Some practical questions about quitting smoking.
May 25, 2012 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Need some advice and strategies for quitting smoking, with a couple of other specific practical questions (including how to manage it as a couple).

My husband and I have each smoked for about 20 years (we're not especially old, we just started young). We're both ready to be done with it; we just don't want to be smokers anymore. It's not that we don't like smoking, it's that it's bad and expensive and we don't feel great and we don't like being tied to something and I (at least) am tired of trying (and failing) to mask smelling like it. We each smoke about 3/4 of a pack each day, sometimes more.

I've been through the other quitting smoking questions and they've been quite helpful-- I'm planning to do this using Champix (provided that it isn't a problem with my current medications) and I might pick up that Allen Carr book. But I'm concerned about a couple of things and could use some practical advice. I would really, really like to only do this once.

1. Do you have any advice for a couple quitting smoking together? How can we best deal with two irritable people in the same household, each dealing with cravings, especially in the first couple of days/weeks? We work together and share an office too.

2. Our intended quit date is July 15th. In the last week of August I have to take a trip that is going to be the most stressful* thing I'll have done in recent years. Is taking this on 6 weeks after quitting going to be a terrible timeframe? I would really like to not be a smoker for this trip, but I'd be stupid not to acknowledge that in some ways it's going to be emotionally difficult. I skew towards rather easily irritable in general, and I'm concerned that I won't be able to hide it and that I'll be miserable to be around on this trip.

3. In terms of functioning on a professional level, is there a best day of the week to quit? I'm thinking that if we quit on a Friday night (say, July 13th), then we have Saturday and Sunday to be the most miserable-- at home, rather than at work around our employees and customers (as well as not having to deal with some of the daily frustrations of work). Is this logical or does it really not matter?

4. (Meta-question) Is the fact that it makes me nervous to write and post this question at all an indicator that I'm not ready? I'd really like to not be a smoker, like I said, but I know you have to truly want to not smoke anymore in order for it to work. I know that I don't want to be a smoker anymore, but is this kind of nervousness (in that writing about it makes it more real) normal for someone wanting to quit, or is it an indicator that I have to want it even more?

Would also love to hear any best practices for dealing with the habit part of the cravings (which I suspect will be the most difficult part for me, as I use smoking as "punctuation" throughout my day). Words of encouragement welcome as well.

*I will soon be five years clean from alcohol, cocaine, speed, benzos, and opiates. In August I'll be returning to the city where I used (for 14 years) for the first time since I've been clean. Compound that with close quarters with family members and it's going to be a bit challenging.
posted by mireille to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Yikes, oh well nothing ventured nothing gained.

I believe that there are some apps that you can download for iPhone or Android.

Anything that you can listen to to relax, like guided meditation would be useful, especially for stress relief.

The Chantix should help with any cravings. So any urge to smoke might be more habitual than physical. Make a plan to deal with it.

When I want a cigarette, I'm going to....instead.

Get up and walk around the house.
Go outside and take a few breaths of fresh air.
Draw a picture of a duck.
Write it down in a journal.

There's a little hypnosis thing you can do to make your brain stop obsessing about smoking. Paul McKenna is pretty awesome for this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:44 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: 1) It was great for us. Yes two irritable people, but also a live-in support system where the other person knows what you're going through.

2) Honestly, I'd push the quit date until after the trip, unless July 15 is really super important/significant to you for some reason. The only time I broke my quit was when my dad died and I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. Don't pile on the stress, especially when the stress is related to past addictions.

3) I'd actually say Wednesday. You're often brimming with optimism at the start of a quit, but a few days in you go full on rage monster. Start on a Friday and you'll probably be hitting a rough patch just as you go back to work.

4) "but I know you have to truly want to not smoke anymore in order for it to work"


I quit smoking because it was starting to make me feel like shit (like not being able to breathe for a while after I woke up in the morning shitty), but I had to acknowledge that in all honesty I still wanted to smoke and probably always would, I just wanted to feel better more than I wanted to smoke. Quitting smoking primarily sucks not because of withdrawl, not because of irritability, but because you don't get to smoke anymore. I was only able to stick to my quit when I was honest about this with myself. It's been over two years and I still want a cigarette right now. But I feel great in a way that would not be possible if I was still smoking lovely delicious wonderful cigarettes.

