Thoughts that seem worse than urges experienced the first few days
The urges that happen weeks or months after initial quitting can catch you much more off guard than the urges encountered during the first few days. When you had an urge at 10:00 am the day you quit smoking, it was no big deal. You likely had one at 9:55 am just before it. In fact, the first few days if you went too long without an urge you would have felt something was wrong. Although, some people just have one urge that first day. It hits them when they wake up, goes away when they go to sleep, at which point they dream about smoking all night. In essence, it was chronic.
When you start to get more time under your belt not smoking, the triggers become more sporadic. At first separated by minutes, then hours, eventually days and weeks. But they still happen. When they occur after a long period of time they catch you much more off guard.
Also, in the beginning, when your guard is up and urges are frequent, you are constantly talking yourself through them. You are then basically reinforcing your resolve over and over again all day long. When you stop having chronic urges, you naturally stop reinforcing your resolve throughout the day. Then when the trigger hits, not having talked yourself through it very recently, you sometimes have a harder time mustering up the initial motivation for quitting and ammunition for staying off.
One other factor happens with time making urges feel stronger. You start to forget smoking but still remember the "good" cigarettes. You forget the ones you smoked automatically, paying no real attention to even as you smoked them. You forget the nasty one you despised as you smoked them. You forget all the associated annoyances that went with being a smoker. Then you start to remember the best cigarette you ever had in your life. If you focus on this cigarette without recalling all the others and the problems that went with the others, it is hard to not want it.
But that "one" cigarette concept is a fantasy. Not smoking will never be as good as that fantasy, but smoking will not be like that fantasy either. Smoking is what it was at the end, the day you quit—not what it was like early on when it initially hooked you. At the end, smoking was annoying enough to make you want to quit, even though you were going through a horrid withdrawal and psychological readjustment process to do it. You then understood that smoking was making life complicated, ruining your health and basically slowly killing you. Well, cigarettes haven’t changed. Just your memories of them have.
Remember cigarettes as they really were, not how you wished they were. Then when the urge is triggered, you will have the ammunition to squelch it. You will recognize that you were just having a bad moment, when you were quitting you were having "bad days." When you were smoking you were a slave to a product that was killing you. You fought long and hard to overcome that control and you never want to relinquish your freedom of choice over such a deadly product again. To keep the control, remember, when the urge is triggered—never take another puff!
“You said it would get better. It's just as bad as the day I quit smoking!”
Recently I was met with this warm greeting from a clinic participant on his 8th day without smoking. As you may recall, we explain during the clinic that if a smoker can get through the first three days without smoking, the physiological withdrawal will start to diminish, and within two weeks all physiological withdrawal will stop.
While we can accurately predict the physiological withdrawal, psychological withdrawals can occur at anytime. It is possible that the urge this man was having was just as painful as the ones he had a week earlier. While the urge may have been as strong, it was different. When he had an urge before, there was really nothing he could do to get over it. If he just held out a few minutes, the urge would pass. But psychological urges are more under the ex-smoker's conscious control. A good analogy demonstrating the difference between physiological and psychological pain can be seen by analyzing a common toothache.
A rotting tooth can cause a lot of pain. If your dentist explains to you why the tooth hurts it really doesn't resolve the situation. You know why it hurts, but it still hurts. Simply understanding physical pain does not make the pain go away.
To illustrate another point, say you go to the dentist and find out that you have a cavity. He has to drill the tooth and put in a filling. The drilling can be a very rough experience. After it is all over the pain will stop, but whenever you hear the sound of a dentist's drill, even if it's years later, you cringe at the thought of the pain. Once you realize that you are simply reacting to the sound, you know that you are not really in danger and the reaction will end. Understanding the root of the fear alleviates the anxiety and the associated pain.
Any urges for cigarettes that occur today are reactions to conditioned triggers. You are doing or experiencing something for the first time without smoking. It may be going to a bar, a wedding or going on a plane. It may be seeing a person or being in a place where you always had a cigarette in the past. It may be something you hear or even an old familiar aroma. The sense of smell is a powerful mechanism for triggering old emotional feelings.
So today, if you find yourself desiring a cigarette, look around you and see why at this particular time and place a cigarette is on your mind. Once you understand that the desire is being triggered by some reaction to an insignificant event, you can just say "no" to the cigarette without further problem. All you need to do is understand what triggered the thought. The urge will pass. The next time you encounter a similar situation you will not even think of a cigarette. You will have learned how to face another experience as a ex-smoker.
Quitting smoking is a learning experience. Every time you overcome an urge you will have overcome another obstacle that threatened your status as an ex-smoker. As time goes by, you will run out of obstacles and you can comfortably go through life a happier and healthier person. All you need to remember and practice to stay an ex-smoker is - NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF.
