Nearly twenty years ago, on May 24th 1999, I became a non-smoker. I want to share with you how I did it and in the process developed the “Become a Non-smoker” (BAN) program. With BAN I found giving up cigarettes to be quite easy and painless. I have taught the model to others, who have used it successfully, and I’ve been asked a number of times over the years to return to teaching the model. I decided it would be simpler to just put the information online and allow smokers all over the world to access this smoking cessation model in the comfort of their own homes. It is my hope that others will be able to become non-smokers easily and painlessly just as I did by using the BAN program. I want to start by sharing my story and personal journey that resulted in the development of the BAN program. Here’s how it happened.
When I was a teenager and took up smoking, I had no clue about the hold that it would have over me for the next twenty years of my life. Does anyone? Would any of us start smoking if we really believed that it would have such a strangle hold on us? Probably not, we don’t really believe that we will become addicted. If you are reading this because you or someone in your life is a smoker, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Now, I realize that there are people out there who can smoke cigarettes without it becoming the all-consuming addiction that it was for me. To those people I say, count yourselves lucky because there are many more people like me who found out too late how powerful cigarettes are and can’t imagine a life without them.
I don’t think I am unique in not having consciously thought about the consequences before taking up smoking. We all have our reasons for starting and in my younger days there were many more smokers than non-smokers around me, including in my own family. It was a different time, people could smoke anywhere and anytime they wanted to and nobody worried about second hand smoke. Over the years I worked in jobs that allowed me plenty of smoke breaks and I was a heavy, chronic smoker. I smoked over a pack a day and as soon as I had a craving for a cigarette I had to have one. If anybody suggested I could wait for my smoke I became angry or agitated. I did not feel like I could wait, the craving for a cigarette was all consuming. I thought that smokers who could delay smoking for long periods of time were superior to me and that I lacked the kind of willpower or mental strength that they did. I wasn’t motivated to quit in those days and didn’t think that I could even if I did want to. I enjoyed smoking and it was a very socially acceptable thing to do for a very long time.
Times have changed, drastically, in regards to how smoking is viewed and the level of knowledge about the dangers of cigarettes. The other thing that has changed is quitting. Twenty or so years ago there was not much available to support those who wanted to quit. Now there are a variety of smoking cessation aids and supports to help those who are ready to quit. Many of them are really valuable aids but there is something else that is quite common to them and the promotion of their use and in almost all of the material out there related to quitting smoking.
There is a constant and clear message that it is hard to quit smoking. When I was a smoker I totally bought it, everywhere I turned the message was loud and clear, quitting smoking is hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that it isn’t a challenge to quit, that there isn’t a lot of work to be done in making it happen. I guess what I’m saying is that going into it with that attitude just might increase the degree of challenge that someone feels they are up against. I will tell you more about this later, lets just say that at the time this message was firmly embedded in my mind and I knew with certainty that quitting would be really hard. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t up to the challenge and it was to be expected that I would fail a number of times in attempts to quit. This was backed up by research, it was common knowledge so I just accepted it and never really thought seriously about quitting. But then something changed for me.
Our family moved to the west coast and I decided this was an opportunity to do something I’d been wanting to do for years. I signed up for a counselor training course. When I began my training, I decided it wasn’t seemly for a counselor to have an addiction and so I began preparing to quit smoking. At that time, you needed a prescription for the nicotine patch and so I went to our family doctor and got the prescription. I got the patches, read the instructions, which said to pick a date and write it on the calendar, which I did. That was it, I didn’t do anything else, and I just waited for that day to come, with dread. It came, I had my morning coffee and cigarettes, then I put the cigarettes away and put on a patch. Yes, I kept cigarettes in the house and I have to tell you that was a very common practice among my fellow smokers who were trying to quit. Naturally, a couple of hours later I decided I needed a cigarette, so I took the patch off and smoked one from my stash, then put the patch back on. I continued this way for about a week, then some minor stressful event occurred and I decided I couldn’t possibly quit smoking when there was any stress in my life. So I got rid of the patches and went back to my usual smoking habits. When I told my sister what had happened she said, “Well I guess if you really want to smoke you will use any excuse.” Initially I felt a little defensive, but then foolish because she was totally right of course. I had to admit the truth of what she said and I remembered that simple phrase when I thought about quitting again.
