My Journey to Quit Smoking
by Bill Guggenheim
I began smoking cigarettes when I was 15 years old, and I continued to smoke for 43 years. I started with Marlboro in the red box – they were filtered, and they were the number one choice of male smokers my age. I thought it was “cool” to be a smoker, and I was accepted by the group I wanted to belong to.
I smoked throughout college, relationships, and various types of employment. During the last ten years, I switched to other brands, which were supposedly “safer” than Marlboros. And I even tried menthol cigarettes too.
For the majority of my 43 years as a smoker, I smoked 3-4 packs a day! I was completely addicted to cigarettes, but if you had confronted me with this, I would have denied it completely and said, “I can quit anytime I want.”
Like most long-term smokers, I have my horror stories to tell, including – lying on a bed and setting a pillow on fire, of having lit cigarettes in both hands at the same time, of having a lit cigarette in my hand and another in an ash tray … among others. You don’t want to hear how I scrounged for cigarette butts, anywhere and everywhere, whenever I ran out.
After 40 years of smoking, I knew I was developing a severe problem with breathing. I learned I was in an early stage of emphysema, and I had developed asthma as well. As a result, I did try to quit smoking three times, but I became very irritable and severely depressed during each attempt.
Every time I quit smoking, I felt I lived in a world in which everything was gray, and there were no colors to be seen. Food was tasteless, music sounded blah, and I didn’t care about anything. In fact, several of my friends said to me, in one way or another, “Please start smoking again, Bill. I can’t stand you the way you are!” And I soon lit up once more.
One Saturday night, in January 1997, when I was recently divorced and single again, I attended an upscale dance at a local country club. For the first time, I noticed there were very few smokers in the group. In fact, there were only three of us out of about 150 people! On top of this, we weren’t allowed to smoke anywhere inside the entire building.
I recognized the times had changed. Smoking was “out,” and being a non-smoker was “in.” I knew I had to make a choice. I could choose to meet women and have dates, or I could continue smoking. But I couldn’t do both. As completely addicted to cigarettes that I was, I knew that I far preferred meeting and dating women.
The following week, I quit smoking. Cold turkey. I didn’t just cut back or cut down, I stopped entirely. I had to. For my health … and for my social life. But I did several things differently this time.
Because my hands were so used to holding cigarettes, I gave myself permission to carry a full pack with me all the time. I played with the unlit cigarettes constantly, because my hands needed something to do. I went through all the actions of smoking. I even tapped the nonexistent ashes into ashtrays or out the window of my car.
I carried a pack of cigarettes with me everywhere I went. If anyone had observed me, they would have assumed I was still smoking, as I had in the past. I continued doing this for about nine months. And almost all of my friends were certain I’d begin smoking again.
I was also inspired to say aloud – to myself – a short request, two or three times a day. The exact words were, “God … please take away my desire to smoke … for today. Thank you.”
It’s not that I had any real belief these words would work. But whenever I made this short request, my desire to smoke disappeared … within seconds. This absolutely amazed me! I honestly don’t know how or why my short prayer worked, but it did, and that’s what counted!
I also took a deep breath whenever I had an urge to smoke. This calmed me down further. And immediately, as I exhaled, the urge melted away.
Initially, I had a powerful urge to smoke every five seconds. Then, every 15 seconds. And then every minute. But slowly and gradually, while the urge to smoke was as powerful as ever, it occurred less and less frequently.
Eventually, there were 30 minutes between urges … then 60 minutes … even hours … and whole days … and, finally, weeks … between the powerful urges. And now, more than 20 years later, I still have the urge to smoke – but it occurs only once or twice a year.
Some people say that stopping smoking is even more difficult than giving up heroin. I don’t know about this, but quitting smoking was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life!
There is one thing I know for certain. If I ever light up even one cigarette, I may as well go out and buy an entire carton. This is the same for alcoholics, who have become non-drinkers. Once you quit, you have to stay quit for life … to survive.
These experiences are what led me to write this guided imagery exercise for you. I have not smoked a cigarette for more than twenty years now, and I wish you much success in becoming a non-smoker too.