top ten tuesday: nix the nicotine

I never considered myself a CIGARETTE SMOKER…until I actually tried to quit for good and realized, yep I’m a nicotine addict.  Starting the habit in high school, I thought I was SO COOL, especially since all of my friends smoked and it was just the norm for everyone to be surrounded in a haze of smoke.  Fast forward to college, I actually met my best friend while smoking a cigarette on my porch…months later, we got drunk one night we tried to light my fuzzy green chair on fire– should have been a sign to quit then.

As my life evolved, I slowly realized that while everyone around me stopped their habit, I became more and more isolated in my little smoker’s cloud.  Soon, I was the only person out of everyone I knew that smoked…and it was exactly like those cheesy-ass anti-smoking commercials portray- cold, lonely and embarrassing.  I’ll quit, I said to myself, but as soon as I would have a stressful day at work or a few drinks, I found myself with another pack of Newports (YES, I SMOKED NEWPORTS, IT’S MY OTHER SECRET SHAME DON’T JUDGE ME!), hiding from my husband and finding reasons to isolate myself from the group.

I’m not sure what triggered my latest quitting episode, but it’s stuck more than any other time, so I wanted to share what has helped me so much over these 21 days, 3 hours, and 31 minutes.

1. A Physical Hobby

One thing about smoking, it makes it pretty hard to breathe.  I signed up for an intense kickboxing class, an activity that I had always enjoyed, and thought I would actually die during the first class.  Now that I’ve been going consistently, I don’t want to lose all the progress I’ve made for the (incredibly tempting) drag of one or two cigarettes (that turns into 20).  Plus, it’s a great stress reliever, so after work instead of running to get Newps, I run to punch the shit out of a bag that has my most annoying coworker’s name on it.  Finding something physical to do takes your mind off the act of smoking, and also gives you a reason not to start again.

2. A Mental Hobby

Nicotine is one of the hardest addictive substances to give up, according to the American Addictions Center.  It creeps in your mind when you’re least expecting it to, and cravings and withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly painful and hard to resist.  I decided to sign up for a mosaic making class, as it was a craft I always wanted to try, and found it to be even more addicting than nicotine- you smash up little pieces of glass (again, stress relief!), arrange them into a beautiful shape and spend hours gluing them into their perfect positions– who has time to smoke during all of that?  A hobby that occupies your mind fully makes it less concentrated on its next fix, so find something that you enjoy, can do own your own, and allows you to brag to all your friends about how creative and special you are.

3. Mantras

My friend Jen used to always say, “I can’t believe you smoke, it’s so trashy and you’re so…not.”  So now anytime I want to smoke, I just picture her saying that (in her Donald Trump bathing suit, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog…) and it really does help me stop.  I thought about the reasons I don’t want to smoke, then created a mantra that I posted as alarms in my phone, a notecard in my car, on my mirror- “Your fingertips will fall off and you won’t be able to get manicures,” “You watched your mom go through chemo, don’t do this,” “Think about all the money you save by not spending $7 on a pack of cigarettes.”  Reminding yourself of reasons NOT to smoke really helps cut down on the likelihood that you’ll give up your goal.

4. Identifying Triggers

If I had a bad day at work, I smoked.  If I was hungry, I smoked.  On my 45 minute commute to work, I smoked.  When I had 2+ drinks, I smoked.  I had never taken the time to actually sit down and figure out WHY I was smoking, and once I did, I had a much better chance of recognizing my real emotion and dealing with it rather than just lighting up.  Driving is probably one of my worst triggers, so I constantly have gum, a podcast playing, something to keep me occupied during long commutes.  Drinking is also a difficult one, luckily I’m not a huge drinker, but during the times I have gone out, I try to remind myself no one else will be outside with me and I’ll look like the biggest loser and/or weirdo.

5. Nicotine Supplements (for the first two weeks)

BUT, if just MINDPOWER doesn’t seem like it will work (and sometimes it doesn’t), there’s a whole industry designed to stop smokers from slowly killing themselves.  I purchased a huge pack of nicotine gum, and it really helped in the first couple weeks when all of the nicotine was expelling itself from my fragile body (this part SUCKS, you can feel it itching at your brain to get a damn cigarette).  However, the gum tastes like absolute shit– literally, it’s like putting a Marlboro Red in your mouth and chewing on it for hours.  Therefore, I didn’t really WANT to chew the gum for very long, and after about a week and a half, I didn’t even think about smoking, or even trying to use my replacement, but it is there on standby in case I lose my motivation again.

6. Building Accountability

This one was the most important for me, because a lot of people are probably reading this right now and saying, “Wait…you smoked?!?”  I was really good at hiding my habit, never smoking in front of people, making sure to spray with perfume if I did smoke, hiding in an alley in the snow during events…you know, all normal things to do.  When I decided to quit, I also decided to stop being secretive and let people know, hey I was a smoker and now I’m not, so if you see me smoking, stop me.  It felt really good to share my accomplishment with people, and know that if I started to slip up, there will be someone to remind me not to.

7. Mindfulness and Meditation

I’ve been slowly learning about how to actually practice mindfulness, and I think this is huge when quitting any negative behavior.  Our minds automatically go to places of negativity- I don’t know if that’s human nature, or our society, but we tend to focus on what could go or is going wrong, rather than how we can improve it or at least deal with it.  My Calm app has an entire series called “Breaking Habits”, and while it doesn’t mention smoking specifically, many of the sessions can be related to addiction in general, and are very helpful in getting to the root of why we use certain substances.

8. Purges

When I was in college, I had the brilliant idea to make a lamp out a liquor bottle and a lampshade out of all my Camel Pink cigarette packs.  I told you, I was REALLY FUCKING COOL.  But it was such a metaphor for my life at the time- I drank, I smoked, I kind of surrounded myself with those things.  Quitting smoking requires a full purge of anything smoking related- old packs, lighters, ashtrays, magazines with cigarette ads, the chair you sat in while you smoked, anything that reminds you and is a potential trigger to take up the habit again.  Once I didn’t have a lighter in my car, I thought about smoking probably half as much as I did before.  Think about what you own that is JUST associated with that habit, and throw it away, NOW.

9.  Quitting Smoking Apps

If my students have taught me anything, it’s that there’s an app for everything.  I love my quitting smoking app, Smoke Free, because it’s like a game- you add badges when your health is back to normal, can log and analyze your triggers and cravings, complete missions that make you feel good about your decision, see how much money you’re saving, and how many days you’ve regained in your life (about 6, get used to me bitches!). It’s a good way to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made, and where you’re trying to get.

10. Envisioning Your Future

I got married last year, and intended to quit smoking then.  But then I…didn’t.  When Craig and I started talking about having a baby in the near future, I realized this was my moment to make a decision.  Not only do I know smoking would be dangerous for my own health and my child’s, I watched my mom battle with cancer even after never touching a cigarette during her entire life.  Why would I purposefully continue doing something that I KNOW is going to kill me, and put my child through the same agony I experienced?  I wouldn’t, so think about what’s coming in your future– whatever it is, it’s a reason to stop that bad habit today.

So obviously I’m not saying I’m perfect…I have had a strong run and I do feel like this time I have quit for good, but I might wake up tomorrow and make a bad decision to go get cigarettes.  Slipping up doesn’t make you a bad person, but not reflecting on your real reasons for having any negative habit will never let you fully get to the bottom of issues BEHIND it.  And does anyone really want to live their life, cold, alone, smoking a disgusting cigarette that will kill you eventually in an alley?  I don’t.

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