The psychological recovery process is very similar to the grief cycle, how someone feels when a loved one dies. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did research on death and dying. She found that anytime we experience a major change in life, we grieve for the old in order to make room for the new. She also found that there are usually five stages to a person’s grieving process. Think about how these stages of grieving relates to quitting for you:
Denial & Isolation
Denial and isolation are the mind’s first way of protecting us from a sudden change or loss. People who lose a friend or family member say they feel numb. This is called a psychological defense mechanism. What this means is that although you know the importance of quitting, you may not want to believe it. The denial phase probably happened before you even found this program.
Have you ever said any of these statements?
- I know I should quit, but I’m not sure I want to.
- Cigarettes don’t affect my health like they do others. I’m not huffing and puffing.
- I can quit anytime I want to.
- I’m not addicted.
- I’ll switch to a low-tar cigarette.
- Cigarettes haven’t been proven harmful.
- My parents both smoked and they’re fine.
These are denial statements. What are some other denial statements that perhaps you have used in the past?
When we begin to accept a loss, we often feel anger. If you perceived comfort from smoking you are likely to feel angry about the change. You may be angry about the loss of your “friend.” You might be angry about many things, or everything.
Some typical feelings or statements made during this phase include:
- Why me? I’m mad I started, I’m mad I quit. I’m mad cigarettes are harmful. I’m mad it’s so hard. I’m mad that things aren’t going my way.
- You might be angry with me and other participants on the Blogs and Message Boards. You might find yourself reacting angrily to things that normally wouldn’t bother you.
- Your anger may be directed toward family members, friends, nonsmokers or coworkers. In fact, a lot of people avoid quitting because they feel so irritable during the recovery process.
- Remember that anger is part of the process. Don’t try to resist it. Accept it, safely vent it, and take some time to feel it. You may feel angry and testy. You don’t have to have a reason to feel that way, you just do. It will subside. Sometimes naming the feeling lowers the intensity of your anger.
This is the stage where participants feel tempted to postpone the inevitable. You might try to switch brands, smoke only at home or only at work. You might also try to make deals and empty promises. This is a risky phase because a lot of people slip or relapse at this point, so be careful!
Some typical comments made during the bargaining phase are:
- I think I have the worst licked. If I just have one cigarette, I’ll get right back on track afterward and I won’t do it again.
- I’ll just smoke on vacation.
- I’ll just light your cigarette.
- I’ll quit as long as my weight stays down.
- I’ll try, but I’m not making any promises.
Do these statements sound familiar? Everyone is tempted to bargain. Realizing that it is a natural part of the process of quitting sometimes helps to move past it. Laugh it off and have a heart-to-heart talk with your inner self. Make a strong commitment to be in control of the cigarette. If you give in to bargaining, the cigarette is once again in control. Say out loud, “Nothing or no one controls me.” Put that statement on a sticky note and put it in a place where you’ll be reminded to think about it and repeat it often.
When quitters acknowledge and accept the loss of their “friend,” the cigarette, it’s natural to experience some sadness. This is especially true when no one else seems to know or understand this loss. People often experience this in one of two ways. They either feel a deep sense of sadness or a deep sense of deprivation.
Some typical comments during the depression stage are:
- I feel so emotional. I cry all the time.
- I feel so deprived.
- Why can’t I have this one little pleasure?
- Life without cigarettes is awful.
- I feel lonely.
This is the “ain’t it awful” stage. You may feel like you’ve lost your best friend. Don’t resist this stage or think it’s crazy to mourn the loss of a cigarette. Be as direct with this stage as you are with the anger stage. Accept it. Talk about it. Take some time to just feel sad. Then move on and focus on the benefits of what you’re doing.
A healthy person who has suffered a loss eventually accepts its reality and goes on living life. In this stage, you begin to realize that your former smoking lifestyle is over. You are finally resolving your sense of loss or grief. You can get on with living your new found, healthier lifestyle. A new and better life begins.
Some typical comments during the acceptance phase are:
- I think I’m going to actually be successful. I still don’t like it a lot but I think it will stick.
- I’d still like to smoke but I choose not to.
- I am going to teach myself to like my new nonsmoking lifestyle. I’ll do it gradually and positively.
- I am living a smokefree life.
- I am an EX-smoker!
The key to moving through the psychological recovery is your attitude toward quitting. Continue to look at these symptoms as part of the process. Move through them with a sense of challenge, expectation and excitement over what lies ahead for you. You will make discoveries about yourself. Reject the feeling that you have given something up. It’s quite the opposite. You've gained something: your freedom and self-mastery.
This is not an exercise in self-denial, but self-determination. You are giving a precious gift to yourself and to those around you. Be patient with yourself, but stay on track! Move forward and keep them away from your face! You didn't become addicted overnight - you won't heal overnight, either! Smoking is never the solution to your grief!