Sunday, December 14, 2008

How to quit smoking cold turkey

This past week marked the 12th anniversary of my quitting smoking. I did it cold turkey, which has the main advantage of being free. With the New Year around the corner, it is the usual time when smokers try to get their "butts" in gear so they can stop slowly killing themselves. For encouragement, here's my experience with quitting smoking.

Why did I choose to quit smoking cold turkey?

I have to admit to being a bit of a tightwad, so logically I chose the cold turkey method because it required no investment in quit smoking drugs or therapies. But I honestly opted to use my will power alone against my physical cravings because it did not make sense to me to use a nicotine patch. I reasoned that in order to beat down my nicotine addiction, I needed to stop putting nicotine into my body. Trying to wean myself from nicotine with a patch or gum method did not strike me as a way to set myself up for success. It seemed like I would just be allowing myself to depend on something outside of my own will power, and transforming myself back into a non-smoker required a full and irreversible committment on my part.

I began smoking when I was a teenager. I had my first cigarette when I was 15, and my smoking gradually escalated into adulthood until I was smoking about three packs a week. At the age of 24, I decided that I had to give up the nasty smoking habit. I was still young and healthy, but I knew that my physical deterioriation due to smoking was just around the corner. Plus, as a woman I had to consider that I would want to have children, and smoking during pregnancy was just unthinkable to me. It's one thing to harm yourself with smoking, but it's a far worse thing to imperil the health and development of your own child.

Once I reached the decision to quit smoking (which was a very unpopular decision with some parts of my brain) I had to plan when I would finally fling myself off the smoking bridge into the cold rough waters of withdrawal. The holiday season was looming and at first I thought that I would make quit smoking my New Year's resolution. But after more reflection, I decided that such a difficult resolution would require a headstart. Therefore, on December 10th, 1996 I was ready to quit smoking. (Yes, I remember the date precisely.) I smoked my last cigarette that day. I even tried to savor my last cigarette, but as I smoked it down I became increasingly revolted by the filth with which I was polluting my lungs. I did not smoke it down to the filter as I had planned. I stubbed it out about two-thirds smoked and called it quits.

I can tell you that quitting smoking cold turkey hurts. I could physically feel the inside of my blood vessels cringing and crawling with cravings. And my ability to become irritated was vastly enhanced. The first month when you quit smoking is truly the hardest. My brain and body pined for nicotine, banging its empty cup against the cage of my will.

I did not enter into this misery without a plan. I used some visualization techniques. I pictured myself shutting off a light switch that represented my desire to smoke. I also made specific vows to myself regarding my actions. I did not simply quit smoking. I told myself that I could no longer pick up a cigarette or light a cigarette or put a cigarette into my mouth. I found these specific vows very helpful because even when I felt weak and wanted to smoke, I could fall back on rules such as not being able to touch a cigarette or light it.

Another way that I encouraged myself was to remind myself that if I failed and went back to smoking, then all of my suffering would be for nothing. Nothing!

As someone who has experienced prolonged nicotine withdrawal, I can say that the craving is not constant. Sometimes I felt OK. The cravings came in peaks and valleys and as the days and weeks went on, the cravings came with dwindling frequency.

One technique I used to cope with cravings was to find myself new things to do besides smoke cigarettes. Since I was reviving my body from the slow waste of smoking, I decided to start exercising. I bought a work out video and struggled through it regularly. Also I would simply pick up the hand weights when I felt a craving so as to push back the physical discomforts with my new fitness activities.

Within days of quitting smoking I was surprised to find that I was doing a lot more with my life. I was getting more done and pursuing hobbies with greater enthusiasm. It was as if I had been wasting my life smoking instead of doing the things I liked. This aspect of quitting smoking is very rewarding.

My final piece of advice for smokers about how to quit is that you should not advertise the fact. I say this because it will be very annoying when your friends, relatives, and co-workers ask you how you are doing. The question will instantly make you think about smoking and trigger withdrawal symptoms. It's far better for people to gradually notice that you are not smoking anymore and then applaud your achievement. Trust me, during your first days and weeks as a reformed smoker, you should talk about it as little as possible.

As a publisher, I have put together a website about how to quit smoking called Clear the Air. It has information and advice from various perspectives. Go read some of the articles so as to bolster your courage and begin the long trek back to health and freedom.