When I was in college, I started drinking and smoking heavily — far more than the typical college student. By the time I graduated, I had developed strong addictions to both nicotine and alcohol.
I smoked a pack of cigarettes and drank plenty of beer every day throughout my twenties. I made several attempts to quit each of my habits during that time, but it wasn’t until I was 29 that I started making any headway.
Initially, I just quit smoking. But then, shortly afterward, I was able to stop drinking also.
Sadly, that isn’t where the story ended. Breaking an addiction is incredibly difficult, and breaking two at once was even harder. Within my first year sober, I went back to smoking again. I’m just glad I managed not to go back to drinking too.
For a while, I was content to just continue smoking while I focused on maintaining my sobriety. Eventually though — about a year and a half after getting sober — I decided to take another stab at quitting cigarettes.
Trying to stop smoking again was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
I had successfully gotten sober, and I had even managed to quit smoking for several months before, yet trying to stop again felt just as impossible as ever.
It drove me crazy to still have so much trouble with an addiction even after I had learned so much through getting sober. Why wouldn’t the knowledge that had helped me quit drinking also help me to quit smoking?
The answer was that knowledge alone just wasn’t enough. Yes, I knew plenty of skills and techniques for quitting an addiction, but that didn’t mean I could skip the hard work of actually quitting.
Searching for Secrets
The experience reminded me of when I was first trying to quit drinking, and I spent countless hours reading about addiction and sobriety. As I read each new book or article, I was always hoping that it would mention the one little secret I was missing that would suddenly make sobriety easy for me.
It might sound a little silly, but I’ve heard of a few people who have had just such an experience. My college roommate was able to quit smoking overnight after reading Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. He said that after finishing the book, it really was easy for him to never pick up a cigarette again.
I’ve also read posts in sobriety forums where people say the same thing about Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind. After reading it, they simply didn’t want to keep drinking.
I tried both books, and although there were parts of each that I liked, neither of them completely transformed my thinking in the way that other readers have reported. Quitting drinking and smoking was still hard for me.
I also spent a lot of time reading forum and blog posts about sobriety before I quit. These absolutely helped in the sense that they gave me an idea of what to expect, but just reading about sobriety was never going to be enough.
For me, quitting an addiction wasn’t just about what I knew. It was also about implementing that knowledge. I had to actually attempt to quit, to try my best to use the techniques and tools that I had read about, and then to try again when I failed.
I could read until the end of time, but it wasn’t going to help if I wasn’t actively attempting to quit.
There were plenty of pieces of advice that helped me to stop drinking and smoking — playing the tape forward, taking it one day at a time, telling other people about my cravings — but none of these made quitting easy.
I finally managed to quit smoking again. It’s now been about a year and a half since my last cigarette. However, it took about a year of struggling before I quit for good.
I tried the nicotine patch. I also tried applying the techniques that had helped me stay sober. They helped, but I kept slipping up.
Despite these slip ups, I kept trying. I’d go back to smoking for a day or two, then try to quit. Each time, I continued using every strategy I knew, while also doing my best to avoid anything that caused me to go back to smoking on previous attempts. Eventually, I was able to make it stick.
Ultimately, quitting my addictions didn’t require discovering some secret bit of knowledge; Instead, I got through them with a lot of hard work and a refusal to stop trying.