I'm an addict with more than just smoking, so I've been through quitting with alcohol and drugs before. Twice. Each. And once with smoking. So you would think I would have this addiction thing down and would have given up smokes long ago. Nah, because smoking is just a bad habit, and I can drop it in an instant, just like the first time. I really believed that. Up until May 12 of this year. That is the power of the addictive mindset--that with all of my experience with addiction and programs and successful quits, that I could not--for years--recognize smoking for the addiction that it is.
It's really an entertaining story. Sad, but entertaining! And the entertaining part is seeing the games the mind plays, is capable of playing, and constantly tries to play again and again--no matter how long one has "quit" and no matter the drug of choice--tobacco, alcohol, drugs, whatever. I give you Exhibit A (~shows photo of self~) . And I put quit in quotes, because one never really quits being an addict--it is with you forever, no matter how long you have stopped using. I know other long-term quitters here that have relapsed who can attest!
So here's my long story, to fill in the details you haven't heard to date. Back in my younger days, starting as a teenager, I was quite the party animal. I was the master at keeping it hidden from my parents and those in authority, however--which "talent" has persisted to this day. So I could get away with just about anything (which plays very strongly into strengthening and maintaining addictive behavior) . Anyhow, I would tell my party friends in college that I would quit all of this one day, which amused them highly (pun intended), since I was such a partier. Like them, but always a notch more. So about a year out of college, I decided I was done with it all (prompted by a cocaine experience that convinced me I was like the monkey in the TV commercial--I would keep pressing the coke button until I died from it). So after a planned solitary night out drinking, drugging, and smoking until 4 am, I woke up and threw out all the remnants (that I normally would have smoked, drunk, or ingested!). Drugs, alcohol, tobacco--quit them all the same day. No AA. I don't think NA was around yet. And Al Gore had yet to invent the internet, so no online support groups for non-smoking! But I was too young to know it was impossible, so I just did it. Not one craving for any of them, not once. I still wonder how that happened, how it was so easy--although I suspect it was God just saying "If you're ready, let's do it!"
And I stayed quit for 24 years. Until I divorced my first wife and said "You're not gonna tell me what to do anymore." Well, I never actually said it to her since I had cut off all ties, but you get the drift. So a few months later, I started smoking a bit, but only 1 or 2 a day--knowing I could quit any time, just like before. Yeah, right. Started with alcohol about 6 months after that, but saw that was quickly going downhill (addict, you know?), so I quit it in 5 months (again, no program--which I really did need this time around). Because of no program with quitting alcohol, proceeded to pick up drugs a month later, and spiraled WAY out of control with crack (which didn't exist in my younger drug days). Almost died within 3 months, so I quit when my family did an intervention--but this time I did it with a program (mostly AA based, not NA), which was a godsend for me at the time. And I've stayed quit since then from the alcohol (09/2002) and the drugs (01/06/03).
Ah, but not the smokes. Always thought they were a habit that would be easy to quit again, not like those hard to quit addictions like alcohol and drugs (my mind smirks in the background). Kept increasing with them until I got up to about a half pack a day, and there I stayed up until 27 days ago.
And I wasn't planning to quit 27 days ago. No, I had made a commitment at the first of the year that I would quit "sometime" this year. And then, back in late April, I had taken a class on habits. Very good class, highly recommend it to anyone who wants to form good habits. Which is what I bought it for--to form better work and productivity habits--not to quit a bad habit. Ah, but God had other plans, as there was a part near the end on breaking bad habits (He (or She) always knows how to backdoor me on stuff like this). So even though, according to the course, you are only supposed to work on one habit at a time, I did not see a conflict with "starting" to work on breaking the smoking "habit" while I was implementing my new good work habit. (plus, I was never one to do something just because an authority figure (course author) told me to! I mean, in case you didn't figure that out yet )
So I started with an incremental technique, which is one way to break a bad habit. Start with an extreme commitment--I will not smoke, for instance--but with a condition that does not fully implement that commitment, which makes it easier to fulfill the extreme commitment. So, in my case, I said I will not smoke (extreme commitment), but only for the minimum of an hour and a half between cigarettes ( a somewhat easy condition). The "plan" was to gradually increase the condition (the amount of time between cigarettes), until there was so much time between each cigarette that it would be easy to stop completely. Now my "out" (that I fully acknowledged and embraced in my addictive head) was that this was going to take months, as the habits class said that you stay at each condition level (in this case, the amount of time between cigarettes) for as long as it takes for that condition to happen automatically and without thought. So I'm thinking that an hour and a half between cigarettes will take at least a month before it becomes absolutely automatic for me. Then I go to 2 hours between smokes, and that will take at least a month before it's fully automatic, with no thought needed. Then 3 hours between smokes will take another month or so, etc, etc, etc--until I get to about 15 hours between smokes, at which point I can quit completely. And I had it all planned out--if I really milked it, I could keep smoking until well into next year! Great plan! ( I said smugly in the back of my head). I have a plan, it makes the wife happy, and I WILL eventually quit (no, really, it'll happen...really, it will)--but I'm probably gonna get to smoke for another year in the meantime. YES!!!
