Saturday, January 7, 2012

Did a cold turkey sabotage your resolution to quit smoking?

Midnight on New Year's Eve was my favorite time to quit smoking. One particular time stands out. My roommate and I were having a New Year's Eve Party. I rigged a bunch of balloons up in a net to be released at midnight, which is when I smoked my last cigarette. As the balloons dropped and the smoke curled out from my lips, I thought how great it will be to stop smoking. As a cancer survivor, each cigarette only reminded me of my mortality. As I crushed the butt out, I just knew this time would be different, yet I was so wrong.

By 3am, most remaining partiers were smokers. No one noticed as I sat with arms crossed, watching every drag they took and angrily waited for everyone to leave so I could find a pack left behind or even a long butt.  After my big midnight production of quitting, there was no way I was going to smoke around anyone from the party. This quit attempt didn't even last 4 hours, let alone last one week. This time was one of my shorter tries but many times lasted for 3 months and even one time lasted as long as 1 year before I relapsed. My mistake was relying on willpower instead of making a plan.

Maybe you  have found yourself in the same position: wanting to quit but finding it almost impossible.  Yet every ex-smoker will tell you exactly what works and what doesn't work (implying there must be something wrong with you if you tried their final method and it didn't work for you). Statistics say that the average smoker will attempt to quit 6 to 9 times before being successful. The most often used method is "cold turkey."

"I tried everything and nothing works, the patch, gum, hypnosis, and finally I just quit cold turkey."

But what does "cold turkey" really mean? It means relying on willpower alone to quit without any help. But I argue that anyone who is quitting a second time, 3rd, or 4th etc. can't be going "cold turkey" because with each quit attempt, the smoker gains knowledge and different skills that they use on subsequent tries. They are no longer a  "tabula rasa" (blank slate).

With each of my quit attempts, I learned something new:
1. I learned how to deal with the withdrawals without using medications (I pretended I had the flu, drank lots of OJ and stayed in bed until I felt better, about 3 days).
2. I learned what to do with my hands (coffee stirrers from Carl's Jr.), which also worked for driving the car.
3. I learned to not quit when drinking alcohol (like at that New Year's Eve party) and to abstain for a couple of weeks after quitting.
4. I learned one of my weakest moments was being around other smokers. Smoke-free laws weren't in force yet and you could smoke almost everywhere.  When someone around me lit up, I learned how to excuse myself without pointing out that I didn't want to be around them when they were smoking.
5. My final lesson was how to be mad at someone without wanting to smoke AT them and smoke my  anger away.

What I found interesting was even if I relapsed, I had learned something new about my relationship to smoking, so that on the next quit attempt, I didn't have to deal with that aspect again because I had already learned what to do. The hard part was that new stuff would pop up with each quit attempt and it was like starting all over again.

I had to learn many different things before I was finally successful at remaining smoke-free. So my last cigarette was August 19, 1990 and it was a very anti-climatic event. As I put out my last cigarette, I knew this time was different and I would be successful because I had learned how to deal with the physical, behavioral, social and habitual rites associated with the way I smoked and this time I had a plan lasting 1 year on what to do to avoid relapsing.

To say I quit "cold turkey" (even though I used NO medications and it appeared that I just put it out and walked away), is stating an injustice to all the hard work I had done each quit attempt before. Only my very first attempt was "cold turkey", because with every attempt after that, I built on my knowledge until my last quit was an accumulation of skills, behaviors and techniques I had mastered to be successful.

Quitting smoking is like learning calculus: you have to learn how to add and subtract, do your multiplication tables, a little algebra and trig before you're ready for that first calculus class. When you pass the class, you wouldn't say that I know that 1 + 1 = 2 and that is why I passed calculus, yet if you didn't know the basics of math, you would never be successful at that calculus class. Successful quitters are at the end of a journey you are still taking, they have already passed the advanced class, while you may still need to learn some basics.

So if your New Year's Eve resolution was to quit smoking and now after a week, it didn't happen, did you try to learn calculus without learning your multiplication tables? Change your resolution to let this year be the year you start learning the basics of what you need to be successful and develop a personalized plan.  Start by signing up for my blog and I will send you a free PDF copy of "Tips to Win At Quitting". Why not start today?

1 comment:

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