The Voice of False Promise spoke to me again last week. I borrowed some leftover Chantix from an anonymous supplier and took it for three days, hoping the drug would quiet the cravings, or, even better, like a robust program of electro-shock therapy, completely wipe my brain, robbing my memory of ever having been a cigarette smoker.
It failed, and I think I know why. This drug works by suppressing the nicotine receptors in the brain while, at the same time, stimulating a much smaller amount of dopamine than a drag on a cigarette would produce. Sort of like drinking a cup of caffeine-free coffee instead of my usual strong shot of espresso roast. Am I fooled? Am I similarly satisfied? Heck no. I have a trusting, intimate relationship with my brain chemistry and nothing has been able to break us up. Yet.
Yesterday, I sought out the services of a smoking cessation doctor. It seemed to make some logical sense to seek out a scientist. After all, if anyone can screw up your relationship with your body, it’s a doctor. What I found was a very sweet man who sat me down and told me that Jesus loves me and will help me through this. “I’m an atheist,” I told him, feeling my blood pressure spike, “and I cannot accept Jesus as my savior just to quit smoking. It would be like hiring a contract worker to fill in while my sanity goes on short-term disability, then laying him off when I get my wits about me again. I cannot, in all fairness, hire and fire Jesus.”
The doctor then shared his secular approach to quitting. It involves cutting back gradually. “When you leave here today, put your cigarettes in the trunk of your car. You probably won’t stop on the highway to open the trunk, right?” I said nothing, but knew that I would do exactly that. “When you get home,” he went on, “put your cigarettes in a really inconvenient place. Hide them in the attic or the basement, or way up high on the top shelf of a cupboard. That way, you have to make a conscious decision to smoke that cigarette.”
Again I said nothing, imagining all the ways I would easily circumvent these obstacles. I have Multiple Sclerosis, for Pete’s sake, I have lots of experience figuring out shortcuts. For one thing, I am not physically able to place cigarettes in precarious places—my partner would have to do the placement. Therefore, it would be impossible for me to reach them at all. I would simply drive to the gas station and buy a pack of cigarettes.
What did I learn from all of this? Quitting smoking boils down to willpower. There is no drug or technique that eliminates the cravings. And, after many failed attempts to quit, expecting to completely eliminate cigarettes on Day One is setting the bar too high. I will go bonkers, rebel, mow down anyone who is standing between me and a cigarette—and not look back to see if they are still breathing until after I take that first drag.
My next plan is to purchase a hypnotherapy program on CD, buy a portable CD player and headphones, play it all day long if necessary, and slowly, gradually, cut back on the number of cigarettes I smoke.
When I see my oral surgeon at the end of this month, he will ask me about my progress with quitting. I will tell him what I now tell everyone else who is breathing down my neck to quit:
If you can’t be part of the solution, then shut the hell up.