THE DAY AFTER I QUIT SMOKING
One of the things that deters smokers from quitting decisively in one go is the fear of withdrawal symptoms. This results in smokers resorting to half-baked remedies like gradual reduction, nicotine patches, low tar cigarettes and various other futile therapies. In my opinion this exaggerated importance given to withdrawal symptoms is just a big myth, a ploy, an excuse by addicts to avoid giving up smoking. The so-called withdrawal symptoms are nothing but craving. The best and most effective way of quitting smoking is to just stop smoking, totally, in one go, and then never to smoke again. Don’t be afraid of the so-called “withdrawal symptoms” – you can easily tackle the craving. You can take my word for it – I successfully did it and conquered the craving for smoking once and for all.
I have described how I quit smoking. I’m sure you must have read it here in my blog (If you haven’t I’ve pasted the article below at the end of this one for you to read). Now let me describe to you the day after I quit smoking.
I woke up early, at five-thirty as usual, made a cup of tea, and the moment I took a sip of the piping hot delicious tea, I felt the familiar crave for my first cigarette of the day. I kept down the cup of tea, made a note of the craving in my diary, had a glass of hot water (quickly heated in the microwave oven), completed my ablutions, and stepped out of my house, crossed the Maharshi Karve Road, and began a brisk walk-cum-jog around the verdant tranquil Oval Maidan, deeply rinsing my lungs with the pure refreshing morning air. which made me feel on top of the world. The Clock on Mumbai University’s Rajabai Tower silhouetted against the calm bluish gray sky, was striking six, and I felt invigorated. I had overcome my craving, and not smoked, what used to be my first cigarette of the day.
I then went on my daily morning walk on Marine Drive to Chowpatty and on my way back I spotted my friends ‘N’ and ‘S’ across the road beckoning me for our customary post-exercise tea and cigarette at the stall opposite Mantralaya. I felt tempted, but my resolve firm, I waved to them, looked away and ran towards my house. They must have thought I’d gone crazy, but it didn’t matter – I had avoided what used to be my second cigarette of the day. I made a note of it my diary, as I would do the entire day of all the stimuli that triggered in me the urge to smoke – what I would call my “smoking anchors” which could be anything, internal and external, tangible or intangible – people, situations, events, feelings, smells, emotions, tendencies, moods, foods, social or organizational trends, practices, norms, peer pressure; and most importantly how I tackled and triumphed over these stimuli.
After breakfast, I didn’t drink my usual cup of coffee – a strong “smoking anchor” which triggered in me a desperate desire to smoke, and drank a glass of bland milk instead, thereby averting what used to be my third cigarette of the day. It was nine, as I walked to work, and I hadn’t smoked a single cigarette. It was a long day ahead and I had to be cognizant, observe myself inwardly and devise strategies to tackle situations that elicited craving for smoking – recognize and neutralize my “smoking anchors”, so to speak.
Anchoring is a naturally occurring phenomenon, a natural process that usually occurs without our awareness. An anchor is any representation in the human nervous system that triggers any other representation. Anchors can operate in any representational system (sight, sound, feeling, sensation, smell, taste). You create an anchor when you unconsciously set up a stimulus response pattern. Response [smoking] becomes associated with (anchored to) some stimulus; in such a way that perception of the stimulus (the anchor) leads by reflex to the anchored response [smoking] occurring. Repeated stimulus–response action, reinforces anchors and this is a vicious circle, especially in the context of “smoking anchors”. The trick is to identify your “smoking anchors”, become conscious of these anchors and ensure you do not activate them.
The moment I reached office I saw my colleague ‘B’ eagerly waiting for me, as he did every day. Actually he was eagerly waiting to bum a cigarette from me for his first smoke of the day [“I smoke only other’s cigarettes” was his motto!]. I politely told him I had quit smoking and told him to look elsewhere. He looked at me in disbelief; taunted, jeered and badgered me a bit, but when I stood firm, he disappeared.
