32 days without a smoke. Now what?
December 23, 2007 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I haven't smoked in over a month. How can I inspire myself to extend that indefinitely?

I haven't had a cigarette, not even a puff, in 32 days. Prior to that, I was a regular, I'd say medium-frequency smoker (I smoked 8-12 cigarettes a day).

Not smoking for 30 days wasn't nearly as tough as I'd anticipated. Sure I wanted one, but I was able pretty easily to put my mind on other things.

In the past few days, however, I've noticed that I am fantasizing about smoking with increasing frequency, and that it's not as easy to change my train of thought. I would say that the feeling that my *body* needs a cigarette has actually abated over time. This is more a psychological thing, i.e., 'wouldn't it be fun/relaxing to have a smoke right now?'

I think part of the reason it's suddenly getting harder for me to live without the thought of smoking is that my initial goal had been a month without cigarettes. It was a concrete goal that I could see myself accomplishing. The concept of my whole life without cigarettes is a whole lot scarier. Yet, at the same time, setting a new short-term goal, like two or three months without cigarettes, doesn't inspire me as much as the first goal did.

Any tips on how to keep myself committed to quitting after I've gotten over the first hurdle?
posted by scarylarry to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Don't buy cigarettes, or go into stores where cigarettes are easy to get (ie, grocers in California where I live keep them under lock and key in an out of the way part of the store, but you can't go into a convenience store without them staring right at you from behind the counter person) Don't go into public places where smoking is a big part of the atmosphere (it's so easy to bum a smoke from a friendly smoker in a place like that). Basically, make it easy on yourself by controlling your total environment to not include situations where temptation is likely.

Extreme answer? Move to a place where no one smokes (like a small town in Utah or something.)
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 8:56 PM on December 23, 2007

Think about the long run. If you have a weak moment and end up smoking a cigarette, it's not the end of the world. Better to count the number of cigarettes you haven't smoked than the ones you have.
posted by dhammond at 9:01 PM on December 23, 2007

I agree with scabrous.

If you've ever gotten sick from smoking (ie - slightly queasy or a headache) remind yourself of that every time you want a cigarette, and I mean really think about it. If you have an SO that still smokes have them take a big drag of their cigarette hold it in their mouth and kiss you full tongue. It's one of the most disgusting things ever.

These things worked for me and I haven't smoked in two years come January.
posted by Attackpanda at 9:01 PM on December 23, 2007

Think of the month you have been smoke free as an investment, that you throw away if you have another cig.
posted by 4ster at 9:05 PM on December 23, 2007

You have already done the hard part, you just need to maintain.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:13 PM on December 23, 2007

You've done the hard bit.

It's all psychological from here on in.

You're now, physiologically, a non-smoker.

For me, the biggest thing was avoiding situations where you might smoke. For example, make your house a smoke free zone, go to smokeless bars, don't hang out outside with the smokers etc.

The danger zone for me was the car, especially coming home after a crappy day at work.

Frankly, I smoked a few in the car.

It didn't matter. I wasn't a smoker any more. And neither are you. I'd buy a pack, smoke one or two, and throw the rest away. I didn't want them.
posted by unSane at 9:15 PM on December 23, 2007

I find it helpful to remind myself of the advantages of not smoking. I wrote down a list of reasons why I wanted to quit (which was quite long) and put it in my wallet, when I have an urge to smoke I think about that list or take it out and look over it. I also decided to set goals that are not congruent with my previous lifestyle, for instance, I set a goal to improve my cycling times; smoking would seriously hinder me in achieving this goal. Another idea that helped was to calculate the amount of cash I was spending on smoking and funnel that into an item I've been wanting (a new bike).

I also agree that "taking it one step at a time" is a helpful tool. When the urge strikes just casually brush it away and move on to other things.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 9:18 PM on December 23, 2007

My trick (after 10 years of 15-20 a day) was a simple phrase: "I would love to have a smoke now, but i can't because i'm a non smoker". It was that simple for me. After a year and a half i still crave a smoke most days, but having even one is not an option for me, because i am now a non smoker. Simple as that.

