Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home
Packing & Planning
for the Journey Home
When to Start Home - Now or Later?
None of our prior recovery attempts failed because we selected the wrong date. They failed because we failed to understand and master the core principles underlying our dependency upon nicotine.
Experts advise smokers that the "key" to successful recovery is to not stop using now, or today, but to pick some future date such as our birthday, New Years or our nation's national stop smoking day and then to plan around it. What if such advice wasn't just wrong but was actually depriving millions of us from dramatically greater odds of success?
A 2006 study found that roughly half of all smokers attempt quitting without any planning whatsoever. That's right, no packing at all! The study's authors were shocked to learn that unplanned attempts were 2.6 times more successful in lasting at least six months than attempts planned in advance.
According to Joel Spitzer, the real experts are millions of long-term successful ex-users, and this is not news to them. "Rarely do those with the longest initials for credentials do real research on how people quit smoking," he says.
Joel has long shared an article he calls "Setting Quit Dates." He asserts that, "conventional wisdom in smoking cessation circles says that people should make plans and preparations for some unspecified future time to quit. Most people think that when others quit smoking that they must have put a lot of time into preparations and planning, setting quit dates and following stringent protocols until the magic day arrives. When it comes down to it, this kind of action plan is rarely seen in real-world quitters."
In an email to me Joel wrote, "My gut feelings here, I think the difference between planned and unplanned is that a person who is planning to quit isn't really committed to quit. If he were committed to it he would just do it - not plan it."
Joel has found that most successful quitters fall into one of three groups: (1) those who awoke one day and were suddenly sick and tired of smoking, who threw their cigarettes over their shoulder and never looked back; (2) those given an ultimatum by their doctor - "quit smoking or drop dead"; and (3) those who became sick with a cold, the flu or some other illness, went a few days without smoking and then decided to try to keep it going.
"All of these stories share one thing in common - the technique that people use to quit. They simply quit smoking one day. The reasons they quit varied but the technique they used was basically the same. If you examine each of the three scenarios you will see that none of them lend themselves to long-term planning. They are spur of the moment decisions elicited by some external circumstance."
Joel is careful to distinguish real-world quitters from the Internet phenomenon where some spend substantial time reading and planning before taking the plunge. While Internet use is tremendous in industrialized nations, only about 1 in 5 humans were Internet users in 2008 (21.9%). The percentage of world's nicotine addicts turning to the Internet to master their dependency, who have ever heard of the Law of Addiction, is likely far less than one percent.
Today I visited the Philip Morris USA website, the company holding a 50% share of the U.S. cigarette market. Its "Quit Assist" pages tell those hooked on nicotine to:
"Plan and prepare-that's the first key to quit-smoking success."
Choose a specific quit date-perhaps your birthday or anniversary, or your child's birthday-and mark it on your calendar. If you give yourself at least a month to prepare, you're more likely to succeed than if you decide New Year's Eve to quit the next day. Pick a week when your stress level is likely to be low. Philip Morris USA
Delay recovery until our next birthday? Wait for life to become nearly stress free? In 1984 Joel wrote an article entitled "I Will Quit When ..." It opens with the following rather lengthy list of quitting delay rationalizations that fit right in with Philip Morris' planning advice.
"I will quit when my doctor tells me I have to." "I can't quit now it's tax season." "Maybe I will quit on vacation." "School is starting and I'm too nervous to quit." "I will quit in the summer when I can exercise more." "When conditions improve at work, I will stop." "Quit now, during midterms, you must be nuts!" "Maybe after my daughter's wedding." "My father is in the hospital. I can't quit now." "If I quit now, it will spoil the whole trip." "The doctor says I need surgery. I'm too nervous to try now." "When I lose 15 pounds, I will stop." "I am making too many other changes to stop now." "I have smoked for years and feel fine, why should I stop smoking now?" "I'm in the process of moving, and it's a real headache. I can't stop now." "It is too soon after my new promotion, when things settle down I will stop." "When we have a verifiable bilateral disarmament agreement, I will consider quitting." "It is too late. I'm as good as dead now."
"The best time to quit is NOW. No matter when now is. In fact, many of the times specifically stated as bad times to quit may be the best. I actually prefer that people quit when experiencing some degree of emotional stress. In most cases, the more stress the better. This may sound harsh, but in the long run it will vastly improve the chances of long term success in abstaining from cigarettes," the 21 year-old article by Joel asserts.
Pack for Recovery
Are you ready to start packing? Are you packing for quitting or recovery? Instead of getting caught up in the "Quitters never win, Winners never quit" mind games, why not adopt a healthy and educated vision of what freedom will accomplish for you?
Synonyms for the word "quit" include: abandon, break-off, chuck, desert, forsake, give-up, leave, push-out, relinquish, resign, surrender and terminate. Abandoning us? Giving up? Forsaking, terminating or quitting ourselves?
As covered in Chapter 2, the real "quitting" took place on the day that nicotine took control of our minds, not the day we decided to take our minds back. The first thing I recommend packing is a healthy and positive mental image of what will be happening during this temporary journey of re-adjustment, taking back control of our mind, "recovering" the real us!
Although it'll feel a bit awkward at first, try replacing the phrase "I'm quitting" with "I'm recovering." I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the calming effect upon needless anxiety generating fears by thinking in terms of taking back, returning and getting, instead of abandoning, forsaking and quitting.
Pack Core Motivations
What is the inner source that allows us to end once mandatory feedings and resume full control of our life? Strength, willpower, desire?
It's natural to think that it's some combination of the three. However in reality, none of us are stronger than our addiction, as clearly evidenced by our inability to live the drug addict's first wish of being able to control the uncontrollable.
Yes, we can each temporarily muster mountains of willpower but can willpower make any of us endure a challenge that we lack the desire to complete? Once nicotine gets inside, all the strength and willpower on earth cannot stop it from traveling to the brain and activating acetylcholine receptors. We cannot beat our dependency into submission, stand toe to toe with it, or handle one hit of nicotine without our brain soon begging for more.
If we are incapable of using strength to control our addiction and we cannot "will" it into hibernation or submission, then what remains?
As simple as it may sound, dreams and desire have always been the fuel of human accomplishment. Born of the honest recognition of nicotine's negative impact upon our minds and lives, desire has the amazing ability to fuel change. But it takes keeping those motivations vibrant and on center-stage, so that they can both consciously and unconsciously stimulate, motivate and fuel our journey home.
