I promised in yesterday’s post about breaking free from bad habits that I would show how I stopped smoking.
I wasn’t what could be considered as a heavy smoker, certainly not post children. I did the bulk of my smoking in the evening after they had gone to bed, or sometimes when they were out at school. I stopped during my pregnancies with little problem.
And have stopped numerous other times before and since. But then took it up again, hours, days or weeks later.
Part of me wonders who am I to even write this post. I stopped smoking on the 4th January, only just over two months ago. But when can you say an addict has finally nailed their addiction? Never, really. So I could wait until the magic three months have passed, or six, or a year. But actually I am as sure as I can be that this time was The Time. Not only that, but this time it was relatively easier. Even easier than when I stopped for my pregnancies.
Because this time I worked through the steps, really prepared myself and learned from my stopping failures in the past. And here I share the process. I am not saying this would work for you, but this is how I stopped smoking.
1. What was smoking doing for me?
Understanding why I smoked was crucial. When I started it actually helped me get through social events. It made me feel less nervous, gave me something to do and stop me fidgeting. “Do you have a light?” was a conversation opener. Years passed and new laws came in to stop people smoking indoors in restaurants and bars (I can’t quite imagine how awful it must have been for non smokers to sit in smoky bars, but anyway). Then having a cigarette was a break. A break from work, a break from the noise inside the bar or restaurant. Moving forward a few more years to the recent past. I still saw it as a break from work. I was still a social smoker, smoking much more when I was socialising – something which I have said before I love doing, but is something I find draining.
So, as well as being a bad habit smoking was a tool to help my introvert self, a way of catching a break and a way to soothe nerves. I had my whys. And I started working all this out a couple of months before stopping.
2. What would be the advantages of becoming a non smoker?
You might think that my answers would be easy – reducing risk of the big C word (no, not Christmas) and money. But here’s a secret. Well, not so much a secret but something pretty much any smoker will tell you. We know the health risks, and we know that smoking is expensive. But unless we have a health issue staring us right in the face the risks associated with smoking aren’t enough. That might sound mad to a non smoker, but I bet smokers will agree. (Just as an aside I think the health risks need to be spelled out as a deterrent to stop people starting, but they often aren’t enough to make most smokers stop. Until they literally have no choice, and, in some cases, even then.
So my advantages needed to be compelling to me. Without going into detail I wanted to feel proud, I didn’t want my daughters to know and remember that I was a smoker, I wanted to run up the hill by my house and not be out of breath, and there is something I specifically want to buy that I will use the money for. Note the word specific. There is something I want to buy that I will use the money for. “Saving money” is not a compelling enough reason. Avoiding a possible disease is not enough. Being able to run up the hill without being out of breath is far more specific and personal to me.
I looked into the future at a non smoking me and liked what I saw. I got to know the non smoking me. I understood what it felt to be a non smoking me. This was weeks before I stopped.
3. What would stop me from changing my smoking habit?
And how would I get round the obstacles?
This was quite an easy one to start with. I know where I have failed in the past. I knew what would trigger me into picking up a cigarette. What would I do instead? And how would I avoid the triggers? And if I couldn’t avoid them, how could I reprogramme myself to handle them differently?
This was more visualisation work. One thing I associated with smoking was drinking. My smoking journey started in pubs as a social tool remember. I have experienced in the past my stopping smoking being interrupted by a social event including wine. So I removed that one, and decided that when I stopped smoking I would not socialise until those first few weeks were over. No wine, no social events.
Then I listed all the things I could do when I felt the urge to smoke at other times, and kept that list to one side ready for D Day. I checked with myself that they would be feasible. Go to the gym instead of smoking a cigarette? Nah, that wouldn’t work, not several times a day. But picking up the dog lead and taking the dog for a walk around the block would be more realistic. Drinking a glass of water could work. Counting up to 100 could work.
4. What support did I need?
I didn’t need many people on board, but I needed the people on board to be 101% behind me. So I asked my husband and a couple of friends to be my sounding boards and cheerleaders. I didn’t actually tell anyone else that I was giving up. In fact, loads of people don’t know I have done. Loads more don’t even know I was still a smoker. I also told my doctor, as one of the side effects I have of stopping smoking was really bad mood swings, and I wanted some advice on how to deal with that.
5. Preparing to start
I had a medical appointment planned for the 5th of January. I wanted to have stopped by then. In actual fact the appointment was changed to the 21st, but I still kept the 5th January in my head. The children would go back to school on the 4th January and it seemed as good time as any. Christmas would be over, New Year too, so nothing social need get in the way. I decided on this date weeks before. And as it was so clear in my mind, with all the planning, I automatically started reducing the number of cigarettes I smoked. Without even trying. I didn’t notice it happening at first, but as I had been working through these steps the habit was already changing.
6. What would the steps to becoming a non smoker be?
This stage for me involved detailed planning of getting past the milestones. I haven’t got past all of them yet (I wasn’t going to wait until 6 months, 1 year, 5 years had passed before talking about it). I looked back at previous attempts at when it had been hardest. An hour would be OK, but 6 hours would be more challenging. The post evening meal cigarette on day 1. Getting as far as lunchtime on day 2. The crucial three day milestone. One week. Three weeks. Etc etc. I gave myself permission to find it hard and, if necessary, count minutes as successes.
So I started. Counting the hours, being very gentle with myself and allowing myself to have the occasional strop. I looked at my withdrawal objectively, knowing that I was ready for it and had tricks up my sleeve. I took myself back to my visualisations about my big why. I checked in with my cheerleaders.
And was it hard? Actually, no. It wasn’t always easy – withdrawal is not easy. Habit change isn’t easy. But it wasn’t as hard as it had been every previous attempt. I remember saying to someone a couple of days in, this time I have done it, somehow I just know it.
And I know someone will come back and say, ha, wait til you get to the 6 month stage, or wait til your next holiday, or wait until.
But that’s OK. This is my story of how I stopped smoking. It will be different from yours. And that’s OK.
In my next post on breaking or changing habits I will walk you through how I am becoming a morning person.