Thoughts that seem worse than urges experienced the first few days
The urges that happen weeks or months after initial quitting can catch you much more off guard than the urges encountered during the first few days. When you had an urge at 10:00 am the day you quit smoking, it was no big deal. You likely had one at 9:55 am just before it. In fact, the first few days if you went to long without an urge you would have felt something was wrong. Although, some people just have one urge that first day. It hits them when they wake up, goes away when they go to sleep, at which point they dream about smoking all night. In essence, it was chronic.
When you start to get more time under your belt not smoking, the triggers become more sporadic. At first separated by minutes, then hours, eventually days and weeks. But they still happen. When they occur after a long period of time they catch you much more off guard.
Also, in the beginning, when your guard is up and urges are frequent, you are constantly talking yourself through them. You are then basically reinforcing your resolve over and over again all day long. When you stop having chronic urges, you naturally stop reinforcing your resolve throughout the day. Then when the trigger hits, not having talked yourself through it very recently, you sometimes have a harder time mustering up the initial motivation for quitting and ammunition for staying off.
One other factor happens with time making urges feel stronger. You start to forget smoking but still remember the "good" cigarettes. You forget the ones you smoked automatically, paying no real attention to even as you smoked them. You forget the nasty one you despised as you smoked them. You forget all the associated annoyances that went with being a smoker. Then you start to remember the best cigarette you ever had in your life. If you focus on this cigarette without recalling all the others and the problems that went with the others, it is hard to not want it.
But that "one" cigarette concept is a fantasy. Not smoking will never be as good as that fantasy, but smoking will not be like that fantasy either. Smoking is what it was at the end, the day you quit—not what it was like early on when it initially hooked you. At the end, smoking was annoying enough to make you want to quit, even though you were going through a horrid withdrawal and psychological readjustment process to do it. You then understood that smoking was making life complicated, ruining your health and basically slowly killing you. Well, cigarettes haven’t changed. Just your memories of them have.
Remember cigarettes as they really were, not how you wished they were. Then when the urge is triggered, you will have the ammunition to squelch it. You will recognize that you were just having a bad moment, when you were quitting you were having "bad days." When you were smoking you were a slave to a product that was killing you. You fought long and hard to overcome that control and you never want to relinquish your freedom of choice over such a deadly product again. To keep the control, remember, when the urge is triggered—never take another puff!
“You said it would get better. It's just as bad as the day I quit smoking!”
Recently I was met with this warm greeting from a clinic participant on his 8th day without smoking. As you may recall, we explain during the clinic that if a smoker can get through the first three days without smoking, the physiological withdrawal will start to diminish, and within two weeks all physiological withdrawal will stop.
While we can accurately predict the physiological withdrawal, psychological withdrawals can occur at anytime. It is possible that the urge this man was having was just as painful as the ones he had a week earlier. While the urge may have been as strong, it was different. When he had an urge before, there was really nothing he could do to get over it. If he just held out a few minutes, the urge would pass. But psychological urges are more under the ex-smoker's conscious control. A good analogy demonstrating the difference between physiological and psychological pain can be seen by analyzing a common toothache.
A rotting tooth can cause a lot of pain. If your dentist explains to you why the tooth hurts it really doesn't resolve the situation. You know why it hurts, but it still hurts. Simply understanding physical pain does not make the pain go away.
To illustrate another point, say you go to the dentist and find out that you have a cavity. He has to drill the tooth and put in a filling. The drilling can be a very rough experience. After it is all over the pain will stop, but whenever you hear the sound of a dentist's drill, even if it's years later, you cringe at the thought of the pain. Once you realize that you are simply reacting to the sound, you know that you are not really in danger and the reaction will end. Understanding the root of the fear alleviates the anxiety and the associated pain.
Any urges for cigarettes that occur today are reactions to conditioned triggers. You are doing or experiencing something for the first time without smoking. It may be going to a bar, a wedding or going on a plane. It may be seeing a person or being in a place where you always had a cigarette in the past. It may be something you hear or even an old familiar aroma. The sense of smell is a powerful mechanism for triggering old emotional feelings.
So today, if you find yourself desiring a cigarette, look around you and see why at this particular time and place a cigarette is on your mind. Once you understand that the desire is being triggered by some reaction to an insignificant event, you can just say "no" to the cigarette without further problem. All you need to do is understand what triggered the thought. The urge will pass. The next time you encounter a similar situation you will not even think of a cigarette. You will have learned how to face another experience as a ex-smoker.
Quitting smoking is a learning experience. Every time you overcome an urge you will have overcome another obstacle that threatened your status as an ex-smoker. As time goes by, you will run out of obstacles and you can comfortably go through life a happier and healthier person. All you need to remember and practice to stay an ex-smoker is - NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF.
The Terrible 3's
You will often hear the concept of the terrible three's in regards to quitting smoking. How things just go bad at three days, three weeks, three months, and three years. Except for the three day issue which has a real physiological basis, I do not put a lot of stock into the concept of the terrible threes, especially the 21-day or 3 year's mark. The three-day issue is a real phenomenon, although for some people it is a one-day or two-day issue and it may be eased up by the third day so that one is not even etched in stone. The three-month issue has a basis, but it is not physiologically based, but more so it is probably from seasonal variation.
As ex-smokers start pulling out their old wardrobes, start experiencing new weather conditions, start watching different sports seasons, start preparing for different holidays and events, these are all first time experiences without a cigarette. If a person quits in the heat of summer, there is no way they learn how to shovel snow, or scrape ice without a cigarette. Maybe driving in snow and ice always scared them. That scare would lead to increased smoking, intricately intertwining the two activities. The first time encountering the condition will be an automatic feeling of needing to smoke. On the same token, if they quit in winter, they have no idea how to lay in the sun on a warm day. These are activities that also, by the nature of lasting twenty minutes or longer, would also become a smoking associated activity. While the winter-summer changes are dramatic contrasts, the three-month seasonal changes are still significant enough to elicit smoking thoughts.
You overcome these triggers the same way you overcome the original triggers-just don't give into them. The first time it will be a stronger thought, but after successfully overcoming the specific event, it will become easier and easier each successive time. Eventually, not smoking will become the habit for the specific event.
You need to be prepared for these periodic fluctuations in number of smoking thoughts. Not because of the terrible threes, just because you need to be prepared everyday that there might be moments where there is a desire for a cigarette. It is a matter of always keeping your guard up, and remembering that not smoking is important everyday. Still comes down to the premise of waking up everyday and saying to yourself, "I will not smoke today," and going to bed each night proud of the accomplishment. Do this and you will make it through all the "terrible threes" (and they might now be in anyway terrible) having been able to successfully Never Take Another Puff!