I know that if i had even one, i could be back to a pack-a-day in no time, but i have a super addictive personality.

Good luck with it tho...
posted by chromatist at 9:18 PM on December 23, 2007

Not smoking is just not smoking one cigarette: just this one. You don't have do deal with the tens of thousands of cigarettes that you won't smoke. You have no idea what will happen this far in the future.
For now, you are just dealing with one cigarette. And it's very easy to postpone just this one.

I've noticed that I am fantasizing about smoking
"Fantasizing" implies that a part of you thinks that cigarettes are good.
They are not.
You don't have to fight the cigarette, but the thought that it might be good. It is not. Cigarettes are your enemy. They want to kill you. Every "fantasy" must be confronted with the "enemy" image. Every time. Every single time. This is a battle for the ownership of your body and your mind. Think about your lungs. Or about your friend of friend who died from lung cancer. This is serious business. Deadly business. You can't fantasize about anything that tries to destroy you.

Last tip. Check what is happening in you body when you crave a cigarette. Your body is not addicted to tobacco but to nicotine. Generally, we feel the need to smoke when we are tired or hungry. If you become conscious of the need underlying the craving, you can short-circuit the craving by taking care directly of the need: take a break, relax, eat something.

Good luck.
posted by bru at 9:21 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I found it hard to think of the "rest of my life" as a non-smoker. Too much pressure, it was much easier to just not smoke today.

Stay away from situations that remind you of smoking. Stay away from people you used to smoke with. If you want to smoke every time you get in a car, then take the bus. It sounds really extreme, but nicotine addiction is a really serious, strong chemical dependency. That doesn't mean avoid the things you love forever, just a little longer until you are really sure you can go into a bar without smoking.

Consider nicotine replacement, patches, gum, or lozenges. The chemical component of tobacco addiction is more powerful than you think. Putting a nicotine lozenge in your mouth will ease some cravings, and give you something else to do besides smoking.

Consider taking up some exercise. This will make it much easier to see the harm smoking is doing to you. When I finally quit for good, it was when I trained for a 10K race. I realized there was no way I would complete it if I was a smoker.

Finally, if you do slip up and have a cigarette, don't give up. You don't have to go back to a pack a day. Throw them out and realize the next quit attempt will be that much easier.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:21 PM on December 23, 2007

A month worked for you as a goal. Promise yourself a reward if you make it ANOTHER month.
posted by desuetude at 9:26 PM on December 23, 2007

Best answer: I found it useful to refuse to allow myself to romanticize the cigarette. As soon as a nicotine related thought appeared, I would shout "No!" silently in the cavity of my brain. After a while, I pretty much stopped thinking about it.

Other options include visiting websites that have horrible stories about various cancers (listed in previous quit smoking threads somewhere in here) or perhaps becoming a member of a quit smoking support group, just so as you can be horrified by how much some people need to obsess over the quit.

My (multi-quit) experience says that until you have successfully negotiated every seasonal activity that smoking was part of, and survived, you still have some fantasies to bludgeon. You know, the first New Year's Eve without smoking, the first all night study session, the autumn camp fire.

Don't let the easiness of this quit fool you. My (again multi-quit) experience says that an easy quit is often followed by 7 or more atrociously difficult ones. So, don't be thinking, oh well, if I blow this, it's real easy to get back up, because sometimes, for some people, it's not.

I personally wouldn't set a goal of X months or X days, because ultimately, really, you want to stay quit right? So each time you reach your goal, it's like, "what, is this all there is?" Celebrate milestones for sure - first month, first quarter, first year, but accept that this is what you've chosen for whatever reasons. Be sure of your reasons, they help to maintain motivation. List them out somewhere you can refer to if you start changing your mind. It's like healthy eating - it's not a temporary thing, it's a lifestyle change.

Oh, and for some people, drinking iced water (or hot tea or beverage of your choice) becomes a successful oral substitute. I recommend something non-alcoholic.
posted by b33j at 9:55 PM on December 23, 2007

Money. 1/2 pack a day, at what...$5/pack? That's a savings of $75/month, $900/year.