Those of us successful in navigating recovery found creative ways to protect and safeguard our dreams and desires. We somehow kept them robust, invigorated and available at a moment's notice. Our core motivations aid in fostering the patience needed to transition an up to 3 minute subconsciously triggered crave episode. They also provide resistance to conscious fixation, the energy and desire to engage in honest reflection about the validity of thoughts of using that linger in our mind.
This temporary period of re-adjustment called recovery is about dreams and desire. It's about protecting the juice of desire, and about keeping the memory and details about living the daily nightmare of nicotine dependency alive. It's about combining well-protected and remembered core motivations with an understanding of the Law of Addiction.
How will we remind ourselves during the heat of battle of the importance of victory? Which desires will control? What will cause us to vividly recall the full price of addiction to nicotine? What will aid us in recalling the prison cell we left behind, our lost pride and self-esteem and the increasing sense of becoming a social outcast? What will help us remember standing at the counter and handing over our money to purchase a chemical that we knew would force us to return to buy more? When challenged, how do we bring that honesty and the desire flowing from it to the forefront of our mind?
Dreams and desire embrace recovery as the stepping-stone to freedom. Why keep ourselves on pins and needles and in fear of challenge when overcoming it rewards us with the return of yet another slice of a life?
Allowing honest dependency memories to keep desire excited and stimulated leaves little room for destructive thinking to take root. It allows this journey to transport us home, to an inner quiet and calm where addiction chatter goes silent, to a tranquility long forgotten.
When packing, be sure to bring along the thousands of negative nicotine use memories that motivated you to begin reading this book. Doing so will provide all the wind your dream's wings will need.
One way to do so is to sit down and write ourselves a caring (or even loving) letter that we can carry with us, pull out during challenge and use as a front-line defense. I know, it sounds a bit silly, doesn't it. But let me tell you something. When our most challenging moment of recovery is upon us and an anxiety riddled mind is seriously considering throwing it all away, it won't seem silly or childish then to reach for one final resource -- "you" -- to remind you why victory here and now is oh so important.
Our instincts may tell us to run, to flee, to try and leave recovery behind. By forgetting to pack bad and ugly dependency memories, we risk allowing our core recovery motivations, and the dreams they fuel to be gradually eroded by challenge and die. Without our core motivations and dreams, we risk the likelihood that our freedom and healing may soon follow. Pack enough food to get you home!
Pack Durable Motivations
Do this for "you," not for others - While wonderful that we'd be willing to attempt recovery because some other person wants us to, navigating battle after battle for someone who isn't in there fighting with us, and who isn't there afterward expressing thanks for our sacrifice, naturally fosters a sense of self-deprivation that can quickly eat away and destroy motivation.
- "My husband can't stand it when I smoke - that's why I'm quitting."
- "My dentist is constantly on me about my dip causing gum disease. I have an appointment next month. I'll quit by then."
- "I'm hooked on nicotine gum and my two teens are telling everyone that their dad is a drug addict. I can' take it anymore. I'll quit to get them off my back."
- "I'm pregnant and just stopped smoking. I did it for the baby."
- "My kids get sick when I smoke in front of them. They cough, sneeze, and nag me to death. I quit for them."
- "My doctor told me not to smoke as long as I am his patient, so I'm quitting to end his threats."
- "I stopped for my dog."
Joel teaches that while each is giving up nicotine, they are doing so for the wrong reason. "While they may have gotten through the initial withdrawal process, if they don't change their primary motivation for abstaining [from nicotine] they will inevitably relapse," wrote Joel in 1984.
Ending nicotine use for someone else pins our success to him or her. Should the person for whom we stopped using do something wrong or disappoint us we have at our disposal the ultimate revenge, relapse. "I deprived myself of my cigarettes for you and look how you pay me back! I'll show you, I'll smoke a cigarette!" As Joel notes from this example, "He will show them nothing. He is the one who will return to smoking and suffer the consequences. He will either smoke until it kills him or have to quit again. Neither alternative will be pleasant."
We can't do this for our doctor, religious leader, parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, best friend, employer, insurance company, support group, pet, some guy who wrote a nicotine cessation book, or for the developing life inside a woman's womb. As for pregnancy, imagine a mother to be in labor, who stopped for the baby, finding herself fixating upon relapse as she convinces herself that she has sacrificed long enough, that the greatest dangers are about to pass.
Sadly, the new baby may never know its mother's natural smell, as it bonds to the odors of the thousands of chemicals each cigarette deposits on the mother's hair, skin and clothing. The mother may find it curious that the baby seems extremely content in the arms of smokers (especially those who smoke her brand), but she probably won't make the connection. Approximately half of women who stop during pregnancy will relapse within six months of giving birth.
While all with whom we share our lives will clearly inherit the fruits of our recovery, it must first and foremost be our gift to us.
Journey for better health, not fear of failing health - While fear of bad or even failing health is often a powerful motivator in causing us to contemplate jumping into the recovery pool, the human body is a healing machine. If allowed, it mends and repairs. What if our primary recovery motivation is escalating fear flowing from noticeable harms? What will happen to related fears if nearly all of our noticeable effects of using quickly improve once we stop? What will happen to our core motivation?
If an oral nicotine user, imagine an end to mouth sores, hair loss and tooth damage. If a nicotine smoker, picture dramatic improvement in sense of smell and a noticeable change in how things taste. Imagine a cough, wheeze or frightening mouth lesion that disappears in a couple of weeks.
While healing is normally an extremely positive thing it depends upon our perspective. If our recovery is driven almost exclusively by fear of failing health, for us it might seem as though our motivational rug is being pulled out from under us as we watch our primary concerns evaporate before our very eyes. It may create fertile ground for such junkie rationalizations as, "I guess smoking hadn't hurt my body as much as I'd thought. I guess it's safe to go back to smoking."
Obviously, we don't correct years of mounting damage to lungs and blood vessels within a few months. Long-term cancer and circulatory disease risks will take years to reverse themselves. But to a mind that commenced recovery primarily due to worries about declining health, a mind that at times may find itself swimming in a sea of smoking related thoughts, the disappearance of a chronic cough or a noticeable increase in lung function may fuel erroneous thinking about the impact of smoking upon our body.
