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How BR Finally Quit Smoking

04 Jan

Hello, Everyone.

Reading that line, “How wonderful to be free at last from smoking!” in this week’s Inspiring Story, brought me back to my own monster addiction to cigarettes 40 years ago.

I used to smoke two and a half packs of unfiltered Camels a day.  I wasn’t enjoying them, beyond the first smoke of the day with my first cup of coffee – the other 49 cigarettes were unsatisfying – just something I did to maintain comfort.  In other words, I was an addict.

Horrid to think of it now, but each psychotherapy session (55 minutes) that I conducted in my tiny, windowless, completely enclosed cubicle of an office at the Charles F. Read Zone Center in northwest Chicago was a three cigarette affair. And that was just me. Sometimes my client smoked too. Can you imagine??  There I was, poisoning the lungs of the people I was presumably “healing”.  

I marveled at friends who could limit their smoking to 5 or 7 cigarettes a day. That was absolutely impossible for me. I knew that if I were to ever quit, it wouldn’t come from gradually cutting down – It would have to be cold turkey.  But I couldn’t imagine how I was going to do it.  It just seemed impossible when I thought about it, and I felt quite hopeless about ever quitting.

Then a couple of things happened.  Luther Terry, the U.S. Surgeon General at the time, produced a report that said smoking was dangerous to health; some new studies were published showing that smokers produced punier babies and had a significantly increased risk of miscarriage; and I got pregnant and miscarried, which was devastating.

So I decided I had to quit.  I got pregnant again, pretty quickly.  Aside from my passionate motivation for a baby, I had the added help of being nauseated at the thought of coffee or cigarettes.  I figured it was now or never, knowing it would never again be so easy to give up smoking, and I’d never again be so scared or so motivated.  

By then I’d downsized my nicotine intake to Marlborough filters, and I remember putting away my leather cigarette case while that last red and white pack still had 3 cigarettes in it – I suppose I wanted to know they were there, to keep panic at bay.  (Years later I rediscovered that case in the back of a drawer – with three pathetically shriveled, unbelievably stale smokes in it!).

Even with my pregnant biochemistry making the thought of smoking repulsive, it was still the toughest thing I’ve ever done.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that every minute of every day was an exercise in not smoking for me.  I thought about it all the time. I even dreamt about it.  I decided that this was my main job - to not smoke… to not smoke when I had a cup of coffee, when I got anxious, when I picked up the phone, when I needed a break from writing a report, when I needed to play for time in a conversation, when I got anxious or worried, when my husband or friends smoked, when I went out for cocktails… all of these moments had been punctuated by lighting up, to the degree that they were utterly conflated with smoking in my head.  I decided that if I could get through the day without smoking, that was a good, successful, productive day.  

Whenever I craved a cigarette, I would intuitively, reflexively take a deep breath. That gave me a few seconds of relief, although I didn’t know why.  And whenever I felt like succumbing, something inside of me declared it was out of the question – that if I couldn’t pull this off now, with the terror of losing another baby – and the promise of having one  - front and center, I’d never do it.  “Now or never” became my mantra, along with the deep breathing.

By the time I’d had a healthy (if very skinny) baby, I’d had 8 smoke-free months under my belt.  Still, I have to say it was another couple of years before I was free enough of my addiction that it wasn’t on my mind every day – how I wasn’t smoking.

So when I created the smoking cessation imagery, I put everything I could think of on that recording to positively (but realistically) reinforce motivation.  So it highlights things to look forward to that I only discovered later:  that your sense of smell and taste come back in amazing ways; that you can draw deeper, cleaner, more energizing, life-infusing breaths; that you not only stop the damage to your lungs, but you can reverse some of it; and that you come to applaud your own strength.  

All I can say is, I came by writing that imagery very honestly!  And I love to hear when it helps someone else quit.  David Bresler’s and Emmett Miller’s imagery have the same impact with their own expert style, voice, focus and wording.  Check it out if you feel you’re ready to make the shift.  I wish there had been audio assistance like this when I was quitting. But being as how there wasn’t, my almost-40 year old son can (and does) take credit for saving my life!

Take care and be well!

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award