Quitting Time

Last year, after two failed attempts earlier in life, I decided to quit smoking as my New Year's resolution. I was a pretty heavy smoker, picked it up when I was sixteen, did about a pack a day through college, and then stepped it up to more like a pack and a half a day plus some more on top of that on heavy partying nights after I graduated. Thus far, I've been totally on the wagon, smoke free since around 4AM on 1 January 2007.

I think my main piece of advice to people considering a similar pledge for 2008 would be to consider not doing it. The reality is that the first week or so of withdrawal is incredibly awful and then it remains really hard for a while after that. Last year, I saw several friends put themselves through the incredibly awful part and then go back to smoking. That's no fun, and really something worth avoiding.

To me, the big problem on my earlier efforts was that I didn't really want to quit smoking. Rather, what I wanted to do was transform myself into someone more like some of my other friends -- people who smoked the odd cigarette socially or maybe even in some moment of crucial stress, but who weren't cripplingly dependent on constant infusions of nicotine. I wanted to avoid the kind of addict behavior that induced feelings of self-loathing and reduce the quantity of toxins I was ingesting but I didn't really want to stop smoking. After all, I didn't like being an addict when it sent me running down the halls of O'Hare airport to exit the terminal and snag a smoke before my connecting flight took off, but most of the time I enjoyed smoking quite a bit.

But for me at least, it wasn't possible to find the middle ground. Earlier efforts, based on the idea that somehow I could stop smoking for a while, endure the agony of withdrawal, thereby "break" the addiction, and then re-invent myself as a social smoker failed pathetically. What's worked, so far, has been to adopt a humorless and un-fun AA-like attitude which says I just needed to face up to a lack of control over my desire to smoke and resolve to not smoke any cigarettes ever again no matter what. That, as I say, worked, but it was really kind of crappy. My work suffered for a while, as did my social life; I started going to the gym somewhat regularly, which I hate, and I put on weight anyway. In the end, it's change for the better, but it's not really worth entering into lightly.

Photo by Flickr user Superfantastic used under a Creative Commons license