On all of these YMMV, of course.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:48 AM on May 25, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: My wife and I were both 10+ year smokers. I quit cold-turkey, Mrs. G tried Chantix, hated it due to the side-effects and eventually went with the patch and was successful. I quit first and it was very difficult to do it in a house where my wife was still smoking. So, I think that doing it together will make things easier in the long run, though tempers will flare early on. As for specifics:

1- Quit at the same time and don't make any rash decisions. Recognize that both of you will be on edge and likely quick to snap. Each of you should do your best not to pick any or perpetuate any arguments during the first couple of weeks.

2- If you're really ready to quit, don't schedule it. Quit right now. Throw the cigarettes in the trash and resolve to stop smoking. You've kicked a lot of things it seems, you can kick this too. By the time August rolls around, you'll be back to yourself and really happy about it.

3- The best day to quit is today. I was foggy for the first couple of weeks after and had to really concentrate and focus to get through it. It was rough but more than worth it. Doing it on a Monday or a Friday really wouldn't have made much difference to me.

4- I think that people are motivated to quit for different reasons and have different feelings going into it. My wife wanted to have a child. I refused until we were both not smoking. She felt like quitting smoking was an assault against who she identified as as a person and that made her very apprehensive. But, the prospect of a kiddo on the other end made that discomfort manageable. If you're money motivated, think of the savings. If you're hygiene motivated, think of the smell. If you're health motivated, think of the no-more-hacking-up-a-lung-I-need-a-smoke feeling every morning. It's been part of your life for 20 years, it would be hard not to be nervous or apprehensive about it.

The three things that helped me quit and get through the daily punctuation were cold water, altoids and coffee straws (or toothpicks) for chewing. I always had plenty on hand and took advantage of them whenever the urge hit.
posted by Jacob G at 11:49 AM on May 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd really like to not be a smoker, like I said, but I know you have to truly want to not smoke anymore in order for it to work. I know that I don't want to be a smoker anymore, but is this kind of nervousness (in that writing about it makes it more real) normal for someone wanting to quit, or is it an indicator that I have to want it even more?

For many addicts, the psychological addiction never goes away, no matter how hard you try and no matter how long you haven't indulged. What goes away is the phyiscal dependency on the drug. So instead of your brain and body saying "if we don't smoke right now I swear to god you will die," instead it's saying "hey, you know what's pretty swell? A cigarette." And it's a easier to say "no" to the latter than the former, even if you have to spend the rest of your life saying "no." It's very hard to decline water in the desert, it's a bit easier to decline an extra piece of cake at a party.

So you're going to want to smoke through the whole process but you're going to want to quit a whole lot more. You don't tackle a chemical dependency by convincing yourself there's no problem. You tackle it by trusting yourself to be stronger than the dependency.
posted by griphus at 12:08 PM on May 25, 2012

Also, there's no generally best day to quit. Some people handle withdrawal better if they can get away from everything and lock themselves in a dark room under the covers. Some handle it better by plunging themselves into people and activity and work. It all depends on your personality.
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: I quit 511 days ago. Yay, me.

I quit because I didn't realize I was having a stroke at the age of 47. It wasn't until I was in a screaming ambulance on New Year's Eve being rushed from a local hospital to a neuro ICU in a hospital that specialized in brain trauma that I realized I was about to become a non-smoker.

That's what it took for me to quit. If it wasn't for the stroke, I'd probably still be smoking at 77. If I lived that long.

#2. Picking a quit date is always a reason to put off having a quit date. If you want to do it, just do it. Now or never.

#3. Quit during a work week. It'll keep you busy. I ALWAYS had a smoke break at 10ish and around 2ish. Instead of having a cigarette, I forced myself to take a quick walk or drink a coffee instead. Basically I exchanged one habit for another.

#4. Just another excuse to not quit. See #2.

My worst times were after a meal or while driving. God, those were terrible cravings. Instead of having a cigarette, I did dishes right away. I've said this before on previous threads, but what helped me the most was realizing that each craving, like a wave, only lasted about a minute or two. Once I rode the wave and that minute or two passed, I was good to go.

I was lucky in that I spent two weeks in a hospital off and on, so there was no way I could cheat. So I had two weeks of being too sick to really feel the usual crankiness and stress of quitting under my belt when I finally got out. I was too worried wondering if I would end up being a vegetable to think about the cravings.

