The Day I Learned to Stop Smoking
By Sandra Lemire ©
I remember every moment of that Monday back in 1986, that I learned to stop smoking. I was 41, living alone up in the mountains above Reno, NV on Fawn Lane at the end of the one mile road that then had been paved. Jack was working in California as there was no work to be had in Reno so he was gone for the week. My son had graduated and was in California in A&P School. My daughter was married and had her first baby to care for. I was totally alone on that mountain.
I’d been battling my third round of pneumonia (even though it was summer) within eight months. I lay in bed that morning breathing heavy and wondering if I could sit up to smoke my first cigarette of the day. I had been a serious 3-pack a day chain smoker for 27 years, and always began and ended every day with a cigarette. I started smoking when I was 14 and every member of my three families all smoked. In those days of the 60’s that’s what everyone did. I remembered the smell of my grandparent’s home each time I walked into their living room going back to when I was three. The smell of smokers was my familiarity and my security.
This day in 1986 I tried to take a breath to get enough strength to sit up so I could get out of bed. My lungs were so full and tight that at 6,000 ft elevation, what tiny bit of air I could breathe was not enough. Feeling desperate and knowing I was alone, I rolled out of the bed onto the floor. Slowly I crawled from my bed to the living room. I crawled up into my chair, still unable to stand. I knew in the core of my being that I could NEVER smoke another cigarette. If I did I would surely die.
I had been trying to create a plan to stop smoking for a couple of months and had sent away for a “Cigar-est Kit.” I ordered double on the “nicotine pills” that came with the kit. The nicotine tablets allowed a person to be on a schedule of reducing the amount of nicotine over two months or so. On this day, I got the kit out and read all literature cover to cover. I knew this was my only chance to survive. But how did this really work? There was an 800 number for Crisis Support on the booklet. I called. The lady that answered was in Carlsbad, CA, and she let me know she was going to get me through this! I told her my story, and she began teaching me what I would later know to be what saved my life, that very day.
I read the kit material with her and she outlined that following all the instructions was going to be crucial to success, but the program did work! Make a list. That was step one. Why did I want to stop smoking? Cost? The smell? Ruined clothing and furniture from burns? Being with other people who didn’t smoke? Coughing, pneumonia?
“Everyone’s list was going to be different”
I learned that there are tricks that we can play on our minds to change habits like teaching a child a new game. She taught me that the same electrical message that our brain uses to tell us that we are “thirsty” is the very same trigger that tells a smoker that they want a cigarette. We talked about the fact that most smokers are withered and have dried, wrinkled, dehydrated looking skin. That is due to years of switching out the triggers for being thirsty and needing a drink of water, with lighting a cigarette. She was right.
People who smoke rarely, if ever, drink water. Then I learned that the reverse could be retaught into our mental triggers. She said that a little known secret was that in order to quit smoking, you can reverse the thirst for water-smoking confusion. When you crave a cigarette, get a big glass of water and drink it instead. Within five minutes the craving to smoke is gone. When you continue to repeat this drinking water to satisfy the trigger that you have come to know as wanting a cigarette, and now give your body the water it is needing, the craving lessens continually over time. As your body re-hydrates, you crave less and less.
This was one of the most powerful things that she taught me that day. Now I understood how smoking becomes an obsession. The more you crave water, the more you smoke, therefore the more dehydrated you get, so the more you crave water. It’s a vicious cycle BUT one that can be reversed! Wow! Now I felt I had the key.
This Crisis Support lady stayed with me on the phone for eight hours, talking me through each phase of the program. Next was substituting something for my hands to be doing. Something besides lighting a cigarette, playing with my cigarette pack, lighter, matches, ashtrays, etc. She suggested getting a Tupperware container and filling it with celery, carrots, boiled eggs, raw broccoli, apple slices, and anything that was tasty and crunchy covered with water. After I would drink a big glass of water to stop the urge to smoke (tricking and retraining my brain), I would make a small plate of chilled veggies, add some potato chips, and SIT DOWN to take a break. Now the sitting down was important in the process.