Ah, but God had other plans. Damn Her! Three days into this, I'm already up to over 2 hours between cigarettes! And the real trick is that I'm starting to see my associations with smoking. Damn, I didn't even know about associations yet, because I hadn't yet started doing research on quitting (because quitting was so far off--or so I thought). But I'm seeing them nonetheless. And as I see them, I start challenging them. For instance, I normally smoked one on the way to Starbucks first thing in the morning, and then another right before I would start to work--so usually a little less than an hour and a half; but when I went to an hour and a half minimum between smokes, it made me see my association of "must have one right before I start working." Then, since I work at home, I said "well, since I'm not smoking right before I start working, I'll wait until after my first 25-minute focus session" ( focus session was one of my good habit techniques I was implementing). Then, since I was on a roll with focus, skip the five-minute break between focus sessions and just do 2 focus sessions in a row before a smoke. Then, that gets close to when I wake my ten-year-old twins up for school, so I might as well wait until after I get them up at 6:55 before I have my second smoke. Then I pushed it back to 7:42, when I put them on the bus. And each time, an association was identified and then challenged. And since I was at least doing my hour and a half between smokes, my challenges to the smoking associations were never a command or a requirement (subject to immediate resistance by the addict)--it was more like "well, WHAT IF I just wait until the kids are on the bus? Yeah, I can try that."
And I still didn't really even know about associations yet, technically! Because I'm still thinking my quit is months away, so I haven't done any research yet. So I'm about 10 days into this, and I'm already up to over 4 hours between smokes (I'm tracking all of this on a wall calendar--time between smokes, number of smokes per day, red ink used when I beat the previous day, etc). This is a game--and I'm winning, damn it! But the best part is, my quit is months away, at best--so I don't have to worry about quitting just yet, I can just play the game. This is fun.
Until I get to Day 13 and I'm up to 5.8 hours between smokes, and only smoking 4 per day (because I've challenged the association of the first smoke is on the way to Starbucks, the first smoke has now been pushed back at least 45 minutes; and the association of the last smoke just before bed has been challenged, so that lopped about an hour off the end of the day). And I'm like WTF, my plan isn't working--there's too much time between smokes already, and I'm not going to be able to drag this out into next year (a la the addict plan, aka the nobody-knows-this-is-my-real-plan-but-me plan)! I've got to think about this, reconsider, change the plan--because I ain't quitting for at least a few months. Right? Right? So I think about it for another couple of days, as my smokes go down to 3 a day and over 7 hours between them--and I decide on Day 16 of the habit experiment that one week later, May 18 at 10 pm, will be my quit date. Like I said, God had other plans--and She knew just how to play me to get me there.
Anyhow, it was a good decision, as I could see that the cutting-back strategy was unsustainable. I was already starting to feel cracks in the castle--it was getting harder to go that long between smokes, obviously because of withdrawal. But I didn't know it was withdrawal yet, because I still was thinking smoking was just a habit. Which is why it was good that I set my quit date a week away. I mean, I did it because I'm an addict and I didn't want to quit on the spot, I WANTED another week of smoking. But because of those nagging withdrawals, I started doing some homework on quitting to see if there was something I could learn (even though I thought I knew everything because I had quit before on my own). God at work again--sure knows how to get around my elaborate defenses.
And so on Research Day One, May 12, 2017, I experienced my TRUE liberation from smoking--because that is when I first learned that smoking is an addiction, not a habit. And that is when I said, "Well, if it's an addiction, then I HAVE to quit it--because I'm an addict, and no addiction is acceptable in my life." And that is when I truly was freed from smoking, even though the physical quit (my quit date) was a week later. That mental/emotional/spiritual freedom from smoking is why I was truly ready to give up the physical smoking come my quit date.
The addictive mind is a crafty mind. I need to always be aware of that, because it matters not how much training or experience I have dealing with that mind of mine. One would think that with all my addiction history, that it just might have occurred to me sometime in the last 16 years that smoking maybe, just maybe, might be an addiction, not a habit.
That's why I always work to pay attention to what the universe is trying to tell me. I have to work at it, because otherwise I don't listen too well. And that's why God often has to backdoor me, as only He knows how.
Story of my life.
Eric, 27 DOF