On a New Year’s Day a friend of mine, Andrea C., began her attempt to kick cigarettes and started a blog as opposed to “bitching out all her friends.” The following was contributed to her blog.
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Having traveled down Tobacco Road, let me tell you my own experience of quitting. Maybe you will pick up a pointer or two, but I will keep the advice to a minimum. Maybe you’ll just skip down to the “go girl rah rah” and “buck up, sweetheart” part. But either way, you Nicotine Wretch, here are my two cents.
By 1984 I had been smoking two packs a day for ten years. O n days of great stress, like rehearsals, I smoked three packs a day. There were any number of psychological triggers that required the company of a cigarette. The phone rang. Light a cigarette. Cup of coffee. Cigarette. After breakfast. Cigarette. After lunch. Cigarette. After dinner. Cigarette. Go to a bar and order a drink. Cigarette. Driving a car. Cigarette. Sit down at a desk to write. Cigarette. Get stoned. Cigarette. Stare out the window and contemplate infinity. Cigarette. S tare out the window and realize how lonely, bored, frustrated, depressed and useless I felt. T en cigarettes. Sit up all night with a friend talking. Pack and a half of cigarettes between the two of you. . And of course, the ever popular cigarette after sex.
There were two dozen attempts at quitting. My attempts generally lasted a few hours to a few days before willpower folded and I would reach for that little burning white friend, who was always such good company. Like so many others I would say, “I love to smoke.” And I did.
Then I got married. We lived in three small rooms in Soho and my wife was pregnant. To her credit she never hinted I should stop polluting the premises. On my own though I came to the obvious conclusion: it’s not fair to a newborn baby to smoke up three small rooms.
So I quit, quit for somebody outside of myself, which – it is my belief – made it easier. Toothpicks and sunflower seeds helped keep hands and mouth busy. To this day I will stuff my mouth with a wad of sunflower seeds and work my way through them, one by one. But heck, sunflower seeds are good for you.
So that’s my first bit of advice. Sunflower seeds and toothpicks. Either one, especially toothpicks, will get you out of that psychological white cotton night gown when walking around Manhattan. Toothpicks are snarly, the perfect complement to lowering the chin, narrowing the eyes, and hissing quietly through your teeth, “Get the fuck out of my face.”
My second piece of advice is this: both times I quit, and I will tell you about the second time in a minute, Day Three to Day Fourteen were the toughest. The psychological addiction was much greater than the physical addiction. Maybe it will be different for you. But there all those damn triggers.
Going into a deli and not buying a pack is a habit you have to break, too, especially when the clerk knows you. There was a woman at my deli who would put a pack on the counter when I walked in the door. There were friends or acquaintances who would shake out a smoke and ask, “Want one?” There was the time I quit for three days, then spied a single cigarette laying on a sidewalk, just begging, “Smoke me, you fool.” And I did.
For me there was no such thing as tapering off. One cigarette was a thousand cigarettes. One smoke was another year of smokes. It’s no different from an alcoholic with “just one drink.” Uh-uh. Addiction must be pulled out by the roots.
So in 1984 I quit for my young baby, my young son. Went cold turkey a few months before he was born and stayed clean for five and a half years. Not a puff. Did it make me feel good about myself? Yes it did.
Then my wife and I broke up and that was my excuse to start smoking again. Just like you point out, there is a whole “I’m sorry for myself and I’m going to self destruct” dynamic going on with cigarettes. In no time at all it was two packs a day. Again.
How stupid can one get?
Another three years went by and almost every waking hour found me with a burning cigarette between my fingers. Then slowly, ever so slowly, a new thought took root. It was revolutionary thought, one that took twenty years to form, but one of enormous importance. I could no longer say “I love to smoke.”
In fact, I hated to smoke.
I hated how my lungs felt black and bleeding when I woke up in the morning, hated how a flight of stairs made me pant for breath, hated the obsessive compulsive order that set in when it was time to leave the house and every trash can and ash tray had to be checked for butts because one time the waste basket was smoldering. Most of all I hated the brown and yellow phlegm I hawked up and spit out every hour of the day, living, vicious, viscous proof of stupidity and weakness.
Have you ever been lonely and depressed and sat up so late the info-mericals came on and you actually watch Tony Robbins for a whole hour? I confess I have sunk so low that this has happened to me. Tony Robbins is a total tool, but there is one thing I did take from him. “Visualize where you will be 15 years from now.” If I kept smoking for 15 more years, I could see myself in an iron lung in the charity ward of a hospital.
With that picture in mind I quit. Quit for good. As a matter of fact, in a few months, it will be 15 years since my last cigarette. Perhaps I should thank Tony Robbins. On the other hand, he can bite me. No, better he should bite you with those big old tombstone Mormon looking teeth.
This is my third and final bit of advice. You have to come to a point where you say, quite honestly, “I don’t love to smoke.” I’m not going to say this makes it easy. But it does make it easier.
So rah-rah. Love yourself enough to stop. Congratulations on your first couple of days of fighting down the demon weed. You go, girl. From now on you’ll get more and better kisses because your mouth won’t taste like an ash tray.
Remember to buck up, sweetheart. It will get worse before it gets better. You will no doubt be a raving fucking lunatic. But only us who really know you will know you are any worse than usual.