“Time to take a Break”
That is their time to take a break from their chores, light a cigarette, and mentally regroup whatever task they had been working on. It was important to give myself a “Time Out” and I learned to make a cup of tea, or coffee and SIT DOWN. I might have iced tea and eat fresh veggies, or a hot muffin with warm tea. It was filling the need I had to be able to rest and regroup WITHOUT smoking.
The other component of this crunchy food and snacking, is that you are using your hands to feed your mouth (a replacement for picking up a cigarette and lighter and putting it to your mouth) but substituting something that is healthy instead.
“Addiction” comes With Withdrawal.”
The next lesson is that addiction is a partner to withdrawal. Withdrawal is not just a process of quitting the addiction; it is a partner to the addiction. For instance, with a smoker, you are either smoking (therefore NOT in withdrawal) or you put the cigarette out and you are immediately IN withdrawal. That’s why people who smoke (or other addictions as well) are so nervous when they are not doing the addiction. They are experiencing “withdrawal.”
In this program that I started (using the Cigarest kit twenty nine years ago) I learned that with addictions you are either participating in the addiction or in withdrawal alternately. People are more afraid of the “withdrawal” than the “addiction.” This program teaches that as soon as you put a cigarette out, you have “quit” until the next time you light one. They also taught me that for the next six months I was going to be “in withdrawal” either way, whether I quit or not. The only time I would not be in withdrawal is when I was actually smoking. The rest of the time, I’d be in withdrawal regardless and very uncomfortable.
“Your Addiction Will END!”
When someone quits an addiction, they should know that either way they are going to have to come to terms with “withdrawal,” but they can also learn that if they quit the addiction the withdrawal will END. It will slowly diminish getting more tolerable each day until three to six months later they will leave it behind them forever.
She also taught me the value of spending my days (in the beginning) washing all the linens, clothes, towels, walls, tables, windows, etc. to rid the rooms of the residual smells of smoking. These smells create a trigger making you want to “light up.” Within a few days, I could actually smell food again. Wow! I had forgotten. Taking many showers, several a day, helps rid the body of toxins like nicotine, and get rid of the smell as well. Flushing the system is critical both by drinking water and washing the body.
In today’s world, I would use the nicotine patches that stair-step down for lowering the dosing, to curb the withdrawal the way the tablets did for me.
I never smoked again after that day. I only quit once. My mother smoked for over 50 years right up until she died of lung cancer at age 68 and she suffered a terrible death. Quitting smoking (or any addiction) is not just something you DO. It is something you have to WANT to do, and then LEARN HOW to do.
“In Recovery” or “In Denial?”
My deceased partner worked for Primavera 5 Points (a half-way house here in Tucson) as their Managing Director for five years. He was a recovering alcoholic. He was clean for 48 years when we met. He taught me that we are either in “recovery or in denial for whatever our demons are that might control us. That lesson has stayed with me for 20 years now.
He had been always been a drinker of home-made whiskey since he was growing up in Maine as a kid. When he came home from Viet Nam he was celebrating his son’s birthday. His son turned five years old that day so Gary asked him “What do you want for your birthday?” as he was fixing him breakfast.
He said quietly, “A sober Daddy.” Gary froze. He never drank again from that moment on. He had not known a sober day most of his life until that day of his son’s birthday.
Whether it is smoking, drinking or other addictions, we sometimes don’t realize the effects that our daily routine is having on others. I was taught to be a smoker by my entire adult world throughout my childhood. I wish I could apologize to the friends and family that had to endure my “bad habit.” I would pray that others can learn from my “near death experience” that there are ways to take control if you make the decision to live differently. Your decisions will play out in the lives of people you love.
These Blogs are offered as the personal opinions, experiences and views of Sandra Turner Lemire with the addition of certain “links” gleaned from the internet and willing contributors. There is no presumption of expertise by any of these, and all readers are advised to rely on their own research and team of advisers for any decisions or actions on their own behalf. Remember that information is always in flux, especially from the Internet and links.
By Sandra Lemire