There are programs that will actually keep a tally for you: Smoker'sCalc, for example.

And if that fails? I dunno, try searching YouTube for 'lung cancer.'
posted by laughinglikemad at 9:58 PM on December 23, 2007

Best answer: This list has a couple of time-related nonsmoking benefits on it, and may be useful for you.
posted by interrobang at 9:59 PM on December 23, 2007

You may find it useful to read Alan Carr's The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It's intended for people about to quit, but I read it after I'd already stopped smoking. It's basically just chapter after chapter of anti-smoking propaganda, but it seems to be dashed effective.
posted by mumkin at 10:01 PM on December 23, 2007

YOU WILL ALWAYS CRAVE CIGARETTES. You are stuck, there is no turning the part of you brain off that likes cigarettes. Cigarettes taste good. You are stuck loving them, but you don't have to smoke.

I used to smoke about 2 packs a day, and I quit about 3 years ago - after smoking for a good 10 years. Part of my success is realizing that I will always want a cigarette, I want one right now in fact. You really just have to decide that even though it would taste great and feel wonderful, you aren't a smoker anymore. There's no magic in this anywhere, you just have to decide - you sound like you haven't decided to quit smoking yet. You don't /try/ to do it. You do it. It took me 10 tries and one decision to quit smoking.
posted by bigmusic at 10:07 PM on December 23, 2007

Bear in mind that I haven't successfully been able to quit, but because of this I can tell you that none of these mind games ever worked for me, because dammit, I wanted a cigarette. These "cognitive" reasons don't work for everyone, and it sounds like it may not work for you.

I have, however, cut down on the number of cigarettes I smoke now because of two things: Trigger avoidance and replacement. The short answer is: cut out stress, add in more fun.

The long answer is that you need to identify why you smoke in the first place - relieve stress? Enjoy the taste? Like the deep breathing? How about socially acceptable mode of suicide? This might be kinda tough to do, but think about the feelings you imagine when you think about taking a drag. That would be what you want. Say you like it b/c it makes you happy and relaxed. Now you have to avoid things that don't make you happy or relaxed. For most people, this is not feasible 100% of the time. So...

Replacement. This is even harder to accomplish than identification (and why I haven't quit yet). You have to identify things that make you feel the same kind of happy and relaxed or whatever it is you feel. I like a steaming cup of coffee - the smell and the fact that it keeps my mouth occupied is usually an excellent distraction for me, and plus the cupholders are right on top of the ashtray. Training yourself to enjoy taking deep breaths and relax will work if you can take it seriously. Some people say gum works. I... respectfully disagree.

Good luck. :)
posted by reebear at 10:18 PM on December 23, 2007

Best answer: One thing I've grown to realize with temptations like this is that in the moment, there's often the perception that the strong urge to give in lasts forever. If I don't give in, I'm going to be miserable on a permanent basis, wanting to have a smoke, binge eat, do whatever I'm trying to avoid, so I might as well give in rather than be miserable.

The reality is that urges do wane, if I stick with it; and part of the battle is reminding myself on a regular basis that the pain doesn't last forever. If I stick it out, I'll be in a better place where I'll be thankful that I didn't give in.

When it comes to temptation, it's kind of like going to the gym. When I don't feel like going, I never regret getting my butt over there; but I always regret not going. Similarly, I always regret giving in to temptation; but if I stick it out, I never do, because the rewards are worth it. It makes me wonder what the heck I was thinking previously to throw away my progress. Really, it's learning to think with my future self.

I've grown to see addiction temptation to be somewhat like an elliptical orbit around a planet. With every circuit, the temptation gets a little bit further away; but occasionally, the orbit will come in closer to the planet, and I have to deal with it again, trusting that it's temporary, if I do the work to stay healthy. Over time the orbit comes closer less frequently and grows less strong, as it gets further away. It'll probably always make an appearance at some point in the future, but previous work dulls its effect.

