“You” Want to Stop Smoking? Which Part of You?
First of all, it’s best to admit that not all of you wants to stop smoking. Otherwise, you already would have. Part of you certainly does—the wise part that knows that taking the risk of dying from lung cancer is no way to behave. But another part of you isn’t going along with that reasoning. And that part of you seems to be in control.
This way of thinking about an addiction or habit—any addiction or habit—is far more powerful than assigning responsibility to your DNA. Whether or not you enjoy tobacco or nicotine more than others do is really irrelevant, after all. Whether or not some part of your brain tends to have more activity in it when performing repetitive actions like smoking doesn’t really matter. Because I promise you there is no DNA sequence that makes quitting cigarettes impossible. Hence, you are the thing in your way. But not all of you.
Again, it’s best to admit that you aren’t of one mind, at all. Part of you wants to quit. Part of you wants to smoke. It feels good, or it relieves stress, or whatever. So, the key is to appoint the sensible supervisor inside you as “in charge.” You’re going to have to take control of the rogue, slowly suicidal or hedonistic-tobacco-puffing you.
I’ve made this point before, but I will, again, here: You should talk to yourSELF. Give your Supervisor Self a voice. Maybe he or she tells your Smoking Self, “Look, I know you want to go buy cigarettes. I get it. You’re anxious. You can even tell me what’s making you anxious or how it feels. But we aren’t buying cigarettes, period. It isn’t happening. We’re not going to be one of those people who quits after a heart attack or a lung tumor. So, start talking. I’ll listen. But I won’t buy us cigarettes.”
Sounds crazy, right. Well, it isn’t. Because you have a Benedict Arnold inside you, obviously, and ignoring that fact might well cost you your life. So, you had better take control. And if the tone that I have suggested with the Smoking Self sounds a lot like talking to a child, there may be a reason for that. Cigarettes are a lot like pacifiers. Cigarettes are a lot like nursing. Cigarettes are a way to self-soothe, maybe because you never were soothed by those around you.
Forget all that Freudian stuff, though. Grow up. Just take control of the spoiled brat who wants to suck down some smoke. Get mad at him, if you have to. Don’t be afraid to use a few obscenities. “Fuck you, if you think you’re going to kill us.” Hey, listen: Your life is at stake. It isn’t time for pleasantries.
Many, many of us have self-destructive patterns. And it isn’t a great idea to think of them as “tendencies,” either. They aren’t. They’re more fully formed than that. They’re much more like walled off, separate, self-destructive components of ourselves (plural, intended) that need to be understood, but also aggressively contained. Your smoking self is Vladimir Putin, burning your good self down.
By the way, the same is true for the parts of us that are trying to kill us by overeating or by drinking too much alcohol or by gambling away our hard-earned money.
Is it painful to take control away from those parts of ourselves? You bet it is. Will it make us more powerful? No question at all.
Dr. Keith Ablow