A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Smoking: Obsession And Compulsion

I haven't smoked for three days and I haven't felt particularly uncomfortable, at least not physically, but I decided to buy a pack of cigarettes tomorrow. It's not logical. I feel better and less stressed out when I don't smoke, so where does this "decision" come from?

My quit date is in eleven days and I haven't learned something I need to learn. I'm not facing the fact that I am an addict. I know my thinking is distorted and that I'm fooling myself, but I haven't dug deep enough. Tonight I picked up a book I bought a few years back; it's really two books in one. The first book is called ADDICTIVE THINKING and the second book is called THE ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY--Understanding the Addictive Process, Compulsive Behavior, and Self-Deception. The author of the first book writes, "I cannot stress enough the importance of realizing that addicts are taken in by their own distorted thinking and that they are its victims." Part of my distorted thinking is that I won't fully acknowledge myself as addict. Being an addict is not just having a physical dependence on a drug; it's also a psycho-spiritual illness, an obsession, a compulsion. That's why I think it's very important to be mentally/emotionally prepared to quit.

I've decided that I'm not physically addicted to nicotine yet because I don't go into withdrawal after I stop. This doesn't mean that I don't have a physical reaction to the nicotine when I inhale it because I certainly do, but I can detach from it. I don't crave it. I don't get irritable. This is very good news. I probably won't need either a nicotine replacement patch or a drug like Chantix to finally stop. This fact highlights to me that my real problem is in my mind. If I'm going to quit for good, I have to look into my thoughts and behavior. One person on a message board told me that quitting smoking is a process of self-discovery. I've learned already that I am not a bad person. In fact, I've found that I have the ability to be direct and honest and that in being direct and honest I find relief from my compulsion. That's why the support groups online (and I'm sure off line as well) are so valuable.

In the Freedom From Smoking program early on they say that you should say to yourself OUT LOUD--"I can quit smoking." You should say it often. You should discuss how it feels to say it on the message boards. Then you should also write it down on several index cards and post it in places in your house or apartment where you will see it often. I have one on the wall in front of my computer and one on the cork board in front of my drawing table. I should post even more of them--maybe one on the refrigerator and on the bathroom mirror. It may seem silly, but it is not. It's a very important tool and it shows your willingness to move in the direction of quitting.

In effect, when you say "I can quit smoking", when you write it and post it, when you read it, you are reprogramming your compulsion and replacing it with positive reinforcement. When you go to your support groups and get honest and give support, you are reprogramming your internal message, replacing "I must smoke" with "I can quit smoking". The more you do these things, the greater your chance of success. There's a 12 step saying: "It works if you work it." I've found this to be true. But if you don't work it or work it sporadically, you leave yourself vulnerable to your primary compulsion.

My brother is critical of 12 step programs. He sees it as just more obsessive/compulsiveness and in some ways he may be right, but I can't really see a better alternative. In one of the Freedom From Smoking lessons they have you calculate how often you've reinforced your smoking behavior over the years. Here's the example: On average you smoke ten inhalations per cigarette. That's 10 times you practice smoking (which is a learned behavior). If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, that's 200 times you've practiced in one day, times that by 365 days (I think that's a year) and then by the number of years you've smoked. In my lifetime I've smoked over 20 years. For me I've practiced smoking over a million and a half times. What this means is that you have to practice quitting thoughts and behaviors to combat years of smoking practice. You have to unlearn your smoking behavior and replace it with something positive.

I've included tonight in the favorite links part of my blog 5 online sites that will help those who want to practice quitting smoking. J.P. check them out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Addicted or not, quitting smoking is complicated by all sorts of psychological factors.

You said you don't suffer physically. I wonder what your cues are, then. I can tell you that one of my cues was simply reading your blog about wanting to quit! 8) I can in fact now have one cigarette, should the urge strike, and then not smoke again for a month. So I do not worry if I "slip" once in a blue moon. But I have learned that if I wait when I "feel" like a cig, the urge simply passes and I can let it go...

I sympathize with your predicament, though, because even if you are "only" psychologically addicted, that can be very powerful. For intance, I believed I could never wait -- for a bus, for a friend, for an appointment, for anything -- unless I had a cigarette. But I was wrong. It turn out it is actually easier to wait without one, because you don't measure the minutes by the short length of a cigarette! (Also, the cigarette chemicals tend to make you more impatient.)

For me, the most important thing I could learn was that the impulse did not need to be indulged "immediately." So that if I said to myself, Yes, you can have a cigarette, but why not wait ten minutes? Usually in ten minutes the impulse or urge or need would have passed and I forgot all about it, having gotten busy doing something more important. Of course, if I still wanted a cigarette I would have one, I didn't make myself suffer. But the point was to teach myself that the urge generally speaking did not torment me for long, that it was fleeting, and that I usually distracted myself doing other things well before it overwhelmed me.

I dunno that anything like this would help you, but I offer it sincerely, understanding the struggle.

Pam W