It has now been more than three years since I quit smoking.
At the time, I googled it and found absolutely NOTHING helpful online. Oh, there was some lightweight psychobabble written apparently by people who had never smoked but were marketing products–products you would be sure to buy more of if you were unsuccessful in your quest. And there was a CD that came with the nicotine patches I bought–more lightweight nonsense. Who can tolerate being talked down to like that when in the throes of incipient nicotine withdrawal? Aaack!
So here is how I did it and what I learned in the process.
- Believe it is possible. Of course it’s possible to quite smoking. Other people have done it. I have done it. I did it once for two years before starting again. Once I even quit for several weeks while my late husband, a pack a day smoker, blew smoke in my face. After I quit this time around, I happened on a website that calculated your chances of quitting based on how many time you had tried and what system you used. My chances were 7%. Ha! Don’t listen to these websites. They are not about YOU. For me, the breakthrough came one day at my boyfriend’s place when I had the worst flu I had ever had in my life. While foisting some Fisherman’s Friend cough drops and WalMart knockout syrup on me, he nonchalantly mentioned that he had bought a box of nicotine patches to help him quit. He goes in for a lot of New Age stuff I have a hard time with, but this time his faith was contagious. The moment he said that, a mental door opened for me, and a few weeks later I walked through it.
- Don’t worry about failure. The more times you try to quit and are unsuccessful, the greater your chances of quitting next time. If you start smoking again, you will not suddenly become an evil ogre. You will still be the same person–nice or not nice-that you are now. Don’t think of it as a make or break deal. Just go for it and see what happens. In my opinion, all the stuff they tell you to do–making circles on a calendar, thinking more than ten minutes in advance, telling all your friends so you will be embarrassed if it doesn’t work out–that just puts more psychological pressure on you at a time when you want to remove as many stress factors from your life as possible.
- Think about the money. Patches are expensive. I found patches on sale at Walgreen’s that made them the same price as a carton of cigs. Think of the cigs as another type of nicotine delivery system. If you can quit, sure, you will save money on the long run, but I had to think of it in terms of my weekly budget.
- Do it your way. When I got the box of patches home, I opened the box and put one on. If you use a patch or a chewing gum, play with it. See how you feel after having the patch on for a while. Do you feel the cravings stop? After how long? For me it was about an hour before I got any relief. For the first week I kept smoking but had the patch on too. Later, when I read the instructions, I found out I wasn’t supposed to do that. I also found out I wasn’t dead yet. Forget the instructions and the control freaks who write them. Do what feels right for you.
- Keep evaluating how things are going for you. Is the first cigarette of the morning the hardest one not to smoke? Of course. You just went 8 hours without adding any nicotine to your bloodstream. Try putting the new patch on at bedtime and see if you don’t wake up without cravings. Do you start feeling cravings and then find out the patch came unstuck? Try putting it on your side where you can keep better track of it, or put some hospital tape around the edges when you put it on. Pay attention to how you feel and what is happening, and keep adjusting to whatever happens.
- If you postpone the cigarette, the craving will go away. This is the single most useful piece of information I got from anywhere. It means that if you can just postpone having that cigarette for maybe ten minutes, the bad feeling will pass, and you won’t want it anymore. So you don’t have to worry about all day and tomorrow and next week. All you have to do is get through the next ten minutes and you’ll be okay.
- Short circuit your unconscious habits. The book that comes with the CD shows –shudder–holding your last pack of cigarettes over a faucet and running cold water over them. No way. Do they have any idea how much those things cost? I put mine in the trunk of my car. That way, if I really really wanted one, they would still be there. I would have to put my coat on and go outside in the winter and open the trunk and fish around for the brown paper bag way in the back–yes, I would have to work hard for it–but they were still there if I wanted one, and the decision was still mine to make. I never went out and got one, and when I sold the car, they were still there.
- Substitute something for the cigarette. If you absolutely can’t stop yourself from getting up and going for that cigarette, have something else you can make a detour and go for instead. I shopped for a variety of food to stuff in my mouth when I wanted that cig. Hard candy that would take some time to dissolve. Then I thought about the calories and went for sugar free candy, only to discover that most sugar substitutes eaten in any quantity will cause diarrhea. Candy gave way to the pretzel cigar. “Workers of the world, unite,” I would mutter in my best Castro imitation voice, while slobbering on a cigar-shaped pretzel. Finally I settled on a package of carrots (“What’s up, doc?”, Bugs Bunny style), discreetly on the side of a lower shelf, which I kept on hand for maybe a year after quitting.
- You can cut the time they say to use the patch. If you have weaned yourself down to where the patch you have feels comfortable, you don’t have to go the whole amount of time they tell you. You can just keep pushing to the next lower lever patch, if you want. Go by how you feel. Or if you need a little rest, you can maintain at the same level for a few more days. For me it was a constant juggle between how much antsiness I could take, and how quickly I wanted to wean myself off the nicotine. At the end, I decided that if I had gone from 28mg to 14 mg, I didn’t really need the 7 mg patch. I was right. Going from 14mg to zero, I could do without a patch.
