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THIS ONE WEIRD OLD TIP: How I Quit Smoking

I'm celebrating a little over six months without a cigarette, my babes! Apparently every single stop-smoking article was written by a doctor, a nun, or a bucket of Twinkie filling because they contain absolutely zero in the way of a meaningful, inhabited, been-there set of observations about kicking. I swear, half of these articles are just a list of reasons you shouldn't have started smoking in the first place, and they list benefits like "fresher breath," as if that means anything to a smoker. (P.S. It doesn't. Smokers can't smell anything. Well, until the nasal cells begin regenerating, and then you realize that your favorite T-shirt smells like a hesher's beard and it's very difficult.)

Anyway, I found it annoying that all of the articles about quitting were so sanctimonious and unhelpful, so here are the things I did that helped. These are all specific to me, and may apply in only limited ways to others. It's also worth noting that I spend a lot of time every day doing what I need to do to stay sober and take care of my mental health, and all of those things are the bedrock on which anything else rests. Anyway:

1) I didn't quit until I was quit. I know that will sound facetious, but I mean it. I had never attempted to stop smoking before January 10th, 2018, because actually, I didn't want to. I loved smoking. I really, really did. I didn't care about anyone's guilt trip, and I think that was an excellent decision. I wasn't one of those people who quits 45 times and bums cigarettes and steals sips. I loved it, and I stopped when it was time to stop. You're done when you're done, and that's a mysterious internal process. I'm glad I enjoyed my disgraceful, antisocial, filthy habit to the max.

2) I threw it all away. My turkey wasn't ice-cold; I've been on Wellbutrin for my bipolar II since last winter, and it blunts the dopamine payoff of smoking (which is why it's also marketed for smoking cessation). When my psych doctor prescribed it, he told me it might help me quit smoking, which I thought was real cute because, as we've established, I was the most unapologetic smoker of all time. But he was right, and after a few months, I would sometimes forget to buy cigarettes, which had previously been unthinkable. 

I share that just so you know I'm not some utter cold-turkey badass. But my turkey was pretty chilled, and that meant I threw everything away all at once, lighters and ashtrays and even the full pack I found in an old jacket. 

3) I pretended the air was a cigarette. So actually, you could skip this whole list and just read Allen Carr's Easy Way To Stop Smoking. I swear, that book pulls some kind of hypnotism/neurolinguistic programming feat. I don't want to spoil it for you, but halfway through reading it, I was so excited to quit smoking that I speed-read the last part. Carr does an excellent job explaining, among other things, the nature of addiction: that there's no such thing as just a drag here or there, because the chemical itself initiates the need for more. This is why nicotine gum/patches/vaping are doomed to fail. They just keep you on the hook, but in a self-deluding way. Carr points out that a smoker thinks the cigarette feels good, but it's really just a brief return to the homeostatic good feeling nonsmokers enjoy constantly. In other words, the smoker agrees to spend all of her non-smoking intervals in a slightly depressed chemical state. The good feeling of smoking a cigarette is really just a return to how everybody else feels all the time. 

I was so taken with this idea that I decided to use it whenever I felt sorry for myself. I pretended that instead of smoking these puny little things, I had graduated to a big, beautiful cigarette the size of the whole world, and I took a deep breath and enjoyed it. 

4) I chewed cardamom pods. Allen Carr is wrong about only one thing, in my opinion: He suggests that you not use any kind of replacement thing like gum or lollipops. I'm sorry, but that seems delusional. I get why it makes sense to skip nicotine gum, and I get why you might not want to forever eat a raft of ice cream every night, but I'm going to chew some damn gum. 

However, gum gets really gross after so many pieces, have you noticed? Someone told me that it was good to chew cardamom pods or licorice root, something about how they cause a brief spike in blood sugar that replicates that of a cigarette. I haven't really needed a replacement for months; I just like chewing cardamom pods now. 

5) I listened to the music I was into when I started smoking. I have no idea why this helped me. But at some point, I happened to listen to Parallel Lines, and it reminded me of my dorm room, the T-shirt I had made with the iron-on letters that said I AM UN CHIEN ANDALUSIA, the guy I had a crush on who got into pointless fights, I don't know why any of this would matter or work. Maybe it helped me remember a few days from the time when smoking was not yet an established part of my identity. All the way back to when Atom and I would smoke a single clove together every day, with great ceremony, determining the place and time of the next day's at the close of the present one. How much easier to walk out of one of those days and into a day of no cigarettes at all.

6) I got one of those apps. You know the ones. They show you how much money you've saved, and how many "hours of life" you've recouped (dubious, but OK), and they even give a running tally of how much time you've spent not smoking. That one really got to me. All those extra minutes sitting in the car in the Target parking lot, reading Twitter or whatever? They turn into days of something else, and I loved knowing that. Also, opening an app is a nice bridge for any antsy moment that would usually involve lighting up.

7) I created elaborate oral hygiene routines. I had a seemingly permanent stain on one of my front teeth from smoking. It was never more embarrassing than those occasions when some kind person tried to tell me that I had lipstick on my teeth. "No," I would have to say to them, "that's a stain, a stain on my face. Thank you for trying to help me, but plainly, it is impossible." I didn't really think this was ever going to change, but I started swishing coconut oil every morning, flossing, and putting activated charcoal powder on my teeth to settle and pull out the stains. All of which works! I have such beautiful teeth that the dentist seemed a little disappointed he didn't get to lecture me.

8) I replaced road trip chain-smoking with a two-pound bag of baby carrots. I actually hurt my jaw from chewing so much the first time I took a daylong drive after I quit. It was truly humbling: Here I am, an addict so compulsive and helpless in the face of a tremendously mundane experience that I can't entirely trust myself to use carrots safely. And eating that much raw vegetation is hard on the digestive system. Still, it's something. 

9) I didn't tell anyone (at first). I know that people who love me mean well, and want to keep me safe. They think they can do this by protecting me from the more painful parts of the world, and they think they can protect me by telling you how bad, difficult, or impossible my stretch of road is about to be. Even people who had never smoked loved to tell me that smokes were harder to kick than heroin, which I guess they had heard on 60 Minutes once? It's super annoying! Less annoying but still kind of weird, other people who had quit smoking decades ago would say something like, "I still miss cigarettes every single day," or something else unintentionally discouraging. I know, it's meant to be relatable. But common struggles aren't necessarily mandatory. I got two days under my belt before I told anyone, and it was one of the best things I did for myself.

10) I spent the money I saved right away. A recently quit friend let me in on this, and it's brilliant. As much as you might want to stockpile your unspent dollars for some chichi thing, it actually helps more to enjoy a slightly nicer than usual sandwich or cup of coffee, day by day. Spending an extra $8 on yourself every day makes an immediate impact on quality of life, and unlike all those rapidly accruing health benefits, it's actually tangible in a way I could appreciate. I bought myself a yearlong membership to the Carnegie Museum of Art (which includes the Warhol and the science center). It only took me a week to afford it, for one thing. Now I can go to the Hall of Gems and Minerals whenever I want, and smoke a beautiful cigarette the size of the whole world. See?