On Sunday, July 1, England becomes the 11th nation to ban workplace cigarette smoking. Those stepping outside will have no choice but to fabricate new lies for allegiance to their mind's number one priority, smoking that next cigarette.
Why is that next nicotine fix about to become more important than wind, rain, darkness, heat, cold or friends left inside? England's smokers are bracing for the July 1 shock of needing to invent new rationalizations for enduring the weather every half hour or so. But need they?
Is it possible that prior haste to embrace false promises of fast and painless, quick-fix magic cures has caused oversight of the most effective and fundamental quit smoking tools of all: education, understanding, new skills and ongoing support? Think about it. What learning takes place by slapping on a patch, swallowing a pill, chewing gum, sucking on a lozenge, being hypnotized or stuck by needles, toying with magic herbs, or having laser beams penetrate the body?
As a former 30-year smoker who sucked down 60 cigarettes a day, I'd failed at quitting so many times that I'd nearly given up all hope. After one last anxiety laden dash for freedom in early 1999, I swore before God that I'd never put myself through quitting or withdrawal again. It was then that I fully embraced the sobering reality that I was a true drug addict, in every sense. With rapidly failing health, I accepted my fate. I would die a smoker's death, and sooner rather than later.
Amazingly, this nicotine addict's full surrender almost instantly caused years of lies and denial defenses to become totally useless. Unafraid, I found myself no longer running, hiding or ignoring truth but, for the first time ever, actually listening. In fact, my dependency acceptance fostered curiosity and I found myself digging, reading, learning and growing in understanding about the amazing chemical that kept me its slave.
The most important lesson I discovered was that by accepting that I was dealing with a full-blown chemical dependency instead of some "nasty little habit," a habit I'd long dreamed of someday discovering how to limit, modify, manipulate and control, that I was drawing a bright line in the sand. Like the recovering alcoholic taking one sip, just one powerful puff of nicotine and my options were either full and complete relapse, or again enduring the up to 72 hours needed to detox and purge my mind of all nicotine. We're simply not that strong. There's no such thing as "just one."
Are you beginning to lose hope? Does England's imminent smoker status demotion have you inventing new captivity rationalizations, minimizations or blame transference? Have you explored the science indicating that the nicotine addict's alert dopamine high and the heroin addict's numb dopamine high are both captive to up-regulation or growing of millions upon millions of extra acetylcholine receptors (tolerance) in the exact same brain reward pathways?
Try to imagine residing inside a mind incapable of experiencing anticipatory or fulfillment dopamine "aaah" reward sensations associated with species survival events. We'd easily be able to starve ourselves to death, die of thirst, ignore the opposite sex, avoid peer bonding pressures (including body piercings, tattoos and smoking) and briefly live accomplishment-free lives. Imagine an external chemical so resembling the brain's acetylcholine molecule that once inside, it hijacks the mind's priorities teacher.
What if instead of natural dopamine "aaah" reward sensations lasting for seconds, an external chemical could somehow prevent normal dopamine clean-up (uptake), allowing "aaah" sensations to last for minutes? Imagine that next nicotine fix becoming more important that eating, being with friends or romance.
Welcome to the world of "nicotine normal" and what may be the most perfectly designed drug of addiction. Canada's cigarette pack addiction warning label may be the most accurate. It reads, "Warning - cigarettes are highly addictive - studies have shown that tobacco can be harder to quit than heroin or cocaine."
Increasingly, the world's nicotine smokers are being made to feel like lepers, outcasts and second class citizens, as the smoke-free workplace movement sweeps the globe. England now joins Ireland (2004), Norway (2004), New Zealand (2004), Bhutan (2005), Scotland (2006), Uruguay (2006), Lithuania (2007), Iceland (2007), Northern Ireland (2007) and Wales (2007) in granting all workers a basic civil right to breathe smoke-free air while earning a living.
What has been missing from the debate was honesty on our part but what choice did we have? While still in active bondage we begged the world to continue to allow our chemical addiction to smoking nicotine to remain convenient, to endure smelling a horrible stink that our deadened sense of smell could not, and to elevate the proprietor's property interests above health and life.
There's no need to fear the first day of July. Instead, consider the possibility that attempting to quit smoking in total ignorance and darkness is an extremely frightening experience. Although your addicted mind will likely say otherwise, you have nothing to lose by turning on the lights.
Flavor, taste? How many taste buds are inside human lungs? Smoking defines who we are? Every neuro-chemical released by nicotine already belonged to you. Smoking relieves stress? Nicotine is an alkaloid and stress quickly neutralizes the body's nicotine reserves by turning the body's pH more acidic. We were adding early withdrawal to every stressful event. You like smoking? Is it that you like smoking or that you don't like what happens when you don't smoke?
A couple of quick tips. The primitive mind treats each nicotine feeding as a survival event and quitting as akin to committing suicide. Calm those deep inner fears. Although serious cessation time distortion can make a less than 3 minute crave episode feel like 3 hours, look at a clock to keep an honest perspective on time.
Also, nicotine was our spoon feeding us stored fats and sugars with each puff. It allowed us to skip meals without experiencing wild blood-sugar swing symptoms such as an inability to concentrate. Unless diabetic, drink plenty of natural fruit juices the first 72 hours to help stabilize blood sugar. Cranberry is excellent. Do not skip meals. Eat small and often, favoring foods low on the "glycemic index," foods which take longer to convert to sugar (glucose), allowing us to feel fuller longer.
Most importantly, use the Internet to read, learn and grow in understanding. Education truly is a quitting method. "Never Take Another Puff" is a free PDF quit smoking book that can be downloaded at WhyQuit (http://WhyQuit.com/joel/). It's loaded with amazing insights that help destroy the mystery and remove the cold from quitting. While there, watch a few of the more than sixty free video quit smoking lessons. Staffed entirely by volunteer cessation counselors, the site sells nothing, is commercial free and actually declines donations.
Honesty, knowledge and support are empowering tools. July 1 is an opportunity to explore the possibility of coming home to the "real" you. Freedom is our birthright. Imagine a calm and quit mind that goes days, weeks and then months without once wanting for nicotine. Why fear reclaiming life? Nicotine addiction is about hijacked brain priority circuitry forcing us live a lie. Isn't it time to come home? Yes you can!
Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,
John R. Polito
Nicotine Cessation Educator