Measuring Progress When Healing From Nicotine Addiction


When we put out that last cigarette and start our quit programs, thoughts of smoking are loud, and cravings, incessant. As time goes by, however, the intensity of nicotine withdrawal eases, but smoking thoughts and associated cravings still appear occasionally.  Most of us as new ex-smokers wonder if we'll ever be truly free of nicotine addiction.

This article came about from a discussion at our Smoking Cessation support forum that tackled this subject. The question was asked about how and when a person will know if they've achieved a mindset that will make smoking cessation permanent. Not an easy question to answer, but forum moderator, Mic did a beautiful job of describing the healing that takes place during recovery from her perspective.

Note: The forum discussion that spawned this article took place more than 9 years ago. I asked Mic to give us an update regarding her current level of healing from nicotine addiction. You'll see it noted at the end.

Thanks for sharing your insights with us Mic, and congratulations on the many years of smoke-freedom you have under your belt.

When Will I Not Feel Like a Fraud?

"Maybe someone with a year or more smoke-free can shed some light for me on this. When will I not feel like a fraud and know for sure that I've made it over to the other side of quitting? Ever? I'm not asking in terms of months etc., but in terms of the mind. How will I be able to tell if I've truly left smoking behind for good?"

How Healing from Nicotine Addiction Unfolded for Me

From Mic:

I've never thought of it as two sides and making it over to the other side. I see healing from nicotine addiction more as a continuum...a progression line.

Let me explain.

Using the graph above, think of -5 as smoking with no intentions of quitting and not feeling a bit guilty about it. Moving to the right, -3 represents smoking but thoughts of quitting have crept in. There is still no commitment to quit, though. At -1 on the graph, one is smoking but committed to quitting and planning for the journey.

The 0 on the graph signifies quit day! In the two-sided scenario you mentioned, this would be the fence.

Now, looking at the 'plus' side of the graph, +5 represents people who never have smoked. That keeps this end of the graph pretty much out of our reach. +1 represents the first few months after quitting. Not smoking is uncomfortable (to say the least). This is also the 'feeling like a fraud' stage. Rather than feeling like an ex-smoker, you probably feel like a smoker who's trying not to smoke. Your quit program is fragile and your mind is trying to divorce itself from the act of smoking and adjust to life without cigarettes.

Moving on, +2 brings more confidence in the quitting process, and not smoking becomes 'comfortable' some of the time. Triggers are much easier to manage, and not smoking begins to feel more 'natural'. There are still occasional urges to smoke, and times when you might think, "Gee, a cigarette would be great just about now." Your quit is not as fragile as it was at +1, but vigilance is still very important.

By the time you reach +3, you rarely have an urge to smoke. Cravings do still occur now and again, but it is usually more of a fleeting thought about smoking, rather than a prolonged period of discomfort.

Not smoking feels natural now, and quitting is not an effort anymore. At +3 however, vigilance is still advisable.

Update from Mic:

Fast-forward through time more than 9 years to the present, and I find myself happily and securely at +4. I'm not sure exactly when I made this last transition, but it has been several years since I seriously entertained the idea of smoking a cigarette. I have been tested in some pretty big ways over the years. I think the bottom line is that smoking simply has nothing of value to offer me. The truth is that it never did.

Key in reaching this level has to have been permanently correcting all my false perceptions about smoking.

I have broken all associations with smoking and honestly, I just don't want to smoke anymore.

I believe 100% that every person has the ability to reach this same level of comfort and confidence. Trust in, and be patient with, the process. Take advantage of the healing powers afforded by the passage of time.

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