written in my fourth month of freedom from smoking and originally posted on march 9, 2002, this tale talks about the increasing difficulty many people experience with their quits around certain milestones and suggests some reasons why i think that might be.

the terrible threes

2009 February 8

the biggest hurdles we face as aspiring ex-smokers seem to come at time intervals marked by threes:

every day is also an opportunity for victory, because it’s all about choice: every day, we get to choose between strength and weakness. between health and disease. freedom and slavery. life and death.

before i quit, i was in a place where i very seriously doubted that i could go three hours without a smoke, let alone three days (or three of anything else, for that matter...). but, by doing my homework as i prepared for freedom day, i established long before i quit that i could easily go three hours without smoking, and in fact, i really had no trouble going twice that long between cigarettes.

so, even before quit day, i cleared my first mental hurdle associated with a three (the three-hour hurdle), and this gave me a bit more confidence. now, maybe you never had this hurdle to clear, but i think a lot of people who are pack-a-day smokers (as i was, right before i quit) probably do. after all, we were used to smoking at least one every hour (unless we were drinking, when our hourly rate would go up considerably); cutting our consumption by two-thirds would naturally seem like a huge step.

the next hurdle seems to come at three days; i've seen a lot of people start off very strongly for a day or two, then cave in on day three (and i'm sure anyone who's spent some time at any quit-related site has noticed this phenomenon, too). i believe that the reason for this is that it takes about 72 hours for the nicotine to be totally flushed from your system after you stop putting it in, so, on the third day, your demon (or whatever you choose to call your addiction; mine's a demon) is pulling out all the stops, trying to make you feed it before all its lovely nicotine is gone...

generally speaking, if you make it over the three-day hurdle, the quit gets progressively easier until about the three-week point, then all hell breaks loose again. and if you think about it, this makes sense, too:

have you ever noticed that when you move into a new apartment or house, it takes about three weeks until the new place starts to feel like "home" to you? how about when you start a new job? doesn't it usually take about three weeks until you start to feel like you really know your job, and you "fit in" with your new co-workers? i think, around the three-week point, we're finally starting to feel "at home" in our new role as ex-smokers, and once again, your demon is going to pull out all the stops to try and trip you up, because it knows that, once you start to feel like not smoking is "normal" for you, its chances of ever getting you to feed it again diminish quickly...

once past that three-week hurdle, the quit really starts to quiet down: the urges happen a lot less frequently, and when they do happen, they're almost never those "gnaw your own leg off to get to a pack of cigs" kind of urges you used to get in the first few days or weeks; they're more like passing thoughts ("hey, wouldn't it be nice to have a cigarette with this drink?" "yeah, but i don't smoke any more"), gone as soon as they arrive...

i think this is how a lot of us end up stumbling on the three-month hurdle: we've had a couple of months of relative calm; we haven't had any major urges for a long time, and even the passing thoughts are few and far between, and we get complacent. we start to feel (and not without some justification) like we've really beat this thing now. like it's under control. and one day, one of those passing thoughts turns into a puff, or a few puffs, or "just this one" cigarette...

and BLAM! in a day or two, maybe even overnight, we're back to a pack-a-day habit again, and wondering, "how the hell did this happen?"

it happened because we forgot that we are addicts, and as such, are subject to the first law of addiction: administration of a substance to an addict, no matter how long it's been since that addict used that substance, will cause reestablishment of the addict's dependence on that substance.

it's happened to me, times without number. and it's happened to a lot of other addicts, too; be they addicted to nicotine, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, you name it. bottom line is: once we are addicts, we will always be addicts, and every day is a potential stumbling block to us.

but every day is also an opportunity for victory, because it's all about choice: every day, we get to choose between strength and weakness. between health and disease. freedom and slavery. life and death.

choose life!

kevin - grateful to be in my 111th day of freedom!

