Seems to be a common occurrence... Usually, somewhere between say 4 weeks and 4 months, sometimes a tad earlier, occasionally a bit later, we reach a hurdle. We've been through withdrawal. We've gotten ourselves really good at reconditioning triggers. But, something's still lingering. I've seen it described as a sense of doubt, a dread, a dark cloud. It's threatening. It's frightening.
Here's my take. And, it's based in part on the grieving process associated with giving up nicotine described in this post (Emotional Loss Experienced from Quitting Smoking), but not entirely. I believe the hurdle we reach has to do with the bridge from depression (the 4th phase of the grieving process) to acceptance (the 5th and final phase). Crossing that bridge is the final major hurdle, and many of us find ourselves with our feet stuck in the muck of depression as we struggle with what appears to be a daunting crossing.
During our pre-quit, our withdrawal, and our early trigger reconditioning, we deal with heavy doses of the first 3 stages (denial, anger, bargaining). It's not always pleasant, but it IS something we can sink our teeth into. There's something to push against. As long as we've got a tangible enemy to fight, things tend to be, if not pleasant, exciting and clear-cut. Meet your enemy head on.... defeat it with truth, and sometimes sheer stubbornness.
Then.... gradually, the struggle lessens. Comfort begins to kick in. We discover, "hey! this is doable!"
as we sit there, face to face with the prospect of our own success:
--The tangible struggle fades. Triggers happen, but they're fewer and farther between. We know how to deal with them now, and we recognize that they're temporary. Physical withdrawal seems a distant memory. The excitement is over. It's just me and my life, and it's time to get on with it. And, nicotine isn't a part of it. Neither is "quitting" -- I DID quit. In some ways it's like the aftermath of hosting a big party. The madness of preparation, the fun of the festivities... then, everyone's gone home, and there's just clean-up to do, and work the next day.
--We ponder our success. We ponder our identity. We're on the verge of making a transition. We've been a "smoker who's quitting" for weeks, maybe months. But, now we're feeling the comfort. We know it's doable in terms of winning the battles. We've won so many.... but, now we're at the point where something is suddenly becoming very real.... our identity as an ex-smoker... Success.
This is acceptance... and for many of us, it's terrifying! In some respects, it's simply another form of junky reasoning. But, in this case, it hits where we're still most vulnerable... our identity... our self-confidence.
"I've smoked through everything. Every celebration. Every crisis. Every monotonous moment of boredom, every study session, after meals, during the drive, after shopping, after making love, at the bar, in the bathroom, at my desk, on my porch, with Jim Bob, with Sue, with my lawyer, with my doctor, after work, during breaks, at football games, at weddings. Smoking was part of my life through every difficulty, no matter how horrific, or inconsequential. I wanted to quit badly, but deep down inside, I wonder, "can I really do this forever? Can I really manage to forge a new life for myself where I do all of the things that make up my day-to-day living without that constant security blanket?"
We question a future where celebrations and defeats, excitement and boredom are experienced without the presence of the powerful drug to which we were actively addicted for years. We question our mettle. We've made it this far, and we've proven to ourselves that it's doable. But, now we're playing for keeps. This is for good. This is permanent. Can we imagine the rest of our life as an ex-smoker?
It feels particularly difficult when we're going through it for a couple of reasons.
1) we haven't had to struggle that hard lately, and it catches us unprepared.
2) the very nature of the transition -- acceptance of yourself as an ex-smoker -- is rooted in permanence. Where before, the struggles were day-to-day, this is suddenly about me vs. eternity.