The flip side of fear of declining or poor health is hope for improved health. It may seem like word games but when it comes to packing durable and sustaining motives, motives we can reach for during challenge, it could prove critical.
Instead of using fear of failing health as a motivator, imagine recasting those fears into a dream of seeing how healthy our body can once again become. What if instead of each new health improvement realization eating away at our primary motivation, we looked upon it as a reward that left us wanting to celebrate? Imagine the disappearance of each concern stirring our imagination about the limits of possible improvement?
Again, initially fear is an extremely positive force. It may have been what motivated you to start reading this book. But fear suffers from a lack of sustainability. We can only remain afraid for so long. We can only look at so many photographs of diseased lungs or mouth cancers before growing numb to them.
As to noticeable tobacco related health concerns, why not use their potential for healing and some degree of noticeable improvement as a means of refueling core dreams and desires? These bodies are built for healing. If given the opportunity to heal, those tissues not yet destroyed will mend and repair. Put your body's ability to heal to work for you.
Do it for total savings, not daily cost - The final motivation we may want to consider shifting and recasting is cost. The cost of satisfying the brain's demand for nicotine continues to rise as governments use tobacco tax increases as motivation to induce cessation. Fewer smokers mean that the tobacco industry must charge remaining smokers more money in order to satisfy profit-concerned shareholders. But if the cost of today's supply of nicotine is our primary recovery motivation, what is the actual price of relapse? How much does it cost to bum or be offered a cigarette, cigar, pinch, wad or piece? What's the cost of a single pack, tin, pouch or box? A few dollars?
If we focus upon total savings (or total cost) instead of the cost of our daily or weekly supply, our core motivation is allowed to grow instead of serve as a source of increasing temptation. I just glanced and according to my computer's desktop "quitting meter," at $2.50 per pack (an addict's paradise, South Carolina continues to have the lowest cigarette taxes and cheapest nicotine in America), during the past 9 years, 2 months and 11 days I've saved $25,203.00 (U.S.) by skipping 201,632 once mandatory nicotine feedings. In reality, my savings have been significantly greater.
I was one of those smokers who always thought that tomorrow would be quitting day. As such, I rationalized that purchasing an entire carton would force me to continue smoking, as this hard core addict could not fathom seeing such waste. Nicotine's lifetime loyal slave, how would I have been able to sleep at night knowing that I'd thrown away so many packs of cigarettes and they were there in the trash basket beneath the kitchen sink?
When calculating savings don't forget the price of fuel if travel was necessary to re-supply. What about the value of time? And don't forget tobacco use related doctor visits. While at three packs a day I lived with chronic bronchitis and respiratory illness, including being told I have early emphysema. Prior to my final recovery I had pneumonia two Januarys in a row and six root canals in two years. Amazingly, the madness ended after arresting my dependency. I can't begin to guess at my medical savings but clearly they've been significant. Dream about the big picture and total savings, not just what you'd spend for tomorrow's or next week's supply.
Practice & Pack Patience
Derived from the old French word "pati," which means to suffer or endure, patience is the "quality of being patient in suffering," Ironically, nicotine users suffer from the fact that stimulation of dopamine pathways by external chemicals appears to somehow foster impulsiveness, the opposite of patience.
Aside from physiological foundations, the speed with which each of us are able to introduce a new supply of nicotine, in order to stimulate dopamine pathways that are sensing some degree of nicotine deprivation, psychologically conditions us to develop varying degrees of impatience when it comes to satisfying our dependency.
As we embark upon this temporary journey of re-adjustment, practicing and developing patience can aid us in navigating any moments of challenge during the time needed to complete our journey home.
Challenge patience - Whether confronting a physical withdrawal symptom, struggling with a recovery emotion, encountering an un-extinguished subconscious crave trigger, or fixating on conscious thoughts about using, we must develop the patience to navigate challenge. But how do we do that?
Patience is the ability to navigate anxieties when confronted with challenge. It may be associated with our thinking rational mind learning to say "no" to our primitive impulsive mind. It may be an internal debate within our rational mind and developing the patience to allow honesty and reason to prevail.
Chapter 11 is loaded with coping techniques for handling subconscious crave episodes. Chapter 12 shares tips associated with navigating periods of conscious thought fixation.
Learning to say "no" to a use impulse and enduring a couple of minutes of anxiety may be the most important recovery skill of all. We smokers became conditioned to expect to sense satisfaction of nicotine urges and craves within 8-10 seconds of inhaling a puff of smoke. Is it any wonder then that it may take a few victories before growing comfortable, confident and skilled at saying "no" to nicotine use impulses and rationalizations?
We are climbing back into our mind's driver's seat and taking over the wheel. It's been a while since we were in full control. Have patience! The next few minutes are all that are within our immediate control. The decisions made during those minutes are ours to command.
Journey patience - Recovery is a journey not an event. Online at Freedom's support message boards we often see those in early recovery grow impatient. After only a few weeks we see them pose such concerns as, "Why am I still craving nicotine?" "When will my comfort come?" Some endure a substantial degree of self-inflicted anxiety by intense focus upon the question of how long it will take before they are able to go an entire day without once thinking about wanting to put nicotine back into their bloodstream.
I like to think of it in terms of the time needed to heal a broken bone, but with greater variation from person to person as to the time need for the fracture to fully mend. Every recovery is different. In regard to the psychological aspects of recovery, some will let go and put their relationship with nicotine behind them far sooner than others. Some will cling to varying aspects of it for months, or in some even longer.
Find contentment in today's freedom and healing. It took years to walk this deeply into dependency's forest. Is it realistic to think we can walk out overnight? With patience that day will arrive!
"Big bite" anxieties occur when we perceive that the task before us is bigger than our ability to navigate or endure it. "One day at a time" is a patience development skill that once mastered causes "big bite" anxieties to evaporate.
It is wise when climbing the cliffs of a steep mountain to focus on gaining a solid hold upon the rock beneath our hands, instead of repeatedly looking down at the ground far below. It is wise to focus on where we'll next place our foot, instead of looking far up the mountain toward the dangerous climb ahead. Why intentionally foster anxieties about the length of recovery or the risks associated with failure?
"One day at a time," "Baby steps," and "One hour" or "One challenge at a time" (when first starting out) are patience focus techniques that break large tasks down into entirely manageable events.