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21 responses leave one →
  1. 2003 January 17
    rose permalink

    I too am a victim of the terrible threes syndrome. I really liked your ideas and will reread them many times as 3 months is my next "3 fight". Thanks -Rose

  2. 2003 June 9
    KTQ permalink

    Great ramble... I'm a victim of "3 weeks" and "3 months".:)

    KTQ,
    Day 11 and taking it moment by moment

  3. 2003 August 17
    nancers permalink

    I always loved this post. I came here tonight to find it to help someone at their 3 week struggle point. Thanks kevin for maintaining this site.

  4. 2003 September 20

    As a practicing "Threes-ologist," and non-smoker, it is necessary to point out that the "threes" phenomena is not an incident that is specific to the guit-smoking realm of experiences. There are many non-smokers and non-drinkers and non-drug users who encounter the recurrence of "threes" in a multiple of forms and fashions. For a list of "threes" from a variety of subject areas, please refer to the following page:

    http://cenocracy.topcities.com/cro24.html

    Herb

  5. 2004 January 22
    Aidan permalink

    I am on day 22 of my current quit. First baby on the way and I do not want him/her to see me as a smoker. As someone who has given up for over 1 YEAR!!!! in the past and started again (to much beer one night and I thought I could handle one cigarette BIG mistake) I know how easy it is to become readdicted and there is NO magic number of days when you break free from your cycle of addiction. Just remember the cravings pass relatively quickly and you need to keep reminding yourself of why you quit. With time the cravings do become less and less BUT they will always be there ( I know a guy who quit over 20 years ago and he still misses the odd cigarette)

    Good luck to one and all.

  6. 2004 April 13
    Fightn4life permalink

    This ramble helps me more than you'll know. All the "three's" have sent me into a depression as I choose not to smoke. (Was I feeling like I was starving the demon?)

    I am fast approching my six month mark and at times I am afraid. I have never choose not to smoke for this long.

    It's my double three mark. Half a year.

    I still choose not to smoke. I can almost touch that milestone and will try my best to stay out from under the covers and take a walk in the sunshine.

    This is a freedom journey, so far I have hid from all three's.

    Sandyz
    QD 10-23-03

  7. 2004 May 8
    DONNA permalink

    iAM ALMOST AT MY THREE WEEK TIME.I AM USING NOTHING AND HAVE HAD AN EASIER TIME THAN EVER BEFORE. I PRAY IT STAYS THAT WAY.

  8. 2004 June 1
    Pamela permalink

    Well, I was 3 months, 3 weeks quit officially one hour ago. Today has been one of the hardest days for me so far. It hit me this morning when I opened my eyes, and has just continued to get worse as the day goes on. However, this time I refuse to quit being a quitter, and refuse to be a smoking loser. Each day brings me closer to my goal and further from my addiction. May I never forget it's there.

  9. 2005 January 3
    Kelli Jean permalink

    Thank you all for posting. Today is day three for me. I noticed that this was so much more difficult (not sure if it's more difficult but definately more cravings than day 1 or 2. I happened upon this page and now I feel like it's o.k. This is normal thinking for day three. Thank you all again.

  10. 2007 March 14
    Colleen permalink

    Wow. How true the three thing is. I had a real melt down on my third month. But for those who will be comming up on thiers. You can stand strong and refuse to give in. I just said out loud- I will not let this thing get me down. I worked to damm hard to come this far. Its easier now and I will not do this quitting thing all over again.
    This is what I will say when my 6 month mark is here in 2 months. Best of luck to all. We are stronger than the cigarette!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Colleen.

  11. 2008 April 15
    David permalink

    Man, I just started week 3 and I'm fucking dying. Been playing online poker all day to try to keep my mind off of it (not for real money), but damn it! At the end of every match up I instinctively start reaching for a non-existent smoke. Fifth time I quit, longest was around four months... Man, I really hate this. I am outa work, and that stress is making it even worse. Luckily, I don't have any cash on me today, or I just know I'd head out for the corner store. I keep saying "no", but the urges aren't going away like they used too. Thanks for this post. It helps a bit, reminds me of why I quit, and why I have to stay quit. I don't have kids, but when I do I'm gonna beat the snot out of them if I ever catch them lighting up. I don't want this for them. Been smoking 14 years, and I it's associated with everything I do.... hmmm, I am feeling a little better now that I had my moan. Thanks for listening guys. I feel alot better after writing this post.

