It’s been a while since I quit smoking cigarettes that it’s hard to remember what it’s like to smoke at all.
It’s difficult to know the exact reason I began smoking cigarettes. Up until the age of 19, I had never touched a cigarette.
All I can say is I was young, impressionable and just wanted to fit in.
I originally smoked just to try it. Then I ‘tried’ it several more times until I unwittingly made it a habit.
I would wake up following an evening of smoking feeling my throat had been clamped in a vice all night. This vicious cycle continued on for some time.
Eventually I realised smoking was only taking away and giving nothing back. For some this realisation comes too late. Fortunately, I had the realisation early on and chose to address it.
Millions of people smoke every day and understand the health risks associated with it.
Today tobacco companies are compelled by law to state these risks explicitly on cigarette packets: ‘Smoking kills’ or ‘Smoking lowers fertility.’ They even have pictures of lungs ravaged by smoke. Yet most people ignore the warnings.
We do this because as human beings we have our self-deception mechanism – rationalisation.
We can rationalise just about anything as long as it fits our narrative of the world. And I used to rationalise everything about smoking.
I told myself I was a ‘social smoker’:
I didn’t smoke that much – only when I drank alcohol. The problem was I drank pretty often. And it was usually accompanied by a cigarette.
I liked the rush.
Our ego driven society wants instant gratification and resorts to the external to change the way we feel, instead of looking within.
When your mind is controlled by the ego it’s easy to tell rationalise almost anything. Even ones perpetuating a self-destructive habit like smoking.
One day I had a rare moment of clarity. And I could see myself for who I really was and I didn’t like it.
I was a hypocrite: I had a clean diet, I lifted weights and otherwise looked after my body. So why the fuck was I smoking?
Finally, I could no longer lie to myself, look people in the eye and tell them I cared about my health.
It was time to quit smoking.
I recognised smoking was simply a habit I developed. And like any habit it can be broken and replaced with a new one.
So I began my attempt(s) to quit smoking.
I’d go weeks without smoking and then have an ‘innocent’ drink. But a small amount of alcohol set the wheels in motion. It gave me cravings to smoke and before I knew it, I had a cigarette in my mouth.
The next day I’d feel terrible. Not just from smoking , but because I broke a promise to myself to quit smoking. Double whammy!
I kept sabotaging my own attempts to quit smoking. Again and again. I carried on this way for months on end.
However, I did have one positive realisation after failing several times. I hated failing and feeling like a hypocrite.
In order to make dramatic changes in your life, you have to reach breaking point.
Eventually my desire to quit became so deep, I was willing to do whatever it took to succeed.
A New Strategy
This time I decided on a new strategy; I saw people using nicotine patches and wanted to try. Although, I ended up doing something very different.
I went to see a doctor and asked him to prescribe nicotine patches. I said I found it difficult to resist cravings, especially when I drank alcohol.
The doctor gave me some advice I’ll never forget. He told me I didn’t need nicotine patches. If alcohol gave me cravings then I should stop drinking temporarily. And that I would learn a lot about myself in the process.
The following evening was a Saturday night, so I decided to test out the doctor’s theory. I abstained from booze and cigarettes.
It was strange to find myself in a bar not drinking any alcohol. The cravings for cigarettes didn’t disappear, but they were greatly diminished.
Finally, I could see a way out.
I now understood habits usually have other enabling habits behind them. Like a domino effect, if you break an enabling habit you kill another habit.
My brain clearly associated alcohol with smoking. Therefore, once I quit alcohol things became easier.
My intention was to quit alcohol only temporarily. But on the journey I discovered I didn’t need alcohol in my life. Because it didn’t contribute anything positive.
I also knew being around cigarette smoke set off my cravings. So I stopped going out and hanging around with other smokers.
It was already hard enough to resist temptation. And will power only lasts so long.
It took several weeks of this before I could honestly say I didn’t want a cigarette.
It was at this point I felt I could call myself a former smoker and at the age of 26 I finally quit.
I had released myself from smoking’s death grip.
What Happened When I Quit Smoking
I exercised throughout my time smoking and thought I was in good shape. But I was just deceiving myself. Despite training hard, I still got out of breath easily.
But within a few months of quitting smoking my performance in the gym went through the roof.
Now I found I could push myself harder and longer. Smoking severely restricts circulation. Improved circulation = greater pump.
My skin had a scaly texture to it when I was smoking. Once I quit, my skin gradually became clearer and smoother.
My teeth were no longer stained from smoke. My breath was fresher and my clothes didn’t stink!
Around the same time I quit smoking, I began to meditate regularly. Mediation gave me a long-lasting feeling of calm and relaxation.
This was in contrast to the transient hit of smoking, which left as soon as the nicotine rush wore off.
My anxiety levels were lower because I wasn’t trying to recover from nicotine highs.
I believing quitting smoking also release some pain and guilt. You’d feel pain and guilt if you killed another human being. And when you smoke you’re kill yourself.
In hindsight it was such a simple fix: Stop drinking alcohol to eliminate cravings for cigarettes.
Some things in life things are right in front of your face, but often you’re blind to them. It was a great lesson and made me wonder where else I had blindspots.
There was no logic in my decision to smoke. Especially when information telling me how terrible it was for my health.
However, rarely does logic enter into the equation. We rationalise away poor decisions.
I told myself I was just a social smoker to convince myself it was OK.
But as a friend of mine put it, ‘Social or full-time smoker – the lungs don’t know the difference.’
I didn’t want to play the cancer lottery.
Today I feel blessed to say I’m in incredible health. Smoking taught me the human body is an amazing and resilient organism. Although, there is a limit to how much abuse it will take.
Quitting smoking also taught me health is a full-time investment. It’s not something you do half-heartedly
Most smokers tell themselves they’ll quit one day.
Are you going to kick smoking before it kicks you?