At what point do you transition from "I quit (am quitting) smoking" to "I don't smoke"?
I smoked like a chimney for many years. I struggled with quitting. I quit and fell back into it, I tried substitution and gum and will power, each with varied success followed by failure. But I was quitting!
I wrote a list of the reasons I wanted to be free of cigarettes. Some of them minor reasons, some serious as a heart attack.
Then one day I found an ad for a hypnotist who was doing anti-smoking seminars. It was held at a hotel near the Burbank airport in the evening, a one-shot deal in a room with a hundred people and cost $30.
The best $30 I've ever spent.
The guy (and I regret that I don't remember his name) was a behavioral scientist from UC San Diego. A funny little guy. He spent an hour talking about the mechanics of habit, the triggers, the way we acquire habits and how to "break" them. He said that half of us were hypnotizable (I certainly am, I can be hypnotized by a screen saver) and we would be done with cigarettes after tonight and the other half would go on smoking, but he was keeping our money anyway! So there!
Then he sent us outdoors for a cigarette.
After the break we came back in and he had us stretch out on the floor, flat back, completely relaxed. Then he started walking around the room, using a relaxation technique I had first learned in a dance class: Guided Imagery..."Imagine a light being poured into you, into the top of your head, filling your head and flowing down....."
Because I had met this idea before, it was immediately comfortable, I knew how to see this light and use it to fill my body and I concentrated easily on it.
I guess he kept talking, I know that an hour passed, I don't remember a word he said after "Imagine a light...."
I still had a half a pack of butts in my shirt pocket when I got home, I kept them around, who knows why. I went to work the next day and the ashtray on my worktable was still there, still filled with butts, my co-workers still smoked, my boss still smoked, I didn't feel like having a cigarette, so I didn't.
A couple years later, I still hadn't had a cigarette but I took a ride with a friend up to the Bay Area in a small car, mid summer, windows closed and the AC on. He smoked. As we got into Palo Alto, I had him stop the car so I could open the door and puke. That's the only time second-hand smoke has effected me.
It's been now better than 25 years since I had a cigarette, I have no urge, I didn't "give up" anything of value. I don't feel like anything is missing in my life without cigarettes.
I don't feel like an ex-smoker, don't feel like I quit smoking, I feel like I don't smoke. Like cigarettes are not in any way related to my life.
And I wonder if that tiny perspective change is significant, just as I wonder about some friends who wrestle with alcohol or heroin. Are they really served by the idea that they are "once an addict, always an addict" or would they have a better shot if they simply divorced themselves from the substance. Thinking in particular about one friend who has been going to AA for 35 years and is 32 years sober. Is he still an alcoholic if he hasn't touched a drop in 32 years?
Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for AA and NA, they are trying to solve a huge problem for individuals in their lives and for society in general and not charging a dime for it, that's hero work in my book.
But for some people, isn't reminding themselves that "I am an alcoholic" week after week when actually they are alcohol free for years, is that self reinforcing or self defeating?
So, yeah, I quit. A long time ago. Now, I don't smoke. I'm not a smoker. And I'm not likely to become one.
1/04/14 updated buddy list.
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