How many times have we said, "This time I'm quitting forever!" "Forever" is an awfully big psychological bite that can make any task appear larger than life and nearly impossible.
Picture yourself sitting down at the dinner table and having to eat 67 pounds of beef. Imagine the anxieties associated with thinking we need to eat a large portion of a cow. It sort of destroys the image of a nice juicy steak, doesn't it? Yet the average American consumes 67 pounds of beef annually. Why create needless anxieties by picturing ourselves sitting down and needing to eat the 5,000 pounds of beef that the average American consumes during their life?
I start each seminar with the same two questions. "I need an honest show of hands. How many of you deeply and honestly believe that you'll never, ever smoke another cigarette for the rest of your life." Usually not one hand goes up. I ask everyone to look around and to never forget what he or she is seeing. I then ask, "How many of you deeply and honestly believe that you can go one hour without smoking nicotine?" Every hand goes up.
Why adopt a recovery philosophy that we ourselves don't believe we will succeed in? We already have a building block in which we deeply believe, just one hour or challenge at a time. Soon the hours will build into an entire day!
How does a person recover from a broken bone or nicotine addiction? By allowing oneself to heal, just "one day at a time."
Pack a Positive Attitude
Can we make ourselves miserable on purpose? No doubt about it. Throughout our lives we've experienced worry, fear, anger and irritability, only to find out later that our worries, fears and anxieties were either totally unnecessary or were over little or nothing at all.
My single greatest source of self-inflicted anxiety was from failing to confront my addiction. Although I often dreamed about freedom, I'd reach for that next fix instead.
Addiction isn't about intoxication but about feeling normal, safe and diminishing anxieties fostered by constantly falling levels of the addictive drug within our bloodstream and brain. For we nicotine addicts it's about daily survival inside our chemically induced world of "nicotine normal." It's a world where, like some ping-pong ball, we bounce between slowly escalating anxieties and stimulated "aaah" sensations. When it comes to recovery, our greatest hurdle of all can be moving beyond the influence of memories of the "aaah" side of our world of "nicotine normal."
Nicotine's two-hour chemical half-life creates an endless struggle to remain in that energized "aaah" zone of comfort. It is a daily battle of trying to avoid the inevitable letdown associated with constantly declining reserves, while ensuring that replenishment doesn't deliver so much nicotine that we begin to sense nausea, often the earliest warning sign of overdose.
An endless cycle of fight or flight pathways stimulation whips every nervous system nerve cell like some tired horse. It can leave us feeling tired and drained yet anxious. The answer seems simple. Just use more nicotine and administer another beating. Why? Because we feel that we have to. Insula driven anxieties will begin arriving if we postpone replenishment for too long so we seek the path of least resistance, the quickest possible solution: stimulation "Yes," anxiety "No."
Welcome to the addict's world of "nicotine normal." It's not an adventure. It's a job. Although staying addicted is work, the only alterative - recovery - is seen by the primitive mind as a threat to survival. Even though logic, reason and desire scream that recovery is the only possible solution, our deep subconscious conditioning and hijacked reward pathways (the mind's priorities teacher) see an end to "nicotine normal" as akin to starving ourselves to death.
But the primitive impulsive subconscious mind sees nicotine cessation as quitting "you," not recovering "you." Incapable of reason, it senses a threat and deploys fear, anger, anxiety, and dependency conditioning in a struggle to keep maintenance of "nicotine normal" our number one priority. The stage is set for a tug-o-war. The brain's seat of rational and conscious thought, our frontal lobe, is pulling against our impulsive and primitive inner limbic mind as it attempts to get us to obey what it sees as a survival instinct, and bring more nicotine into our body.
What does all this have to do with attitude? Everything. Although reason may appear to lack the ability to prevail against emotion and conditioning, it has something they don't, intelligence!
We can we use intelligence to destroy fear, to reassure our subconscious compulsive mind that there is absolutely nothing to fear, and to reassure ourselves that coming home is good not bad.
Adding self-induced tensions and anxieties to the recovery experience can make it seem overwhelming. Attitude can escalate our anxieties and fears or serve as a calming influence that relaxes and provides reassurance.
Crave episodes and emotion do not cause relapse. If they did, few of earth's hundreds of millions of comfortable ex-users would ever have broken free and stayed free. What drives relapse is the conscious mind allowing its resolve and commitment to slowly get chipped away by anxiety driven doubts and fears. Eventually, the conscious mind joins the primitive mind in heaping layer upon layer of anxiety icing on recovery's cake.
But the conscious mind is the gatekeeper. Unless dreaming or sleepwalking, only our conscious mind can move the body parts needed to reintroduce nicotine into our bloodstream.
Remember when we were first learning to swim and found ourselves in water over our head? Did you panic? I did. If I had been a skilled swimmer would I have panicked? Of course I wouldn't.
The more knowledgeable and skilled we become the greater our chances of completing this swim called recovery. Yes, there may be a few big waves along the way. But that doesn't mean we should fear their arrival or that we cannot relax and do the backstroke until they are encountered.
It's my hope that you will learn to swim, and that soon the sometimes deep waters of recovery will no longer produce panic. For if we learn to so, we may find recovery to be the most amazing period of self-discovery we've ever experienced. It doesn't need to be nearly as difficult as our instincts are inclined to make it. But sadly, almost half of all smokers are failing to learn to navigate recovery's waters before their addiction costs them their lives.
Many of us genuinely believe that our time is running out and that disaster is about to strike. For far too many, this gut instinct is correct and bad news truly is just around the corner. Others think that plenty of time remains and many will remain in bondage until being forced to exchange their "there is plenty of time left" rationalization for the "it's too late" rationalization.
Reflect on how a positive can-do attitude can reduce self-inflicted stress, worry, anxiety and panic. Evaluate negative thoughts that attempt to penetrate and infect your positive recovery outlook. Put each under honesty's microscope. Reflect upon how repeatedly telling ourselves that recovery "is too hard," "endless" or "near impossible" can eat away at our dreams and desires to live nicotine free. Instead, why not allow our dreams to feel the influence of celebrating each challenge overcome and moment of continuing freedom!
Picture a plugged-in lamp but without a light bulb and with the switch turned off. Picture yourself intentionally sticking your finger into the bulb socket and leaving it there. Now picture all of your subconscious nicotine feeding cues being wired directly into the lamp's on-off switch.
