It was high noon, May 16, when Rebecca, Liz and I headed to the MT smoking pit for our last smoke. Wed agreed to quit together for an admittedly unscientific experiment, which I would document in this alternative health issue.
With deluded enthusiasm, we chose three different alternative quitting methods: CigArrest homeopathic lozenges and gum; a meditation tape using guided imagery; and an herbal stop-smoking patch. All were non-nicotine-based, and therefore nonaddictive.
But on that fateful day, we each admitted we werent entirely ready to quit. In fact we were one sad group of lab rats.
Tip 1: Before trying to stop smoking, you should really want to quit, and want to quit for the right reasons.
For instance, the CigArrest literature recommends quitting "for yourself and your new healthy life."
Between last puffs, Rebecca, 24, reminisced about how she once quit cold turkey for four months.
"But that was early on in my, uh, smoking career." Four years later, she explained, cigarettes had become a work thing, a social thing and a stress thing. We empathized.
"I was quitting once a week for a few months there last summer," said Liz, 25, whos smoked for five years and currently inhales a pack a day. Liz had also tried cold turkey and using the antidepressant Zyban, which once helped her quit for three weeks.
Ive quit a few times, once for several months, during my (gulp) seven years of smoking. I always used Nicorette gum, only to become addicted to it and go back to smoking.
This time, we selected our methods by drawing crumpled bits of paper. Rebecca got Health Journeys: A Meditation to Help You Stop Smoking, the guided imagery tape by Time Warner. She immediately predicted it wouldnt work.
"Im probably going to need six cups of coffee today," she said.
"That just makes me crave more cigarettes, " Liz said.
"I cant believe I got myself into this," I moaned.
Tip 2: Practice positive self-talk, or affirmations.
Heres an example from the imagery tape: "I know that the time for battling with myself is over. ... I call upon my intention to shed this habit and heal my body."
Liz drew the CigArrest homeopathic gum and lozenges, which contain the herb lobelia inflata, or Indian tobacco, which supposedly imitates the neurobiological effects of nicotine. According to the CigArrest literature, it has "helped nearly 4 million people." We assume that means they stopped smoking.
I drew the Nicotine Buster patch, made by Herbal Care New Zealand, Ltd., which was hard to find until we tracked down its American distributor. The patches contain organic "catalytic extracts" of catnip, valerian, angelica, peppermint, echinacea, magnolia, lemon balm and violet. I stuck one on.
About an hour after we returned to our desks, my stomach felt a little weird, and I started wanting a you-know-what. I went to check on the others. Rebecca was on the phone. Liz was missing.
I returned to my alcove, eventually succumbing to herbal sedation.
"Did I mention that I hate you?" said ex-smoking buddy Rebecca. At about 3 p.m., shed decided to drop in for an update, clutching the meditation tape in her hands. She hasnt listened yet.
"Im just kidding," she said. "Its not that bad, yet. But I have to go out and get in my car!"
Ah, the deep significance of getting into a car without a cigarette. I wont bother explaining. Lets just say its a trigger.
Three hours later, while driving home, I was the first to cave in. I was testing the patchs nicotine aversion properties discussed in the promotional materials. I wasnt averted.
The next afternoon, while I struggled to get back on the wagon, Rebecca was falling off.
"The tape is hokey," she said. Even if it did make her think about dying in the hospital from swollen lungs "I didnt realize there was swelling!" it wasnt enough. "I think maybe I need to quit by myself," she said.
Meanwhile Liz, alone in her abstinence, was having a nic fit.
"The gum isnt working," she announced, tapping a pen rapidly against her knee. "Maybe thats because theres no nicotine in it."
Wasnt that the point?
I made the mistake of admitting I hadnt managed to entirely drop my measly eight-to-10 cigarettes per day, about half of what Liz normally smokes. She looked a little peeved. "You should be able to quit!"
Tip 3: Expect feelings of irritability during cigarette withdrawal. Remember, your body is healing.
Liz allowed herself three cigarettes that evening after a meal, another common smoking trigger.
"I figure three is better than a pack," she said. But the real kicker came Friday: After plowing into the car in front of her in a five-car collision, Liz ran over and, seeing that the driver was OK, bummed a smoke.
"Smoking is an alternative to health," one of our colleagues noted while smoking with Rebecca downstairs.
"Hey," I said. "Can I have just a drag?"
On vacation the following week, I quit for a few days using the herbal patch. Then it was back to work, and smoking. By that time, all three of us had quit quitting, and I was starting to fear for this little ill-fated charade.
Then I remembered reading somewhere about using a combination of methods.
Tip 4: Using diverse approaches, such as medication and behavior modification, tends to be a successful approach to quitting smoking.
I had an idea. "Why dont I try all three methods on myself?"
"Dont you think youll explode?" asked Rebecca.
Over the weekend, I played the tapes and read the CigArrest literature, where I picked up even more quitting tips.
Tips 5 and 6: Drinking lots of fluids such as water or juice helps flush the nicotine from your system and reduces withdrawal symptoms; and throw out all cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays and other stuff you associate with smoking.
My denial, too, went into the trash. Ouch!
Two days later, I hadnt had a cigarette. Dosed with lobelia inflata, armed with yet another glass of water, and using guided imagery, I can almost envision the tiny cilia in my lungs healthily re-emerging like amber waves of grain. Its not exactly the botanical bliss Id hoped for, but this entire process does seem to be bolstering my resolve to stop smoking. Maybe I will.
Whats that they say?
Tip 7: Never quit quitting.Jennifer Bagwell is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org