You never smoked–how could you understand what I am going through
Not a clinic goes by where I don’t hear this complaint from at least one participant. If I get asked about my personal smoking history on the first day of the program, the entire group often questions my ability to help them. While it may surprise many smokers, my understanding of the overall quitting process is more comprehensive primarily because I never did smoke.
There are numerous programs taught in smoking cessation, mostly by ex-smokers. The instructor often is working under the assumption that he was a “typical” smoker and what worked for him will work the same for everybody. If, when he stopped, he had little or no withdrawal, he may figure that the technique he used makes quitting an easy and painless process. Some participants in his program may have a similar experience–but others may not. In a typical group, some people will have an easy time, others will find it only moderately difficult, and a few may have real severe physical symptoms. The teacher often cannot empathize with class participants encountering difficulties. In his opinion, if they followed his approach, they should be feeling fine. The people having symptoms often begin to feel that they are abnormal. In the opposite extreme, I have encountered clinic moderators, who, when they had quit, had terrible withdrawal. An instructor like this may get a person in his group who is having only minimal difficulty and convince him that severe reactions will soon occur. If symptoms don’t develop in the class member, he may think that he is abnormal.
When I started conducting clinics, I had no preconceived idea of what quitting smoking was like or how it should be attempted. Due to a strange set of circumstances, I was asked and very reluctantly agreed to try to help seven people quit smoking. The first day of the program I showed the medical consequences of smoking, which then was my area of expertise. The next day I came to the group having absolutely nothing more to add. So I encouraged the group to talk. Four of the people had gone cold turkey. I didn’t tell them to; they were just so alarmed by the slide show that they did not want to smoke. The others had cut down drastically. All seven were complaining of symptoms. I figured that you feel some discomfort the first day no matter what you do to quit.
The next day, one of the people who had gone cold from the first day was feeling substantially better. Another who had gone cold turkey said that he was now cutting down. In actuality, he had relapsed, but neither of us recognized the significance at the time. The other five people still sounded miserable. In the fourth session, a pattern had become clearly obvious. The three who had been totally abstinent from day one said they were feeling surprisingly good. Urges were weakening and were less frequent, and physical improvements were becoming noticeable. Those who had been cutting down were increasing consumption and still suffering horribly. While the immediate effects of quitting were difficult for all, those going cold had the shortest period of suffering, and, more importantly, they were the only ones to successfully quit.
Related video: “You never smoked, how can you know what I am going through?”