Last week, for my birthday, I gave myself a special gift, one that I hope will last through my lifetime. I’d be lying if I told you I’m enjoying the gift, but I do plan to keep it, despite the discomfort it’s causing me.
The gift was a pair of acupuncture sessions to help me become an ex-smoker. Yes, again. The last time I quit smoking, six years ago, I wrote about it in this column, thinking that doing it in such a public manner would pressure me to stay on track. It didn’t. I resumed smoking, just not in public.
Over the years, I’ve tried pretty much every method of smoking cessation. Back when scare tactics were the norm, my doctor presented dire life expectancy statistics and pictures of diseased lungs to drive home his point. But I was in my 20s, too young to fully grasp the idea of mortality. Later, when self-analysis and positive reinforcement became preferred avenues for change, I always managed to talk myself into a way out. I’ve had three different hypnotherapists; each was successful in helping me quit, but only for a few weeks at a time. Medications like Chantix had too many side effects. Nicotine patches gave me a rash, nicotine gum made me nauseous.
The experts say that most ex-smokers go through multiple attempts before quitting for good, and that each try brings you closer to success. Indeed, each attempt has given me more insight. I know now that my addiction goes beyond nicotine, beyond habit, all the way to deep-seated emotions. That’s why, even though nearly all of my friends are nonsmokers or ex-smokers, I have continued to puff away. For me, smoking has long been a source of personal pleasure and comfort. Throughout the day, I would reward myself with smoke breaks, “alone time” to gather my thoughts or sort through my feelings. So, although peer pressure was the main reason I started smoking, it hasn’t been helpful in getting me to stop.
Keeping all of that in mind, I was hopeful but skeptical when I scheduled my birthday acupuncture treatments. The procedure consisted of two sessions, 18 hours apart, in which the acupuncturist basically reset my brain chemistry with a few strategically placed needles, pinpointing the addiction centers in my brain. David also spent a good deal of time discussing other factors of addiction and suggested methods of getting through the initial withdrawal.
So far, so good. Unlike my previous attempts, the acupuncture seems to have truly disconnected the nicotine cravings. Other than a bit of irritability (which could be attributed to having turned another year older), I’ve experienced no physical withdrawal symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, my body has already begun to heal itself and I am feeling the effects of improved circulation and lung capacity.
As for force of habit, it’s been fairly easy to distract myself from the usual cigarette breaks with a few deep breaths or a good head-to-toe stretch. I’ve resisted the urge to use chocolate or other edible substitutes, even veggie sticks, because I’d simply be replacing one habit with another.
It’s the emotional addiction that still challenges me, my long-held tendency to think of cigarettes as my buddies. I have to continually remind myself that my emotional ties to tobacco are completely irrational and unhealthy, and now that I’m officially past middle age, it’s time for me to adopt a more rational and healthy lifestyle. Hopefully it will mean many more birthdays to celebrate.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.