Celebrating Three Weeks Nicotine Free

After over a decade of smoking and half a year on the nicotine patch, I’ve finally made it three full weeks nicotine free.

Over the past few years, I’ve made enormous strides to improve my life — quitting drinking, starting to exercise regularly, and improving my diet — but cigarettes have been my Achilles heel.

I had my first cigarette sometime in high school, and by the time I graduated from college, I was smoking a pack a day.

Since then, I’ve “quit” more times than I can count, sometimes lasting months, and sometimes less than a day.

For a couple of years, I even made the conscious decision to put quitting smoking on the backburner while I focused on remaining sober.

This year though, I decided that it was finally time to stop smoking for good. The rest of my life was in relative order, and I knew that I’d be able to really devote my energy to staying quit.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

I started my quit attempt by using nicotine patches, and at first, they seemed to do the trick.

Nicotine patches come in three different dosages, called “steps.” At step 1, a nicotine patch contains 21 mg of nicotine (not too far from how much you might get through smoking a pack of cigarettes).

Step 2 moves you down to 14 mg, and step 3 has only 7 mg.

The entire process is intended to take just a couple of months.

I successfully moved down to the 7 mg patches, but then got stuck there. Every time I tried to get off the patches completely, I’d end up going back to smoking for a week or two, only to start the whole process over.

Back in June, I wrote an article about my frustrations and failures with the patches:

I’m happy to say, I’m now truly nicotine free. No cigarettes, and no patches.

What I Did Differently

After spending half a year stuck in the cycle of trying to use patches to quit, I finally realized that they were just not going to work for me.

About a month ago, I failed again at transitioning off the 7 mg patches and instead went right back to smoking.

After a week of feeling bad and beating myself up over it more than I should have, I decided to quit cold turkey.

The first few days were much harder than when I had used the patches, but after that, it was actually relatively smooth sailing.

Now that I’ve tried cold turkey, I can see more clearly that the patches were really just dragging out my suffering. (Which is not to say they don’t work for some people — simply that they weren’t working for me.)

This time around, I also returned to some of the strategies that had helped me quit drinking. One of the strategies I relied on the most was “playing the tape forward.”

Every time that I felt like I was about to break down and buy a pack of cigarettes, I imagine where that would lead.

I thought about how I’d finish that pack and buy another the next day, and another the day after that. How I’d keep smoking and reset all the progress I had made, and then end up starting from scratch a few weeks later.

I’m just so sick of going through the cycle of quitting and starting again. Doing my best to vividly imagine it was enough to motivate me to actually stay quit.

The final major change I made this time is that I’ve done a much better job avoiding smokers.

Unfortunately, these days most of my friends are smokers. I’ve realized that no matter what my intentions are, I always end up smoking their cigarettes when I see them, which in turn leads to me buying my own pack.

This time around, I decided that I just need to spend some time away from my friends.

The only time that I have seen one of my smoker friends was when he made sure to leave his cigarettes at home, as well as wearing clothing that didn’t smell like smoke.

I don’t plan to avoid my friends forever, but they’ve been totally understanding about why I need to avoid them for now.

Cautious Optimism

Today marks exactly three weeks since I last had nicotine of any kind, and overall I’m feeling very optimistic.

I know that I’ve still got a hard path ahead of me, but things are already feeling so much easier now than they were just a couple weeks ago.

The intense cravings are gone, my mind is thinking clearly again, and my emotions are more in check.

For the past couple of years, my smoking habit has been the part of my lifestyle that I most wanted to change. It feels great to finally be able to call myself a former smoker.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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