If we know that we are going to encounter a nicotine use cue that will trigger an anxiety packed crave episode, but we don't know when it will next occur, what will leaving our finger in the socket all day do to our nerves? Will it keep us on edge? Will the constant sense of anticipation breed anxiety that has us lashing-out against anyone walking into the room? Will we feel like crying? Will our worry and concern keep us from concentrating on other things? Will it wear us down and possibly drain our spirit?
Conversely, what if we know for certain that when a shock comes that it will always be tolerable, that no crave episode will ever harm us, cut us, make us bleed, break our bones, make us ill or kill us? What if we know that the crave episode will not last longer than three minutes? What if we understand and appreciate that the only way to reclaim all aspects of life is to meet, greet and extinguish nicotine use conditioning? What if we know that each nicotine use cue extinguished will reward us with the return of another aspect of our life?
Can honesty, certainty, confidence, understanding, planning and attitude make the time and distance between challenges more relaxed? Alternatively, can we allow our thinking to become so infected by fear and anxiety that it becomes the instrument of our defeat?
Instead of intensely focusing upon any anxiety discomfort that we feel once the light switch is turned on and the crave episode arrives, why not focus on learning to relax more during the massive amount of time that the switch is actually off? Why not take your finger out of the socket? If we keep feeding ourselves the thought that recovery is too hard, should we be surprised when our emotions make us feel that it is?
Why feed our mind failure? Why fear the swim and worry needlessly when some of us are not even in the water yet? Why assist our impulsive mind in breeding negative and powerful anxieties?
Abandon negativism when it appears. Replace it with the beauty of again seeing what life is like with us in the driver's seat. Replace it with total confidence that we can navigate any three-minute crave episode. Replace it with the assurance that many subconscious nicotine use cues are extinguished after a single encounter. Fight back with reason, logic and dreams. Look forward with confidence while knowing that nothing of value is being left behind, that nicotine will no longer define who you are, that you will control your remaining time on earth, not some addictive chemical.
Embrace recovery as a wonderful journey back to the rich, deep, and tranquil inner calmness that resided inside our mind prior to nicotine taking control. See the cup as full not empty, this adventure as a beginning, not "the end."
Allow yourself to grow stronger, not weaker. Let honesty silence addiction chatter, destroy fears, and diminish anxieties. Picture your brain and tissues healing, extra money in your pockets, with more free time to spend it.
Only action, not thought, can rob us of victory. Why allow a negative attitude to breed thoughts that can culminate in relapse? Instead, marvel in the glory of taking back your mind and life!
Know How to Measure Victory
Today vs. forever - We've already reviewed "One Day at a Time" as a patience development skill but it can also serve as a yardstick and means for measuring full and complete victory. Although I've remained 100% nicotine-free for nearly a decade, if we both remain 100% free tomorrow, your day's worth of freedom will have been no longer, shorter or less real than mine. We will have been equals in remaining just one hit of nicotine away from relapse. When our heads hit our pillows, if a new ex-user, your day likely brought you significantly greater recovery challenge than mine. Still, we were equals in results. We both achieved full and complete victory today.
Many fail at breaking free because they sell themselves on the lie that the mountain is just too big to climb. Still, it doesn't stop them from trying. Every few years they'll take a few steps, stop and decide that it's still too big.
We can't build a beautiful wall with just one brick, receive a new baby after one month of pregnancy, obtain a college degree with just one class, or cook a delicious holiday dinner in a few short minutes. Imagine getting half the meal cooked and then fleeing the kitchen, or building half a wall and walking away. Going the distance in life is normal. Swimming half way across the river and stopping is not.
How do we build a wall? We build it one brick at a time. Why not take pride in every brick that's laid? Managing impatience can be as simple as making the task smaller and savoring victory sooner.
If we only see victory in terms of "quitting forever," then on which day do allow ourselves to celebrate? Why wait until we are dead to celebrate? Who is coming to that party? Instead, consider adopting a recovery philosophy that celebrates each and every day that we remain free and healing.
One Day at a Time - As Joel notes in his article entitled "One Day at a Time," "this concept is taught by almost all programs which are devoted to dealing with substance abuse or emotional conflict of any kind. The reason that it is so often quoted is that it is universally applicable to almost any traumatic situation."
"One day at a time" is a focus skill. It allows us to declare total victory within 24 hours, while focusing on tomorrow's objectives tomorrow. It encourages abandonment of all victory standards that fail to permit celebration today.
Think about the needless anxieties and postponed satisfactions of those who insist that victory can only occur if they stop using nicotine for the rest of their lives. When we first end nicotine use our brain's hijacked priorities teacher (our dopamine pathways), have us convinced that nicotine is central to our ability to function, and that life without it will be horrible.
Forget about tomorrow. Why not end nicotine use for just one day, today! The fact is that, if we don't stay free today, all of our worry and concern about tomorrow is wasted emotion.
When we take our recovery just one day at a time, it isn't long before we will have reclaimed from our addiction so many aspects of our lives that we'll begin to consider the possibility that everything we did while nicotine's slave, can be done as well or better without it.
As Joel notes, we'll be forced to realize that our thoughts of what life would be like as an ex-user were wrong, that there is life afterwards and that "it is a cleaner, calmer, fuller and, most importantly, a healthier life."
Once residing here on "Easy Street," occasional thoughts of wanting to use nicotine may become so brief and mild that they seem almost laughable. It may feel like our "one day at a time" recovery philosophy has done its job and outlived its usefulness. Joel cautions us not to abandon it. He warns that like never-users, now and then ex-users have horrible days too, including possibilities of significant stress at home or work. A growing sense of complacency could also leave us toying with temptation in social situations.
Regardless of our emotions or the situation, when confronted by serious temptation to introduce nicotine into the bloodstream, reflect upon the one guiding principle that made breaking free possible, a principle that if followed guarantees continuing freedom … no nicotine today.
Create Relapse Insurance
While "one day at a time" is an excellent victory yardstick, jotting down a few calendar notes or diary entries about the challenges overcome, in earning each daily victory, may prove extremely beneficial to you later. Why?
