Saturday, July 29, 2006

Never Quit Quitting

For the book I'm helping to write, 50 Ways to Leave Your 40's, one of my contributions to each chapter is a section entitled "Doc in the Box: Fast (health) Food For Thought."

Here's a sample. This one is for the chapter called "Just Keep Breathing."

My goal for each of these is NOT to repeat the same old messages, but to put a spin on the old or to say something new. Any feedback is welcome.


Just Keep Breathing

I am not going to insult your intelligence by lecturing you about the dangers of smoking. If you don’t know by now that smoking is bad for you, you’re living in a cave. Bad breath, lung disease, ugly teeth, wrinkles, cancer…you’ve heard all that.

Nor am I going to tell you the best way to quit. That is up to you. Different strokes for different folks, and only you know what works best for you. Cold turkey, patch, pills, switching brands, gum…all are equally effective for the dedicated quitter. If you need more information, ask your doctor or go online where there are resources galore.

No, what I’m going to do instead is acknowledge you and salute you, the smoker.You are a functioning human being, and as such, you deserve as much honor and respect as the next person. Just because you made a choice to smoke cigarettes does not mean you are bad, or weak, or a hopeless drug addict. You have included cigarettes in your life for a reason, or reasons, which are your business. People have all kinds of reasons for smoking, and all kinds of reasons for quitting. So cut yourself some slack.

If you have decided you want to quit, I salute you. As a physician, I have to agree that this is a good choice. In fact, it is the single most important move you can make in the direction of health, and will clear up all kinds of current and future ailments, starting just twenty minutes after your last cigarette.

I also understand that quitting will not be easy. In fact, quitting smoking has got to be just about the hardest task a human being can undertake, and I’m including childbirth, which is saying something. I spent 20 years of my life watching my physician father quit. He knew the risks all too well (although, to be fair, he started smoking before the risks were known), and he is a smart guy. If quitting were as easy as “just doing it,” he would have done it on the first try. But I saw him quit, restart, and quit again, repeating the cycle many times. He finally succeeded, after his first grandchild was born. I think that finally got him over the hump. That and a change in office policy that sent smokers outside in the cold like huddled pariahs. He hasn’t smoked in 15 years now (which, by the way, puts him at the same risk of lung cancer as a lifetime nonsmoker) and he still goes skiing at the age of 74 without huffing and puffing. I’m very proud of him, and grateful for the lesson I learned watching his struggle.

Dad’s story is a very common one. I’ve seen it over and over in my medical practice. It’s like the old joke, “I can quit anytime! I’ve done it hundreds of times already!” The important thing to remember is that most successful quitters get a lot of practice first.

There are a few key things that accomplished quitters have in common that I want to share with you.

First and foremost, they are ready. By this I don’t mean they understand the dangers and tell themselves, “I should quit.” That doesn’t count as “ready”. What I mean is that, like my father, their reasons to quit have finally outnumbered their reasons to smoke. The balance has finally tipped and, at that moment, the battle is more than half won.

Second, these smokers have clearly-stated reasons for quitting. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are, but the more specific they are the better. “I want to quit because smoking is bad for my health” is not as effective as “I would like to be able to walk up one flight of stairs to my apartment without stopping” or “I want to live to see my grandchildren grow up” or “I want to smell the flowers in my garden.”

Lastly, good quitters pick a good time to quit. They don’t add “stop smoking” to the end of a long list of New Year’s resolutions, after “lose weight” and “become a better person.” They also don’t try to quit in the middle of a stressful time, like a family holiday or a final exam. They understand that their resolve and their reserves are going to be sorely tested, so they maximize their chances from the get-go. Some choose a weekend when they’ll be alone. If you have quit before, you know how unpleasant you can be. You might want to protect your loved ones from your werewolf self.

Smoking is bad for your health. You know it, I know it. It would be wise to quit when you can. When you are ready, you’ll do it. You’ll tip that scale and finally succeed. I have faith in you. Never quit quitting.


Surgeon in my dreams said...

This was encouraging.

I too have quit several times. I suffer from depression, and have for years, and sometimes for weeks at a time it is all I can do to "survive", much less think about stopping smoking.

I was 13 when I smoked the first one. Yep, it was a KOOL thing to do in the crowd I found myself involved with.

I am ashamed of my smoking. It is yet one more thing I beat myself up over. I hate it. My dear husband quit over three years ago and did so well.

I wish I could tell every little kid out there who is considering it how stupid it really is...and have them actually listen.

Annie said...

This is a fantastic post Peg.

After a 30-year addiction to nicotine, I quit smoking on my son's 16th birthday on 15/7/04.

I feel really sorry for 'surgeon in my dreams' and everyone else who wants to quit because it's the hardest thing in my life I've had to endure (tho' I might put childbirth first!)

