the terrible threes
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.
kevin - grateful to be in my 111th day of freedom!