I originally wrote the following in the The Teaching of Conventional Wisdom at Freedom, but think it deserves a string of its own. It seems not a day goes by that the "Hell Week" term is not used by members, new and old alike. For over two years here at Freedom I watched this term used over and over again and basically ignored it. I don't really believe in the idea of "Hell Week." This is another one of those conventional wisdoms that are big elsewhere but do not necessarily play out to be true in the real world.
Do some people go through rough times the first seven days of quitting? Yes, some people do. But there are people who toss them on day one, have no real major complaints and basically never look back. I have one man in my current clinic who came in day one and said this is it, he is done with smoking and that is all there is to it. He wasn't planning on having any trouble. I tried to warn him that it may not go as easily as he was anticipating, although at times for some people it does go this easily. Well it turned out that in his case he was right. Usually I will get a few people in a group who quit with relative ease, although it is not always the people who think it is going to go this way. If I were to perpetuate the idea of "hell week," most people would experience tough times even if they were not actually destined to have a hard time this time around, and those who didn't have a hard time would think that there was something wrong with them.
The other problem I have with the term "hell week" is the fact that while the first three days pose a real threat of causing physical withdrawal symptoms--by the fourth day, if these effects have occurred, they will usually now be subsiding. By the fourth day most people will really start to feel good. The term "Hell Week" is giving the impression that times are still "hellish" on days four through seven.
I am about to graduate a group tonight who have been off smoking for just 13 days. If they are like the majority of other groups, most will be coming in happy, feeling healthier and quite shocked that they have actually pulled off a quit. But even when I saw them last Monday, when they were all only off 6 days, it was quite evident to all in the room that nobody was going through "hell" at that point. All of them all ready were having noticeable physical improvements over when they smoked, most were already calmer and had more energy, most were already experiencing only a fraction of the thoughts for cigarettes that they normally experienced while they were still smoking.
One week that the term "Hell Week" is a more accurate description surrounding smoking is the week that a person finds out they have lung cancer, or ends up in a hospital after a heart attack, or ends up partially paralyzed or unable to speak from a stroke, or the day a person starts on oxygen, or the day a person ends up on a burn ward from a fire they started with their own cigarette, or the day a person dies suddenly or unexpectedly from a smoking induced incident.
Even in these cases though the term "Hell Week" is an inaccurate assessment of time. These people may end up going though weeks or months of what they consider hellish experiences and still sometimes end up losing the battle to save their lives. In the case of sudden death, "Hell Week" doesn't apply either, at least not for the deceased individual himself or herself but likely for the family and friends left behind. The suffering and sadness of these family members and friends will not likely end on day eight either, they will be facing the sadness of the smokers premature loss for a long time to come.
I guess the closest a week may be considered "Hell Week" in regards to smoking is the week a person relapses. That is the week they have to admit failure to everyone they know, unless they start their new lives living the lie of being closet smokers, which creates it own problems that last a whole lot longer than a week. This is the week that they start to smell like hell again, and possibly start to experience perceivable detrimental effects again. This is the week that they start paying exorbitant prices for a product that is attacking their heart, lungs, self-respect, self-esteem, start to make them question their own intelligence or their own common sense, and affect the ways other people view them. In the case of the closet smokers who eventually gets caught, it also threatens their basic honesty and integrity for they are living a lie now and are always afraid of being exposed.
The week a person relapses may be hellish but the problems posed by smoking will not end in seven days for them either, but rather get perpetually worse as the days, months and years pass while maintaining the active addiction to nicotine. To end the hellish experience of being a smoker is as simple as knowing not for seven days, but for the rest of your life to never take another puff!.