True stories are easy to write, because all you do is tell what happened.
As a former hardcore addicted smoker, I know that it’s virtually impossible to just up and quit. If you ask me it’s counterproductive to even try and do it cold turkey.
After years of failed attempts, I found something that worked and is pretty much painless. And it might help you or somebody you know to be able to quit a habit. I’ll show you how it worked for me with cigarettes.
It’s easy to stop — I did it a hundred times
It was almost ridiculous how many reasons I could find to smoke whenever I was in the midst of trying to quit. It was pure agony, all I could think of was this voice in my head saying repeating over and over, “You mean I can never smoke another cigarette as long as I live?”
Never was the deal-breaker. Never is too long to go without something you like. Like? I loved to smoke. And I didn’t want to quit even though I knew how stupid it was. I’d smoked for so long it was a part of me. Not having a cigarette felt like I’d had something amputated.
Like most people, I smoked despite knowing that it has zero going for it. I’ll bet that 20 years from now anybody that still smokes will be classified as a mental defective. It really is that bad and there’s nothing that even hints at it being otherwise.
But here’s the problem for a lot of us. How could smoking be bad for you after growing up seeing everybody smoking? I’m pretty sure more people smoked than didn’t when I was growing up. And why wouldn’t they? Actors dressed like doctors used to do the TV ads for cigarettes.
After years of failed attempts to quit, I realized that my problem was that voice in my head reminding me that I’d never be able to smoke another cigarette. I figured the NEVER part was the obstacle.
I decided the way to quit was to do it one-day-at-a-time. So that’s what I decided to do, just tough it out through the first day and after that it would get easier.
No surprise here, I didn’t make it till noon of the first day.
My next brilliant idea was to limit myself to 10 cigarettes a day. That was too drastic a cutback, and so I set a limit of one pack a day, and told myself that after getting happy with one pack I’d gradually keep smoking fewer cigarettes. That worked and I got down to ten a day, but it took longer than a year.
I stayed at 10 for a long time until I started having days when I had to smoke a couple cigarettes at once to use up my ration. At this point I was not smoking at all in the morning, and then allowing myself one cigarette per hour between noon an 10 PM.
Next I graduated to smoking during the evenings only. That was a big breakthrough. I discovered that when I turned smoking into a nightly ritual it became so enjoyable that I did not want to smoke unless I could do the entire ritual. The ritual was nothing much, but I think it shows just how mindless an act smoking becomes for most of us.
Welcome to my temple
My ritual consisted of relaxing with a few cigarettes and a cup of coffee or a double-shot of Vodka. The point was to not do anything else — no phone, no TV, no music. I performed my ritual sitting on my kitchen counter with the stove fan sucking up the smoke. I’ve also done it on the balcony of a hotel on Waikiki, and many other places. It isn’t the location, it’s the process of enjoying the cigarette. It’s akin to the Japanese tea drinking ceremony during which you experience the tea.
In my former life smoking had become a mindless habit. I’d just stuff one in my mouth and light it without even thinking. It was automatic. What smoker hasn’t had cigarettes burn out in ashtrays because they forgot they were smoking?
Having something to look forward to is always good
I used to look forward to my ritual all day. Funny thing is that once I ritualized smoking, my consumption dropped because I only had an hour to smoke, and cramming too many cigarettes into an hour would make me feel sick. So before long I was smoking four cigarettes a day, and all of them during the evening ritual, one every 15 minutes.
From four per hour my consumption dropped to three, and then two. From four to two probably took five years. Also I had gradually shifted to smoking low-calorie cigarettes (lights). And at some point I started poking holes in them — first one hole, then two, three, and eventually four holes. I started using a fine needle and moved to a safety pin.
I enjoyed my limited smoking ritual way more than I ever enjoyed unlimited smoking. The ritual smokes became my first and only of the day, and so the first one gave me a buzz the way smoking did way back when I first started. The buzz was very pleasant because it reminded me of when I’d have my first coffee and cigarette of the day at Woolworth’s lunch counter before going to work at the grocery store a few doors down. I was in high school then. Wow, good times.
Once hooked, always hooked
It took about 15 years from when I started cutting back until I stopped completely. Only rarely did I not perform my nightly ritual, though toward the end I could take it or leave it. Interestingly, it was common to be hit with the thought that I might be out of cigarettes, and I’d jump up and make sure I was set for the night. So I was still hooked to some extent. During the day I had no desire to smoke, but I sincerely looked forward to the evening ritual.
When I traveled I brought a small box containing a pack of menthol light 100s, a lighter, and a pin. I traveled a lot, and never missed my nightly ritual. Long before I quit all the way I’d begun asking for a non-smoking room, and so I’d have to go outside and do my thing, but I made sure I did it leisurely and enjoyed it.
One more reason to go to the gym
Perhaps it would have been better had I not smoked those couple cigarettes per day for all those years, but certainly the few were better than a pack or more every day.
I think this is worth telling you: I worked out as ritualistically as I smoked. I had told several doctors about my nightly ritual and the typical response was it would probably be better if you didn’t smoke at all, but it’s hard to argue with your method and you seem to have it under control.
Point being, a couple cigarettes a day, if you otherwise take good care of yourself, probably won’t kill you any time soon. And it’s so much easier and more enjoyable to quit by gradually cutting back. Yes, it takes longer than going cold turkey, but I have a feeling that most smokers are like me in that they really don’t want to not smoke. They just don’t want to die from it.
The only really hard part of my whole deal was the first big drop in consumption, which for me was to one pack per day. Allowing myself to smoke, even though it was less than I was used to, was the only way I could do it.
This might surprise you
I’ve not smoked a cigarette in two years, but I’m actually thinking about rekindling my two cigarettes and a shot of Vodka nightly ritual. How come? I really don’t think that two low-calorie cigarettes with holes poked in them are that terrible if you run and lift and do a bunch of other stuff. And I have no worries whatsoever that I’ll return to smoking full-time. I have no desire to do it full-time. I’m just looking for a form of relaxation. I suppose you could call it a recreational drug. Does that make me a terrible person?
One last thing
The other day I shared a cab with a woman in her late-40s. She told me that six months ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer and given four to six months to live. Before she told me that part, I had already noticed she smelled like a heavy smoker. I didn’t have the heart to ask, but I can’t imagine she was still smoking. That leaves me with the bad feeling that the cigarette smell was her decaying lungs reeking of all the smoke they’d been saturated with.
Later that day I told a woman I know about the woman in the cab. This second woman is a smoker who needs to quit soon; she coughs so often I think she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. I actually wrote this piece because I wanted her to read it. This thing worked for me and some variation of it might work for others who can’t do the cold turkey thing. True story.