Have you tried quitting before? If so, have you ever stopped to consider that each of your attempts have been different? It’s far more common than you think to see those knowledgeable and skilled regarding nicotine cessation to experience far less challenge than during any prior attempt. Those who learn how to correct the wild blood sugar swings that often accompany cessation, who learn why their daily caffeine intake may need adjusting, and who recognize and appreciate the different phases of emotional loss associated with giving up their chemical, can actually use their intellect to help avoid many of the symptoms they would otherwise have experienced. This article focuses on another important factor, the importance of expectations and attitude.
Can we make ourselves miserable on purpose? Of course we can. Throughout our lives we’ve experienced worry, fear, anger and irritability, only to find out later that our worries, fears and anxieties were either totally unnecessary, overblown, or were over little or nothing at all.
During nicotine withdrawal, after years of actively feeding, self-induced tensions and anxieties can at times seem overwhelming. We can escalate them to the point where we lash out against loved ones and friends, where we want to hit a tree with our bare hand, or where we put our head under a pillow and scream at the top of our lungs. Craves and urges don’t cause relapse. If they did then few of America’s millions of comfortable ex-Chewers would ever have become ex-Chewers. What causes relapse is the layers and layers of anxiety icing that we intentionally cake upon each crave.
Remember when we were first learning to swim and found ourselves in water over our heads? Did you panic? I did. Would I have panicked if I had been a skilled swimmer? Of course not. Quality cessation programs teach those seeking freedom how to swim and then lead them into deep water. Once there, they may still experience fear but they won’t panic and relapse. Instead, they’ll do their best to remain calm and, as much as possible, enjoy the swim.
Quitting doesn’t have to be nearly as difficult as we’ve likely tried to make it. In fact, it can be one of the most amazing adventures we’ll ever experience. Imagine the healing associated with every living cell in your body as you slowly detoxify your body with each and every day that you abstain from tobacco use. Imagine slowly realizing that you’ve left nothing behind except a chemical, as each day you engage additional aspects of life without wanting for nicotine.
Sadly, almost half of all current Chewers will not discover how to navigate through their dependency before it costs each an average of roughly 5,000 days of life. Many genuinely believe that time is running out and disaster is about to strike. Sadly, such gut instincts are too often correct and bad news is just around the corner. Others falsely believe that plenty of time remains but after repeated attempts they still remain nicotine’s slaves.
Either way, don’t panic! Instead, invest the time needed to become an excellent quitter. The more knowledgeable and skilled we become, the greater our chances of breaking free. Yes, there may be a few big struggles along the way but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome it.
As part of our recovery, why not work on diminishing all self-inflicted stress, worry, anxiety and panic. Stand back and take a long look at the stress and anxiety of withdrawal from a different angle. Will anxieties begin to build if we repeatedly tell ourselves that quitting is hard and painful? Absolutely. If we begin telling ourselves that we won’t be able to make it through the next few hours or the remainder of the day, what will happen when the next crave-wave arrives? Will we swim or flounder? If we keep feeding our mind massive doses of negative thoughts we increase the possibility of relapse. So why do we intentionally set ourselves up for defeat?
Picture a plugged-in lamp without a bulb in it and the switch turned off. Picture yourself intentionally sticking your finger into the bulb socket and leaving it there. Now picture all of your nicotine feeding cues or triggers – the times, places, emotions and events during which you customarily chewed nicotine and conditioned your mind to expect the arrival of new nicotine – being wired directly into the lamp’s switch.
Detailed studies have taught us the “average” number of crave episodes that a new quitter can expect. The lamp will be briefly turned on a specific number of times each day and that adds up to roughly 18 minutes of challenge on the most challenging day (day three with 6 craves, each less than 3 minutes in duration). Be sure and look at a clock because the mind can make a 2 to 3 minute crave seem like 2 to 3 hours.
Keep in mind that these are just averages and every journey is different. Some quitters may actually experience almost no crave episodes while others might experience twice as many. Even so, if you were in the extreme, with double the average, that’s still only 36 minutes of crave episode anxiety (12 episodes x 3 minutes) on your most challenging day. Could you handle 36 minutes of significant anxiety? Absolutely, no doubt about it!
If you know you’ll be encountering your crave triggers but don’t know when, what will having your finger in the lamp socket all day do to your nerves? Will it put you on edge for the entire day? Will you feel like lashing out against anyone walking into the room? Will you feel like crying? Will you be able to concentrate on other things? Will it wear you down?
What if you know for certain that the shock itself will always be tolerable, that no crave episode will harm you, cut you, make you bleed, break bones, make you ill, or kill you, and that it won’t last beyond three minutes? Can honesty, certainty, planning and attitude make the distance and time between crave episodes more comfortable?
Instead of focusing on the discomfort that you’ll experience during the short period of time a crave episode is actually occurring, why not focus on enjoying the massive amount of time that the crave switch is actually off? Instead of our cup being half empty, why not let the time between craves make it half full? If we keep telling ourselves that quitting is hard, then unless we’re intentionally lying to ourselves, it will be hard and we should expect it to be hard.
Why feed yourself failure? Why fear the swim and needlessly worry when you’re not even in the water yet? Why intentionally breed negative and powerful anxieties? Why allow such thoughts to fester in our mind until they begin oozing anxiety’s destructive relapse puss? Instead, chase all needless negativism from your mind. Replace it with calmness, joy and the knowledge that no three minute crave can force you to ever again chew nicotine into your system.
Fight back with positive thoughts that look forward with hope to a new beautiful beginning, a new way of life, living inside a healthier body. Fill your cup with desire. Fill it with the reasons that are causing you to want to return home to again meet the real you. Once underway, don’t look back except to delight in how far you’ve come. See encountering and reconditioning each crave trigger and cue for what they truly are, signs of true healing and an extremely small price for freedom.
© John R. Polito 2000, 2009
The original article has been modified to be more relevant for dippers and chewers.