Kicking the Habit


I don’t remember how old I was when I started drinking caffeine. I can’t remember being so young that I wasn’t sneaking Cokes every chance I got, even if it meant finishing off the half-flat cans my Dad would leave sitting half-empty on the coffee table from the night before. It was in high school I started drinking coffee, and just out of high school I started smoking. Of the two, I’ve actually found quitting caffeine harder, although not by much (and not that I’ve tried many times).

I’ve quit smoking three times in my life. Every time I quit I go through the same stages. First there’s what I think of as Queen High Bitch phase. I’m not a nice person to be around for a couple weeks (even more so than usual). Around the third week or so I just get a little jumpy and surly, but I’m at least a little tolerable. By week four I’ve calmed down enough that people can talk to me, and after that I start to slowly adjust to life without nicotine. It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me when I say it’s the longest month you’ll ever experience, and the next few aren’t stellar either. The patch doesn’t help (ironically, it has too much nicotine) and the pills make me jittery (I started smoking more to calm my nerves), so I just have to white knuckle my way through it.

The first time I went a month and a half. I had lost my license (I was a terrible leadfoot when I was younger) and couldn’t get out for cigarettes, so I just gave it up. As soon as my friends started taking pity on me and got me out of the house, that went the way of the dodo. The second time lasted a year and a half. I was doing fine until I lost my job, and even then I did okay for six months until boredom got the best of me. Smoking was at least something to do.

The last time I can clearly remember seriously giving up smoking was the hardest. I quit a little over a year ago, and I was doing pretty good. Then I found out my father was in the hospital, and things were looking bad. I’m not using that as an excuse, mind you, but it was what pushed me over the edge. I couldn’t take the stress. Ironic in a sad sort of way, but there it is. And here I am, a year later, smoking as much and drinking as much caffeine as I was before I quit a little over a year ago.

I was talking with my Mom on the phone the other day, and she asked me to write a blog post that would get her to go on a diet (sorry for outing you, Mom). Here’s the secret to quitting smoking, giving up caffeine, getting more exercise, or going on a diet: there is no secret. Despite what an entire industry of self-help books and many, many weight loss programs, gyms, and “experts” will try to sell you, there is no magic bullet. The only way to do it is to decide for yourself that this is a change you want in your own life, for you, and to stick with it, no matter what.

I know that sounds simple, and that’s because it is. Please do not make the mistake of confusing simple with easy. Rolling a two-ton boulder up a hill is a simple task; ask Sisyphus just how easy it is. Ultimately however there is no substitute; no matter how many pills, patches, or plans you use, it will always come back to that one simple thing, that one choice you have to make every day (and sometimes several times a day). As Master Yoda put it, “Do, or do not; there is no try.”

If you make that change for someone else, you are shifting the burden to them, and sooner or later they will do something that will make you want to “punish” them. If you do it for some reward, you will hold out until you get the reward, and then go back to your old habits. If you set a goal of “I just need to hold out until…” you’ll make it that long and maybe a bit longer, but then what? You have to acknowledge that what you are seeking is real change, and change is hard.

Is it worth it? That’s up to you to decide. But then, that’s the whole point.


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