I sound like a broken record on crack…
…relapsing into the chorus of the age old tune “I’m gonna quit smoking“, an immodest trumpet fanfare that invites nothing short of sarcastic quips and eye rolls – not to mention arrogant prophesies and cocksure wagers. This coming from someone whose New Year’s Resolutions is deemed void while the ink on the paper is still fluid from its leak. Yes, I confess, I’m your perpetual recovering addict, trying to weaken the pull of my addiction with self-cajoling propaganda.
I remember my first puff (read: trachea burn) like it was yesterday; under a tree, behind a bush during spare classes with 3 rebellious school girls, smoking Winfields. Before I knew it, I was there with the girls come rain, hail or shine. We’d slip out for a quick fag, banter over our weekend plans and return, doused in a redolent of Lynx body spray. It’s a wonder how we never got caught, when our attempt to disguise the misdemeanor alone was an assault to the senses.
I was 14 then. Ever since, I’ve pledged year after year that I’ll quit. I gave myself cut off dates – 1999 (unfortunately that pledge failed when Y2K virus did), followed by countless pacts when I’d hit 18, 21, 26, 28 and 30 – all the eventful hallmark moments. Defintely 30, I’d say. “I must when I’m 30!”, I’d profess with confidence. Nay, I most definitely will when I’m 30! And so during the months leading up to my 30th, like a cat dragged under a bonnet, I protracted a painful tune with a shriek of torturous reluctance.
Cut to me smoking on my birthday and over Chinese New Year, “I’m in a festive mood! After this I’ll definitely quit!”. Then cue me smoking over whiskey in Chiang Mai, “But I’m on Holiday!” I chimed defensively. “I’ll quit when I’m back in KL”. Then now back in KL, “I’ve cut down! Really. I only smoke heaps when I’m out with you girls!”. Clearly my abstinence-only methods have not worked, nor have the favored “cutting down” modus operandi, as I’m reminded time and time again by my parents on how I’ve foundered in the past. Note to self: Never turn to your parents for an encouraging nudge, they will only beat you down with cynicism. Well, mine did and still do.
Having said that, I often triumph for the first few days or so before giving in to a smoke – at which point I consider my effort thus far, however short-lived, negated. I have over the years been such a natural failure at quitting, that anything short of perfection has led me to conclude that I just don’t have it in me to kick the stick. So I barter with myself, hoping that by the time the next cut off date rolls by, I’ll finally be able to do it. But time and time again, after every failed attempt, I’m growing increasingly tiresome of the endeavor – I’ve even given up on putting up a stoic facade.
If there’s one thing I noticed during these attempts, it’s that when one vice is ridden off, another is adopted. And although in the annals of vices, my liquid leisure is considered mild, it’s still a dangerous addiction at the tip of the bottle’s neck. It’s been such a common activity for me to have both hand in hand, that I find it close to impossible to enjoy one without the other. I’ll end up going from cold turkey to Grey Goose and honestly, I can’t say that the former vice would positively cancel out the latter. I’ll give the bragging rights a miss for now and focus on doing it for me instead of stroking my bruised ego and trying to prove the cynics wrong. That is to say, no more acts of grandeur and proclamations on quitting. Perhaps I need to condition myself to stop striving for the perfect and somewhat unrealistic milestone – eg. 5 years of nicotine sobriety.
Everyday should be a celebration of a milestone and the thing with kicking addictions is that relapsing not an exception, it is the rule. It’s how one persists in trying to overcome the urge that defines a smoker claiming to quit, and a smoker wanting to quit. It’s those stressful and emotional days when you fight off lighting one up, mornings when there’s a hot cup of coffee on the table and you’re about to reach for one and decide not to. Eventually, moment by moment, cranky by moody, you start to kick it one stick at a time and the effort adds up to one big packet, cartoon, crate and eventually, a triumphant win.
So to my fellow quitters out there who are getting sore egos and asses from falling off the bandwagon, don’t despair. Most importantly, don’t give up! Fact: People who use some kind of coping technique in response to an urge are 25 time more likely to resist the temptation than those who try to just rough it out. Here’s my personal guide on how to navigate a potential relapse:
1. Your workmate asks you to accompany her for a smoke:
If you don’t feel like it, don’t. Sake of your friendship doesn’t hang on sharing a puff. If you do want to go out for the sake of getting some “fresh air”, then bring a drink (non alcoholic preferably) to trick your body and mind from your usual object to mouth gesticulation.
2 You just had a fight with your sweetheart, got yelled at by your boss, menstruating…
Negative emotions can fester and build on a negative mood, identify that it is your mental emotions that’s causing you to reach for a comforting puff. Replace that thought by doing something to switch your mood. For example, I enjoy doodling so I’d reach for a piece of paper and start sketching anything that pops into my mind. You’ll find that when you start doing this, you’ll start reconnecting with parts of your life that provide pleasure, enjoyment and meaning.
3. You’ve been invited for a social outing with a group of smokers….
You can’t put your social life on hold and avoid temptation based on people and location. You’ll sooner end up a lonesome spinster. Best to stay within the non-smoking zone and make some friendly conversations with non-smokers. Your smoker friends will be back eventually to join the conversation. You’ll meet new people and drop that conditioned belief that non-smokers are either Christians, bores or prudes.
*The above guide is merely an example and in no way guarantees continuous abstinence, given the author’s evident failure to comply.