The Terrible 3's
You will often hear the concept of the terrible three's in regards to quitting smoking. How things just go bad at three days, three weeks, three months, and three years. Except for the three day issue which has a real physiological basis, I do not put a lot of stock into the concept of the terrible threes, especially the 21-day or 3 year's mark. The three-day issue is a real phenomenon, although for some people it is a one-day or two-day issue and it may be eased up by the third day so that one is not even etched in stone. The three-month issue has a basis, but it is not physiologically based, but more so it is probably from seasonal variation.
As ex-smokers start pulling out their old wardrobes, start experiencing new weather conditions, start watching different sports seasons, start preparing for different holidays and events, these are all first time experiences without a cigarette. If a person quits in the heat of summer, there is no way they learn how to shovel snow, or scrape ice without a cigarette. Maybe driving in snow and ice always scared them. That scare would lead to increased smoking, intricately intertwining the two activities. The first time encountering the condition will be an automatic feeling of needing to smoke. On the same token, if they quit in winter, they have no idea how to lay in the sun on a warm day. These are activities that also, by the nature of lasting twenty minutes or longer, would also become a smoking associated activity. While the winter-summer changes are dramatic contrasts, the three-month seasonal changes are still significant enough to elicit smoking thoughts.
You overcome these triggers the same way you overcome the original triggers-just don't give into them. The first time it will be a stronger thought, but after successfully overcoming the specific event, it will become easier and easier each successive time. Eventually, not smoking will become the habit for the specific event.
You need to be prepared for these periodic fluctuations in number of smoking thoughts. Not because of the terrible threes, just because you need to be prepared everyday that there might be moments where there is a desire for a cigarette. It is a matter of always keeping your guard up, and remembering that not smoking is important everyday. Still comes down to the premise of waking up everyday and saying to yourself, "I will not smoke today," and going to bed each night proud of the accomplishment. Do this and you will make it through all the "terrible threes" (and they might now be in anyway terrible) having been able to successfully Never Take Another Puff!
[font=&]The Miserable Three's
In response to the "Miserable Three's" we hear so much about. The three-day thing is a real understandable phenomenon. It is how long we basically have nicotine left in our bodies after smoking cessation. As long as we have any amount the brain is demanding the full compliment. The lower it gets, the more your brain and hence body complains. Once the three-day mark is passed, pure nicotine is either excreted or metabolized into other bi-products. Those bi-products are what can be tested for in a drug tested for nicotine for up to two weeks, but they do not have the power to maintain an active state of withdrawal. Some people seem to metabolize more efficiently than others, seeming to only have physical withdrawal effects for one or two day periods, but once overcoming the third day, most people's intense physical symptoms will diminish.
In clinic experience, the three-week mark never seemed to be a big issue. I still maintained contact heavily over the first month though, constantly reinforcing quitting concepts, and maybe, people left on their own devices didn't internally keep up that kind of ammunition strengthening. Another factor may be friends and families. During the first week, maybe even the first two, everyone pays a lot of attention to the smoker who is quitting. They are worried that this time may not take. They ask constantly how the person quitting is doing, offer support and encouragement, tell them how great they are and how proud they are of them. All this attention is either greatly appreciated or drives the person quitting nuts. Either way, it in a sense keeps their attention focused on the quit.
But after a couple of weeks, the novelty wares off, to the ex-smoker and the family member themselves. At some point, people stop asking. Sometimes this is interpreted to the ex-smoker that people stopped caring. This is not the case. The family and friends just start to take for granted that the person is over it. They get complacent. Understand something though, the family and friends probably still cares, whether they show it our not. If the person relapses, they may have a fit, but if he or she stays off, that's just the way things are.
This lack of attention to cessation often leads to the ex-smoker to feeling complacent too. Complacency is dangerous. That is when the thought is triggered by something, the ammunition has stopped being reinforced and the ex-smoker has lost access to their reasons for why they stopped and why they don't want to go back. I don't think three-weeks is a magic guide or absolute, like the three-day mark, but a variable due at least in part to this kind of mind set.
The three-month is another interesting time. If I had to venture a guess, I would say the thoughts are due to seasonal variation of activities, weather, clothing, etc. When you quit in the dead of winter, depending on where you live, you learn how to shovel snow, scrape ice, bundle up, watch football and hockey, in a sense, you learn to do winter activities without a cigarette. You learn this all by repetition, doing it once, then another time, then another, all without taking a cigarette. But when springtime rolls around, conditions may change. Maybe you do spring-cleaning. Last time you did spring cleaning, you were a smoker. Nothing you did in winter may have just the same flavor. How did you take breaks during spring-cleaning? You stopped for a cigarette. How did you reward yourself when finished? You smoked a cigarette. This is a new trigger. Then you start changing your wardrobe. Last time you wore that jacket, you were a smoker. You may even find cigarettes in pockets you paid no attention to when you quit. Sporting events change. Now you are watching baseball instead of football. Maybe even going to games. Every time you went to games before, you smoked. Win you watch your team win for the first time, you are supposed to smoke in celebration. After a couple of wins, you break the association. That doesn't yet prepare you to watch them lose though, that you will learn quickly too. (At least if you are from Chicago, the Cubs you know. Sorry I digressed). And what about getting ready for tax time, this too smoking had always been part of.
