They tell you that smoking is really addictive: once you start, you can’t stop.
It’s true, but it’s not the whole story. It doesn’t cover just how addictive smoking is. It doesn’t tell you about the intense relationship between cigarettes, your mood, your friendships, and your lifestyle (all of which start revolving around who smokes and where you can smoke). It doesn’t begin to elaborate on how you fall in love with the nicotine, the cigarette between your fingers, the 5-minute “break” from life and work (like a drug that coats everything with a layer numbness).
To smoke is to be a smoker, and a smoker is a person who functions in a world vastly different from the one that non-smokers know. It’s a world where smoking is as vital as your ten fingers and toes, as vital as your blood. Without it, you are not yourself.
I smoked for a total of eight years, averaging one pack a day.
I had my last cigarette in July, 2014. I was 29, and it was the first time I tried to quit.
Here’s what worked for me:
1. Don’t Let Your Cognitive Biases Screw Up Your Logic
This is really important. You are a slave to your cognitive biases, and it’s really very hard to make smart decisions unless you’re aware of these biases and how they affect your thoughts. Case in hand: the amount of times I’ve heard stuff like “I’m not addicted to cigarettes, I can quit any time”, or “Smoking is just as bad as all the other things I eat, anyway.”
No. You are an addict. Admit it, and understand it. Self-awareness is the first step to a solution, even if you don’t want to start with the solution immediately.
2. Be Scientific About Quitting
Deciding to quit smoking is like deciding to chop off your arm. It isn’t easy. It affects your body physically, mentally, and emotionally. The good news is that this is a topic heavily researched by all kinds of researchers and scientists, so spend some time reading research.
This is really important. Read more about withdrawal symptoms, and the changes you can expect to happen to your body. It makes it easier when you’re really down to stop and say “Okay, this is a symptom. It will be gone quickly. I am stronger than my addiction.” You can also turn the odds in your favor with some science, like the fact that using nicotine-replacement therapy makes you much more likely to really quit in the long term.
My nicotine-replacement therapy of choice for a while was argeeleh, which I know is just as bad, but it was really helpful for me. I had to wait till 8:00PM to have argeeleh, which helped curb the cigarette habit and made it a lot easier to quit.
Today, I use an e-cigarette with a negligible amount of nicotine once a week or so, when I know I will be around friends who smoke very heavily. The funny thing is that I’m constantly being told stuff like, “That’s so much worse than cigarettes” or “You’ll grow water in your lungs when you smoke that.”
What? Water in my lungs? No, cause science, bitch.
In reality, the latest research has indicated that e-cigarettes are at least 90% less harmful than smoking, according to research by the very credible Public Health England.
The point is: do whatever it takes. You’re not being weak if you use the patch, nicotine gums, or pills. Use whatever will stop smoking or going back to smoking is. Don’t let your cognitive biases cloud your judgement. You might want to opt using a dry herb vaporizer as it is made to be more healthy than smoking the real cigarette.
3. Treat Yourself as a Lab Rat
This step was very helpful for me. I downloaded an app on my phone that gave me daily updates on how my body is changing. You know, the human brain is really simple, everything revolves around rewards. The app, Cessation Nation, offered me the best reward of all: little snippets of information that told me how my body has improved since my last cigarette. It worked like a charm.
I also kept a daily log of how I felt mentally and physically that I updated before I went to bed every night. This was also very helpful, because it turned me into an observer of the awful process of nicotine withdrawal, instead of the subject.
Here are snippets from the first week of my log:
Sunday, 13: Zero cigarettes for the first time in years. I did not crave it too badly for the most part except after certain activities like after dinner and after having an emotional discussion. Had a can of Red Bull and was still okay with not smoking.
Craving: 8/10 Bad at times, did not cave in
Monday, 14: Consistently googling how long cravings last, so I guess it is getting quite bad. My mind does not want to miss out on the associated lifestyle of smoking, which sucks. At the same time though, I know it is just a stupid addiction and I don’t need to be a slave to my addiction. It’s just my brain on drugs. Dopamine.
The night was awful. I was very agitated and on edge until I had argeeleh at night.
Craving: 10/10 Awful
Tuesday, 15: It’s 2:00PM and pretty good so far. Not a single overwhelming craving yet. I am just worried I will cave in though when the office is back to life outside of Ramadan because I can’t stay seated for 9 hours! S.B. sat next to me just now and oh, holy shit, people who smoke really stink. Do I smell like that? It’s disgusting. The night wasn’t bad either.
Craving: 4/10 Not bad at all
4. Have a Support System
I am lucky that my fiance doesn’t smoke. It made it so much easier to just call him when I was excessively craving smoking. Get your own support system, whether it is your mother, your brother, your boyfriend, or a friend. Just make sure your support system isn’t a smoker — smokers tend to want the whole world to smoke.
5. Pat Yourself on the Back on a Set Date
Feedback is really important in remaining motivated. Give yourself feedback on a set date every month, until you feel you’re totally and officially a non-smoker. My feedback to myself is always pretty simple: I love that I go to bed at night not stinking like an ashtray. I haven’t woken up with congested lungs in a year and a half, which is AWESOME. I’m not that idiot in a glass room smoking in the airport. I don’t get fidgety in long meetings. I don’t have to step outside in freezing temperatures to have a cigarette every 20 minutes. Exercise is now difficult because I am pushing my muscles, not my lungs. Good job, Roba! It wasn’t easy, but it’s done.
This is how I quit smoking. I hope you can use it to quit smoking too.