The trick is finding a way to remind myself of this on a regular basis, internalizing the truth of it, because the urge itself can change our longterm priorities. Really, that's the hard part; and honestly, I do it with varying degrees of success. I've not mastered it. But I've become convinced that there's much truth in it.

I hope this doesn't sound preachy. Good luck to you!
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:34 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, one day at a time. Based on my multiple attempts to quit (I think that 12 months-ish is my record period of abstinence over the last decade, and I've smoked for 15 years), the risk periods are at 3 days, 1 week, one month, some time between 3 and 6 months and one year aproximately. When you get to a period of time when there's a risk that you'll re-start, treating it one day at a time is best, because at least then it seems like a manageable goal. After a few days it stops being a mental effort to stay quit too.

Usually if I"m not smoking I tend to crave a little bit in the morning sometimes (surprisingly little if I'm over the initial hump of one week of abstinence). If I make it through from 9-11 without caving in, generally the rest of the day is easy for me. OTOH I'm one of these people that really can't smoke. Many people including my psychologist - who I paid at one point - have said - remember if you have a smoke, it's just a smoke it doesn't mean you're a smoker again. This doesn't work for me. If I smoke I get stuck back into that behaviour for quite a while and it takes a fair bit of effort to quit again.

So I'm nearly two weeks into abstinence at the moment, and having done this a few times, I don't anticipate any problems whatsoever until the end of January (when I have to start spending large-ish amnts of time by myself again). On the other hand, this time round is a little different, as I've been starting to experience quite severe sensitivity to cigarette smoke - it makes me wheeze and really impairs my lung function. Nearly a fortnight into quitting, and my lung function is pretty much fine, so I have an incentive to stay stopped this time that didn't exist last time because smoking has been making me feel really un-good, particularly at 3am.

posted by singingfish at 10:42 PM on December 23, 2007

I swear it was a metafilter member that told me, "The desire to smoke will pass whether or not you have a cigarette." Believe it or not, it's true. I still want to smoke sometimes, and occasionally it really sucks - but my lungs strongly feel otherwise. I take a walk, do some deep breathing and the urge really does lessen.

And you know what? If you do lapse and decide to have a smoke, enjoy the hell out of it and start over again tomorrow. Be kind to yourself during this process - it isn't easy.

Good luck to you!
posted by Space Kitty at 10:52 PM on December 23, 2007

Best answer: Dude, I tried being upbeat and I tried being scary and I couldn't find a way to encourage you without sounding either too negative or unbelievably positive. But as a four-years-successful quitter I felt I had to tell you something about the process. So maybe I'm not directly answering the question, as what follows isn't so much inspiration but a guide to what you can expect as you quit. Please excuse the lack of rhetorical finesse but maybe you can get something out of this.

These are the facts: Quitting is tough, maybe the toughest thing you'll ever do, but quitting is the right thing to do. You have gotten over the biggest hump but you are nowhere close to out of the woods yet. Even if you do everything right, you will continue to think about cigarettes every day for months, if not longer. You will probably have dreams about smoking until you die. Do not let any of this defeat you -- again, even if you do everything right this will happen. This will be tough but you can beat it and you will consider yourself a stronger person each day you kick the Marlboro Man in the nuts.

Accept that the odds are you will screw up really, really badly at least once. Probably more than that, actually. Okay, now, it's not okay if you fall off the wagon but it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. I don't want to tell you how many times I had to try before it finally stuck. This is going to be tough. You're still okay. Go back into quitter mode as soon as you can after you screw up and you've just given yourself a reason to feel good again. Do not dwell on the past.

When you screw up, if you have one, don't have a second. If you buy a pack, flush it down the toilet or render it otherwise unusable before you throw it out. I've had a smoke or two since quitting a pack-or-two-a-day habit and the good news is after a couple years they really don't taste good any more. Yes, it does take a couple years to get to that point, but I'm the biggest wimp in the world and I somehow did it and so can you. I don't know enough about you to suggest particular rewards for meeting landmarks but if that works for you then do it.