Well, let three more months pass and we have summer time activities. The beach, the pool, outdoor activities, barbecues, picnics, all things that are basically new to an ex-smoker who quit during snow. And then fall and its color changes, it's clothing, its basic change of flavor and nuances. All these changes are potential triggers.
While this may sound discouraging, that there are all these future changes awaiting the ex-smoker, consider this. Everything the smoker encountered the first three days was new. Everything! Getting out of bed, brushing teeth, using the bathroom, again, everything. And this is on top of drug withdrawal. The ex-smoker got through them all, breaking the day to day rituals and associations. That is why he or she is now an ex-smoker. That is why after weeks, he or she is not thinking about cigarettes every waking moment, but rather a couple of time a day.
At these seasonal times, new experiences trigger thoughts, but it doesn't have the physical withdrawal complicating it. It's still a battle, but now the all out war previously experienced. You all had the strength to win that war. You can beat these reactions too. Bring back your original ammunition, remembering why you quit. You were fighting for your freedom, your health, and eventually your life. Bring your reasons for quitting to the forefront of consciousness and when these thoughts are triggered, you will quickly squelch them. Next time the same circumstance will seem a little weaker, and after a few times, not trigger at all. Eventually days, weeks, at some point, even months will pass without a real problem. You will experience moments of thoughts, but at the same time be benefiting from thousands of hours of health and even greater serenity. If you want to permanently avoid making another year of constant new battles, remember…Never Take Another Puff!
[/font] [font=&]Why am I still having "urges?"
[font=&] [font=&]For the benefits of newbies wondering if they will ever stop wanting a cigarette, I thought I would elaborate on the concept of "urges" that happen weeks, months or even years into a quit. When we say that the urge hits after any significant time period after being smoke free, it is a desire or a thought for a cigarette that is different than the physical "urge" experienced during initial withdrawal. Those urges are physiological craves, the body demanding nicotine to alleviate a drug withdrawal state.
[/font]The thoughts that happed down the road are triggers of fond memories. The thought is often that it seems like a good idea now to smoke a cigarette. Kind of like the urge you get to clean your house on a slow day. Seems like a good idea for a few seconds, but if you find something better to do, so be it. The same concept holds true for the thought of a cigarette.
Other times there will be thoughts of "I used to smoke when I did this." Not a desire for a cigarette or smoking, but a feeling that your timing or ritual is off. Sometimes there may even be a feeling that you are supposed to be doing "something" right now, but do not even realize what it is. All of a sudden you realize you used to smoke at this particular juncture of time or a specific new situation. Again, it is not that you want or need a cigarette in these two cases, just that the routine was a little off.
Years into a quit though, most days ex-smokers will go days, weeks and maybe even months without a thought. Even days which they call "bad" with desires, they may be going 23 hours and 59 minutes and 50 seconds without a thought, but because they think of it once, they think that was a lot. It really does get easier and easier.
The alternative side, smoking, is constantly riddled with thought of quitting. Whenever you are going to a doctor, a non-smoking friends or family home where you want to visit but cannot smoke, getting a new symptoms or aggravated by a chronic problem, read a news headline or hear a news report on television or radio on a new danger from smoking, have to pay another price increase for cigarettes, find another friend who has quit while you do not, stand outside in blizzards or heat waves or torrential downpour for the luxury of getting a quick fix or experience some horrible withdrawal because you can't escape for a cigarette or heaven forbid, you run out of cigarettes.
Yes there were plenty of times smoking made your life totally unmanageable. Not to mention the times that may come where a diagnosis of a horrible condition that require extraordinary measures to save your life that in themselves are almost as terrifying and painful as the disease itself. That unpleasant scenario still provides a chance of survival. There are frequently the cases where the first real symptom of a smoking induced illness is sudden death. Then you don't even have a chance to save your life.
Why am I still having "urges?"
As an ex-smoker, there may be times you want a cigarette. As a smoker, there will be times you want to quit. Neither side is perfect, but the ex-smoker side has clear advantages. It will get easier and easier over time getting to the point of smoking becoming a thing of the past. The smoking side leads to a much more ominous road.