So fast forward 511 days. I still think fondly about cigarettes. Every day. But I'm smoke free and so much happier now.
posted by HeyAllie at 12:41 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A couple things that have worked for me in the past (even though I always ended up smoking again, after several months when the cravings were gone and I felt it was probably ok to just have one):

1. Drink a lot of coffee at the beginning. For me, that buzzing feeling in my head from needing a cigarette and not having one was really hard to deal with, but if I drank coffee by the pot the buzz felt a lot more familiar to me, so it was a whole lot easier to deal with. Then you might be left with a caffeine addiction, but a couple of days of headaches to kick that habit is a walk in the park once you've quite a nicotine addiction.

2. Just always remind yourself that every day you make it without a cigarette, that's one day closer to where not smoking isn't such a difficult thing -- and that day isn't really very far away even though today might feel like nothing could possibly suck more. If you slip up and start smoking again you're back at day one, and you have to repeat every moment of hell that you've already made it through.

But what worked for me when I quit for good was realizing that smoking, and being unhealthy in general, was going to kill me, and deciding that "as of this moment I am no longer a smoker and I lead a healthy lifestyle." On that day I quit smoking, I quit caffeine, I quit eating sugary junk food, I started eating a vegetable-based diet, I started exercising for a half hour every day whether I felt like it or not. It was a total shock to my system, but I think that actually helped. Today, eight months later, I'm significantly lighter and healthier, I look and feel good, I run 20+ miles a week, and I never want a cigarette at all. At work I'll even go out with the smokers on their smoke breaks to chat about stuff, and I never want to light one up. And here's the crazy part about swapping smoking for exercise: I used to spend at least a half hour every evening out on my balcony smoking cigarettes and messing around on the laptop. Now I run for about the same amount of time each day, but the payoff is that I need about that much less sleep each night. So my smoking time has been replaced by running time, but then I have that much time again, completely free and new, that I can use for whatever I want. Another bonus is that it doesn't take much time at all to start seeing measurable results if you start a strict exercise program to improve your cardiovascular health, and that also becomes a motivating factor to not start smoking again.

I quit totally solo, so the only thing I can say about quitting as a couple is that if you both have your heads in the same place then instead of approaching it as being more difficult having to deal with the other person's cravings and mood swings, you could look at it as having a built in support system, so when you're having a good day you can shoulder some of the load for your partner, and vice versa.

You can do it for sure. Like you said, you just have to want it, and you do want it. So do it. It is really, really difficult, so of course you're going to be nervous about it. It's a huge change in the way you live your life every day. But that nervousness does not in any way mean that you don't want it enough. Go be a non-smoker! It's a great way to live, and you will never regret the decision.
posted by Balonious Assault at 12:50 PM on May 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

Quitting smoking primarily sucks not because of withdrawl, not because of irritability, but because you don't get to smoke anymore.

This is SO TRUE. When I quit I was worried about things like irritability and headaches and fuzzy-headedness and I spent a lot of energy reading about strategies for getting through the work day and spent a lot of time observing my irritability and tiredness. It was almost fun. And then I woke up a few weeks later and realized that nope, I was no longer physically dependent on nicotine. My body wasn't doing interesting things because of chemicals. I just really fucking wanted a cigarette. That was a long, painful day. There isn't really a point at which you're "done" quitting, or have "gone through" quitting.

I actually think it's more fun to go through awful things as a couple, than on your own. You can at least understand each other, distract each other, push each other, and - most importantly - laugh at each other. Be a team: instead of sulking and snapping and trying to be stoic vent your frustration by yelling OH MY GOD THIS SUCKS WHY ARE WE DOING THIS at each other, and send each other miserable text messages when you're at work. It's so much easier if you are just a little bit ridiculous and over-the-top about it. If you work together with clients, even better. It can be a game where you see how normal you can act in front of clients while secretly dying on the inside.

The awful thing about quitting as a couple is if one person quits quitting. Because then you are on your own, and you have to be on the defensive, because if you don't pit yourself against your partner, you will see them sitting outside on the bench smoking and think about how comfy and nice it would be to snuggle up next to them and next thing you know...
posted by ke rose ne at 4:57 PM on May 25, 2012

My advice is that those stressful fits of looking through your car for loose cigarettes when you're out, freaking out if you don't HAVE A CIGARETTE RIGHT THIS SECOND will start to taper off after a few days. You're not going to be battling that for weeks on end, if your experience is anything like mine.