I wish I could help you more in this forum but I'm not sure how. Please feel free to contact me any time via MM if you're getting the urge, or even if you've screwed up and I'll do my best to help. Good luck.
posted by Opposite George at 10:54 PM on December 23, 2007

I guess what I forgot to say is all the logical reasons to quit are fine but the cravings still beat the shit out of them. So again, remember there is nothing wrong with you and even still, this is going to be tough. If you're ever discussing your newly-discarded habit with some reformed smoker or even non-smoker and they start singing you some glib tune about how if you just put your mind to it and accept it's stupid to smoke that quitting should be the easiest thing in the world to do you have my permission to punch them in the face, hard.
posted by Opposite George at 11:01 PM on December 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm an addict. Hardly a day goes by without thinking about smoking and I feel like having a cigarette every week or so. It took a little while to realize that will probably never change. But if I were to have a cigarette right now, the craving for a cigarette would go completely away for maybe half an hour and then I'd want another, but the craving would be stronger. And I wouldn't be able to say that I haven't had a cigarette for almost ten years.
posted by faceonmars at 11:06 PM on December 23, 2007

When I see someone smoking or imagine smoking myself, I say to myself "Thank god I don't have to do that anymore."

That one statement, repeated many times, has made all the difference. It totally shifted my consciousness. When I first started saying it, it rang a bit hollow, but now it is completely heartfelt.

Smoking is not a delightful treat that I'm being deprived of -- it's a self-destructive compulsion that made me feel and smell bad on a daily basis. I used to have to go outside many times a day, in the cold and rain, and inhale toxic smoke. Whether I wanted to or not.

And now I don't have to anymore. What a relief! It was not fun, and I'm so glad to not to be stuck there anymore.

Try that one on for size and and see how it works for you.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:22 PM on December 23, 2007

First of all -- A huge congratulations for making it a month without smoking a cigarette. That's a huge accomplishment, and you should feel really great about yourself for making it. You're doing great.

As it's been said earlier, the hardest part of it is over. Really. The key at this point is recognizing that, if you begin again - you're going to have to quit all over again. Every pang, craving, and fuzzy-headed moment of the quit will have to be relived. And - really, who wants to do that?

You're completely right that you're playing a psychological game now. But realize, everytime you make the decision not to smoke you reenforce that feedback, break the synaptic connections that have made you *dependent* on cigarettes. I don't know if this is the case for you, but when I smoked - grabbing a cigarette was a non-decision. I wasn't present when I grabbed a smoke - even if I really didn't actually want one.

So now - the game is reaffirming the decision whenever you're faced with a prompt that makes you crave smoking?

Long trip, hand out of the open window of the car... Wish I had a cigarette.
But I quit. I don't smoke anymore. I'm not going to smoke now.

The fucking subway took forever, and I'm rushing to work. I need a reason to have a second before going in there and getting yell at. Need a smoke.
But I quit. I don't need a smoke. I just need to gather myself, calm down, and breathe.

I'm a little drunk. The party is okay, but I can't take these people right now. I need a cigarette to get out of here.
But I quit. It's not the cigarette I need, it's just my introverted nature. I can step out for a bit without smoking - same end result.

So - now, just realize that all you have to do is be aware. Your mind can be pernicious when it comes to cigarettes -- after all, it knows you best - and knows all of your weak points. Just be present. And make the decision. Soon, you won't have to do it because you'll have succeeded in breaking the habit. And you'll be so proud of yourself.

Good for you for doing it. All of us that have gone through it are really proud of you.

(Personally quit since 10.02.05.)
posted by icosahedral at 11:55 PM on December 23, 2007

Data point. At 2 years quit in 6 days, I don't actually have cravings any more. Yeah, I know what they are, it took me about 13 years with approximately 4 serious quits a year to get here. I don't get cravings. Occasionally, I get a mild desire easily fixed by smelling someone smoking. Not everyone craves for the rest of their life.
posted by b33j at 2:27 AM on December 24, 2007

I've been quit over ten years and most of the time I forget I ever smoked in the first place.

But very occasionaly the romatasicm of wanting to smoke comes again (like reading this thread) but it something I'm so distance from now I just laugh about.