Keep focused, whether it is hours into a quit or decades into a quit. It was a good decision to quit, maybe the most important decision you have made in your life as far as quality and length of your life goes. To keep the decision alive and continue to reap the benefit, always remember, Never Take Another Puff! [/font]
[font=&] Avoiding Triggers
Many years ago I had a man named Mark (not his real name) join one of my smoking clinics. Mark came to me on the first day of the clinic and told me how he had recently added an addition on to his house and one of the rooms he added was a home office. Mark lived in a suburb about 20 miles from his office in downtown Chicago. Mark had the luxury that he didn't really need to go to his downtown office much and could do most of his work from home. He was nervous though because his home office was more than just his office--it was also his smoking sanctuary. Mark had small kids who were allergic to smoke and his wife didn't want Mark smoking around the kids. Since the kids were never allowed in the office anyway, Mark agreed only to smoke in that one room of the house. The office had in essence become his smoking room. He had only had the home office a short period of time now but the relationship seemed deeply ingrained.
When Mark was telling me about the new home office smoking room he confided in me that he was really scared to go into the room for he was sure it would be too powerful of a trigger and cause him to smoke. I told him he should go into the room quickly to overcome the fear but he said he just wanted to give it a few days before he attempted it. I figured I would let it go, thinking it would actually be good for Mark to get the additional experiences of driving to the city and working with other people proving to himself that he could deal with the outside world and still maintain his quit.
Mark never brought up the home office smoking room again during the clinic and I had basically forgotten about it too. Mark completed the clinic and sounded great at graduation. I figured he was on his way to a complete smoke free life.
A couple of months after the clinic was over I was following up Mark's group on a Saturday morning. Actually I had talked to him numerous times over the two month period but this conversation took an interesting twist. While on the phone Mark had said something about his office downtown and for the first time since I met Mark I remembered his concerns about his home office. I asked him if he was still going downtown much or mostly working out of his home office now. All of a sudden there was an awkward silence on the phone. Mark kind of hemmed and hawed for a while and said, "Well, this is kind of embarrassing to admit be I actually haven't gone into the home office yet."
I quickly said, "Mark, are you telling me that you have been driving 20 miles to and from work every day for two months because you are afraid that if you go into your home office you are going to smoke." He said yes, but it was worth it. He loved not smoking. Not smoking was great. So while driving 40 miles a day was a tad inconvenient, it was worth the effort since it was helping him to save his life.
I agreed it would be worth driving 40 miles every day if it were necessary in order to sustain a quit and thus saving his health and his life. The problem was that it was not necessary--Mark could work in his home office and just not smoke. To that Mark replied that the association was just too strong and his quit was just to valuable.
I asked Mark if he had a phone in the room in question to which he replied, "Of course I have a phone, it's my office." I said, "Mark, I want you to go into that room and call me back at this number." Now it took some real effort for me to persuade Mark to go into the room and to call me back. He was scared for he was totally convinced that being in that room was going to undercut his quit but Mark eventually goes into his office and places the call.
So I start a conversation of small talk with Mark, making a point of checking the clock at the beginning of the call. I knew some of Mark's family members and friends, and I started asking him questions about these people and making a real concerted effort of never broaching the topic of smoking once. Now I know most of you reader here have only gotten to know me from my writings and have never seen me live and talking but I can assure you that if you talk to any of my family members or friends, or especially to my clinic graduates, they will all attest that I can talk for hours on end even though I have nothing really important to say. I purposely engaged Mark into a half hour conversation consisting of absolutely nothing important--just small talk.
A half an hour into the conversation of small talk I abruptly blurted out, "Hey Mark, you have been in your home office now for 30 minutes. Have you thought about a cigarette once." Mark started laughing. He realized what I had done, getting him into the room and talking his ear off just to show him that he could be in the room and on the phone and not need to smoke. I think Mark instantly realized that his fears were unfounded.
I saw Mark last year, for the first time in probably fifteen or twenty years. He had now been smoke free for over a quarter of a century. We didn't really talk about smoking issues much either. It was no longer an issue in Mark's life. I just did my obligatory warning about never getting overly complacent, pointing out to him that over the past four years I had two people who were once 35 year ex-smokers who lost their quits. He was still well aware of what we taught in the clinic and was still totally committed to never take another puff.
As most people who read here have probably noticed, they have started saving lots of money since they have quit smoking. I suspect Mark had also saved a small fortune. This may not have been the case if we had not had our little conversation that Saturday morning. For if we had not talked that day Mark may have been driving an extra 200 miles a week, plus paying for parking for a quarter of a century. I don't even want to try to do the math of what these additional expenses would have cost. The fact is that they would have been totally unnecessary. When a person goes 25 years smoke free he proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything he was able to do as a smoker he can now do as an ex-smoker. This is a crucial lesson for all to learn.
Putting off facing certain activities triggers will likely prolong the stress, anxieties and fears that you will not be able to overcome the specific situation without relapse. All people who quit must realize that all you did as a smoker you can do as an ex-smoker too. All it takes is proving it to yourself one situation at a time. You can continue to live your life and get through all events with your quit intact as long as you always remember to stick with your personal commitment to never take another puff! [/font]