While talking with my Mister this week, as I sometimes do, I mentioned a friend from work that he had met before. This friend – let’s call him “W” – is the one whom I credit for inspiring me to see a hypnotherapist. He had successfully quit smoking with hypnosis, himself, and referred me to the therapist he used. Unfortunately, she was no longer in the area, leading me to find another, who turned out to be just perfect for what I needed. Anyway, as an update, I told Mister that W had started smoking again. The last time we spoke, W spent most of that time kicking himself for backsliding. He also struggles with his weight, and he felt pretty helpless about that, as well.
It got me to thinking. When I quit smoking in 2005, that wasn’t my first time. I had quit smoking several times before that. Most smokers do try to quit, and most try more than once; I was no different. I quit for about a year, way back in my 20’s, and was really proud of my success until the night I went out with my friends to a local bar. My friends all smoked, and this was before smoking indoors was banned. We all sat around this big table with our beers, and out came the packs of smokes, lighters, and ashtrays. After sitting in the second-hand smoke for a while, I thought to myself, Man, I really want a cigarette. I’ll just have one. I even framed the argument in my head, lest one of my friends object. I thought of what I would say to them if they protested. I think the extent of my defense was, It’s not like I’m going to start smoking again! I just want one while I’m having this beer.
So I asked my girlfriend, who only smoked while she drank, for a cigarette. She gave me a sidelong glance and handed one over. She said, “If you start smoking again, don’t blame me.” I assured her it wasn’t going to happen, and lit the cigarette, taking a long drag. I felt the rush of the nicotine hitting my system; it made me a little woozy, but it was also comforting in a strange sort of way. The brief nausea I felt went away with the next couple puffs. I enjoyed that cigarette far more than I thought I would or should have.
I wish I could say that I stopped at one, but I didn’t. That night I ended up bumming another cigarette or two from her, and then out of guilt I bought a pack to pay her back. Naturally, I finished the pack in the next day or two. And another, and another…until I was back to my nearly two-pack-a-day habit.
That “just one” plan was flawed from the outset. I should have known, and I probably did, but I chose to ignore the angel on my shoulder when the devil on the other one was egging me on. I should have seen that I was addicted to smoking, and that thinking I could have just one was risky. As it turned out, I lost that battle, and I smoked for several more years until I quit again right before I got married.
Yes – I was determined to quit. I had great reason to: I was going to be stepmom to a terrific little girl, and I didn’t want to smoke around her. So I quit again in 1991. I marveled at how much better food tasted and how the acrid smell of smoke no longer followed me everywhere. It was a win-win, because Mister was not a smoker and hated that I was. Plus, it saved money, and I felt better, too.
Fast forward to 1999. Tragedy struck, and I was completely overwhelmed. When I came back to work, I was in a fragile state, and found myself needing to get up from my desk and take a walk to clear my head from time to time. When my not-particularly-sympathetic boss questioned the frequency and duration of my breaks, a helpful friend devised a solution: he gave me an unopened pack of cigarettes he had found. He said, “Put it on your desk so if anyone asks, you can say you’re taking a smoking break.” Good plan. The pack sat unmolested on my desk for a few days while I enjoyed my breaks with my smoking friends. It wasn’t long until I asked someone for a cigarette – just one – and not long after that, I opened that pack on my desk, surrendering once again to the demon nicotine.
This time it’s different, I told myself. I’ve been through hell lately, so don’t judge. If smoking is the worst I do, then who would blame me? Anyone else would do the same thing. I readily acknowledged that smoking was my crutch to get me through. At least, that’s what I told myself to justify the relapse. I hid it from my young sons as best I could, smoking outside after they went to bed or taking a trip to the store just so I could have a cigarette in my car. I felt so guilty about living that lie, but I absolutely did not want them to see me smoke and think it was okay. I knew I was setting a terrible example, and that made the guilt even worse, which meant I smoked more and more.
Eventually, they caught me smoking. I had to confess. It was a great weight off my chest, now that the secret was known, but I knew I had to quit – for good.
In March of 2005, I was involved in a 4-vehicle accident; the car behind me plowed into me so hard that his license plate was imprinted on my rear bumper. I had numerous soft-tissue injuries and was off work for quite a while. I was seeing a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, and a physical therapist. The pain was incredible, but I kept pushing myself to recover. The PT spoke to me plainly, telling me that if I quit smoking, my circulation would improve, and with better blood flow to my injuries, they would heal faster. I hadn’t thought of it that way. It was then that I sought out the advice of my friend W for quitting smoking. On November 7, 2005 I quit for good.
What I know now is that I am an addict. I cannot fall into the trap of “just one” thinking. I can’t have just one cigarette. Not even one. If I do, I will once again be a smoker. What I also know now is that my addiction is not limited to nicotine: if I allow myself, against my better judgment, to indulge in certain foods, I will likely binge. There are certain foods that trigger that behavior, and I am nearly powerless against them, so my best bet is to stay away. My food addiction, which is a manifestation of a lifetime of unhealthy thinking and emotional baggage, is very real. Just look at me.
I like to think my war with cigarettes is over, and I won. Because of hypnosis, I no longer have cravings or even think about cigarettes. I have never cheated; I have no desire to smoke. But my war with obesity is not, and never will be, over. It’s easy to talk myself into, or out of, certain things, but those actions have consequences, and one of them is obesity. I fight with myself on a daily basis. But I have to remember that my success is predicated on my constant awareness; I can’t make big, sweeping plans and ignore the details. I have to take this battle one day at a time.
photo credit Brett Jordan