  12. 2009 February 8

    note: the comments above were left on the original tale at the date and time indicated.

  13. 2009 February 16
    Carrie permalink

    Thank you - I'm in Day 103 and seeing how impatient I am again, irritated that I can have this resurgence of cravings and depression and, and, and... And watching the mind go by in all those thoughts, I stumbled upon your Twitters and this website. Thank you.

  14. 2009 November 9
    Moira permalink

    I am so glad I found this website, at first I thought I would only need support for the first week but now that I have hit my first REAL terrible 3 (3 weeks plus) and seem to have gone back to day one in terms of difficulty, I see this is a longer process than I anticipated. I am so grateful that people take the time to share their experiences, it helps!

    I am at day 25 and have not even gained any weight, I have added exercise to an already fairly active life so it is kind of hard to come up with replacements for cigarettes so right away I gave up trying. I just accepted I was going to go through a mourning period but I don't remember when I have grieved before going backwards like this. Sigh. I don't WANT a cigarette, I want to NOT WANT a cigarette. And I am going on vacation for 3 weeks, Italy for a week and then a Cruise so it is going to be really hard. My boyfriend and I have always had rituals connected to smoking on all our trips so now I have to do those without smoking. When I make it through that 21 days, I will know I am quit for good!

    For now, I guess I will go do some situps in an attempt to remember how much nicer it is to be healthy (oh no, now I hear that voice I was hearing at first trying to convince me how unhealthy i.e. smoking is more fun)

  15. 2010 May 18
    Gigi permalink

    I am 48...started smoking when I was 15 and quit at the age of 22 and didn't smoke for 25 YEARS! Well, I had to test it while on vacation a few years ago by saying..."One won't hurt"...well, let's just say one does hurt and we are addicts. I have now quit for 31 days and it's been a struggle with depression and associating smoking with good times. I know it will pass, and that life is good being a non-smoker. We are strong and if we really want to be smoke free we can do it - even if it's one minute at a time.

  16. 2010 June 21

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed this post =]

    I've read a lot about the little demon (or NicoDemon as some people like to call him/it) but the thing I've recently come to hate about smoking is that if I think about "starving some creature of nicotine" I feel a twinge of guilt! No overly helpful in a quit attempt =] I know that's terrible and I should probably be commited for it but that's just the first thing that comes to my mind when people mention starving anything of anything. So I prefer to depersonalise the whole process as much as possible and just imagine the dirty chemicals exiting my body - keep it sterile and emotionless lol.

    Thanks for the site - I hope you realise how comforting it is to be able to read about other peoples experiences as you go through something similar.

    A. =]

  17. 2011 November 4

    Fab post!!

    I'm on day 19 of stopping smoking and am feeling mighty fine!! However, I am using 2mg of nicotine gum when the cravings get too bad!!! I can't seem to shift this feeling of loss, like something's missing from my life!!!!!

    Jo

  18. 2012 January 9

    Day 22 the hardest yet, came on here to stay motivated and must say the posts have really helped, thanks everyone!!

  19. 2012 February 2
    jamie r permalink

    im on day 8 of not smoking and im finding it really hard.on day 5 i cleaned the car out bought some new mats and air freshners and it felt amazing driving around.but this being my 8th day i feel like im missing a smoke so bad i feel like having one isnt going to harm me and that i can just have one every now and again.ive quit so many times before and have said that statement everytime and i know for sure that i would go back to 20 a day.only thing that helps me is remembering the first pack i bought i remember the first one not doing anything for me.it takes a few to get addicted doesnt it.we have to keep reminding ourselves of this.jamie rabbani

  20. 2012 February 2

    good for you, jamie - keep remembering that "just one" is a lie: you can't take just one back; you have to take them all back.

  21. 2012 September 24
    lippy permalink

    sooooooooooo pleased i read this post, ive been going through hell and wonderd ( why now ) well now i know its normal to crave at the 3 month mark , im very happy to work through it and even happier im a none smoker, your post is brilliant and helped me loads. lynn xx

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