How much would we be willing to pay for an insurance policy that would guarantee that we'd never relapse and that we'd remain nicotine-free for the remainder of our lives? Sorry but there is no way on earth to 100% guarantee that a former nicotine addict will not ingest that one hit of nicotine that leads to full-blown relapse. However, we can take steps to enhance our chances of staying free, including the gift of memory.
We've all heard that "those who forget the past are destined to repeat it." It's hard to imagine a situation where it rings truer than when applied to drug relapse. We tend to repress and inhibit negative emotional memories and emotional experiences in general. It makes sense that the mind should remember and replay the good times while forgetting the bad. A vivid picture of all the pain, anxiety and hurt of all our yesterdays would be a heavy burden to bear.
Why should we want to vividly recall the first few days of recovery, which might reflect a blend of frustrations, anxieties, crave episodes, anger, bargaining and sadness? Going back a bit further, why should we want to recall the daily emotions associated with being an actively feeding drug addict, the feelings of bondage, the worries about our health, and the recurring wish to break free.
It is wise to write down and make a record of both our reasons for wanting to break nicotine's grip upon us, and what the first two weeks of recovery were like, in all of its full-blown glory. We can carry our reasons list with us and read it during challenges. Our record of the first two weeks of recovery may be as simple as a few notes on a calendar, a pad or an e-mail that we send to ourselves.
Between months one and three it isn't unusual to hit a period where recovery seems to have reached a plateau, where we no longer sense improvement. We may feel stuck in conscious thought fixation, wondering if it's going to remain this way for good, if the rose bud has stopped opening.
Imagine being able to then and there look back and read our own progress notes of what each day was like. Like having a medical chart during a hospital stay, our record can provide us with an accurate perspective of how far we've come and can help calm any concerns that recovery's final leg isn't moving fast enough. Although at times nearly impossible to see, the rose bud is still opening, that is a promise.
The mind suppresses negatives and forgets. Ink on paper or words typed into a computer do not. The way to stay free isn't by forgetting what it was like to live life as a nicotine addict or the challenges of early recovery but by remembering them so as to never have to repeat them.
Give yourself a little relapse insurance. Permanently preserve and pack core your recovery motivations and a bit of what life in bondage was like. As your journey continues, make a few progress notes. They can provide support and perspective during challenge, progress lulls or complacency.
Know Where to Refuel
Challenge and time can erode and wear-down dreams and desires but opportunities abound to reinvigorate our recovery and add wind beneath our wings. Imagination is the only limit in identifying sources of motivation and support.
Ex-users - Ex-users can serve as an experienced source of support. Most ex-users we know already reside here on Easy Street. A word of caution, though, about ex-users; their memories of the challenges of early recovery have likely been suppressed. While most will have forgotten the bad, some will have retained a few nicotine use rationalizations and kept alive associated "aaah" sensation memories. Others will now look back upon their years of nicotine use as having been "vile, disgusting, expensive, stupid, crazy" or insane. As such, they may look back at breaking free as having been common sense, no big deal, a non-event or easy.
Ask ex-users how long it has been since their last significant challenge. Try to get them to put a date on it. Ask them how long the challenge lasted and what it felt like. How intense was it? Then ask them about the time before that. Again, try to get them to be accurate in dating and describing it. A few follow-up questions and I think you'll discover that the event was really a non-event, that it left very little impression.
Ask what they like most about being free. How did it change their life? Did their success influence others still using? Ask what they think about while watching others use nicotine. What do they miss most? Try to identify any lingering romantic fixations. Reflect upon the honesty of each. Reflect on how this ex-user succeeded even though they refused to let go of this rationalization. Imagine life inside their mind if they had. Think about how it may place them at greater risk for relapse.
Current-users - Carefully watching users can be motivational. Sometimes we are able to identify them by smell even before seeing them light up. Watch that first deep puff. Watch it arrive in their brain within 10 seconds. While doing so, keep in mind that they are not replenishing to tease you. They do so because they must.
Watch for windows rolled down in surrounding vehicles if you find yourself suddenly stopped in traffic. If a smoker, what might have motivated this nicotine feeding? Like Pavlov's dogs, have they conditioned their subconscious to expect nicotine replenishment when driving? Could it be that traffic anxieties are turning their body fluids more acidic, causing more rapid depletion of reserves of the alkaloid nicotine? It's the same acid-alkaloid interaction seen during anger or when consuming alcohol. Watch their arm extend out of the vehicle's window to try and keep toxins from burning their eyes. Where does their non-biodegradable cigarette butt go, with its bundle of 12,000 plastic-like cellulose acetate fibers, once replenishment is complete?
Society is increasingly treating those of us still in bondage us as social outcasts. Notice the smokers standing around outside of buildings in the cold, heat, night, wind or rain. Carefully watch their gestures and posture. It's almost as if they want all who see them to believe that the only reason they are outside is to enjoy the wonderful health benefits of the great outdoors. But smoke's toxic cloud betrays us.
Watch them at the store counter when re-supplying. Are they buying a one-day supply or more? Are you witnessing a daily event in their life? Reflect upon their choices. If already in recovery yourself, what are the odds that this person might be envious of you? According to a 2007 Gallop Poll of U.S. smokers, 74% of those polled said they would like to give up smoking and 67% consider themselves addicted.
The beauty of using unsuspecting current-users to recharge our motivational batteries is that they won't disappoint us. They wear their chemical addiction, or it may be more appropriate to say that it wears them. None awoke this morning and decided to put it on. In fact it's nearly impossible to locate any dependent user who awoke one day and said, "Hey! Today I'm going to get hooked on nicotine!"
Never-users - When first starting out, if willing to share our decision, we'll likely have family, friends and possibly co-workers offering support and encouragement. Their simple words of praise can inspire and make us look forward to more of the same. But be extremely careful not to develop support expectations of them, to lean on them, or to make their praise or comments a crutch.
y daughters were both excited the first couple of days during the attempt prior to my final recovery effort. Their encouragement and delight was uplifting but then it suddenly ended. They had constantly been on my back about quitting. They would walk 10-15 feet in front or behind me to avoid my smoke, but now I felt more abandoned by their lack of support than I did when they wouldn't walk with me. I had leaned upon them far too much for encouragement. I had also made their desire that I stop one of my core motivations. Both were mistakes; mistakes that left me feeling deprived of support, motivation and my drug.
