The Great American Smoke Out is coming! This opportunity comes each year, on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. It’s an opportunity to join smokers all over America who want to become X smokers. It could be practice, or it could be the day you quit for good. Practice leads to success. All those other times you tried, but didn’t make it were practice. Whether your goal is to quit smoking, or to lose weight, or to get more organized, think of any effort as practice. If you went three days without smoking, or just three waking hours, that’s practice. If you eat one plateful of Thanksgiving dinner, but have two desserts, instead of two platefuls of dinner and three desserts, that’s practice. If you eliminate one pile of papers, but still have plenty of clutter, give yourself credit for making progress.
Of course eating and clutter are not things we can totally eliminate from our lives,…..well, maybe some people can eliminate clutter, but not me, so lets get back to smoking. Smoking is one of those things you can eliminate. But if you’re addicted, it’s not a piece of cake. Oops, there’s that food thing again.
Mark Twain is credited with saying that quitting smoking is easy because he did it hundreds of times. I didn’t quit hundreds of times, but in the 10 years I smoked, I must have tried to quit at least 20 times. In my early years of smoking, in the days when we were only beginning to learn the dangers of smoking, I’d often quit for an hour or two. I’d throw a half a pack of cigarettes in the trash only to fish them out again two hours later. Then I’d break each cigarette in half , so I had to tape them back together again. They tasted awful when I got to the taped part. This is not recommended. Once, I ran what was left in the pack under the kitchen faucet. They sort of fell apart when I tried to dry them out in the oven. So eventually I went out and bought another pack. I quit for several months until I thought I could smoke occasionally like a couple of my friends. First I started bumming off my friends, then I regressed to buying whole packs. I tried to hide my addiction from my family. When I got caught, I was ashamed, but fell back into full blown relapse.
Every effort and every relapse teaches us lessons. I learned that when it came to cigarettes, I was an addict. I could not smoke occasionally. I learned I had to stay away from triggers as much as possible. I finally quit for good after I studied addiction and recovery…and after I got sick and tired of throwing away my money and gasping for breath when I climbed a flight of stairs. Smoking never did fit with my values. I loved nature. I was supposed to be promoting health. It didn’t make sense. I had have faith that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.
I needed a plan.
I read everything I could get my hands on about quitting smoking. I wrote down the benefits of quitting including how much money I would save. I made long lists of alternatives- things I would do when I wanted a cigarette, like blowing bubbles, taking a walk, looking at pictures of diseased lungs, taking a shower, screaming into a pillow- whatever it took. I made a commitment.
The first week was the hardest. I put a dollar a day in a jar for each day I was smoke free. (That’s what a pack cost back in the old days) Over the next few months, the cravings became less intense and further apart. After 60 days I bought myself a beautiful tapestry with my reward money and hung it on my wall like a trophy. After 30 years, I’m usually turned off by cigarette smoke. But every now and them, I reminisce for about half a second when I smell a faint whiff of smoke.
Then I smile at myself and know: It’s not worth it.
Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, designed and packaged to be used in small frequent doses to create many associations that turn into triggers. Tobacco causes more deaths and more health problems than any other drug. Yet as a society, we still don’t treat it seriously from a recovery standpoint. There’s gum or patches and medications for people who can afford them, but we need to treat tobacco dependence like we do other addictions, on all fronts: biological, psychological, social and spiritual. November 21st or any day, offers an opportunity for smokers to practice quitting. It could even be an opportunity for freedom.
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