About 5 years ago one of my girl friends quit smoking and as I congratulated her and gave the typical someday I will too spiel, she said something to me that I carry with me to this day. “One day, you’ll just be ready, and you won’t need it anymore.” At the time I thought, that sounds nice and easy, but my experience thus far was a lot of thinking about quitting and abandoning all efforts at the first sign of discomfort. I wasn’t sure how or when I was going to overcome this addiction, but I kept her words in the forefront of my mind.
They say cigarettes are more addictive than heroin! That’s intense. I’m not sure if it’s actually the tobacco that’s addictive, or one or many of the 600 chemicals they add to the cigarettes, or the physical action of lighting the cigarette and the hand to mouth repetition that becomes a deeply ingrained habit. My guess is that pure tobacco in itself is not really the culprit.
“What’s In a Cigarette? There are approximately
600 ingredients in cigarettes.
When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemicals.
At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer,
and many are poisonous.” Source
I started smoking when I was young and stupid, when you think you are invincible and everything is just a joyride. I thought it was cool and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t however think it was so attractive after a certain age and I told myself I’d quit by 30. When 30 rolled around I found out, it wasn’t that easy. It took me nearly a decade from the time I wanted to quit, to the day I actually quit which was January 11th 2017. 1.11.1. I was 38 years old.
Here’s what worked for me and here’s hoping that it might help somebody else who wants to quit, make the journey in a more condensed time frame.
Kick the 7,000
The first step I made was giving up the chemical laden cigarettes that have things like acetone, arsenic, formaldehyde, lead and tar added to them. I started smoking American Spirits which claim to be additive free. I recommend this step to all smokers, whether you want to quit or not. If you enjoy smoking and choose to keep this lifestyle, by all means, that is your choice, but you don’t have to continually poison your body when there are healthier alternatives. After I switched to American Spirits, I could no longer smoke the other brands. When I did, I felt the chemicals enter my body immediately, leaving me light headed and nauseous.
I hung out at this stage for a long time. My internal health critic said, ‘you’re good now, it’s just tobacco.’ It wasn’t until years later that I started thinking about what’s in the filters. I spent time with some hippies who rolled their own cigarettes with natural tobacco and no filter. I followed suit because, when you know better, you do better. After rolling my own cigarettes for a while, I would occasionally go back to pack cigarettes because rolling your own is time consuming and annoying and the instant gratification of having the cigarette ready to pull out of the pack and smoke is so much more enticing, especially when you’re going through 15-20 in a long night of drinking. But after a while I could tell the difference in my lungs between the store bought and home rolled. So I committed to not buying store cigarettes anymore.
The annoying part of rolling turned out to be a secret benefit. Over time, I became acutely aware of how much time and energy I was putting into an activity that really was of no benefit, besides pleasure, and caused my life to be shorter with possible health risks as I continue to age. Essentially I became aware of how much time I was spending towards an activity that was actively killing me. I was ready for the next stage.
My brother’s wife told me about this magical healing plant. I think it took me a year or two before I incorporated it into my quitting regimen, but when I was ready the tool was already there and available. This plant actually helps heal respiratory illness and other forms of inflammation. Of course the healthiest way to consume mullein is probably not by smoking it, but at this stage I needed a non-addictive alternative to tobacco that would quench my hand to mouth addiction so I could slowly ween off of the daily habit of smoking.
I ordered the mullein online and when it arrived I committed to my current pouch of tobacco being my last. I rolled cigarettes with half tobacco and half mullein until the tobacco was gone. I think I smoked plain mullein for another week or two at which point the desire was just gone. I didn’t miss the tobacco and I didn’t feel the need to keep smoking the mullein. I think this stage took about a month in total.
These days I rarely go out drinking anymore, but when I do, and I’m hanging out in bars where my friends or other people around me are smoking, I’ll bring a few rolled mullein smokes as a treat. Sometimes I use them and other times I don’t, but I don’t feel any anxiety or deprivation being around smokers. The smell doesn’t bother me, I don’t feel particularly enticed, it really doesn’t faze me at all.
Of course there’s emotional healing that had to be done along the way as well. When we choose to do anything that is unhealthy for us, there’s a reason. Smoking is just a symptom of an underlying problem. It’s a distraction from feeling discomfort, much like food or alcohol or anything else that can be used to numb out, distract, and avoid feeling. At each stage of my quitting journey I had to evaluate my life choices, heal old wounds and feel pain that I had comfortably suppressed for decades. When I faced the internal discomforts, the need and desire for distractions from them just stopped being desirable.
Although the physical process of weening off chemicals is highly important, it’s the emotional work that I think is most important. Otherwise you may just switch one addiction for another. How many people have you heard of that give up cigarettes and gain 50 pounds, because eating replaces smoking? When you heal the wounds, you naturally want to do healthy, life affirming activities. This requires going through some discomfort though.
In a society where people will do anything to avoid feeling pain, this is a heroic undertaking. But once you understand how to move through pain, you will find that pain isn’t so scary. It’s the avoidance of it that causes most of the suffering in the world. Pain is meant to be felt, to teach a lesson, and to be moved on from in a more empowered state. There’s no need to wallow in it or be consumed by it. Simply acknowledge and validate it and it loses its power of inducing fear.
Journaling is a great way to express and process painful feelings. Here you can explore your emotions in a safe and controlled environment. Try writing without a filter so you have free reign to be completely honest with yourself. Leave your judgments by the door and allow all your feelings to be valid and worthy of being seen and felt. The more you practice this exercise, the better and faster you will become at moving through emotions in a healthy and integrated way. Also try incorporating any activity that makes you feel good about yourself, like exercise, which creates endorphins, or a creative outlet like painting or drawing.
At the end of the day it all comes down to choices. When you’re ready, the next step will appear, and one day, you just won’t need it anymore. You will have overcome addiction and become incredibly empowered at the same time.
“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction
ends up being the biggest step of your life.
Tiptoe if you must, but take the step.