Today, June 3, 2014 at 2:30pm ET marks one full year #SmokeFree for me. It is honestly a little hard to believe since I’ve had so many false starts over the years.
I began smoking in 1999 when I worked on Sen. John McCain’s first presidential campaign. I was in South Carolina when it began — it seemed like everyone smoked and I wanted to fit in. I wasn’t one of those people who started as a teenager. I was a dumb adult. I quit working in Republican politics after that campaign but for the next 13 years I just couldn’t quit smoking. I would attempt quitting more times than I care to count. I tried everything: the gum, lozenge, patch, Zyban, Chantix, cold turkey, and more.
Since I quit smoking one year ago on June 3, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. ET, I’ve saved $4,434.75 by not smoking 10,950 cigarettes. More importantly, I’ve saved 11 weeks, 6 days, 15 hours, and 30 minutes of my life.
There have been a handful of times where the quit has lasted several months only to be followed by a horribly discouraging relapse. I once quit cold turkey for six months in 2007 — the longest I ever went before this time. To begin that six-month quit, I locked myself in my apartment for 4 days to kick the nicotine out of my system. Because the quit lasted so long in 2007, I figured that’s how it would happen for good. Who knows how many three-and-four-day weekends I lost to repeated attempts to kick nicotine for good by locking myself inside. I can think of at least four such moments since that first time in 2007.
Needless to say, this time feels very different and I am 100% confident now that I am done for good — something I was never able to say during previous quits. So discouraged was I in the past, whenever I began a new quit I would have the depressing thought, “who knows if this will last. I’ll probably have to do this all over again at some point.”
MANY friends and other acquaintances have encouraged me on this path (Mediabistro’s FishBowlDC even wrote about it) while others have asked me how I did it this time. So, I thought the one-year mark would be a good opportunity to pull together some thoughts on how I quit for good. Here they are in no particular order:
- Axed drinking. This one isn’t for everyone but I don’t think I could have quit smoking if I was still drinking. Drinking lowers inhibitions and purges nicotine from the system making the body really want to replace the nicotine and thus kicking off intense cravings. That’s why so many people chain smoke when they drink. More on that here.
- Made a list. I made a list of all of the reasons I wanted to quit smoking and kept it with me for the first several weeks as a reminder of why I wanted to quit in the first place. Here’s my list from June 2013:
- To breath better/easier. I have friggin’ asthma for crying out loud.
- To stop getting chest colds.
- So that I can be present when I’m with my friends instead of thinking about my next cigarette or stepping out of a movie, meal, or party to get my fix.
- So that my apartment and clothes stop smelling like an ashtray.
- I’m petrified of developing lung cancer or other diseases caused by smoking.
- It costs me more than $4000 annually. That’s a very nice vacation or two each year.
- To improve my skin and energy levels as well as my sense of smell and taste.
- It will make traveling more enjoyable since I won’t be running like a crazy person for the exit at a train station or airport to have a smoke. I also won’t need to take as many pit stops on road trips or drives with friends.
- I will live longer and likely be healthier longer in my old age.
- So that my dog, Dexter von Frisch, doesn’t have to smell cigarettes on me or risk eating a cigarette butt.
- I can stop lying to myself. How many times have I said to myself, “I’ll quit tomorrow,” or “this cold isn’t because I smoke,” or “I’ve actually really cut back on smoking,” or “I’ve only been smoking more because of stress,” or “I only smoke because I’m around so-and-so who smokes so much,” or “I’ll quit before my birthday/Christmas/New Years/etc.” These were all basically lies meant to minimize my addiction to nicotine and make quitting seem less than urgent.
- The patch. For the first 12 weeks, I used a nicotine patch, following the instructions on the packaging precisely as they were written. That means I wore one patch every day, all day except while showering or working out at the gym. I did all three steps since I smoked a little more than a pack a day on average. After each step I would have 2-3 days of very mild withdrawals as the amount of nicotine in my system was further reduced. Overall, this made quitting much easier. By the way, CVS’s generic patch system is less expensive and almost identical to the Nicoderm version. It is my experience that the patch and other nicotine replacements will not work if you don’t follow the instructions.
- Hypnosis-ish. I downloaded an app by award winning Clinical Hypnotherapist Max Kirsten that offered a form of in-app hypnosis to help me quit smoking. Even if it was only a placebo effect, I think the meditative qualities of this app made quitting much, much easier. I used it daily for a few months. You can get the app here.
- Three deep breaths. When I first quit, I would take three very deep breaths every 30 minutes or so, holding each breath for 8-10 seconds. This increased the oxygen in my blood, imitated the deep breathing associated with a cigarette drag, and absolutely killed cravings. In fact, though I slowly stopped doing this as frequently after the first few months, I would still do it whenever I had a bad craving. It really killed cravings almost immediately.
- Kept track. I used an app to keep track of my progress quitting. I prefer the iQuit app for iPhone. It kept track of how long it had been since my last smoke, how much money I had saved, how many cigarettes I had skipped, and more.
- Accountability. It is much easier to quit when you tell everyone in your life you are quitting. I used social media for this purpose and updated folks daily for week one, then weekly, and then monthly. I told the smokers in my life they were not to give me a cigarette under any circumstances. The support has been fantastic. By the time I reached 7 months, I was forgetting that another month had passed.
- Exit plans. I rarely put myself in situations where I would be around lots of smokers unless absolutely necessary and if I did, I always had a plan for how I could extricate myself if cravings became too intense.
- Educated myself. I used whyquit.com as a resource and read everything I could get my hands on about quitting smoking and the dangers of smoking. This particular website encourages only cold turkey quits but even though that isn’t how I quit, the info and pointers were/are very helpful.
- No big deals. It is imperative to understand that there are really no big deals in life worth smoking over. Early quitting is like torture. If I accept the fact that there is nothing left in the world to smoke over — no big deals a cigarette can fix — quitting is much, much easier.
- Easier than quitting. I know from experience that staying quit is much easier than quitting itself and that if I were to smoke again, who knows how long it would be until I was able to quit again. Staying quit is easier than quitting. In other words, not picking up a cigarette is much easier than putting down that last cigarette.
- No matter what. I just don’t smoke NO MATTER WHAT.
That about covers it. If I think of anything else to include I’ll edit the post with additions. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you’ve quit smoking for good, be sure to post a comment telling me how you did it and how long it’s been since your final smoke.
P.S. You’re fooling yourself if you think those new fangled water vapor e-cigarettes will help you quit smoking. It may be marginally healthier (no carbon monoxide and a reduction in certain harmful chemicals) but nicotine is still the active, addictive ingredient and it is still very bad for your heart. Furthermore, there is no way to measure how much nicotine you are ingesting with an e-cigarette so there is no effective way to wean yourself off of the addictive drug like with the gum or patch. It should also be noted that the FDA is seeking regulatory authority over e-ciggaretts just as it has over tobacco cigarettes.