Guest Blog: Not Cold Turkey - A Story of Quitting Smoking
By Loesha Stoutenbeek
Not Cold Turkey, my story of quitting smoking.
Lets start at the beginning, for people like myself, becoming a smoker was a lot easier than quitting. Quitting cold turkey really proved time and again that it was not working for me; every time I would try I would slip, I would feel useless and I would be back where I started. I found out,over time that quitting, unlike starting, is a process, and in my case quitting took (a lot of) time. During this process I came to learn how much of smoking really is physical and how much of it resides between the ears or in ones psyche; I learned it is not a very physical addiction at all. Over time I have quit smoking, and since then, a day has not passed that I am not happy that I am no longer a smoker. I hope to share my experience of quitting and the insights that came to me during this process. I write this for those who find quitting cold turkey an insurmountable task, just like I did.
For as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by smokers. I can count on one hand the adults I knew growing up that did not smoke. My parents never wanted their children to smoke; they would tell us with conviction not to smoke that it was a bad habit. They would even go so far as to say that they wish they could quit. However, smoke was everywhere; used ashtrays throughout the house, packets and lighters at arms reach. I still remember the times when people smoked in airports and on airplanes. By the time I had started smoking, people were still smoking in certain cars of trains. Smoking was normal and it surrounded us, in hindsight I do feel sorry for the non-smokers at the time, nowadays it is a lot easier to evade smokers. I started smoking in my last year of high school, and I couldn’t tell you now exactly why. I would smoke occasionally with my mother, and of course before I knew it I was buying a pack once in a while and before I really had a chance to notice, I was a smoker.
What fascinates me still about smoking, is that for the past 25-30 years we really have been up to date on the heath risks of smoking, not only is it officially linked to causing cancer, we are aware that it does so much more to our bodies in a short amount of time; it causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate to rise and causes blood vessels to harden, it causes us to be unfit and decreases our physical capacity. But still for many of us the addiction is strong and it normalises the act of smoking while we know it’s not healthy. It almost seems that we manage to find mechanisms in our mind to justify the desire to smoke; if this is not the truest definition of addiction I do not know what is.
I would like to take this chance to say that I do think the world is changing for those of us who smoke, obviously it’s becoming harder to smoke, less socially expectable, there are very few public spaces where a smoker can still enjoy a cigarette inside. Maybe it’s my imagination, but smokers also seem more polite and apologetic now.
By the time I had been smoking for about 4 years, I was trying for the first time to quit, and I tried a couple of times. There would be a packet that I needed to finish and I would decide that after this one I would not buy another, I would quit. After the first time I slipped and started up again, I figured this was a ‘dry run’; I believed I would get to the point where I would quit and succeed, but I continued using this method of quitting. After a number of times I realised that this way of thinking about it and failing at it was only making me feel lousy, which wasn’t in anyone’s benefit.
It took a while, but I started to observe a pattern; I would quit for an amount of time and then be out enjoying a drink with some friends one evening, there would be a cigarette machine in the bar and I would mindlessly take my wallet form my bag, buy a pack and happily continue to drink wine and smoke about 5 cigarettes in the next hour. Then the next morning I would wake up to the smell of smoke in my hair and find a half empty pack of smokes in my bag from the night before. After thinking about it I came to understand that I wasn’t even really contemplating not buying cigarettes at the time of purchase at the bar. To me this was the addiction being very powerful, and as strange as it sounds, causing me without much thinking at all, to buy a new pack of cigarettes and smoke. When I would buy cigarettes as just described, I would not weigh the options, not buying cigarettes at that moment was not a consideration.
It was late 2005 when I had an internship in a PR department at a fashion label that I realised I wanted to quit and started to think about smarter ways to go about this. During work I would sometimes join others on the obligatory smoke break, which would inevitably be enjoyed in a dark, cold, stinky underground garage. There was a moment while down there hidden in this cold dark place, puffing away, that I realised that this was ridiculous, I realised I could be upstairs where it was warmer and more comfortable, not to mention the work I could be doing. After realising that I was really terrible at quitting cold turkey, I decided I could set manageable and reasonable rules for myself, this was my first step to quitting, successfully.
