Dear Ask A Pro,
I’ve been a smoker for an embarrassingly long time. Let’s say, twenty years? I quit for a year about three years ago, when my city and club banned indoor smoking, but then started dancing in a town where it was allowed, and picked up the habit again. Smoking is really fun and awesome and I like it a lot, but I know it’s awful and that I should quit. Do you have any advice on how I can stop when I’m still working in a smoking club, and how I can convince myself that I really want to? I’d rather spend less money on cosmetic procedures to reverse the damage and lose less time to cigarette breaks at work.
Dear Pole Smoker (soon to be Smoke-Free!),
I’ll not only answer this question as a health educator who has spoken to many a non-smoker, but also as someone who personally smoked on and off (but mostly on) for ten years, and unsuccessfully broke up with cigarettes many times over the course of that decade. Welcome to the end of your relationship with smokes! Let me walk you through the process of becoming the non-smoker you are destined to be.
1. Be kind to yourself and take it slow.
Take a few days or a weekend off to relax yourself into this new vision of yourself, free from smoking. Some people find lessening the number of cigarettes progressively to be helpful, so the withdrawal isn’t quite so unbearable. The “cold turkey” approach is brutal on both your body and your mind, so take it slow. Whatever approach you choose, beginning to detox from smoking will be easier at a time in your schedule when your life is a bit quieter. When you have a lot of appointments/shifts or a busy, stressful week, all you’ll want to do is chain smoke and yell into your phone. This would not be a good time to start quitting. So when you have time, do things like log some extra hours in bed (as you detox from the chemical addiction, you may feel an energy shift and feel a bit sluggish, just be aware of it and gentle with yourself). Take a walk. Pick a really good book to read. Throw a tantrum if you need to. Toss out every ashtray, fancy cigarette holder or cute, retro poster of a lady smoking that you have in the house. Pat yourself on the back for every thing you toss for a job well done.
2. Be mindful of your feelings (you may have a lot of them).
Paying attention to cravings when they come up for you is one way to figure out your own patterns and the needs you have developed around smoking. Do you want to smoke when you have your first cup of coffee? When you’re drinking with friends? When you’re driving? When you’re having a fight with your partner? When you’re with a client who often brings you a fresh pack? Be mindful of what comes up for you and acknowledge those feelings. Sometimes the way we feel about cigarettes (“they help me relax,” “I deserve a cigarette right now, after the [blank] I’ve been through”) not only convinces us we deserve them, but it keeps us in a feedback loop so we begin to need cigarettes in order to feel fully deserving, happy, or relaxed.
3. Smoking a cigarette does not make you a smoker again.
Many people who vow to quit smoking relapse. It’s ok, it happens, we’re humans. Where we can get tripped up is when we choose to see relapses as inevitabilities, rather than just a blip on our otherwise smoke-free radar. You can get tipsy with some friends and bum a smoke – it doesn’t make you a smoker again. You can also get desperate one particularly stressful day and buy a pack of smokes just to have that one, glorious drag. It still does not make you a smoker again. Remember that you are a self-determined person and the one in control of your life, but you are also in competition with a very highly addictive drug that wants to take up a ton of space. Some helpful self-talk includes reminding yourself about how much better it feels to workout/move your body, how much money you’re saving, how much better your hair/skin/nails will look, how you will get less wrinkles – whatever positive affirmations work for you, these are just a few. And when you have a particularly brutal craving, take some deep breaths, reminding yourself of your newly healing lungs and their capacity to take in delicious, clean air. Creating new habits to replace old ones can be very helpful.
4. Find a balance of support.
When you have a client you often share a smoke with or a close work friend you go drinking with, it can be hard to break the habit part of smoking. Some people may also take your quitting personally. Others will be thrilled for you, taking control of your health and wellness in this way; take in their congratulations and remember them when other people get bitchy about it. Smoking is such a personal experience, it’s understandable that people may want to justify their smoking to you or feel judged by your quitting. You may need to let old friend or clients know ahead of time (via email or text) that you’ve quit smoking and you won’t be smoking with them any longer. If you’re going out with friends who smoke, it may help to have a “sober buddy” along for the ride, who will sit with you while the others go outside to smoke. For some people, this social aspect of smoking is the hardest part to quit, because it feels like a slight to those in your life. Remember that this is personal choice you are making for yourself and it’s not up for debate.
5. Everyone’s different – use the detox and craving tricks that work for you.
I chewed on a lot of tea tree oil toothpicks when I first started quitting, which was great for nervous energy as well as feeling like my mouth was newly fresh and clean. Some people find the e-cigarette helpful for when they go out drinking with friends, but I’d only suggest this in the short term, if at all. Getting addicted to an e-cigarette will ultimately not help you do the deed of fully abstaining from cigarettes and letting your body heal. It will eventually become time to put the cigarette, whether electronic or not, down.
Some people like to do a cleanse with vitamin B3, or niacin, because niacin “flushes” toxins out of your system. You can take 100-500 mg of niacin when you have an anxious moment of feel a craving coming on. You may find the skin flushing a bit uncomfortable (it feels a bit like a hot flash), though some enjoy the feeling of skin cleansing it provides. You can also use Epsom salt baths to get the toxins out of your skin and also for relaxation. Drink plenty of water during your detox. Taking kava kava (either a few drops of a tincture in water or a tea) for your anxiety can be a wonderful way to relax and the practice of doing it gives you something to distract you from wanting a cigarette. If you want to boost lung capacity, you can drink Breathe Deep tea, as well as take lavender tinctures in water or tea.
Finally, remember that this process is a journey and you will find your own individual ways of managing your life smoke-free. The process of quitting is a physical, emotional and psychological one. After you’ve been off smokes for a few months, you may find aspects of your body changing. You may be more aware of physical sensations and your skin, nails and hair may feel different. Your orgasms may even change. You may also feel differently about yourself and the world around you. Embrace these changes as your body and mind strengthen and heal. These changes can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a non-smoker.
Ask A Pro is a our column focusing on work and health, intended to share straightforward information about what you can do to keep yourself as safe as possible while on the job. Questions will be answered by sexual health expert Sarah Patterson, M.Ed. Questions you’d like to have answered can be sent to our info (at) titsandsass address. Full anonymity is guaranteed.