Like Ripping Off a Band-aid

August 25, 2011 posted by Len B.

I was afraid to pick a quit date. Just the thought of letting go of what I thought was one of my most loyal friends caused me a great deal of anxiety. In fact, every time the doctors at the Loma Linda stop smoking clinic asked me if I had chosen a quit date yet my response was “no, I’m not quite ready.” It seemed the more I thought about actually quitting, the more I wanted to smoke!

By the morning of September 29th, 2010, I had run out of excuses. I had just finished the last of the stop smoking skills training sessions offered by the VA the day before. I had been taking Bupropion for a full two weeks and I was well-stocked with a full month’s supply of nicotine patches and oral puffers. What next?

It was that morning that I made a decision. Still mortified at the thought of quitting once and for all, I convinced myself to try one of the strategies I had learned during the skills training sessions: I would attempt to “cut back” on my smoking by making it as inconvenient as possible to light up.

At 9:25AM on September 29th I snuffed out my cigarette and put all of my smoking paraphernalia well out of reach on the back patio (I live in Palm Springs, California, where even in September it’s extremely hot outdoors.) I was used to smoking indoors, so I made the rule that if I wanted to smoke it would have to be outside in the heat. Then I slapped on a patch and went about my business.

One hour went by without lighting up a cigarette. Then one hour turned into two hours, two hours into three hours and so on, until it was finally time for bed… and I had still not lit up! I wasn’t sure if I could fall asleep without having a cigarette but I wasn’t about to lose the time I had already invested in not smoking so I gave it a shot.

Surprisingly, I slept through most of the night without waking up with a craving. I got out of bed shortly before 7:30AM that next morning and that’s when the urge to smoke again really hit me. Yes, I wanted a cigarette very badly. But then I did the math and figured out that I had not smoked for 22 hours – just 2 hours short of a full 24. If I could make it to 24 hours without smoking, it would be a personal record for me – something that I had not been able to do in many years.

Panic-stricken, I called 1-800-NO-Butts which is a free telephone hotline in California that helps smokers quit. I told the woman who answered what I was going through and that I needed to speak to someone. She informed me that no counselors were available at that time of the day and that I would need to make an appointment after 9:00Am. Argh! I was upset when she told me that so I proceeded to vent to her. I explained my frustration in a very animated fashion for about 15 minutes, and she listened. It must have done me some good because, after hanging up the phone, I was as determined as ever to make it to the 24 hour mark just to prove to myself that I could do it.

When 9:25AM finally came and went without lighting up I was thrilled. I had made it a full 24 hours smoke-free, and I wasn’t about to turn back. 24 hours turned into 48 hours, then 48 hours into 72 hours and so on, until a full week was gone without smoking. With the continued counseling and support provided by the Loma Linda VA stop smoking clinic, weeks turned into months. And now my first full year without smoking in over 40 years is well within my grasp.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that everyone is different. Some of us can plan ahead when selecting a quit date; others (like myself) need to take a “rip the Band-aid off” approach by quitting one day without obsessing over it. One thing is for certain: to be really successful at quitting, we all need the right guidance, support, and tools along with determination and a strong commitment.

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