Every journey through addiction and then recovery is very personal and I do not believe that there’s one way-fits all therapy or theory that can help.
Well, I thought that this is the perfect beginning; because I do not wish for anyone, after having read my experience, to think that they have to follow my journey. At the same time, whatever happened to me and the way I dealt with my addiction, might help someone. I really do hope so!
I started smoking at the age of 14 and as many of you know I work with people in recovery from addiction, I am a trainee counsellor and recovery coach. And I am the daughter of two alcoholic parents. Addiction run in the family!
I tried to quit many times: I remember already at the age of 19 (back in 1985) I was a guilty smoker and I wished I could simply stop. I didn’t. I didn’t until the year 2000 when I managed to stop for 4 years thanks to a new-found faith in Jesus. It did last only 4 years, and that somehow includes also my commitment to Jesus. But I recognised that having faith has been helpful. It simply wasn’t my faith; I somehow swapped one addiction for another: I went from being addicted to nicotine, to being addicted to the 12 Steps and the Church (at the time I followed the Jehovah Witnesses).
I smoked for about one year and then stopped again for a whole year.
Then something bad happened, and by bad I mean I had one argument. The first thing I did I grabbed a packet of fags and smoked it all, one cigarette after another.
When I moved to UK I tried to quit again with a 12 Step program, this time Celebrate Recovery and I did not quit, but I realised something else that was missing in my Life. That led me to my counselling studies, my self-development and now after a lot of practice, a different appreciation and understanding for the world of recovery from addiction.
So, what’s different now?
I believe that I am different. Working with people who have been addicted to either alcohol or heroin, sex or gambling, made me understand how addiction works and how it worked for me. I took a step back and studied it. What am I addicted to? Because nicotine is just one of the things that I might be addicted to: relationships, attention… just to name two. I studied habits and how they work. I did a bit of CBT, I tried hypnotherapy, acupuncture, mindfulness… nothing worked as much as working on myself. I can only quit for myself, I can only quit if I want to and if I am ready.
And I think that this time I might be ready. Of course, the whole concept of quitting FOR EVER, as much as getting married FOR EVER, living in the same house FOR EVER and staying in the same job FOR EVER does not work for me. I quit one day at the time; and as of today 22nd October, it has been working fine. Smoking, as a practising Nichiren Buddhist (a happy practising Buddhist which means finding a faith in your Self first) did not suit with me: I thought I should have been more ethical. And working with people in recovery without having gone through recovery myself… well, where was my integrity? Bearing in mind that neither Buddhists nor people in recovery ever asked me to quit.
This time I started preparing myself a month before. I bough some fabric and made an emergency bag; I collected Stoptober material, I printed articles and papers I thought would have helped me, I created my own book, whatever works for me.
I booked myself with a nurse at the nearest chemist and I asked for help, assistance and for some patches, lozenges and spray. I could have started earlier (oh, I was so keen!) but I decided consciously to stick to the 1st of October: better not being too cocky and jumping the gun (which is an attitude that never helped me in any other situation!)
I could have gone cold turkey, yes. But I decided not to. Addiction is both physical and psychological. I wanted to study the psychological aspect while detoxing from the poisons in my body but keeping my mind at rest (I also do have clients whom I see and I wanted to be 100% for them instead of freaking out!).
And the journey understanding the psychology of my craving is mind-blowing: when do I crave the most? What is the cigarette trying to substitute, what’s my underlying need? I spend a lot of time by myself so boredom was something that I had to take into consideration: can I simply be… still, even doing nothing, with myself? Why do I need to fill the time and the space with a fag? Reward was the second major necessity: oh, I’ve hoovered the house, now I can sit and have a fag… oh, I’ve washed the pots, now I can sit and have a fag… no! I have been a good girl, done the chores, now I can sit and breathe. Simply breathe. I have also realised that when I get the odd text, or the annoying phone-call, or the exiting phone-call I would reach out straight for a fag: what were the fags trying to level out, strong emotions? Am I not able to deal with upsets, hurts and happiness without a crutch?
I am personally (and I repeat PERSONALLY) against eCigs and similar items which mimic the act of smoking. I’ll repeat myself again: personally. I have often noticed how people in recovery from alcohol abuse sometimes go out and buy non-alcoholic fizzy drinks in bottles which resemble Prosecco or Champagne… do you see the awkwardness? To me it shouts: hey, I have been told that I don’t have to drink alcohol but I still like the idea of what I’m missing, I still miss the drinks because I drink in social occasions with people who drink and bla bla bla… to me, personally, people who use eCigs are like telling me: I don’t want to smoke because it’s bad, but I miss smoking and I would still like to have a fag so look at me, I’m puffing away anyway! This to say that anyway, if it works for you, it works for you. So, when are you going to quit the eCig? Because you are still smoking. You might have worked on the physical addiction, but what about the psychological one? What does the eCig give you that you cannot give yourself?
While working with people in recovery I always tell them: *once an addict, always an addict… bollocks!* If you work on your physical addiction and then grab any other substitute to still feed your addiction, identify yourself and then feel safe (the recovery pals, the recovery centre, any 12-Step programme, AA, Jesus, the Church, your girlfriend, your cat or your car) you are not out of addiction. But if you work on the reasons why you went into addiction, what are you substituting with your addiction, what’s the desperate need you… need (!) to fill, why you need something else besides your Self to be content and fulfilled… well, there might be better chances that you won’t be an addict any more. And you’ll have a whole wonderful lifetime ahead of you to simply be free.