I removed from my office my ashtray, declared the entire place a no-smoking zone and put up signs to that effect. The working day began. It was a tough and stressful working day. I was tired, when my boss called me across and offered me a cigarette. I looked at the cigarette pack yearningly, tempted, overcome by a strong craving, desperate to have just that “one” cigarette. Nothing like a “refreshing” smoke to drive my blues away and revitalize me – the “panacea” to my “stressed-out” state! It was now or never! I politely excused myself on the pretext of going to the toilet, but rushed out into the open and took a brisk walk rinsing my lungs with fresh air, and by the time I returned I had lost the craving to smoke and realized, like in the Oval early in the morning, that physical exercise is probably the best antidote.
People may think I’m crazy, but even now I rush out of my office once in a while to take a brisk walk in the open and not only do I lose the craving for a smoke but I feel distressed and invigorated as well. Conversely, once I rushed into a “no-smoking” cinema when I desperately felt like a smoke while strolling in the evening. Often, after dinner, when I used to feel like a smoke, I rushed into the Oxford Bookstore next door, for a long leisurely browse till my craving dissipated. And, of course, one has to change his lifestyle, activities, and, maybe, even friends. Always try to be with likeminded people who you would like to emulate – if you want to quit smoking try to be in the company of non-smokers.
It was simple after that, but my diary for that defining day makes interesting reading of smoking anchors – saunf or supari after lunch, afternoon tea, the company of smokers, paan… But the crucial test came in the evening. My dear friend ‘A’ landed up for a drink. Now ‘A’ is a guy who doesn’t smoke in front of his kids and wife (I’m sure she knows!). So since he doesn’t smoke in his own home he makes up in other people’s houses. But mind you, he doesn’t bum cigarettes – in fact he gets a pack and generously leaves the remaining behind for the host.
We poured out a rum–paani each, clinked our glasses, said cheers, and sipped. ‘A’ lit a cigarette and offered the pack to me. At the end of a hot, humid and tiring day, the fortifying beverage induced a heavenly ambrosial sensation which permeated throughout the body and what better way to synergise the enjoyment than to smoke a cigarette along with the drink and enhance the pleasure to sheer bliss. Till that moment, for me, drinking and smoking were inextricably intertwined – they complemented, accentuated each other and accorded me the ultimate supreme pleasure. I enjoyed my smoke the most along with a drink. I realized that drinking was my strongest “smoking anchor” and if I had to quit smoking permanently I would have to give up drinking forever. So that’s what I did. At this defining moment of my life, I quit drinking forever. It’s been almost four years now and I do not smoke and I do not drink.
I will never smoke again – I have quit smoking forever. I may be tempted, but I know I can overcome the urge, for I have mastered the art of taking charge of my “smoking anchors”. And from time to time, I shall look at my old diary to remember and cherish that cardinal day of my life – ‘the day after I quit smoking’.
HOW I QUIT SMOKING
I do not remember the precise moment I started smoking. Maybe it was sometime in college, in the seventies, when egged on by my friends I had my first puff. Just for the heck of it.
But what I do remember is the precise moment when I decided to stop smoking – a defining moment of my life.
A friend of mine came to my home in Mumbai late at night from the airport, to spend the night and catch next morning’s early train to Pune. It was late, I was tired after a hard day at work, so I gave him a cup of coffee and hit the sack and crashed out.
Suddenly someone was waking me up from my deep slumber – it was my friend asking for cigarettes.
“There’s a pack on the writing table,” I told him.
“It’s empty,” he said.
“Okay. I’ll get one in the morning,” I said.
“I need a smoke now. I’ll go out and get some,” he said.
I looked at him through my sleepy eyes and said, “Go to sleep. It’s late – there won’t be any shops open now.”
“There must be someplace. Please,” he said desperately, “ I haven’t had a smoke since I left Delhi. It’s been four hours. I’m dying to have a cigarette. Just one. I can’t sleep if I don’t get a smoke.”
Seeing his desperate craving, I had no option but to drive out with him in search of cigarettes at the unearthly hour.
Later, lying in bed, I thought about it. Poor chap. We had probably started smoking at the same time. If this could happen to him it could happen to me too if I didn’t wake up. He had become an addict. I didn’t want to become one. There was only one way. Stop smoking. Yes, I had to quit smoking. And I did it. I quit smoking. It’s been three years now, and I know I shall never smoke again. Let me tell you how I quit smoking. Maybe someone out there may benefit from my experience.
The first step towards quitting smoking is to learn how to enjoy smoking. Seems absurd - a paradox - isn’t it ? But that’s what I did and I’ll tell you all about it. I realized that in order to fully learn how to enjoy smoking one must first know the art of smoking. I got my clue from a teaching story as I reflected upon it carrying it my mind for a long time until I fathomed the story’s inner depth and meaning.
A seeker asks the master, “Can I smoke while meditating?”
“No,” scolds the master angrily.
Another seeker then asks, “Can I meditate while smoking?”
“Yes,” says the master knowingly realizing that this seeker is on the path to enlightenment.
This is the key, the first step – if you really want to stop smoking. First learn to meditate while smoking. Here is how I did it.
One evening, I take one cigarette, just one, and walk down to Marine Drive and sit down on the parapet in the cool sea breeze watching the sun being swallowed up by the Arabian Sea, crimson-yellow petals being thrown high up in the distant sky gradually devoured by the enveloping twilight. Soon it is dark, quiet and tranquil and I feel calm and relaxed.
I take out the cigarette from my pocket and hold it in front of me, look at it lovingly and close my eyes. You must close your eyes – it accentuates your other senses, makes you more conscious of what’s going on inside you. I hold the cigarette near my nose and breathe in the rich aroma of the tobacco, gently moving the cigarette as I take deep breaths, savoring the sweet fragrance of the tobacco tinged with the fresh scent of the paper and filter, until my olfactory system is truly and fully satiated.
I then put the filter between my lips, taste it and suck in air deeply through the unlighted cigarette. It feels good. I then open my eyes, light the cigarette, close my eyes, get ready and take a deep drag, focusing on my breath as I inhale, allowing the smoke to permeate deep within me, infusing a sensation I cannot describe, and watching carefully with my inner eye as I exhale - slow, long and relaxing.
Is my system being energized or depleted – I do not know – but I continue my unhurried meditative smoking, eyes gently closed, my inner senses fully conscious, aware, observing attentively, till the cigarette is over. I open my eyes, come out of my trance and instinctively I gulp in a huge amount of the fresh sea breeze and rinse my lungs and system.
As I walk back I decide that this is how I shall smoke each and every cigarette from now on – meditative smoking – the only way I shall smoke.
Most of us “smokers” haven’t learnt how to enjoy a smoke. We keep puffing away every waking moment of their lives without even noticing it. You grab a quick smoke in a hurry, you smoke when you are bored, you smoke while talking, while working, while doing something - smoking and multitasking: You smoke unconsciously, cigarette after cigarette, without even realizing it. Is it worth it? Why smoke if you don’t enjoy it?
I decide. Whenever I feel like smoking I shall stop everything and prepare myself for a meditative smoke. Go to some quiet place where I can sit undisturbed, alone. Yes I must be alone. Meditative smoking is a solitary activity. And I shall only smoke – no multitasking. No more smoking with friends, with tea or coffee, no more smoking in the office feeling a guilt conscience that non-smokers don’t like it or at home with my wife nagging me, no more hurried puffs, no more mindless unconscious smoking. Only meditative, mindful, conscious smoking in glorious solitude, maintaining inner calm and tranquility, and total awareness.
I follow this religiously and soon I am smoking only one cigarette a day – every evening, at sunset, just as I described it. For me smoking is a special occasion requiring solitude and a congenial ambience and if I cannot create the right atmosphere, both internally and externally, I shall not smoke.
When you have mastered something it’s time to let go and move on to something new. One day I feel I have mastered the art of smoking, derived all the enjoyment possible and reached a state of contentment and satiety. It’s time to let go. At sunset I go to my favourite place on Marine Drive, enjoy my final meditative smoke and toss the cigarette butt into the sea.
It’s been more than three years now and I haven’t had a smoke nor have I ever felt the urge to smoke. I know I will never smoke again – I have quit smoking forever.