I remember the moment so well. That last drag.
The last time smoke slithered down my throat and I felt that woozy feeling in my head. I loved that feeling, that rush, the escape. I exhaled and looked mournfully at the butt. I made a promise to myself that this would be the last thing I ever smoked in my life. I was terrified at what laid ahead.
That was over 10 years ago and the journey hasn’t been an easy one. I used to smoke up to 30 cigarettes a day and constantly thought about smoking. Giving up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I cried for nearly a month; it felt like I was mourning the loss of my best friend. Something huge was missing from my life. But I soldiered on and it’s been one of the most rewarding and insightful journeys I’ve ever taken.
So in solidarity to those of you who have taken the first step to becoming smoke-free in the UK this Stoptober, here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Find what works for you.
There is a whole slew of paraphernalia to help you stop smoking, but as we’re all unique, we don’t respond to them in the same way. So try everything! Keep what works for you and let go of what doesn’t.
Get creative with this—it’s not only about patches and gum, although these can help. I became addicted to chupa chups sugar-free lollipops the first year or so. They kept my hands busy and the little stick was a like a cigarette dummy!
Smell is also really key. I carried around a little handkerchief with a few drops of essential oils that I would sniff whenever I had a craving. Jasmine, rose and lemongrass really worked for me, but something else might work better for you.
And finally don’t overlook the power of your breath. I used a self-hypnosis technique where I counted 10 big breaths at the top of every hour. This helped to bring my awareness fully into the present moment and for those 10 breaths I completely forgot about smoking.
But what makes a resolution really stick is how much you really want it. This is why it’s so important to know the reason why you’re quitting in the first place.
2. Identify why you want to give up.
This has to be about you. If you’re giving up because someone is forcing you too then you’ll start to resent that person. Quitting for good is going to require a lot of self-control and discipline. It’s the ultimate test of your character. You are going to draw on all of your reserves. So knowing why you’re doing this is essential. Do you really want to give up? Why? Write it out in a journal and be honest with yourself.
I wanted to give up because I felt trapped by smoking; I was constantly thinking about my next cigarette even when I was actually smoking! Freedom was my main motivation, followed by vanity. I saw an older woman smoking in the street which reflected what I had in store if I continued—all those fines lines around my mouth, discoloured teeth, sallow skin, stinky fingers and yellowing nails. I definitely didn’t want those things in my future.
3. Be narrow minded.
Don’t look at the whole picture! In the grips of a severe craving it’s defeating to think about having to fight the urge all the time. All you have to do is get through the next three minutes without a cigarette. Then the next 30 minutes, the next hour and this day. That’s it. And tomorrow you’ll do the same.
4. Replace smoking with something amazing.
By giving up, you’re creating space in your life for something new and amazing to flow into your life. Celebrate this and find your passion! You’re saving so much money by not buying cigarettes so you can afford to do things you weren’t doing before.
This could be salsa dancing, running, or pottery! Be adventurous and try things you’ve never done before. This also takes you outside your normal social situations that may be associated with smoking.
Yoga was my replacement. But it didn’t just fill a void, it also helped me to stop smoking. By focusing so intently on my breath, I became fully present in my body. Anchored in the present, my mind wasn’t drifting off thinking about lighting up.
5. Treat yourself.
This is so important. You are doing something wonderful for yourself and you deserve a reward for it! Give yourself a weekly treat on the day you gave up.
This doesn’t have to cost anything—giving yourself the time to indulge is a reward in itself. Take a candle-lit bubble bath, have a DYI beauty night, go for a lovely walk in nature or snuggle up on the sofa with a good book. Whatever it is, acknowledge that this is your reward for all your efforts over the past week. Going a whole week without smoking is a huge accomplishment and you deserve to be acknowledged for it.
I gave up on a Friday and I treated myself every Friday for about two years. Then one day I realised I had missed a Friday because actually I hadn’t thought about smoking all week! That was the ultimate prize and real turning point in my journey.
6. Know your triggers.
Coffee and red wine. Two of my favourite things that I used to think were synonymous with smoking! Every morning I used to make coffee and return to bed to light up my first cigarette of the day. This sounds awful to me now, but it was my morning ritual at the time. To break this cycle, I had to give up coffee. It wasn’t serving me or my commitment to being smoke-free.
It was only safe to start drinking coffee again when I no longer associated smoking with coffee. This may sound drastic, but the rewards have been so worth it.
So what are your triggers? Have an action plan in place to deal with them. Often they are associated with social situations or certain people. Visualise the situation and see how you could realistically get through it without smoking. Know that you are so much stronger than that craving and you can do it.
If something isn’t serving you or your commitment to being smoke free, let it go.
I lived with a smoker the first six months after I gave up. He was furious that I had decided to quit smoking as this was a huge part of our relationship. I will never forget the moment he spitefully blew smoke in my face telling me to just have a drag. With tears streaming down my face and my mouth salivating from the intense craving, I smiled inwardly knowing that if I could get through this, I could get through anything. I ditched the cigarettes (and him) for good.
7. Trust that it does get easier.
I know it’s hard to believe at the beginning when every minute can be a struggle, but I know this to be true. Trust that day-by-day, little by little smoking will become a distant memory.
There will be moments when it all feels like it’s too much effort and it would be so much easier to just give in. But make the promise to yourself to stay strong. This is a journey. And I bet you will soon discover that you are a whole lot stronger than you ever imagined yourself to be.
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Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s own