Wed, 15 Mar 2000

Take control of your life by putting paid to smoking

By Clare E. Urwin

This is the second of two articles offering tips on how to quit smoking.

SURABAYA (JP): The fear about stopping smoking is huge. When you do manage to think through the cold sweat and alarm bells about quitting, the biggest worry is "do I have enough willpower to give up?"

This is the second part of your wake-up call. This is where you think about the subject of stopping smoking in a completely different way. You do not need the willpower to give up because in fact you are not "giving up" anything.

Be honest. If you agree that nicotine is an addiction and you are addicted, do you really enjoy smoking? Aren't you just having to satisfy withdrawal symptoms and then justify yourself doing so? When you can admit this, you are halfway there. What are you "giving up"? Absolutely nothing! There is no sacrifice involved whatsoever. Smoking is not a pleasure, it is just giving yourself another fix of nicotine, which is the stuff that screwed you up in the beginning.

Cigarettes are not your friends. They are not precious rewards and something to look forward to. They cause the anxiety, the nervousness, the panic, remember? When you stop smoking you are not depriving yourself, you are in fact gaining your life back. How wonderful to be finally free.

What about timing? This is worth another smile. Every smoker is going to give up one day. Never now, of course, because it's not the right time, but eventually every smoker is convinced that he or she will be able to quit. Always soon, too. At the next birthday probably, or how about when they turn 35, or 40, or perhaps 50? When life is less "stressful" they will easily give up, but just not at this moment, please.

Maybe they hope to suddenly wake up one morning and not want to smoke any more. Perhaps a good fairy will come along, wave a magic wand and they will start to hate cigarettes. Don't kid yourself. You buy the cigarette, light it and inhale. It's your responsibility, so accept it. You have to do the stopping. Just do it. The sooner you stop, the sooner you get your life back.

There is never a "right" time to stop smoking, just as there is never a "right" time to get a bank loan. Think about it this way. You have decided to escape from the nicotine trap once and for all, so why delay? Smoking is not a pleasure, it is drug addiction. With the right attitude, the process of "getting free" is an experience like no other. Enjoy it!

This is your complete wake-up call, right now. To reiterate, you understand why you smoke. You do not enjoy it but are addicted to nicotine. Previously it was difficult to stop because you thought "giving up" cigarettes was "giving up" a pleasure. It's not! Also, you were conned into thinking that smoking relieves stress, helps concentration and aids relaxation. In fact, you now know it makes stress worse and lessens concentration and relaxation. You want to stop smoking and have the self-belief, courage and commitment to do so. Anyway, the bottom line is that if other people can quit, so can you!

What about these withdrawal pangs? First, the good news. Nicotine is an easy drug to kick. Granted, you can very quickly become addicted to it, but you can just as quickly become unaddicted. Within three days of quitting smoking, more than 50 percent of the nicotine has left your body, and within three weeks 99 percent has gone.

The physical withdrawal pangs are just that, only pangs. A slightly empty, unsatisfied, apprehensive feeling. For instance, you feel the same thing now when you are some place where you cannot smoke. It never gets worse than that. There is no pain, no agony, no cold sweats or rolling around the floor. Best of all, they quickly diminish and within a fortnight, completely go. Accept the fact that there will be about two weeks with occasional feelings of slight discomfort. Certainly no big deal.

The mental withdrawal pangs happen differently. These are caused by the automatic "triggers" of certain events, previous habits or the association of ideas. At the beginning, when the telephone rings or when you have finished a meal or when you are having a drink, you will often immediately think "I want a cigarette". This is where the power of your mind comes in. Stop those thoughts in their tracks at the start and they will soon disappear too.

Counteract them by remembering that you are now free from the slavery of nicotine and you love being liberated. Repeat the mind message that you honestly did not enjoy smoking and it never really gave pleasure. It was only feeding an addiction that wanted to keep you hooked. Remind yourself there is no sacrifice in refusing to smoke, only gains like vitality, confidence and self-respect.

Be prepared for these mental withdrawal pangs. Look at them, face them and see them for what they are. Enjoy the battle. Nicotine will not let you go easily. It will try lots of tricks to trap you again, but you can win. A positive mental attitude is essential. Something wonderful is happening.

The sheer relief of now being a nonsmoker is like a giant weight off your shoulders. Be proud of yourself for making this decision and do not doubt for one second that it's the right one. You know it is. These "pangs", physical or mental, have a short duration. They are only temporary and they pass. Each day the gap between them widens and it becomes easier and easier.

Do not be tempted to try to cut down -- it does not work and just prolongs the withdrawal pangs. Every cigarette or every cigar is going to "rehook" you. Equally, never be smug enough to try just one puff or just one cigarette ever again.

That nicotine trap is waiting for you. You do not need cigarettes, you are now a nonsmoker and life is so much more enjoyable without them.

Take your decision to stop smoking extremely seriously. This is the single most important thing you can do for your health. You are going to take back the control of your life and not only in giving up cigarettes. It will happen in other ways, too.

Now something marvelous happens. Within a few days a sense of achievement begins to grow and it's thrilling. Giving up smoking is like climbing your own personal Everest. You have to do it yourself because no one else can do it for you, and succeeding is fantastic. This happy situation keeps your momentum going and increases your determination. You become stronger and more positive about never wanting to smoke again, ever. Now it all seems so simple. Being with other smokers does not worry you either. That is their choice, and no "holier-than-thou" speeches please.

Your energy gradually returns and you will start to feel younger. Wonderful little things happen. The sheer joy of waking up in the morning with a fresh mouth. Never again tasting like the bottom of a bird cage; that weird stuff you smell is called fresh air. For the first time, oxygen is getting to places in your body where it has not been for years. Your sense of smell, your sense of taste and even your sex life improves. Isn't being a nonsmoker great? You deserve this wonderful feeling of accomplishment and it never goes. Enjoy it and treasure it. There is only one question left: Why did we wait so long?

(Acknowledgement: Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking, published by Penguin Books.)

The writer is a nutrition, fitness and health adviser based in Surabaya.