May 17, 2021
5 mins read
Life flies past us and if you're like me, you forget to honor milestones. Today I'm slowing down for just that purpose.
I stopped smoking for good just shy of my two-year sobriety anniversary. Anyone who's ever quit something and stayed quit knows that there's usually no rhyme and reason to our last day - we usually don't get to pick and keep a cute date, our mom's birthday or a holiday or whatever. When we try it that way, we often relapse in the end. (Sometimes after getting that date tattooed!)
So for me I was done as a smoker May 17th 2013, and I've got a picture of my little son Nels here on that day, because I didn't take one of myself. Here Nels is a happy little sprog doing his thing. He didn't judge me for smoking or love me any less. By age nine he knew it wasn't healthy and he probably worried about me. It's terrible for a child to worry about their parent. On this day I committed to him never having to worry about this particular thing, ever again.
I've quit things before, it's an almost indescribable process which means I am completely obsessed with describing it.
In the world of renunciation I've had a few standout earth-moving experiences so far. Most notable for me I quit drinking ten years ago - and yes I'll be writing about that soon - and in early 2016 I recommitted to veganism - and stayed with it, no "cheating". The processes of ceasing alcohol, ceasing smoking, and my practice of veganism have enough similarities for me they are worth comparing.
Because I seek to help anyone else today, who is on that precipice.
For me the days leading up to these kinds of decisions feel like a great pressure that mounts up in my mind and body. I've gone over every excuse, every justification. I am tired of my excuses. My own justifications (and everybody else's) have worn me out. They are plausible excuses, yet my lifeforce is being drained. My body feels it. I start to know In My Knowing Place that this is no longer working and won't work for me ever again.
My brain starts the drum: I can't live like this, I can't live like this. Sometimes those exact words! I start to want to speak it aloud. I start to want to be Known. I want to be Known as someone who lives a different way.
But I'm scared of being Known! What if I can't do it? I know I have support - but I am also, in a very real way, On My Own.
I am walking on a ledge and I can feel the wind and I look down and Today's The Day, I might be shaky and I might not know how and I'm wearing the wrong sneakers but it's down to me now.
It's not precisely a great place to be. It's a fantastic, sometimes ghoulish little memory to look back on - joyful in its way because it's in the past. Forever in the past!
True abstinence involves a decision, then a period of mourning. See, we want to put that off.
In cessation of smoking one core concept that helped me, was actually from the Nicotine Anonymous book - some kind soul, I don't remember who, gifted it to me months before I quit. It's a slim volume but it was pretty great. I'm not a member of NicA and in fact I've never even been to a meeting. But the book was pretty cool and I passed it to someone else long ago.
Besides describing our reasons for smoking and our feelings about smoking - a profoundly effective few paragraphs - a phrase in the book that really helped was something like this: that we'd never tolerated a craving. We either gave into the craving, or we made a plan to.
This hit me hard!
Making the plan - whether in five minutes or five years - is just the same as smoking the cigarette. Both are utterly futile!
Anyone realistic at all about addiction knows about this making a plan. As I've heard it said, "Anyone can stop. It's staying stopped that's the trick." And I agree! Making a plan is sometimes a literal formal process, with an agreed-upon or published date (you see this with drinkers, a lot). But with "quitters" - people who say they're going to stop forever - it's more often a subconscious trap door, a window. We tell ourselves we're done but we have that plan way in the back of our noggin. We probably don't even know we have it!
Until after the relapse - if we survive - when we see it was there all along.
There are a hundred phrases for this plan in the rooms of recovery. Some of you reading here, have lived it.
This making a plan is subtle, insidious. It's deadly.
It can kill us. It has killed millions.
So, smoking. When I perceived that part of the trick was enduring the craving and not frantically trying to Dig Dug away from it, that was just a tiny piece that helped me. I could work out more or drink more water or get some new flavors of Chapstick or whatever (I went cold turkey - no gum or patch or vaping for me) - but the truth is I would have to endure cravings.
And cravings, by definition, pass!
I stopped, and stayed stopped. And like a sponsor once told me: Pray for that conviction to strengthen!
I love that idea. It keeps me humble. Yes I stopped and stayed stopped. I'd like to keep it that way!
In a group setting recently, someone once asked me what it took to give up ______. They were asking me about substitutions, about timetables.
I thought, and then responded: "Commitment."
I'm really glad my children don't have to see me smoke any more - and more deeply I am glad to know they are far less likely to smoke, now that I've given it up.
I'm glad I'm healthier. I'm glad I have a sense of humor about it all. I don't hate smoking or hate smokers. What's the point of that? I'm just glad it's over. I'm here to help others who'd like to move on.
And yeah I'm not one of those people who "doesn't smoke" but then you know - smokes every now and then. Starting May 17th in 2013 not one tobacco product has been ingested by my person (or any other form of smoking, for that matter).
May I have many more happy returns!
I'll let you know how it's going.