Having quit 'quitting' after trying every method in the book, I was resigned to dying of lung cancer or heart disease and quite frankly, didn't care. However, one evening, fed up with coughing and breathlessness, I was struck by this overwhelming desire to LIVE and set a target date to quit.

Two years later, I have gained 20 lbs (not good) but have taken up running and participated in several charity races (good)I feel fitter now than I did 20 years ago.

Quitters... you need a goal. Mine was to run without my lungs collapsing.

(The only problem now is that I have suffered with plantar fasciitis for more than 6 months. Can you help me with a cure Peg?)

Good luck wannabe quitters... if you can just get through 3 weeks, the hardest part is over....

dr peg said...

surgeon - Hang in there. Never quit quitting! You'll do it one day. I'm sure of it. Good point about the kids, but, clearly, we all need to make our own mistakes, don't we.

annie- Thanks so much for sharing your experience. And congratulations on your success!

As to plantar fasciitis - that's a tough one. Have you already put heel lifts in your shoes? Sometimes that helps a lot - takes some of the strain of that fascia.

Annie said...

Thanks Peg - I am wearing footwear with orthotic insoles and have rested, ie. no running, for about 6 weeks but my heel is still quite painful and swollen. I think it's just one of those things that takes a long time to HEEL :-)

Thanks for posting on my blog. Your blog is brilliant - keep up the good work!

Annie said...

Peg, I've put a photo on my blog just for you. Hopefully it will make you smile :-)

dr peg said...

Annie - I love it! Thanks so much.


anafaran said...

Well, I too smoked early in life, for the first time around age 11, with the encouragement of some grade school friends and the main reason for it was that one or both of our parents did it and we thought it was the grown-up thing to do.
Then it was a matter of when Dad wasn't looking or counting cigs in the pack that I pocketed one every now and then. But he caught on and would reprimand me but he continued the habit of buying them.
It picked up seriously in college and during finals it was at least two packs a day. One day after finals I thought my tongue was going to fall out. But still I didn't quit. Then the other things started coming along that weren't so easily obtainable and the more I smoked them, the more I wanted to smoke more and more exotic things. Funny how I never thought of myself as an addict to anything. Quitting wasn't even something I wanted to do.
Sad, right? I wasn't really sad because I took care of the sadness with the narcotics. I know all about depression surgeon. It's all a big coverup and very likely feeds the depression, although I'm not a physician. Then one day I met someone who didn't smoke. I thought that would be cool not to have to spend the money on these things like this guy. So I tried to quit but to my surprise it didn't happen overnight the way I had anticipated. I pride myself in my willfulness. I did come down with some wicked bronchial problems and the inhaling finally became a difficult thing to do.
So then I married this non-smoker, drug free dude and we had 4 kiddoes and you won't believe it but just recently at age 49 I picked up the trumpet and inhaled just plain old air and blew out. At first it was hard but soon I was producing the most beautiful notes in the world to my ears.
So that's the end of my smoking tale.
Good work at jogging my memory Dr. Peg! And by the way, nobody in the house smokes. I promised them each a round trip ticket anywhere in the world if they could reach 21 years and not touch a cig to their lips. So far the older two succeeded and the younger two are just about there and planning their trip as well.

dr peg said...

anafaran - great story! So when and how did you actually quit? It's not exactly clear. Just now before trumpet lessons? Or when you got the bad bronchial infections?

Kim said...

Never been a smoker, but that was a great "Doc in the Box" take on a difficult subject.

No nagging, no guilt, just the acknowledgement that quitting is extremely difficult and some good suggestions to help get started.

This is going to be a great book!

anafaran said...

Dr. Peg, I quit smoking when inhaling became both inconvenient because my fiance liked fresh smelling air and uncomfortable when bronchial problems made the actual inhalation painful. It wasn't clear in my tale I suppose, but I quit well before the wedding. I guess you were right in your estimation that we need a few incentives to quit our addictions and for me a potential lifelong mate helped me visualize a life without narcotics.Family support is very key I think. It just wasn't there prior to meeting my husband. It's not as if we have a fairy tale marriage by any means but when things falter I am reminded about why I married him. I probably owe him my life and the good health of our children.
Thanks for your observations on this topic and I'm proud of you for placing in the writing contest. Keep up the great work. You keep me huffin' but not puffin'!

anafaran said...

Don't think "huffin" refers to sniffing anything illegal, Dr. Peg, rather it was meant to imply that I'm out of breath trying to keep up with your successes, certainly out of joy for you and not anything less.

dr peg said...

kim - Thanks for the positive vibes for the book! You know you're probably gonna be in it, right?

anafaran-wow, what a gift you give your husband with that kind of sentiment ("he saved my life"). But don't forget it was YOU who did the quitting!

I'm huffing too!

The Authors of "50 Ways" Interview on KCHF TV

50 Ways to Leave Your 40s TV interview with Phoenix' Pat McMahon