energy follows thought.  Simple as that!

90 Day Update:
After three full months without a smoke 
(and 5 weeks with no patches;)
there are still times
I really want one, but I resist because
I'm breathing better & easier, and
I'm sleeping better.
Food tastes good again,
Clothes no longer smell of smoke!
and I only think about smoking
maybe once or twice a day, 
then it fades away.
12 Month Update:
One year Smoke Free!!

© 2017 full re-post with permission only 

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  1. Replies
    1. Debra~
      Thanks, indeed not so easy.
      On days like today I really wish
      I had a patch to smoke ;)