Giving up smoking is impossible and needs a lot of will power, it is generally said. Withdrawal syndrome, often forces one to resume the habit. But some circumstances help in both giving up smoking and overcoming the discontinuation syndromes.
February 15, 1971 is an unforgettable day in my life – the very fact I still remember the date even after 46 years bear out the statement. The day is memorable not because of it being my birthday or wedding day but for altogether a different reason: picking up of a generally not appreciated habit. From that moment, I gained membership of smokers’ club and continued to be so for next 43 years.
During this period, my loyalty to a brand changed several times for various reasons. From two sticks a day, my smoking increased to two packs, before it settled at 10-12 sticks/ day for several years. I have seen days of designated ‘smoking area’ (seats) in airplane to a complete ban of smoking in a flight. For almost two decades, I had no restriction on smoking, but vividly remember non-smokers making faces and some others quietly moving away from the spot. When restrictions were imposed on smoking at railway stations, airports and other public places I, like other smokers, looked for a corner to stealthily have fag and that provided an opportunity to make some very temporary acquaintances.
My family made several futile attempts to make me quit smoking. Perhaps, ego prevented me to make serious attempt at giving up the habit. Smoking was quite helpful in taking breaks at work place and in keeping some people away, I have used it get out a tricky situations like avoiding a marriage proposal! Finding it very delicate to say ‘no’ directly, I lighted the cigarette in a meeting, which made some not to pursue the matter further, either they thought I have no respect for elders (orthodox) or maybe I am having other bad habits too! Anyway, I could wriggle out the situation.
All this is now part of history. As I said in the beginning, circumstances did make me quit the habit after 43 years! In afternoon (around 3.30 pm) of June 14, 2014, I had a heart attack and have been removed to a hospital, may be within an hour. The subsequent treatment, including insertion of two stents, and a week’s stay in hospital helped me to forget about smoking. Coping up with trauma was not easy. Even after 3 ½ years, I am not the same person (prior to heart attack).
Recovery from the setback was complicated because of two reasons: not having a cigarette and my wife being still in bed due to an accidental fall in end of April that year. Withdrawal syndrome of stopping smoking, coupled with the side-effects of strong medicines, made me really struggle a lot. I share with readers the major symptoms, (not in order) that I went through:
Lack of sleep
Irritable bowel syndrome
Psychological changes, including developing of fear complex
Drowsiness and laziness
Drop in enthusiasm
Drop in alertness
Becoming aloof, including not maintaining minimum courtesy of calling back
Developing apprehensiveness (thought of even changing attending physician)
How I managed to overcome these? Well, it was not only undemanding, but was/is extremely difficult. It is nearly 3½ years since I had the last cigarette, yet I cannot say that I do not get the urge!
Fear and Motivation
To be honest, the fear of another heart attack (Doctors insisted on life-style changes to minimize chances) was the single most important restraining factor, particularly in the initial months of recovery. The excruciating pain that I experienced at the time of heart attack is still fresh in my mind. Those who did not have had any major health issue can recollect any unpleasant experience they had while smoking to quit the habit now.
Motivation from within controlled the intensity of ‘urge’ for a smoke. I used to keep on telling myself that ‘when I could be off from it for six days (while in hospital), I can be without it for a longer period’. I stopped going to the kirana shop (I used to buy cigarette) for a couple months, lest I may get tempted.
My ego also prevented me from resuming smoking: I do not want others to comment on my life-style. Surely, not only my family members but others would also have commented had I took to smoking again. To avoid peer pressure, I made lot of amends to my social life, so much so that I do not enjoy going out now. Diversion of mind, dozing off and recalling the trauma were other tools that I employed to ward off the urge. A most important strength in fighting against habit was/is family support. Fear of losing me made it to put up with my changed behavior - even idiosyncrasies. Anyway it was/is not easy to get rid of smoking. As adage goes, ‘all’s well that ends well’.