Having the odd ciggerete now and again won't kill you... however the danger is having the odd one... then one now and then... then one or two... then buying a packet but only smoking them over a couple of weekends... then over one night... then wammo! You're addicted again.

Resist if you can, but if it gets total mental torture have one... it took me several attempts to finally quit.

I've got a distinct memory of the last ever one... I had been quit well over a year, but I was very drunk, had been with someone who had been smoking all night, I had just had one. Tasted so disgusting I never wanted another
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:04 AM on December 24, 2007

Some people have said above that you will always crave cigarettes. I think that really depends on the person. However, it is true that you will probably crave them for a long time. Honestly, it took five years for the cravings to go away for me. But they did go away. And, over time, those cigarettes that you bum off a friend in a bar just to see if they're still good won't be good. They'll be really terrible. That'll help. But, I hope that recognizing that it might be a long time before the craving passes is somewhat helpful -- to know that it's normal and that it will pass eventually. Good luck!
posted by amanda at 11:43 AM on December 24, 2007

You know what? I quit smoking eight months ago. Today I popped in some earbuds, hit play on my iPod, and reached into my pocket for a lighter. Why? Hell if I know... you will have weird tics and habits for quite some time, associated with your former life as a smoker. Spot them for what they are — the ingrained muscle memories of a former addict — have a quiet laugh with yourself and move on.
posted by mumkin at 4:05 PM on December 24, 2007

Some people will think that the advice I about to give you is awful, so read on with caution.

I was an on again, off again smoker for some time, not as bad as a lot of people but pretty on par with what you describe. So with that in mind, this is the advice I offer you if you really want to stay smoke free.

Go smoke a cigarette. Borrow one from a friend if you can.

You're going to spend the next few days after that getting re-acquainted with nicotine withdrawal. And as you may have noticed, it is awful.

The last time I quit, I had a smoke after about a month and it made me completely miserable. I hated the taste, the smell, and I especially hated the fact that after 3 days I still wanted to go light one up. And I asked myself, during that time, do I want to feel like this for the rest of my life? That I feel a biological NEED to go consume nicotine smoke every few hours?

That has made me choose not to smoke every day since then (about a year ago). Every time I think about what I enjoyed about smoking, I think about nicotine withdrawal and how shitty it makes me feel. I just needed that 1 reminder that no, I don't want to live my life like that.

You've already gotten lots of good advice in this thread so you may not need to do this. But just remember, for the rest of your life, that if you smoke even one cigarette on just one night out, you will go into withdrawal and you will feel completely, insanely shitty for days afterwards. I never want to experience that again, and the only way to do that is to stay nicotine free.
posted by baphomet at 4:40 PM on December 24, 2007

Did you ever see "Dead Again"? There's a scene in that in which Andy Garcia, whose character is an elderly man dying of emphysema, smokes a cigarette through the trach hole in his throat. Watch that.
posted by orange swan at 5:49 PM on December 24, 2007

Do you have a list written down, in your own words, of the reasons why you quit smoking? If not, you should make one. The list is like a thread connecting two versions of you in time: the you who wanted to and successfully did quit smoking, and the you who's craving a cigarette right now and liable to give in to the urge to try one. The written word has an authority, and it's outside your head where the excuse-making addict lives, so that gives it more power. It's good ammunition against yourself.
posted by evariste at 10:53 PM on December 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I started smoking again last year after quitting for 15 years. I had just gotten divorced and was itching to do something different, so smoking and drinking came back in. I just quit - again - just about a month ago. I know what you're going through.

I miss the activity of smoking. I miss going out on the deck at night, smoking and looking at the stars. When I stress, I seriously miss the distraction and immediate shut-down of emotions.

I'm trying to replace the activity of smoking and the stress reduction with other things that are just as pleasurable and distracting, but I'm still missing it.

I think once you're addicted to smokes, you're like any other addict. You'll always be a smoker, but you'll be a smoker who doesn't smoke anymore. One day at a time. It's all any of us can do. Good luck to you.
posted by kat at 6:59 PM on December 25, 2007

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