Why had they abandoned me? After relapsing I confronted them. "Dad, we didn't want to bring it up anymore because we thought that you'd already quit, and we didn't want to remind you and make you keep thinking about smoking."
My girls taught their dad that it isn't fair to expect someone who has never been chemically addicted to appreciate the recovery process.
Invite never-users to be part of your support team but be sure to educate them. Let them know that helping you stay focused for the next 90 days would be fantastic but don't count on them being there. See their support as dessert, never the main meal.
Industry marketing - Store tobacco marketing becomes sadly laughable to the trained eye. Extremely effective, it's a multi-purpose facade through which educated eyes can easily see. The growth portion of its aim is to tease, entice and invite youth experimentation. The pacifying part is to provide justification to dependency-ignorant users as to why they've returned to purchase more. And then there are those seeking freedom. It not only proclaims why they shouldn't, it all but wraps itself around them while trying to purchase fuel, food or medicine. Its aim is to penetrate, stir, inflame and contribute to relapse.
Flavor, pleasure, to be true, cool, our gateway to friendship, for adventure, rebellion or unbelievable prices, it shouts that we stand at that counter for every reason except the truth, which is because we must, because mounting nicotine depletion anxieties begin to hurt when we don't.
Think like a tobacco company. Look closely. What subliminal message does each ad or display attempt to pound into the subconscious mind?
Where does the "responsible" nicotine merchant provide notice that this chemical may be more addictive and harder to beat than heroin or cocaine, or that it may only take smoking nicotine once or twice to hook us for life? Feel the industry's economic muscle. It is not only flexed here but making significant campaign contributions inside our legislature. Why would society and its laws allow the nicotine addiction industry to suggest all these reasons for using, yet not require equally prominent display of the truth?
What tobacco company won the bidding war at this location? Look at row after row of the same packs or cartons. The winner's products are usually the ones on top and most visible. Look closely. When are our conscious and subconscious minds first assaulted by use invitations? Are there roadside signs, signs on top of gas pumps, tied to lamp posts, window signs, exterior building wall signs, door signs, signs hanging above candy racks, signs surrounding us as we make our purchase, or on the door as we exit?
What is the real purpose of the large yellow "We Card" or other similar sign at the checkout counter announcing that the store requires age identification before selling tobacco? Once secret industry documents suggest that the carding sign's primary purpose is to clobber neighborhood youth with the ongoing tease that tobacco use is a sign of adulthood, a rite of passage, that it is what "real" grown-ups do.
Look at the hundreds of brightly colored packs, boxes, cartons, tins, cans, bags, pouches and tubes. Collectively they ooze the impression that users can't wait to awaken each day so we can run down to the store and try a new flavor. You're looking at bait and it works.
Strip away the rainbow of colors, the fancy packaging and the almost 700 documented tobacco flavor additives. Instead see a vast array of different doses of nicotine, engineered to penetrate human tissues at varying rates of speed. Turn store marketing on its head. Instead of being used by it, use it as another motivation for staying free.
Social controls - How did you react to anti-smoking news stories or to stories about new tobacco health concerns? Did you instantly change the channel, turn the page, or otherwise tune out? The news stories that once fed our anxieties and creative use rationalizations now offer us a potential source of motivation to help keep us clean and free.
In case you haven't noticed, there is a movement sweeping the globe as workers and non-smokers reclaim their indoor air. We're seeing stories of smoking being banned on all hospital property, in parks, playgrounds, outdoor sporting events, on beaches, in hotel rooms, and even in company or government owned vehicles. We've now seen proposed legislation attempt to ban smoking in all vehicles transporting a child and increasingly it is factoring into family court child custody, visitation and child abuse determinations.
Science is awakening to the realization that there may not be a living cell in the entire human body that isn't somehow touched by tobacco toxins. We're now watching employers not only discriminate in refusing to hire tobacco users but some actually firing employees testing positive for nicotine, after affording them a period of time to break-free.
Fuel and living costs are now rising faster than income. Many parents are increasingly confronted with the choice of buying food for their children or nicotine for their addiction. They also face tobacco tax increases by governments that place coercion and force above education and support.
Whether we accept or deplore the way society treats those still in bondage, news of the latest assault upon them no longer need be an assault upon us too. Personally I find it offensive that "most" politicians seem to either accept tobacco industry campaign contributions or see those still enslaved as a dependable source of tax revenue. Yes, there are some who seem to understand and want to help but they are far too few.
You! - Clearly, your most dependable source of support is you! Your three most valuable motivational assets will be:
- Your memories of life as an actively feeding nicotine addict;
- Your reasons for wanting to be free; and
- Accurate memories of early recovery challenges that will allow you to quickly see how far you've come.
Again, this journey is packed with emotion and we need to anticipate significant memory suppression. Finding quality ways to preserve these memories and having them available during any significant challenge is like owning the finest battery re-charger the world has ever known.
These sources are available to us whether our nicotine use was heavy or light, long or short, out in full view for the world to see or the best kept secret on earth.
Closet users - Think about the closet nicotine addict. If a secret user, our family and friends either never knew we were hooked, or were told that we successfully broke free long, long ago. Aside from all the lies each of us told ourselves to rationalize that next mandatory feeding, the closet user lives and breathes the need to constantly deceive the world around them.
If a recovering ex-closet-user, we can now not only celebrate self-honesty but also the tremendous relief and joy of at last being honest with those we love. Having lived in near constant fear of being exposed, whether or not we at last come clean and share our secret, the emotional rewards of no longer living a lie can themselves be extremely supportive.
If a closet ex-user, where can we turn for support when our world thinks that we don't smoke, dip or chew? Who will share in our recovery celebrations?
Internet refueling - Bookmark the link and spend time here at Freedom from Nicotine. If just starting out, spend time
reading the posts of members who already residing here on Easy Street. If a long-term ex-user spend time reading the posting of new arrivals. Doing so will
help remind you of just how far you've come. Also visit and explore www.WhyQuit.com .
WhyQuit is broken down into three categories. The left column contains links to motivational articles, the center column contains links to educational materials and the right column is the gateway to free online support. The site is totally free, sells nothing, declines donations and is staffed entirely by volunteers.
