Posted by: mew | November 24, 2009

wherein I lose count

Last night was the anniversary of me quitting smoking.  Except I no longer remember which number of weeks I’m celebrating.  (15?  16?  17?  18?)  I know that I officially quit on a Monday night, just before bed (figured I’d give myself several hours’ head start without working too hard), but the date has slipped from memory.

I know the information is on this blog, actually, and could be ascertained without much effort.  But I’m not going to go back and count.

Not because I’m inherently lazy (although that’s up for debate), but because I think it’s a kind of sign.  Or a milestone.  Both, really.  For now I will remember that I quit in August of 2009 — or was it late July? — and then it will be remembered as the summer of 2009, and then, down the road, just plain 2009.

Eventually, years from now, someone will ask me how long I’ve been a non-smoker, and I’ll pause and say, “You know, I have to think about it.”  It’s the sign, in a way, of beginning to make peace with this addiction, understanding what it did for me at the time, what I’ve learned from it, and, finally, leaving it behind.

Losing count is a sign I no longer find it that important to cross off the days on a mental calendar, as if I’m forcing myself to get through them.  Truthfully, I haven’t been doing that for a while.  The crossing off was more of a pride thing:  ha, ha, I have made it this far!  Almost like plunking a wee flag in a mountaintop to say I came this far and the mountain did not defeat me — only tobacco is such an addictive monster that I was setting out little conceptual flags almost from the first hour I made it past a craving.

That’s gone now, too.  And it feels pretty good, not to need that crutch, either.

I may not blog much more about the quitting adventure.  (Then again, I may.  But I doubt it, because the topic no longer feels, um, that interesting to me.)  And since I doubt whether I have much more to say on this subject, I’ll go ahead and give out my advice for all would-be quitters.  To do so now is especially valuable, I know, with the time of agonizing over New Year’s Resolutions approaching for millions of addicts worldwide.  But please keep in mind I am not the oracle of Delphi, and in fact was so not far-seeing and wise that I started smoking in the first place.  Also, my quitting journey has not been “perfect.”  My concentration was shot for the first few weeks, F.’s relapse threw me for a moody loop, and I lost my temper spectacularly on day three of my quitting journey.  (And I do mean spectacularly.)

So with all of those caveats in mind, are you ready for it?

Here it is:

  • Only try to quit when you really want to quit and you are ready.
  • Of course, you might be like me and try to quit five times, thinking you really want to quit, but find out you weren’t ready yet.  And then wonder what the heck that means, “ready”, until the time you try to quit and you really are ready.  In a way, it’s like how you can’t know what being in love means until you fall in love for the first time.  You can’t know until you’re there.  So try to quit whenever you feel like trying to quit — and don’t beat yourself over the head with your “failed attempts.”  They are not failures; they are warm-ups. Or if you prefer artistic imagery, those attempts are your sketches before you pull out the canvas and the oil paints.
  • Don’t let people who have never overcome an addiction give you advice or make you feel guilty if you trip up. People who try to do exactly that are off limits for the duration of any future quit attempt — or, indeed, any effort at achieving anything at all in life where a wet blanket or a holier-than-thou attitude might be a hindrance.
  • Banish your perfectionism to a faraway kingdom of dead and plastic things. You are a living human being in a living world, with emotions and, well, mess.  It’s better to just let yourself Be, rather than try to keep it all tamped down or neatly compartmentalized or judge yourself so harshly you repress it or shush your inner child so much she sits in the closet of your soul crying.  Just to be totally 100% honest with y’all, this is what I discovered about the cigarette in the last I-don’t-know-how-many weeks:  it was a tool to get the emotions to be less powerful, so that I could then manage to do the requisite ignoring or tamping or judging or compartmentalizing or shushing.  Now I get to feel my emotions and not immediately reach for the lighter — and it’s really quite okay, after all.  But I didn’t feel that way on, say, day 3 or week 2, or even week 8, you know?
  • Every time you have a craving, go do something else.

