I read this morning that a fellow blogger is four years free of the booze. As a former addict of the cigs I admire him tremendously because addicts know that quitting is a moment by moment proposition, so four years is just fabulous, hooray for this fellow blogger. And today happens to be the 14th anniversary of my giving up the foul weed. Hooray for me.
I woke up one morning to find both nicotine and oxygen jockeying for first place in my affections and the nicotine was winning hands down. I gasped for air and at the same time (and non-smokers who can’t imagine the hold that drugs have on your system will find this strange) I was still yearning for that morning cig. It was a nightmare. The indicators had been creeping up on me for years: I’d cough up phlegm first thing every morning; had a 25 pack a day voice and had coughing fits whenever I laughed. There was finally no ignoring or getting around my habit. Denial was no longer an option. That morning I had reached what gamblers and alcoholics call ‘rock bottom.’ My lungs seemed to have packed it in and there was nowhere left for me to go except for cold turkey. That was the day. I stopped smoking for good.
I knew it had to be cold turkey. I had tried almost everything else: trying to drive some of that nicotine out of my system by sleeping in, sitting in my arm chair knitting, or reading or watching TV and keeping myself distracted as long as possible. I once had an idea that if I took half the cigs out of my daily packet I could decrease my intake till I was down to none.
Those ideas failed as they were bound to with a compulsive type like me. I hadn’t been able to make a move without cigarettes for four decades. Whatever the occasion, my pals and I were together, first thing in the morning out in the garden, last thing at night enjoying the sunset, and all those other occasions in between. From first puff to last gasp not a thought or an action was possible without my constant companions -along for company.
There were no patches back then, but they wouldn’t have helped me. I had a compulsive personality and would just have got hooked on the patches. I was that good girl who cleaned her plate at dinner; I ate all the chips then worked my finger round the pack to find the crumbs and salt hiding down the bottom. It was impossible to leave a cigarette unsmoked; I had to suck up every leaf of tobacco and would have inhaled the butt if I could have.
Fear for my life is what finally stopped me cold, and anger at what those chemicals had done to keep me captive kept me strong until all that nicotine was out of my system. Even so, every afternoon at 4, I badly craved a smoke. My chest constricted, a cartload of spiky heels did their daily cha cha up and down my body. Now four o’clock comes and goes without incident and nicotine has finally stopped being a natural part of my day.
Overnight success has been a forty year journey of stops and starts but I made it. That’s why I’ve taken to a Cancer Council advertisement that tells people not to give up giving up. I think that the Council has finally cracked the code. We all backslide and the trick is not to despair but try again. It must have been an ex-smoker who thought up that advertisement. It’s an open secret that most people who smoke want to quit. Keep trying and you will do it is the Council’s message to smokers, and it’s mine.
ps has anyone worked out why it’s called ‘cold turkey’? I’d like to know.