It's a little weird to look back on the addiction after this stops happening, because of how much you took it for granted that being compelled to smoke was something that was just "there" and non-negotiable. It's like if someone told you, "If you stop going to the bathroom for a week, it'll be a really shitty week, but after that, you'll never have to go to the bathroom again, ever, unless you choose to."

The tough thing is saying "no" to cigarettes after you've gotten enough distance from smoking to feel safe with respect to the addiction, as though it's something you have control over. You really have to be prepared to say, "If it won't be a big deal if I just have this one, then it won't be a big deal if I *DON'T* just have this one," and stick to it, because even one cigarette can get you into a relapse.

I've relapsed a few times, but I'm currently smoke-free, and I exercise as often as I can and keep myself stocked with Cobalt 5 gum, which helps. Good luck.
posted by alphanerd at 5:37 PM on May 25, 2012

I quit on a Wednesday because I thought the distraction of work would help, but I had to leave work in the middle of the day because of RAGE. I holed up with my rage and got through it. I did cold turkey, so the physical part was done in three (rage-filled) days. For the habit/psychological part, I used tea tree oil tooth picks (I don't remember where this idea came from). I pulled one out and gnawed on it every time I would've had a cigarette. It worked. The other thing that helped was the following mantra: "This fucking sucks, and if you smoke you'll have to do it all again." I haven't smoked in six or seven years.
posted by Mavri at 6:10 PM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: You don't say specifically if you used 12 step programs and/or other "spiritual" methods to get clean and sober. I know a guy who'd been clean and sober about a year and a half and damn sure wanted to quit smoking, too, and kept on throwing himself at it, not recognizing at all that it is an addiction, same as alcoholism, same as speed, whatever. I mean, he obviously knew it was an addiction but didn't really go with all the implications of that -- powerlessness, inability to stop an addiction under his/her own power, etc and etc.

And one day he got it. Laughed and laughed at himself -- what a buffoon! -- and began to treat it as an addiction, using what he'd learned in 12 step programs.

He already was praying, and meditating, morning and night, seeking not only peace but also direction, order. He began to add in to that prayer a specific ... maybe not request, but asking for help with the smoking thing, acknowledging that it was bigger than he was and that he needed a hand, and until that time he was by god just going to keep on smoking. Pretty much "Hey, gimme a sign, if you will, ring a celestial chime or something, let me know when it's *your* time; until then, I'm gonna smoke 'em up."

He threw that prayer up there a few months maybe, he can't recall exactly, morning and night. One day, in San Antonio, installing an acoustical ceiling, he got a feeling, subtle but there. He went outside that building and hit his knees and said words to the effect "Old Timer -- If this is just me, wishful thinking, well, plz forgive my lame ass my presumptiousness. But if this is your show, if this is your gift, well, I can't thank you enough. And I will do everything that I can, on my end, to keep to this."

He walked back into that building, threw an almost full pack** of Pall Mall straights -- his favorite, from what he tells me -- threw them up into that acoustical ceiling, and, best he knows, they're still there. It was May 31, 1984. He hasn't had a cigarette since.
**He'll tell you if you ask him that he's pretty goddamned annoyed that it wasn't an almost empty pack, wtf was up with this whole almost full pack thing? Fuck. God works in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform, right?

More than that, maybe more than not having a cigarette, he hasn't really wanted one. It truly was a gift. He'll tell you he sure knows how great they are after dinner, after sex, on a break on a physical job. But he's not ever been compelled, not ever.

He tells me that his part was staying away from caffeine for about a year, and keeping some of those small tick tack mints in his pocket, something to do with his hands when others were smoking. I can tell you that he drinks caffeine now, no problem.

Fortunately, it wasn't me that had this experience, because man oh man would I ever hate to put myself out on this website full of skeptics in a matter such as this. Sheesh. But this guy does want it out there, he says "Hey, maybe it'll help, if even one person gets something from it -- and he's seen many people use this to quit, people that he has sponsored for example -- he figures that if anyone can benefit from it, it'd be a shame for me to not put it out here for him.