Quitting is no guarantee you will not have more health problems. Three months after I quit, I started having chest pains and was diagnosed with obstructive lung disease. There ain’t no justice.
You get very little warning before getting COPD. Typically you will have a harder than usual flu or cold season for two years or so, then BAM! You supposedly get it after about 30 years of smoking, so counting the two years I quit back in my twenties, that’s about right.
Having no health insurance, I have had to rely on student health services and sliding scale clinics for even bare bones treatments, but here is what I learned so far:
Cigarettes change your metabolism.
I learned this from a book about quitting smoking written by an MD which I have now misplaced. He said the cigarettes change the way the body manufactures insulin, which takes sugar from your bloodstreams and pops it into your cells, making you fatter. Cigarettes depress insulin production. No nicotine equals more insulin equals more fat.
While you are quitting you will do whatever you have to do and eat whatever you have to eat to get through it, but once you quit, you can start paying attention to what you eat. I can never count calories or units or any of those other trick diet things. Instead I look at fat labels. This book suggested 25g of fat per day, max. If you eat at McDonald’s one time, you will go over that, but there are a lot of changes you can make. Low fat salad dressings. If you have a chocolate craving you can get those chocolate covered mints instead of candy bars. Just start reading labels and see what you are eating.
If you see a diet book, say in a used book sale, skim it and see if it is stupid or if it has something in it you can use. I have any number of used books I paid a nickel or a dime for that gave me some piece of helpful advice.
Flu shots and especially pneumonia shots.
I have never gotten flu shots before because they generally made me almost as sick as having the flu. I preferred to take my chances. Those days are gone.
Once you have a lung condition, every time you have the flu or a respiratory illness, you will go downhill progressively more. If you are over 50 or have a lung condition you might be able to get the pneumonia shot free at the same place you get the flu shot.
I found this one out from someone I met in the book section of a second hand store who was carting around a small oxygen bottle. They had an actual exercise physical therapy for lung patients she said had helped her. I started walking more regularly and found that sure enough, after about 40 minutes, I had a sensation of my breathing opening up. If you get that elephant-on-the-chest sensation, regular walking is your lifeline.
I can find no documentation on this, but I swear I feel better when I take time-release Vitamin C. Today I took 500mg. During flu season I take Airborne which has 1000 mg of Vit. C as well as a zillion other esoteric supplements, again an introduction from my boyfriend. He offered me one and I dissolved it in my mouth. Was that ever a surprise. It effervesces, so you’re supposed to dissolve it in a glass of water.
Vitamin C has long been used to treat pregnancy-related cravings for pickles and such, but the scientific underpinnings for Vitamin C for lung disease has to do with antioxidants. Antioxidants are supposed to have a preventative effect on the tissues of the lungs. I remember one lecture in pathophysiology class, the molecular diagram of a contaminant like bleach or cigarette smoke started a chain reaction on the molecule that lines the lungs. The effect was just like unzipping a zipper, as the lung tissue was destroyed with just one contaminant molecule. Adding an antioxidant like Vitamin C or Vitamin E did not repair the damage, but did stop the chain reaction, as that molecule was substituted in the chain. Just like a broken tooth in a zipper. I like to think of the Vitamin C lurking in my lungs, just waiting to prevent further damage. They say lung damage can’t be repaired, but wouldn’t the healthy lung cells just keep dividing?
You can also look for foods that contain antioxidants, like cereals (Special K has one type) and soy milk (Silk brand has both a “Very Vanilla” with extra vitamins for children and an “enhanced” that I find in the more geriatric neighborhood that has almost identical antioxidants).
So that’s it, that’s what I know about quitting smoking and dealing with smoking-related breathing problems. When I hit the “publish” button, I will have placed the most usable bit of information available anywhere on the web within reach of anyone who can google. And it shouldn’t be like that.
The health system is geared towards prescriptions of pills, so if there isn’t a pill for it, the medical establishment isn’t interested. The free market is interested in marketing nicotine delivery systems and is rewarded when those trying to quit either fail or prolong their use longer than necessary. Their information is geared towards more sales.
Somewhere, someone has done research on this and knows exactly what nicotine and smoking does to your metabolism, as well as the effects of withdrawal. But if it is anywhere online, I sure can’t find it. Smoking is such a public health issue–why is there not more information about it?–I mean information written for adults above a tenth grade level that doesn’t insult the intelligence. There should be a blog, and there should be a forum where people can go to ask physicians and former smokers about their knowledge and experiences. But nothing exists.
UPDATE: Allen Carr’s book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking is rated very highly, with many comments about people who were successful with the book after being unsuccessful with other methods.