This first step was made up of one manageable, rather simple rule; I would not smoke at work, which was during the day on weekdays. As I didn’t smoke in the morning, this only meant that I had to occupy myself until after work to enjoy the first cigarette of the day, and during the weekend it was free game, no pressure. My memory of that first step was that it was not difficult, I was happy to have a parameter for myself with regards to smoking, and I swear, that first cigarette after work was always the best, each day. This was easy and I succeeded in keeping to this first step, it made me feel like cigarettes had less of a hold on me, and it reinforced my belief that I would quit, step by step.
After this internship I moved cities for another internship, and I smoked at work there, so one could call that a clear step backward. However we (my house mates and I at the time) didn’t smoke in the house, which helped me to keep my daily intake low. Having guidelines or rules could change according to my lifestyle, as long as I kept some parameters and control I knew that one day I would be done with cigarettes. The one thing I never regressed to was smoking at home; home became a clean, nice smelling, non-smoking place which I believed also made a difference, after all we are the environment in which we life and now my environment was smoke free. For the first time in my life, there were no ashtrays in my living space. Smoking was done with a consideration, outside. When out I did consider each cigarette and not smoking it, but if I did smoke I did also enjoy it.
The amount of cigarettes I did smoke became fewer and fewer and eventually I was certainly what one would call a social smoker. I remember once a friend being surprised at seeing me smoke; we had known each other a while and she had never known me to smoke. She did smoke and I remember her asking me if I smoked so little, then why did I smoke at all, I was obviously not addicted. This was really surprising and refreshing to hear, I still identified as a smoker, I did after all still smoke even if it was a couple of cigarettes a month. It was almost like it opened my eyes, to hear I wasn’t a smoker, and I realised I could choose to identify as a non-smoker and simply, not smoke. After all, I wasn’t addicted anymore. Now I realise that I think I only smoked those couple of cigarettes a month because I was still holding on to something, an enjoyment of smoking casually, a belief in my own mind that I still identified as a smoker. The mind is ever fascinating.
Late 2009, I completed my training as a massage therapist and a yoga teacher. This was an amazing experience that enriched my life and give me priceless insight into myself and also my health. There was also the added factor that I didn’t want to be a massage therapist that smelled of smoke. Spa’s and other types of wellness clinics are obviously very clean and some even smell very nice, I hated the thought of someone receiving a massage from me, all the while smelling my waft of smoke. And this isn’t even taking into consideration that I’m talking to people about holistic wellbeing and health, all the while feeling like a hypocrite. This bothered me and if this was to be my new career, which I was passionate about, then really quitting would certainly be part of being a good massage therapist and yoga teacher in a world of wellness. But I did still smoke socially, but never at home, never before or during work.
In 2010 my uncle successfully quit smoking, he had a mantra that helped me, and I don’t think I was the only one it helped. His mantra was “it’s no longer part of me”. This mantra is especially interesting to me because it does site that smoking at some point is a part of someone’s daily life, someone’s consciousness and even their subconscious. By saying this mantra we recognise this and also affirm that we choose that it no longer has to be. It no longer controls us, it doesn’t make us stand in the cold anymore, or need to find a shop that sells our brand, or worry about if we have bad breath. We can choose. Addiction is often about loss of control, and in the case of smoking it took me years to fully 100% identify as a non-smoker again. What did this mean? Being a non-smoker means being able to say ‘no thank you’ to someone who has offered you a cigarette. Being able to say ‘no thank you’ without a morsel of regret, and even happiness at the fact that you no longer smoke, even maybe a sense of relief that you don’t want to. It took time; it took being patient with myself and recognising that getting upset as slipping didn’t help, and that it’s in the mind. I’m no longer a smoker and happy every day for this.
"Please let me take a moment to introduce myself, since 2008 I have been a licensed massage therapist, and in 2009 I also completed my yoga teacher training of 200 hours. Almost 9 years later I have gained experience working as massage therapist by working in clinical settings such as in an Osteopath's practice as well as working in luxury 5 star Spas. As I found that my passion was seeing people leave happier than when they arrived, I decided to go back to school in 2012 to study Traditional Chinese Medicine while I continued to work as a massage therapist. In 2016 I graduated and I am now a licensed and accredited acupuncturist. I will always continue doing massage, Traditional Chinese Medicine however has given me the tools and the knowledge to be more effective in helping my patients to achieve health and wellbeing. I believe in balance and that is what the principles of acupuncture are about, achieving balance and harmony in order to feel comfortable and happy, body and mind."