Before I became a card-carrying senior citizen, I would observe with disgust all the little old ladies puffing away on their cigarettes as they strolled the shopping malls and streets of my town. "How silly and cheap and pathetic you look smoking that weed," I'd say to myself. "I'll never sink to that. I'm going to quit smoking before I'm 60."
Despite the arrogance of my promise, I found a way to keep it.
I quit smoking seven years ago when I was 57. Subtle but persistent hints of physical deterioration--including a hacking cough--coerced me into testing my resolve. I "analyzed" my way out of a 40-year-old, three-packs-a-day habit without spending a cent.
During my quinquagenarian years, I spent a lot of time (mostly while I was driving to and from work and chain-smoking all the way) trying to define the throaty, unpleasant, mind-monopolizing longing I had for a cigarette.
To "psyche out" your adversary is a prerequisite for gaining even a modicum of control over it. All tobacco addicts know their adversary is the craving for a cigarette, not the cigarette itself; therefore, that craving must be analyzed before it can be brought under control.
"Hunger" was the only word I could conjure to describe the nagging urge to smoke, but it was too big a word. There are many kinds of hunger: for knowledge, for love, for food. Smoking, I decided, satisfied no wholesome hunger.
If not for information, affection, food nor water, for what is this hunger? Whatever it is, cigarettes do not really satisfy it. Yet it is real, and persistent, like the body's need for food and water . . . and air.
"That's it, air!" I said to myself as I drove home from work one night.
"My lungs want free, cool, invisible air such as one might draw in through a hollow straw--a mighty straw to break the Camel's pack."
I wanted to test my theory. But with no straw handy, I grabbed the next best thing, a yellow lead pencil lying on the seat beside me. Putting the eraser end in my mouth, I inhaled slowly and deeply, filling my lungs with cool, sharp air as I would have normally inhaled the smoke from a freshly lit cigarette. Then I exhaled slowly through my nose. I continued to breathe in and out with the same exquisite deliberation of a smoke-lover.
I "smoked" my yellow pencil for about the same time it would have taken me to smoke a cigarette. Five minutes later when the craving for a cigarette returned, I "smoked" my yellow pencil again. It satisfied me again, and again, and again. I had found my way to break the smoking habit! After 40 years as a one-, then a two-, then a three-packer a day, I suddenly realized I could cold-turkey the habit if I wanted to. And I did.
As soon as I got home, I sealed my half-finished pack of Camels with masking tape, wrote the date across the top, and dropped them back into my purse with the mental reservation that they were there if I ever decided I didn't really want to play this quitting game. I had no idea how long I would need to carry my "security pack," but I did know that I had never made it past one interminable day before. But I had never called my adversary by name before, either.
I never needed those cigarettes again, and after about six months I threw away my security pack of dry, broken Camels.
I kept a supply of drinking straws (cut to king-size cigarette length) with me every day for almost a year. Occasionally I still reach for a straw, because I have discovered that they help me keep a companion resolution: to stick with my decision without substituting snack foods and drinks.
My trusty straws kept me from food as well as smokes. Every time a compulsion to gorge on cookies or crackers or candy tempts me, I grab my drinking straw and take a couple of deep, air-filled drags and I'm in control again.