Many years ago I had a man in my clinic named John. John was a pretty high profile public figure, in his early 40’s who had many great accomplishments in his life. He came to my clinic, lasted a few days and lost the quit. He was in the middle of a high profile media situation and just decided he needed his focus and the stakes of what he was involved with at the time were just too high to deal with withdrawal. John explained this to me, and promised he would return again one day when things would be better.
Well, I have heard this hundreds of times before, and while occasionally people do return, it is not the majority and probably not even a significantly high percentage. Being that I was having 50 or more people at a time in these clinics, I couldn’t spend much time dealing with those who were not quitting.
Three year later John does return to the clinic and does quit smoking. He did great his second time around. Not only did he quit, but he became a regular volunteer for me, coming to many clinics as a panelist to help people first quitting. He also sent in lots of people, probably 15 to 20 over the next couple of years.
About three years after John’s quit, he was going in for a physical and to his surprise there was a small spot on his chest x-ray. When it was biopsied they found out John had cancer. He was about 48 at the time, in the peak of his career, still had children of school age and now was facing this terrible diagnosis. It was a horrible shock to many people. As is often the case with lung cancer, it was a fast deterioration. Within a year and a half John had succumbed to the disease.
I went to John’s funeral–it was huge. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there. Many I knew, some because of their high public profile, but more because John had sent in so many people to the clinic in the time period that he was off smoking. Even after the diagnosis he was still sending people in.
One of the men there was from one of the recent clinics and had told me how tragic this was that John had lost his life and how his lost quit was probably the reason. To be realistic I told him that it is possible that if John had quit the first time in the clinic it may not have made a difference. He basically found out he had lung cancer three years after he quit, and that lung cancer could be present for 5 years or even 10 years without presenting symptoms or even showing up on the x-ray. Being that the day I met him was about 6 years before the diagnosis, it was not totally improbable that at that time the cancer had already been initiated and was silently growing.
The man then proceeded to tell me that my clinic was not the first clinic John had tried. That in fact, 10 years before joining that first group with me, he and John had gone to another local clinic together to quit and both in a matter of days wrote it off as a bad time to quit–but knew they would both quit again one day.
Well John was right, he did eventually quit again one day. But it turned out to be over 16 years later. Now the odds were quite different–if he had quit that first time around he probably would never had developed the disease that ultimately cost him his life.
The lesson here needs to be once you have a quit going, do everything in your power to make it last. While you are seeing people come back who just seem to be quitting again, if you relapse you just don’t know youwill ever get the strength or desire to quit again, and that even if you do, you don’t know whether something won’t go wrong in the interim period before the next quit.
John is not the only person I know who fits this profile–I know lots of them–people who could have had extra years and extra decades who lost them by minimizing the implications of not quitting or of relapsing. Once you have a quit smoking, understand your very life is contingent on understanding the importance of knowing to never take another puff!
I know I will quit again
“I don’t know what happened. I just went back to smoking. But I know I will quit again.” I often encounter similar remarks from people who relapse to smoking. While the smoker may not recognize what led to the relapse, the reason is obvious to anyone understanding addiction. The person took a drag on a cigarette.
While the situation that causes the first puff varies, the end result is inevitably the same. The first puff causes a second. It may be a minute, a day or even a week later. In some extreme cases even a longer time will pass. But the length of time is not important. The addictive process has been set into motion. Either the smoker becomes hooked immediately or gets a false sense of confidence leading to another drag, and still another. Eventually the addiction will be reinforced, and once again the smoker is hooked to the deadly substance–nicotine.
So what about the idea that the smoker will just quit again some other time? There are two flaws in this concept. First, the smoker may never again get the desire, strength or opportunity to quit. When dealing with deadly substances, death may result and, sometimes, without advance warning.
But, often, the smoker does have the opportunity to quit again. The only problem is that if he didn’t understand what prompted relapse the first time, the odds are he will make the same mistake again. Once again he will face the same problem–addicted and unable to quit smoking.
If a person is enslaved in this process of on-again-off-again smoking, he must take time to consider what his particular problem is. His past attempts failed because he refused to treat cigarette smoking as an addiction. It is said that those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Nowhere is this more evident than in dealing with addictions. If he doesn’t consider the consequences of taking the first puff, he will take it. And once again his noble attempt will be wasted.
Smokers and ex-smokers must learn from their own or better yet from other people’s mistakes. Quitting smoking is worthwhile if you are able to stay off. All the physical, psychological, social and financial benefits will last only as long as you remain free of cigarettes. If you don’t smoke now, great! You understand your addiction. If you do smoke now, quit. You too will overcome the powerful grip of nicotine. Then, all you need to remember to stay permanently free is NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF!