Today is the third anniversary of the day when I quit smoking!
Quitting smoking, like most other addictions, is an intensely private and personal thing. You know when you are ready to quit. It isn’t the doctors, or friends, or family who can get you to quit. It is you — the smoker, the alcoholic, workaholic or a drug user — who has to make that decision. And after you have made that decision, then it is a battle to fight the urge to smoke again. My last cigarette was minutes before I walked into the emergency room looking for treatment for what would turn out to be a heart condition. I think of that moment with disgust — I was being boxed around by the grim reaper and all I wanted to do was take one last drag on a cigarette. As I came back from the cold, it was clear to me, I would never touch a cigarette or cigar again.
For 27 years I had been a slave to the nicotine and cigarettes. I would plan my day around my smoking breaks. I would have to find apartments that were smoker-friendly. I resented every time some made a smarmy comment about my smoking habits. I would avoid long flights because of the need for a fix. I was not in control of the cigarettes and my smoking habit. It was the other way around — the devil’s weed controlled how I lived. Upon leaving the hospital, I promised to myself that never again would I become victim to my own habits. I quit smoking. There was no hypnosis, no nicotine patch, no nicotine gum. I didn’t want to smoke anymore. Ever.
The chemical dependency on nicotine goes away pretty fast — in a few days. It is the mind one needs to program. Smoking is a behavior — and to quit smoking one needs to reprogram one’s behavior. There are a million memories filed away in our brain that are correlated with the act of smoking. I speak from experience.
Sitting on a beach in Tel-Aviv has a smoking memory associated with it. Same is desire to sit outside a cafe, sip an espresso and smoke a cigarette. In order to quit, one has to erase these smoking-to-scenario associations. My cardiologist taught me a nice trick — drink a glass of water every time I felt like smoking. The more water I drank, more bio-breaks I needed. The act of associating smoking with running to the bathroom has worked so far.
I am one of millions of people who have successfully quit smoking, and I am damn proud of it. It does not mean that it has been easy. And it also doesn’t mean that that I am out of the woods — smokers relapse every so often and that is why I mark every anniversary, as putting distance between myself and nicotine.
It’s no wonder that two-thirds of adult smokers who wish they could quit say they aren’t able to. It shouldn’t be a surprise that only one in 10 smokers can kick the habit. A startling 50 percent of people who have surgery for lung cancer recover and reach for the pack again [source: FDA]. A cigarette contains about 2 mg of nicotine. A pack-a-day smoker delivers about 250 hits of nicotine to his or her brain each day [source: NIDA]. So quitting isn’t just about that one pack, it has more to do with those 250 hits. This helps explain why it’s so hard to quit. So does your gender, your genes, what brand you smoke and whether or not you suffer from a mental illness. [Discovery Health]
Not a day goes by when I don’t have to fight off the urge to smoke. Watching Mad Men? Well Don Draper’s smoking habits are a test of one’s convictions. Smokers on the street, stresses of the daily life, the desire to look cool and confident — there are a million ways my mind will come up for me to smoke. I just have to fight it — one minute at a time. Thanks for listening!