As if there weren’t enough anxiety around quitting smoking, friends often volunteer advice about how to do it – even if they’ve never quit themselves or never even smoked. But often the most strident advice-givers were the born-again non-smokers who had forgotten how many times they tried to quit themselves before they finally succeeded.
I used believe people who told me that using nicotine gum or patches would just prolong the addiction. “You have to make a clean break,” they’d say. “Just throw away the cigarettes and stop. Period.”
I did stop cold turkey… several times. Fueled by the fear of lung cancer, I’d decided to kick the addiction through brute force and self-control. Once I smoked as many cigarettes as I could the day before I quit to make myself totally sick –a DIY nicotine aversion treatment. Being disgusted with myself carried me through the first few weeks, even months. The problem was, I’d eventually start smoking again when things got intolerable, or the other myth came true:
Everyone gets fat when they quit smoking. “Your metabolism grinds to a halt,” friends told me. “For women, it’s even harder to keep the weight off, especially if you’re over 30, you can never lose it again.” I’d been thin most of my life; but I’d also smoked most of my life. Once I outgrew my entire wardrobe, I became miserable. They were right! Cigarettes were the only thing keeping me slim.
Quitting smoking didn’t make me gain weight, eating made me gain weight. When I quit cold turkey by summoning all the self-loathing I could muster, I tried to bury my anxiety with snack foods. Instead of chain smoking a pack of Dunhill Reds, I’d pound down a couple of bags of white cheddar popcorn and poppy seed muffins.
When I went through Suzanne and Paul’s smoking cessation program in 2001, I didn’t think I could quit for good. But I have. They taught me how to cultivate a positive attitude about quitting. I agreed to try nicotine patches and used a Nicotrol inhaler instead of smoking that first cigarette that always started my habit again in the past. This time, I didn’t turn to overeating. I took up a strenuous yoga practice and weaned myself off other self-destructive habits. I stayed away from people who fed my negative feelings and hung out with people who were supportive and showed me how to keep changing for the better.
by Déirdre Kennedy
LTQ Contributing Editor. Déirdre has produced, written, edited, and voiced news features and radio programs since 1992. Her stories have aired on National Public Radio, BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, Radio France International, Marketplace, Fresh Air, and on podcasts for Intel Labs, Reveal, Invisibilia, Newsweek, This American Life, and private clients. She‘s interviewed actors, scientists, filmmakers, authors, conservationists, visual artists, musicians, and health care experts. In 2005, she created and hosted the weekly show “Animals Aloud,” for XM satellite radio. Her freelance production, editing and consulting services, are based in L.A., with outlets in San Francisco, London, Copenhagen, Seattle — anywhere she can set up a laptop and a microphone.