I was still working on my training to become a counselor and so it was getting harder and harder to lie to myself, because self-awareness is important to being an effective counselor. If I was being perfectly honest I could admit that when I wore the nicotine patch my cravings were not that bad, until I talked myself into thinking they were. My attempt at quitting was really not that serious and I knew I could do better. So, with my head straightened out a bit and my family supporting my quitting I decided to give it another try, and I also decided that this time I was going to be honest with myself and to really put my best effort forward. This being honest with oneself is another key piece, but more about that later.
So once again I wrote the quit date on the calendar and instead of dreading the date I put a plan in place to help me prepare myself and increase my chances of success. One of the key ways that I did this was to tell myself how much I was looking forward to not having to smoke anymore. This positive self-talk included my reasons for wanting to quit. I decided those reasons should be something that I would immediately notice upon quitting. My reasons for quitting were things that I could see, taste, feel or smell so I would have a tangible, immediate reward for quitting. The reasons I came up with varied each time I talked to myself, but essentially were things like, “I can’t wait to quit smoking, so I’ll feel better, I’ll breath easier, I’ll smell better, I’ll save money, its going to be great to get this monkey off my back.” I repeated this, or something like it, as often as possible, well I tried to remember to do it every time I smoked. There were many, many times a day that I could do it as a heavy smoker, so I did. I did it over and over. What I noticed after a while was that I was beginning to feel differently about the looming quit date, I was beginning to feel like it was possible that I could do it this time and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. As more time passed I was almost excited about the idea of quitting, maybe even confident about being able to do it this time. I didn’t want to get too excited because I didn’t have a very good track record so far. In fact, since I had begun smoking I had never gone one full day without a cigarette! Even when I was on the patch the first time, I had still not managed one full day of not smoking. That seems incredible to me now, but true. So I kept talking to myself, I bought the patch, and then the day came to quit.
I got up, had coffee and smoked my last few cigarettes until my pack was finished. This time I didn’t have any hidden cigarettes in the house. I had recognized that keeping those backup cigarettes in the house was based on my fear that I wouldn’t be able to stand the cravings until I could get to the store to buy smokes. I realized that, of course, this fear was ridiculous. What did I think would happen to me, that I would collapse on the way to the store from a craving? It wasn’t a rational idea and I knew it was going to be very important to be rational and think clearly if I was going to beat this addiction. I had already decided to be brutally honest with myself this time and that meant challenging those excuses I’d always used to maintain my smoking habit. So as I said, I got up had coffee and cigarettes, talked to myself about how exciting it was that the day had finally arrived and how great it would be. Then I put on the patch. About two hours later, I had that automatic thought “I need a cigarette”. But this time I reacted differently, I immediately said to myself “No I don’t, I have a patch on my arm feeding me nicotine, I don’t need a cigarette.” The most amazing thing happened! The craving immediately went away and did not come back. Another critical piece of the puzzle that I will explain later. I did not have that thought again until several weeks later, when something stressful came up. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
There is going to be stress in life, because for most people life is like that and I am like most people. Sure enough something happened that stressed me out, I got upset and I got in my car and drove to the store. At this point I had made it, for me, a long time without smoking. If I was being honest with myself it had been a piece of cake, relatively speaking. So when I got to the mall parking lot I sat in my car and reminded myself that this time I wasn’t going to buy into my own bull and I used something called functional analysis. I will explain this in detail later when I share the model, but for now let me just say that it requires one to examine their actions and the beliefs that drive them. I did just that, and I of course recognized that I was lying to myself so I would have an excuse to smoke. I went into the store and bought myself something nice, not cigarettes, and I have never to this day had the thought or idea that I need a cigarette, for any reason. I became a non-smoker!
After sharing my story with others who had given up smoking I realized how unusual my experience of quitting being relatively easy to do was. I started to think about what I had done that had made it easy, and I also started to research the physiology of nicotine addiction and eventually I started teaching others how to become non-smokers.
That is my story of how I quit smoking, or rather, became a non-smoker and developed BAN. In my other posts I will be to share some of the key components of the program and the subtle changes I made in my thinking and vocabulary that enhanced my experience and those I have had the privilege of teaching the model to. Cheers!