It’s a good idea to write your own list of what elses before you quit, and even to have the supplies to hand for a couple of them, just in case.  But here’s a few of my own to get you started:

  1. Take up a new hobby, or rediscover one you dropped years ago.
  2. Exercise.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Treat yourself to an in-home spa treatment.  If you can afford it, by all means head to a spa.
  5. Start a blog.  (Ahem.)
  6. Bake bread.
  7. Give your pets extra attention.
  8. Clean the house — although try not to do this too often unless you enjoy cleaning (in which case, you are welcome to drop by my house anytime to indulge your passion) because you don’t want to answer a craving for pleasure with something negative.
  9. Catch up on correspondence.
  10. Do some needlework:  knit, crochet, embroidery, whatever.
  11. Catch up on your scrapbooks.
  12. Make some art.
  13. Play a CD you used to love and haven’t played for years.  (Bonus points if you dance around the living room and sing to your favorites.)
  14. Discover a new-to-you park or natural feature of your town or city.
  15. Go visit some nonsmoking friends.
  16. Reread a beloved childhood book.
  17. Visit an art gallery.
  18. Take yourself on an artist date.
  19. Go shopping and spend some of the money you’re not spending on cigarettes.
  20. Watch some comedy.
  21. Write a poem.
  22. Get out your camera and go somewhere you often go, and learn to see it with new eyes.
  23. Go to the movies alone for a change.
  24. Start a journal — or write in it if you already have one.
  25. Stare at the windblown leaves and the patterns they make against the sky.

To sum up my brilliant advice, let me quote Henry Miller:

“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.”

Yes, good.  Do that, whether you smoke or not.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.)

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Responses

  1. I’m so irresponsible that I believe I can quit again. But, you know, not right now. I need to focus on this project.

    • You’re not irresponsible! You will quit when you are ready — and I also believe that you can quit, honey. No self-judgment, please…

  2. Congratulations! This is quite the accomplishment.

    You are so very right. I used to know the day, the year and the length.
    Oh my, it has been 16 years for me, I know this only because my daughter is 15. This is by far the best set of advise I have read about quitting an addiction.

    • Thank you, Rennata! I’m touched that you consider it the best advice. And congratulations on 16 years 🙂

  3. I quit a number of times. What finally helped me was taking deep breaths when I wanted a cig. Smoking for me was about breathing/relaxing. I love being smoke free!
    Congrats to you!!!

    • That’s wonderful, gemma. I did try the three conscious breaths thing — but unfortunately I’m not skilled enough at stilling my monkey mind for this to work consistently for me. I think that must have been not only a great way to break the addiction for you, but also an excellent meditation training.

      Here’s to us being smoke-free gals!

      • how do you feel

        ive given up smoking for 6 months

        can you give me tips on how too stay a none smoker

      • I suspect if you’ve made it 6 months, you’ll be all right now. If you’d like to read about my journey, you can always look for the different posts under “Overcoming Addiction.” I blogged about it until I felt like I was done. 🙂

  4. i am so glad that you are doing so well! and that you are losing count!!!!
    fantastic tips too Meredith- and the added list of things to do is awesome.
    i plan to email this post to a few friends of mine.

    • Oh, thank you, elsa! I’m really glad, too 😉 You are too kind.

  5. Great job! Not remembering the anniversary is a great sign that it is long behind you.

    • Thanks 🙂 I’m certainly taking it that way!

  6. Happy Anniversary! I’m so glad that you’ve stayed strong. I was actually just thinking about you and smoking earlier today. My husband quit at the beginning of the year. Love that last quote too. I wish you continued success!!

    • Thank you so much, Alisha! Good for your husband, too! He’s got about 8 months on me, I guess 🙂

  7. You so rock!
    Congrats on this huge accomplishment!
    xo

  8. Great advice!

  9. Thank you thank you thank you for all the wonderful reminders today! Soooooooooooooo needed that! 🙂

  10. […] me before, especially when I’ve achieved major goals all year through without their help.  I quit smoking this year, for […]


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