Do you know anyone who was successful the first time they tried to quit smoking? I don’t. But I do know lots of people who felt that the process of quitting smoking made them feel quite insane, myself included.
Sometimes I lasted for days, weeks, or even months without smoking and I would think to myself “I’m home free!” But then something would happen and I would relapse before I knew what hit me. I might even go through days of cycling back and forth – quitting for a few days then relapsing again. That cycle of quitting and relapse often made me feel like I was losing my mind. A few times I felt ready to throw in the towel and just say, “that’s it, maybe I’m just not cut out to be a non-smoker.”
I lost count of how many times I had declared to anyone who would listen that THIS TIME I WAS QUITTING FOR GOOD. My friends and family would be very supportive and offer encouragement, but they were never too surprised to find me smoking again. After a few years of this it was no wonder that I started to lose faith in myself. I kept being drawn like a crazy woman to smoke yet another cigarette, no matter how much I didn’t want to be a smoker again.
They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. How could I relapse again after going for months without a smoke? Obviously the physical craving was long gone – that passes in about 72 hours. Something else was causing me to be inexplicably drawn back to my old habits. Perhaps it was the memories of comfort that smoking gave me; the feeling of falling back upon the shoulder of an old friend; the warm rush of nicotine filling me with a sense of calm and control.
Smoking filled so many holes inside of me that it was no wonder it held me in such a powerful grip. I needed new ways of filling those holes. I eventually found it in meditation and writing, and I found strength in bonding with others who were trying to quit. When I was finally able to string my smoke-free days into years, that grip lost its power; time had made it fade.
I recall that in my early days of sobriety from alcohol I was jealous of women who had years of sobriety under their belts. I wanted to be like them and I wanted it now! It may sound obvious, but it took some time for me to realize that they had done it by staying sober one day at a time. There were no shortcuts to that ten-year chip.
And that is how we become smoke-free. We get through one minute, one hour, one day at a time. We can’t wait for the emotional cravings to completely disappear – we make them disappear by giving ourselves time without smoking. If we can keep the crazy person inside of us quiet for long enough, we can string those days into years.
Sometimes the crazy woman whispers to me even now, but I gently tell her to go away. I know with a calm certainty that I am no longer at risk of relapse.
I’d love to hear if anyone else is familiar with their inner crazy person and how they have learned to deal with that in their struggle to become a non-smoker.