WhyQuit's motivation column includes stories of the ordeals endured by young tobacco victims and their families. Roughly one-quarter of smokers are claimed by their addiction during middle age, each an average of 22.5 years early. Clearly, WhyQuit intentionally shares stories about the youngest of the young. It does so in an attempt to get visitors to appreciate that predicting who tobacco will harm and at what age is like playing Russian roulette.
The center education column is home to all of Joel's materials and to some of my articles. Here you'll find every lesson shared in Joel's book, more than 100 short articles on nearly every recovery topic imaginable. You'll also find links to his free electronic e-book "Never Take Another Puff" and his 64 video counseling lessons (most formatted as audio files for listening as well).
The right column provides support links and transports visitors to "Freedom," the Internet's most serious and focused peer support group. Here, education always comes first. It must. We discovered very early that a forum's ability to support and sustain recovery in a purely pep-rally type environment is poor. While the initial excitement of interacting with other ex-users is often tremendous, it eventually begins to wane. As it does, the forum's value and effectiveness in supporting successful recovery diminishes. No education to fall back upon, group relapse rates were horrible.
If a visitor here to Freedom, please understand that you do not need to join in order to read the forum's materials, as 100% are viewable by all. While many choose not to join they still often feel like part of the family and gain the same insights and master the same lessons as those who actively participate.
Freedom functions as a virtual classroom with enormous windows where there are more students outside than in. The forum limits the number of new members admitted to the group each day to just a handful. Maintaining positive control over the number of admissions ensures a classroom type learning experience, prevents chaos, and makes sure that the forum's seasoned volunteer educators are not overwhelmed.
Every message posted at Freedom must relate to recovery. General socialization is not permitted, including celebration of birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. Clearly, Freedom isn't a forum to join if seeking to socialize or make new friends. Millions of annual tobacco related deaths, the forum takes its mission seriously. Its objective is simple: aid visitors in remaining nicotine-free today.
There must be at least one place on planet earth where nicotine has no voice. Those applying for membership must certify that they stopped cold turkey, without use of any product or procedure, that they have remained 100% nicotine free for a minimum of 72 hours, and although it may sound harsh, applicants must agree to abide by Freedom's relapse policy. It states that should any member relapse that they will permanently lose message board posting privileges. The policy encourages members to take recovery seriously.
One final point deserves mention. The forum's posting rules prohibit mention of any commercially sold book, product,
diet or procedure. All of our materials are made freely available here at Freedom and WhyQuit. The forum was built around the concept that every recovery
lesson be made freely available to all without cost or obligation. As such, the forum does not permit any suggestion that any reader need spend any money or
make any purchase in order to succeed.
Recovery meters - WhyQuit and Freedom offer visitors links to free stop smoking meters. These are small computer programs that are either downloaded to and installed on our computer, or designed for use while online. In either case, once we type in our tobacco use history (how often we smoked, the purchase price and the day we stopped), most will calculate the number of days, months and years we've remained smoke-free, the amount of money we've saved, and if a smoker the total number of cigarettes we have not smoked and either the amount of life expectancy that we have so far reclaimed or the amount of time not spent smoking.
Most meters allow us to copy their calculations to our computer's clipboard for transporting and pasting into e-mails, documents created with our word processing program or for sharing on Internet message boards. Like a car's odometer, they're a fun way of tracking, marking and measuring our journey home. Links to free meters can be found at both WhyQuit and Freedom.
Support limits - The above recovery support suggestions will hopefully stir your thinking. The only limit to identifying additional ways of keeping our recovery dreams fueled and vibrant is the limits of our imagination. Our objective is simple. It's to stay sufficiently motivated to allow the time needed for recovery. But whether today is good or bad, whether we feel motivated or not, our freedom and healing will continue so long as we abide in one guiding principle … no nicotine today!
Destroy All Remaining Nicotine
As nicotine addicts, we grew accustomed to playing mind games with our addiction. One such game is to keep nicotine on hand after we quit for the purported purpose of proving we are stronger than our addiction or just in case we need it. However this practice often contributes to relapse. Some carry their nicotine delivery devices with them while others knowingly keep a stash within quick and easy reach.
The smart move is to destroy all remaining nicotine. Whether located in a pocket of your clothing hanging in your closet, in your other purse, hidden in the yard, in a desk drawer at work, or in a vehicle, destroy it. Don't forget to empty the ashtray in the garage, to check for cigarettes that may have fallen under furniture, beneath sofa or chair cushions or under the car seat, and throw out all old nicotine replacement products in the bedroom or bathroom. Keeping nicotine in your life is contrary to learning to live life without it.
Imagine someone on suicide watch carrying a loaded gun. Why carry a gun while waiting on the urge to use it?
We'll never be stronger than nicotine but then we don't need to be. Our weapon is our intelligence. Feeling a need to tempt and toy with impulsiveness in order to prove conscious strength reflects abandonment of intelligence.
If we truly wish to reclaim our life then why toy with quick access to nicotine as though it is some lifejacket? It's a jacket, all right, but not one that saves. It is a straightjacket. Reaching for that one hit of nicotine will cause us to trade places with our arrested dependency, again landing us behind bars.
Throwing out all sources of nicotine buys you a few minutes of time to think about what you are about to do as you consider heading to the store to buy a new supply. Cue triggered crave episodes peak within a couple of minutes. A bit of delay may be all that's needed to sense anxieties begin to diminish and destroy another nicotine use association. Yes, one more piece of the puzzle is ours.
"Don't ever forget how cigarettes once controlled your behaviors and beliefs," writes Joel. "When you quit smoking you admitted cigarettes controlled you. You were literally afraid that one puff could put you back. That was not an irrational fear. One puff today will lead to the same tragic results as it would have the day you quit. Cigarettes were stronger than you before, and, if given the chance, will be stronger than you again. If you want to show you are now in control, do it by admitting you can function without having cigarettes as a worthless and dangerous crutch."
You'll do just fine even if your employment requires you to be near or handle nicotine products, or if you live with someone who insists upon leaving their cigarettes, cigars, dip, chew or NRT lying around. It simply means that you will learn to adapt to those situations more quickly than those who do not face them.
Mind games involving conscious temptation are within our ability to control. If you want to play mind games, play at being smart! Crush,
throw-out or flush all remaining nicotine. It's an excellent means of proclaiming that the time for games is over, that, at last, we're coming home!
Exerpts from a free pdf book by Polito JR entitled
"Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home"
Copyright 2008 John R. Polito
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