How I Quit Smoking

I have been smoke free since summer 1992 by combining AA’s spiritual program and a three day method of taking deep breaths and drinking water.

Nicotine is an interesting drug. Unlike alcohol, it doesn’t impair the mind. It doesn’t give blackouts. Smokers don’t cause accidents while smoking and driving, and are not known to assault their loved ones while they’re enjoying a cigarette. For me, a cigarette provided temporary tranquility and relief from stress, and helped me transition to life’s next moment. But a drug is a drug, and my subconsciousness knew I didn’t need to use a drug as a crutch to move on with life.

man reflection in the mirror

Photo by TOPHEE MARQUEZ on Pexels.com

I became a heavy smoker during my drinking years. Smoking almost two packs on a night out drinking, was not uncommon. By the time I got sober and joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1991, I smoked an average of 10 cigarettes a day and sometimes more if I was stressed out.  The heavy coughing in the mornings, the fear of cancer, knowing that smoking is generally bad for the health, my tachycardia supraventricular, and the financial cost, made me want to quit almost every day, even before I quit drinking. Like with alcohol, I didn’t smoke because I wanted to. I smoked because it was an addiction; I had no control over not smoking. I was powerless, and like some people say in AA meetings, this addiction kicked my ass every single time.

The program of AA made me realize that I could overcome any addiction by working AA’s Twelve Spiritual Steps. Nicotine has a very strong physical aspect to it, however. I had tried countless times to quit cold turkey when I woke up in the mornings, but by late afternoons, I usually had picked up a cigarette again. Sometimes I could quit for a couple of days, but I would eventually smoke again. It was so easy to fall into the habit, specially if someone else was smoking around you. Back in the early 90s when I was in college, there were many smokers around me. Smoking was common in most AA meetings too.

I learnt of a three day method to quit, which consisted of quitting cold turkey and, during an urge, breathing in deeply and out completely three times, and then promptly drinking two large glasses of water.

But it wasn’t easy. The cravings during those first three days of being nicotine free were overwhelming and unsettling. In a similar fashion, the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous (p.58-59) says alcohol is “cunning, baffling and powerful.” I did notice, however, that the breathing and water vanished the craving away, but I also realized that a strong urge could easily throw me back into smoking because it completely erased any willingness to quit. Nicotine addiction is different from alcohol because my whole body was aching for cigarettes and the feeling of total powerlessness was physical, rather than mental.

Before I quit smoking, I had hit a bottom already. It happened during finals that summer. I spent one whole night studying, and as a consequence, smoking heavily. In the morning on the way to the exam, I had a tachycardia episode and ended up in the hospital. Fortunately, it was nothing too serious, just strong stress, and I was released the same day. But this reinforced what I had always known since I started smoking, that I had to stop and should have never started. Let it be clear, however, that no one needs to hit a bottom to quit an addiction.

But what really made a difference was the praying. On my third nicotine free day, during an unbeatable craving, I experienced an overwhelming moment of complete defeat to cigarettes, and I realized I couldn’t stop myself from smoking again. Luckily by then I was already eight months sober, so I knew that only a Higher Power, or God, if you will, could save me from substance addiction, so I prayed to my Higher Power to save me and keep me from smoking. I think I even went down on my knees.

The powerful physical nicotine cravings didn’t last more than three days and I never again had to pray as hard to my Higher Power to not smoke. 

Back in 1991, when I stopped drinking, my sponsor said sobriety was not my own choice, but rather fifty percent mine, and fifty percent my Higher Power’s, or God’s, whatever you prefer. I think that to be true. I cannot defeat an addiction entirely on my own, I need a Higher Power to help me not relapse.

Copyright © 2020 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

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The Sun is my Higher Power. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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