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What Emotions Are Hard Wired Into Your Smoking Habit?

Posted Jan 09 2010 6:20pm

  A row with a best friend made Denise return to smoking

Denise made a new years resolution to give up smoking for the umpteenth time. Last year it had  worked for 3 months , until a bitter row with her best friend weakened her resolve. The familiar comfort of smoking saw her through many a lonely moment. Painful memories that were played over and over in her mind were dulled as she inhaled and let out sighs of smoke filled hurt and disappointment.

 This time she resolved to kick it for goo d!

This time she was  more determined to conquer the habit.  This time she made contingency plans for dealing with temptations and ensuring that her iron will overcame any emotional calamity, no matter how dire. She joined a support group, devised rewards for not smoking, and extracted promises from her colleagues and friends to come down hard on her if they noticed any signs of lapsing. She got the nicotine gum and the patch to get her through the worst cravings. She would call her sponsor if she had a desire to smoke, go out for walks, go to the gym, meet with friends or start a new project that would distract her from her thinking of smoking. Notes to herself were stuck all over her apartment, desk, and car. A recording of her own voice reminding her to be strong with lots of good affirming statements  from her cell phone recorder greeted her each morning and repeated every couple of hours.

She was good to go. The foolproof structure she had constructed supported her admirably. She glowed with success as she saved money, found new flavors exploding on her tongue, and jogged for a mile without getting out of breath. She was proud of herself, and so were her cheerleaders. She no longer had to worry whether a date would be put off by her smoky breath! In fact Denise found a great guy who joined her in sampling new cuisines, and walking off their hearty meals.

  A shocking betrayal made Denise reach for the cigarettes again

She celebrated her seventh month without smoking by booking a vacation with all the money she had saved. Then came the bombshell.  She saw her boyfriend in a close embrace with another woman at a café while she was out walking.

For a split second Denise’s life came to a complete halt. Her breath ceased, dizziness made her unsteady and there was a strange sound in her ears. The next thing she knew she was inhaling smoke from a cigarette held in her shaking hand. The smoke filled her lungs, and jolted her heart beat into frantic action. The tinny sound in her ears grew louder as she tried to deal with the scene she had stumbled upon.

The Denise of the last seven months had just been obliterated by the savage betrayal she had just witnessed. She felt as if she had been propelled into another world with no land legs, and no compass to find her way to safety.  Some automatic part of her had rushed to the nearest store and bought a pack of cigarettes. Grasping the familiar white tube, lighting it, and inhaling it was like finding her way home. The rush of nicotine mobilized her survival instincts, uncorking her rage to fuel her fighting spirit.

Denise chooses to face her awful feelings rather than smoke again

Denise was horrified that she had fallen off the wagon so easily. She realized that something more than just a lack of will was at play. She got up the courage to address her deeper issue in therapy with me.

Smoking had brought a smile to her mother’s face after long nights waiting for her husband who never came home. When her mother smoked she wasn’t absent like her dad, but  right there with her kids, being a loving parent.  
Judy learned that smoking was an effective pick-me-up. She used it as her comfort food when her first boyfriend dumped her. Eventually  it became her indispensable pacifier.   The rhythmic actions of inhaling and exhaling let out all the tension.  Her brain and body recognized the nicotine and smoke as dollops of reassurance. They responded by reducing the unbearable emotions that betrayal created inside her. Support groups and sponsors  helped with minor let downs, but  were useless when the big betrayal hit. She was hard wired to use cigarettes to manage the tsunamis.  

Denise disconnected the wire from  nicotine to relief

She made new connections allowing love and care to take the place of nicotine. It was hard work but she did it. Now her chances of successfully sticking to her new year’s resolution are excellent.

Deal with your painful feelings and you will be able to quit smoking too!

So if you want to give yourself a shot at sticking to your new year’s resolution , choose something that isn’t hard wired  to serve a crucial function for your emotional well being. If you have solid, reliable ways of meeting your emotional needs, you can give up the substitutes, so long as you recognize them in their sheep’s clothing.


Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


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