Abstinence versus being Smoke-free - Whats the difference?

...Well, here we are....

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My very first blog, and I thought I would start off with sharing my own personal experience, going smoke free: and that moment when I realized the difference between actually being smoke free rather than living in that purgatory space we call abstinence.... 

I’m not sure how other people perceive that space, but for me it was an ugly, uncomfortable place of constantly craving another puff. And not just a puff, but a puff swaddled in an environment of social acceptance, where it revered coolness.  Where it was a puff on five or six cigarettes over a social occasion, playing cards with family or friends, out for a drink or just a catch up with my girls.  Yep – abstaining from smoking was an all-round crap space, and a crap time! 

The stronger those bloody cravings became, the more uncomfortable that space became for me. Ask anyone who knows me, I’m not the best with being uncomfortable.  I recall I needed to fix the discomfort of abstaining from smoking, and quickly if I had any intentions of succeeding at quitting smoking.

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My chosen mode of kicking the habit was “cold turkey”. FYI: It has a pretty low percentage of success using this method, and probably even less back in the 1990’s, which was when I had made the decision to innovate my smoking relationship:-)  Sure, I guess there were stop smoking services back then, but accessing cessation services at the age of 19 years old in the 90’s, made you an easy target for judgement by the morally self-righteous and self-proclaimed "upstanding citizens" in the community. Lucky me - my community had more than its fair share of the "upstanding citizen" type. No thanks! Cold turkey it was. And to be fair, it tended to be the most common method among people I knew, wanting to quit.

So back to the discomfort thing. I have no doubt, every person who smokes out there can relate to this next point. Before I made my first attempt to quit, I started to think about quitting every day.  Every time I  sparked up a smoke, had a puff….every time I went to buy a new packet, every time I had no money to smoke but felt like a ciggy anyway, or having to sponge a tailor-made off someone else. There were a lot of reasons, to stop. 

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But no matter how much I thought I was good to go, and make a commitment to stop, reality would bite! And it was always a goodie!!! Inevitably, as my packet became low, my awareness of the comfort I got from smoking became more obvious. It was so obvious and emotionally relate-able that it would completely undo any mental preparation I had psyched myself up on to quit, the day before.  It was in that moment I realized, if I am going to succeed at quitting smoking, I would have to focus my thoughts on the “why” of wanting to quit, and not so much on the “how” or “when”. This was critical (I think) of why I never ever craved a cigarette ever again.


So, here it is: My first blog, and my first piece of advice for those of you who have tried, and wanting some sense of relief from the discomfort that comes from that ugly space called abstinence.

Think about something you: need, value, desire or want. The level of desire for whatever you need/ want, has to be greater than the emotional feeling you experience when you crave a smoke. Greater than that stimulating ripple that flows through your body, from that much desired puff. It’s not necessarily about wanting something materialistic (although it totally could be). Whatever it is, it just needs to be something that produces the same level of comfort, reassurance and enjoyment that you would otherwise get from smoking.

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For me, I grew up in a time when it was totally normal to see your parents smoke. At home, in their bedroom, at the kitchen table, in the toilet, socializing, in the garden, out walking. In fact, the only time I never saw them with a smoke in their hand, was when they were in the shower, swimming or while running and maybe at a Dr.’s appointment. Not that I ever saw my mum run that often...

But times were changing, and communities were becoming more informed about the health impact smoking had on your health. By the time, I was 16 years old, smoke free netball teams were all the rage in high schools. And, by the time I was having babies, I knew enough to know I didn’t want my children to grow up witnessing me smoking. Not because I disliked my parents and their smoking, but because I didn’t want my children to worry about my health, my life being shortened or that I could develop cancer, because I was smoking.  Watching relatives die from smoking related illnesses in the 1990's was really common, or at least it was in my family, and every other Maori family I knew.

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I also didn’t want to role model to my kids that smoking was cool, or that I wouldn’t care if they started smoking, because I was doing it myself. In my heart, them being dependent on smoking (for comfort, reassurance, socialize, or to feel and look cool etc) – was the last thing I would ever want for them. My desire to ensure that if they chose to smoke, it would have almost nothing to do with me having smoked in front of them, was profound. I wanted to be a smoke free parent more than I craved for a puff of a ciggy: emotionally, physically and mentally.

I guess it’s that whole mind over matter thing. I think I may have experienced cravings after my commitment of why I wanted to quit, but only once (that I can recall). But afterward, that purgatory space and all the discomfort that came with it (withdrawal etc), had pretty much ended. That's when it happened....I had realized I had become SMOKE FREE - free of the desire of wanting my next puff, free of the imaginary coolness it gave me, free from the imaginary acceptance by others who smoked,  and the imaginary emotional reassurance.  Yep, I HAD BECOME SMOKE FREE!!!!

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If you are wondering how I knew that was the case.  Well, I knew it whenever I was out socializing, drinking or around other people smoking, or really stressed. In those moments, not once did I ever think, man…I could totally go a cigarette right now....! In those moments, I was no longer abstaining from smoking or in purgatory (dying for a ciggy) as I would call it. I was free from it all! I could go out and drink, and not smoke two packets of B&H 20's. I could be around others who were smoking, and not feel remotely interested in wanting to share a puff or two.  Free from smoking shackles.  Smoking is now, at least for me – just smoking. It felt pretty awesome to not crave a smoke, and twenty years on, it stills feels awesome. 

As I would say to my clients, there is definitely a difference between abstaining from smoking, and truly being free of it.

Please feel free to share...

 Jo Houston. Stop Smoking Consultant, founder of Smokefree Solutions and novice blogger;-P.