It's crazy when you think about it...
When I smoked, I spent a huge amount of time thinking about how much I wished I didn't smoke. Fully 16 of the 26 years I spent staring down the length of a lit cigarette were unhappy smoker years. Sixteen years! And still I went on, day in and day out, lighting up one cigarette after another...promising myself I'd quit soon...very soon.
Thankfully, as I sit here writing this, that promise is well over 10 years in the past. The last cigarette I smoked is a distant memory now, and I can honestly say that I am comfortably at ease in my nonsmoking life. For all of the time I spent dreaming about freedom from nicotine addiction, I never expected to truly experience it.
Smoke and Mirrors
Physical addiction to nicotine is intense, there's no doubt about it. However, it is the contortions nicotine addiction puts us through on a mental level that is the real culprit behind why we cling to smoking long after we'd like to be through with it.
Over the years, we teach ourselves that smoking is something we like, need, and function more efficiently with. The reality is that we have a drug addiction with a never-ending need to be fed. So we smoke to ease the edginess we feel when the nicotine level drops in our bloodstream, and we associate that relief with whatever is going on as we're smoking. We reinforce these misconceptions thousands and thousands of times until they become our reality -- a reality based on an illusion.
Breaking the Cycle of Addiction
With the right information and a plan, each one of us has the ability to quit smoking permanently. And that, of course, is what we all want -- lasting freedom from nicotine addiction.
If I had to pick just three essential elements for long-term success with smoking cessation, they would be:
A good attitude, especially with smoking cessation, doesn't just happen. It is fostered by consciously shaping the thousands of thoughts we have daily to help us rather than hinder.
If you want to change your life, change your mind.
It has been said that on average, humans have upwards of 60,000 thoughts a day. That's a lot of thinking! Spend a day consciously taking stock of the thoughts floating through your mind. Listen carefully -- you might be surprised by what you hear. How much of what you tell yourself is negative? If you're like most people, a big percentage of your running, inner dialog is self-defeating.
Next, start correcting faulty thoughts as they occur. Tell yourself you can when you've just heard a whisper of I can't. Remind yourself that your edginess is due to healing from a drug addiction and will pass. Reject the idea that smoking was your friend. Friends don't kill friends. And don't worry if you find it hard to believe the corrected statements -- that will come in time. The important thing here is to feed yourself positive cues. It's a critical part of the path to changing your mind.
Some education about nicotine addiction will also help you shift your attitude in the right direction. Smokers are masters of denial -- they have to be in order to manage their smoking habit with at least some degree of comfort. Make it a point to look head on at the harsh realities of what cigarette smoke does to our bodies. Smoking is a horrific killer in sheep's clothing. See it for what it is and use that knowledge to your advantage.
As I look at my quit meter, it tells me 4072 days have passed since I smoked my last cigarette. On average, I smoked 25 cigarettes a day, so in those 4072 smoke-free days, I've had nearly 102,000 opportunities (cigarettes not smoked) to train myself away from the habit of smoking. That's a lot of practice.
Just as it took practice to enslave ourselves to smoking, we must practice in order to get comfortable as ex-smokers. The good news is that for most of us, the bulk of the work of quitting happens within the first 5000 cigarettes not smoked. By the time we've reached a year smoke-free, or 10,000 cigarettes (give or take) not smoked, we've gotten enough practice to feel comfortable as ex-smokers. From there, practice shifts over to a firming up of the foundation -- letting the cement dry on our new nonsmoking lifestyles, so to speak.
Plain old practice is a mandatory ingredient for long term success. There's no rushing this part of the recovery process. Sit back, relax, and let time help you.
In many ways, I've returned to the person I was before I ever picked up that first cigarette with one exception...I've consciously worked to develop and maintain a sharp memory about what I went through over the course of my 26 years of nicotine addiction.
- I remember how many years I spent thinking (dreaming, wishing fervently!) about quitting.
- I remember the chronic cough and shortness of breath I had by the time I was just 40 years old.
- I remember the fear of illness I lived with and the shame I felt because I couldn't quit smoking.
- I remember the illusion that smoking was, and I actively work at keeping that memory fresh and alive within me today.
And then there's gratitude. Remembering where we've been helps us appreciate where we are now. Gratitude helped me find my way out of addiction and it helps me maintain my freedom today. It keeps my crisp memory thankful, and allows me to be comfortably at ease with my quit and in other areas of my life as well.
A Word about Support
Recovery from nicotine addiction is a roller coaster ride for most people. Having a support network in place to help you manage the ups and downs is another essential ingredient for the long-term success you're looking for.
Enlist friends and family to cheer you on, and join the support forum here at About.com Smoking Cessation. This very active community of people quitting tobacco sparkles with healing and life. Stop in and browse through the messages of those who are working to beat nicotine addiction to the curb. I guarantee you'll come away inspired to give cessation a try and make smoking history yourself.