So I did.
posted by dancestoblue at 6:59 PM on May 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband and I both found it weirdly easy to quit. He was a pack-a-day smoker who woke up one morning feeling "weird" and just...stopped smoking. I was a devoted light smoker who quit after enduring many rounds of heavy-duty antibiotics and prednisone to clear a chronic sinus infection. We did this separately, a couple of years apart. We both looooooooved smoking.

The way I thought about it that helped me the most was this: it's kinda like my favorite band or TV show or movie from when I was a kid. Am I ashamed of going to see Cry Baby in the theater multiple times ? Hell no. Do i still love the Beatles early stuff? Sure. I still have affection for the memory of my 16 or 17 year old self, I don't need to repudiate it, but, y'know, I moved on and found other interests more compelling.
posted by desuetude at 11:10 PM on May 25, 2012

After asking this question almost two years ago, I quit two weeks ago. 20 year smoker, 40 a day. I started Chantic a month ago and quit on about day 15, and honestly it was relatively easy. You still want a cigarette, but the trigger is habit rather than that shallow-breathing, gut-churning, cold-sweat, I'd-kill-my-own-mother addicted need for a cigarette. I don't think it' common but my doctor also gave me a box of Nicorette inhalers for emergencies. It comes with 16 cartridges to the box; in two weeks I have used one. I currently have a house guest who is smoking indoors and am not bothered in the least.

I did not think ANY OF THIS WOULD WORK and nobody is more shocked than me that it did. So despite the nausea, occasional vomiting and a weird but temporary skin sensitivity, I am a huge fan. The side effects ease off ( i feel a pit pukey for 10 minutes after a tablet), and pale in comparison to morning sickness or chemo or other things people endure routinely.

My husband quit at the same time and honestly, it's been... great. I highly recommend it. FWIW I have gone through withdrawal and I was terrified it would be like that, which it had been when I tried patches and cold turkey previously, and it wasn't at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 AM on May 26, 2012

I've quit twice.

The first time I had reached the point where I'd have a cigarette in my hand with out making a conscious decision. I was disturbed that something was controlling me. I focused on eliminating the automatic smoke breaks (with coffee, after a meal, with alcohol). A month later I was ready to go cold turkey.

Twenty years later I stupidly thought I could enjoy a smoke every now and then. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Within a week it was as if I had never quit. Seven years later I received news that I was genetically at very high risk for breast and ovarian cancers. After receiving the news, may partner and I left the building and lit up in the car. Then the utter ridiculousness of the situation hit us and we decided to quit. This was on a Friday. We gave ourselves the weekend to smoke our brains out and started to quit on Monday.

This time I used the patch to help deal with the cravings while I found ways to adjust the habits. Lollypops, Jolly Ranchers, carrot sticks, chewing gum, rubber band to snap on my wrist, walking, drinking juice or kombucha, avoiding alcohol all helped. Having a partner going through it with me held me accountable. I didn't want to sneak a smoke and lie and I didn't want to let him down - this was probably the primary thing which kept me from backsliding initially. After a few months I resisted temptation with the realization that I didn't want to go through the process of quitting again.

Rage - uncontrollable, insane waves of rage. When the idea of having a machete at the ready seems like a sweet idea... Happy Camper, by Natural Balance was my saving grace. This product took the crazy out of the mood swings and really helped me maintain. I seriously don't think i could have quit without it.

I've been quit for almost six years. I had one very bad period where I really wanted to drown my sorrows with a bottle of bourbon and a pack if cig's. The knowledge that all things pass plus the memory of how unpleasant quitting is kept me from succumbing.
posted by cat_link at 10:51 AM on May 26, 2012

Response by poster: Quick update: I took a lot of advice that was given. I read most of the thread to my husband as then answers came in and we decided not to wait, to get the Champix and just... quit! I'm actually super-excited to not be a smoker anymore.

It took a bit of time to get our trips to the doctor (for the prescriptions) organized and we've now been taking the Champix just over a week. I also bought the Allen Carr book and I'm about halfway through. Quit day is Friday the 29th!

Thanks, everyone!
posted by mireille at 1:56 PM on June 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: *as the answers
posted by mireille at 1:57 PM on June 25, 2012

Good luck! Just as an FYI I was down to 5 a day on the day I quit and at that point I just had to gut it out and vow to go with 0. It really helped me to be active and busy before and after quit day.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:17 PM on June 25, 2012

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