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GUS (Gave Up Smoking) is a community support diary for Kossacks in the midst of quitting smoking. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are quitting or thinking of quitting, please -- join us! We kindly ask that politics be left out.  

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Hi GUSers.

I'm not often seen around here, partly because I did my quit several years before I came to DailyKos. And I figured the last thing someone trying to quit needs is to hear from someone who hasn't had a cigarette in 15 years, but someone convinced me otherwise. My story is a little bit unusual, so maybe it will help someone who's still trying. It's under the gnocchi:

A message to ALL quitters. You don't have to avoid GUS if you have a failed quit. We won't give you a bad time and we consider the failed quits as "practice" for the real quit.
Just so you understand, I'm not one of those people who tell you, "Oh, I used to smoke when I was in college. One day I decided not to anymore". I have often wanted to punch people like that. I smoked for 32 years, with only one unsuccessful quit attempt in all that time. I even kept smoking after my kid brother died of cancer at 22 (that was the occasion for the unsuccessful quit attempt). I'm married to a smoker (still).

And I loved smoking. At the time I made my decision, I was seeing a shrink (for something else). He was also an MD who specialized in helping people quit smoking, and every so often, he'd ask me if I wanted to. And every time, I'd tell him, "I love smoking!". And I didn't feel that it was hurting my health, really, either. I even jogged.

Then one day I woke up, lit my first cigarette of the day, and my heart started pounding so hard I thought it was going to jump right out of my chest. This was scary, but it calmed down after a while, and I went about my day. The next day, the same thing happened. And the next. By that point I was scared. Really scared. Like "I'm going to die in the next two weeks" scared. I told my shrink I was ready to quit.

He gave me a method that is at considerable variance with what's conventionally prescribed. I didn't have to stop smoking immediately. And I could take as long as I needed to do it.

He had me start using the gum, but not the way the package instructs you. Every time I wanted a cigarette, I chewed a piece of gum. Half an hour after I'd chewed the gum, if I still wanted a cigarette, I could have one. Just knowing that I could have one if I wanted made it easier for me to resist having one, and I could do that as long as I liked. Within about three weeks I was down to 2-3 a day. At that point I was comfortable enough to start thinking about what really quitting really meant: at some point in the near future, I would smoke the last cigarette I'd ever have for the rest of my life, and it would be a conscious decision. I think that knowing that the timing was entirely within my control made it much easier when one day, after about a month of this, I lit a cigarette (a half hour after chewing a piece of gum!) and it tasted just horrible. It tasted like one of those old butts you fish out of the ashtray in the morning when you realize you forgot to buy cigarettes the night before. Only difference was, since my nicotine urge was under control, all I could think about was how bad it tasted. I took another couple of drags, thought about it, and decided it was going to be the last cigarette I would ever smoke. I didn't even finish it.

From that point on, it was a question of weaning myself off the gum. Once again, the shrink told me to take as long as I needed to do that, and I did it absurdly slowly. Rather than chew the gum fewer times a day, I decreased each dose: first I started using 3/4 of a piece for the same number of times a day. I did that for a few weeks, until I felt no twinge of nicotine craving at all. Then I cut it down to half a piece. Same routine for another few weeks, then down to a third of a piece. By the time I got to a quarter, the pieces were so small I started chewing them with regular chewing gum, just so that I felt like I had something in my mouth. Then a sixth. At the very end I was using an eighth of a piece at a time, and eventually I just chewed regular gum. There was no set schedule for this. Every few weeks I'd wake up one day feeling good, and ready to take the next step.

The whole process took over a year. I know that sounds like a long time, but I was never miserable, never wished for a cigarette the whole time. And not only was I living with a smoker, but he smoked the same brand I had smoked. I was never tempted.

If you decide to try this, please make sure that your general health is OK first. It's not terribly dangerous, but if you have serious health issues it might not be for you. Please talk to a doctor if you have any doubts about that. However, my shrink told me that if you are otherwise healthy, the risks associated with using the gum for extended periods is far smaller than the risks of smoking. It's not a wonderful thing to be a nicotine addict, it does have some risks, but the gum is a much safer delivery system than tobacco. He told me that he had patients who were very emotionally dependent people, who he had gotten to switch from smoking to using the gum, that he expected to use the gum for the rest of their lives.

Two points about the emotional part of this, which is probably even more important than the method: One, fear was an insanely powerful motivator. When I decided to quit, I was convinced that if I continued smoking for very much longer, I was going to die. Not in twenty years, or ten years, or a year, but within a week or two. And I wanted to live.

And two, I understood in my heart of hearts, as an addict, once I quit I could never have another cigarette, ever, for any reason. I could never buy one, "borrow" one, play with one. Smoking became part of someone else's life.

This was not the easiest thing I've ever done, but it wasn't the hardest, either. And it worked. Here I am, 15 years later, still not smoking. You can do this, too.

The floor is yours.


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