Not so long ago, I heard that by doing something for 21 days in a row, one can form a lifelong habit. It sounded doable to me, so I decided to give it a try... and quit smoking. Exactly three weeks ago in the late evening of September 23, I sat in my "smoking" chair on the backyard of our house and smoked my "maybe the last" cigarette, while chatting with my roommate. She has quit awhile ago, after smoking almost as long as I did. In her case it was seven years, in mine - eight. She had the same problems with will power and lack of motivation as I did, so it was comforting and encouraging to learn that I was not alone in my misery.
I finished the cigarette, went back inside and sat on the couch. As soon as I felt the next craving, I stuck the first NicoDerm nicotine patch, which I bought in advance, on my right arm and waited for it to kick in. After five-ten minutes of itchiness, the patch started working. Suddenly, the craving was gone, and so was the irritation.
In the first few days I could feel the impact nicotine has had on my nervous system:
- My sleep was completely messed up. I would fall asleep late, wake up several times a night and see vivid dreams, often with negative content.
- My left eye started twitching right away and, in fact, still continues to do so. Apparently, many former smokers experienced the same issue, mostly with their left eyes. They all say that eventually it passes. I get it much less now.
- Sometimes, to see how my body reacts to the absence of cigarettes, while not fooled by the patches, I would give longer breaks, and not put on the new patch for hours. At some point, I would start feeling irritated. Every sound felt louder, light - brighter, and usual habits of people around me seemed incredibly annoying. I would then put the next patch on and 10-15 minutes later, I was back to being myself.
The thing most of the smokers are uncertain about is how to replace the habit itself. For many like me, smoking is mostly a calming method. We are convinced that it helps us think, be creative, and even overcome our breakdowns. Well, as a highly unstable person, who has to do all kinds of writing and creative work for her classes, I can assure you - it's crap. It's not the cigarette we need, it's the nicotine and the sense of a reward.
For this purpose, I have armed myself with electronic cigarettes. Here, I have to say to whoever invented e-cigs - let peace be upon him and his family. There is a variety of types available online, or in any smoke shop in your town. My roommate made me a wonderful gift - the rechargeable e-cig she has used to quit and didn't need anymore. The brand she used was Safe Cig. You buy the first package that includes the cigarette, its charger and re-fillers, and after that you only need to keep ordering the latter. They come in different flavors, there is no shipment fee, or additional cost. You can also choose the level of nicotine (18 mg to 0 mg).
Besides, I discovered "pocket hookas," disposable e-cigs, also available in smoke shops. They usually last for 500-600 puffs and have amazing flavors. The one I treated myself with the last time, had mocha latte flavor - a pleasure for coffee'n'cigarette lovers.
Another major excuse that smokers use is the fear of gaining weight. Well, I've not only avoided gaining weight, I have actually lost at least four pounds. And this part of quitting is directly correlated with your reasons. One of the top two of my reasons, was health. As soon as I quit, I did two major changes in my life:
- Watching what I eat. No, I don't restrict myself. In fact, I eat everything I love, but in reasonable amounts. Besides, I have stashed my fridge with fruits and vegetables, only the ones that I like, and eat them as snacks. If I need something sweet, I usually go for low-calorie ice creams by Weight Watchers, or other brands. You can have a couple of those a day without harming your figure. And by the way, your senses of smell and taste increase in the FIRST week. At least mine did. On the third day I got my favorite Italian BMT in Herb and Cheese Bread with avocado spread from Subway and ate it before the class. It felt like, hands down, THE BEST SANDWICH I'VE EVER HAD IN MY 26 YEARS.
- Working out at least twice a week. It is a GREAT motivation. As a smoker I could only do cardio exercises for 10 minutes straight, and then get off the machine barely breathing and seeing black dots. Now, only three weeks later I do 25 minutes on maximum mode on my favorite elliptical machine, without stopping, experiencing any problems with breathing, or wanting to die. If you can, do yoga at least once a week. Trust me, you will thank yourself for quitting after each session.
I've done lots of reading before I decided to quit. I went through the brochures I took from the Campus Health, read all the possible tips and forums online and used 90% of them at one point or another during this period. Eventually, I only stuck with the ones I needed. Since I've never thought I would be able to quit, but did it in a blink of an eye, without regrets, depression, or slipping, I think I can share some tips of my own:
- Know your enemy. Read as much as you can about the methods of quitting and pick the ones you think will work the best with your personality. You don't have to follow all of the recommendations. For example, most of the web sites tell the quitters to write down the reasons they quit and re-read them every time they have cravings. I wrote down my reasons, about 20 of them, but haven't used them once in three weeks.
- Ask people who live with you, or the ones you interact with most of all, to be enthusiastic and supportive. I am lucky. My roommates are very supportive of me. They pat me on the back when I do good, and do the usual "yays" when I announce every new week I have lived without cigarettes, or spend time around smokers and stayed strong.
- Don't forbid yourself. This might be the best advice my former smoker roommate gave me. According to her, for some people it's best not to forbid themselves from smoking. Every time she had a craving, she would say: "Well, okay, go and buy a pack." Both her and my experiences show, that you never do. Because once the demanding "cry baby" in you realizes that it's not a forbidden fruit, the conscience kicks in to remind you - there is a reason why you quit on the first place.
- Download apps! I now have a full batch of apps on my iPhone, and it's called Health. The batch includes seven workout applications, one yoga, a calorie-counter diary and two smoking apps. Yes, you heard me, there are apps to help you quit! Livestrong will reward you for each certain period you haven't smoked. I have got rewards for not smoking for one week, two weeks, and now - three weeks, as well as the ones for saving $20 and $50, and not smoking a whole carton. QuitIt will count how many days and hours you have been smoke free, how much money you've saved, how many cigarettes you haven't smoked and what your benefits are. The latter is the best part. For the last week it's been telling me that now my circulation is improving, my walking is becoming easier and my lung function is increasing 30%. Next major update will happen in nine days and I can't wait for it.
- Reward yourself. Do you remember how in previous tip I told you how QuitIt counts the money you've saved? Well, in three weeks I saved $124 and quickly exchanged them to new clothes and long-time needed kitchen appliances.
- Get a teeth whitening kit. Nothing will stop you from having white and shiny teeth anymore. Get them cleaned at the dentist's if you can afford it, if not, just buy Crest whitening products at the closest pharmacy and enjoy your smile.
There are many other upsides of quitting that I only understood once I did it. There's no need to run around airports or college campuses looking for a place to smoke, no need to think when and where you will be able to buy the next pack, or panic when it's 2 a.m. and you only have one cigarette left. Stashing packs when flying to cities where cigarettes are more expensive and sitting impatiently through a class or a meeting, waiting for the break are now in the past. Oh, and the terrible hacking cough that tears up your chest and makes you sound like an ancient beast is also gone.
The past three weeks didn't go nearly as long and painful as I've expected. Instead, I learned a lot about my character and my body, and experienced the pleasure of making a life-changing decision.
Today, I can confidently say that after eight years I am no longer a regular smoker. I feel happy, healthy, and very proud of myself. There are still many things about my life that I cannot control, but smoking is no longer one of them.