Relapse every time you quit smoking? You need to change your language…

Smoking is for losers. Fact! Vaping is super weird looking, expensive and probably also bad for you. Opinion! You may be trying to quit your nicotine addiction as we speak or perhaps you already managed the hard part and now you’re worried it won’t last. If you want to avoid relapse within the first year of quitting smoking or vaping then you need to change your language and your thinking. Here’s why…

We all know the drill. The first couple of days sound something like this…

This is hell on earth. How will I get through it? I’ll vape while I think about it… Oh DAMN!

This is terrible….How will I get through …. where are my fags? ……oh DAMN!

I’ll call my mum to take my mind off it….where’s my cigarettes?…. FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!!!!

This insanity is soon replaced by a less manic sense of deprivation, which goes more like this…

I wish I could have a cigarette. But I can’t.

I would kill for a smoke. Never mind.

Right now I would love a cigarette. But I quit.

Man sitting on sofa depressed. Relapse every time you quit smoking?  You need to change your language...
(Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash)

And finally, with the support of our family and friends, we get through the worst of it.

I am a relapse expert!

I smoked my first cigarette at 9 years old. It was back when you could buy them individually and a pack of 10 was only 99p. Jesus, I’m old! My smoking career lasted on and off for 30 years and it’s with immense relief that I can finally say, I am free of cravings and won’t (touching loads of wood) ever smoke again.

I spent years in a vicious cycle: quitting smoking, relapsing, starting smoking, vaping for a bit, quitting, smoking, vaping, quitting, relapsing and so on. Somehow my resolve always crumbled and I would be back at the tobacco counter, sheepish and ashamed….

“20 Marlboro please.”

“Marlboro Red? Marlboro Gold?”

“Anything. Just give me NICOTINE!”

The physical addiction was long gone so why the hell was I back in the madness?

I had secretly been giving nicotine the come on

I never stopped saying how much I wanted a cigarette. My thoughts didn’t change from day one of quitting. My language around nicotine was still ‘I’d love one’, ‘I’m not allowed’, ‘kill for one’, ‘I gave it up, ‘wish I could’. All the while I wasn’t smoking I was still hanging on to the idea that a cigarette was something positive. That smoking was a good thing I was being denied. All this was very much unconscious.

Although, I wasn’t physicially smoking, emotionally I was still totally caught up in the relationship.

Smoked cigarette
(Photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash)

In the alcohol addiction world this is referred to as being a dry drinker or an unmedicated alcoholic. The addict is not physically engaged with the addiction but emotionally they are still in the relationship. And it literally is an abusive relationship with nicotine playing the abuser. The only way to break the cycle is to change your beliefs and stop seeing yourself and nicotine as star-crossed lovers. Unless you do so then a smoking or vaping relapse is almost guaranteed.

I was a slave but I set myself free

When I finally quit smoking I had been on and off for years. That particular bout was 6 months of mostly vaping but smoking if I was at a party. I smoked or vaped first thing in the morning with my coffee and always saw that as an exquisite luxury. A glass of wine had to be accompanied by a cigarette but then again so did every hour of the day no matter what I was doing. I was a proper slave.

Some people only smoke when they drink or only have 1 or 2 a night (my sister does this – God knows how). If you have to smoke or vape every night then you’re addicted to the ritual and that stuff is so hard to break. … Unless, you change your beliefs.

How do you change your beliefs about smoking?

If you smoke then you believe that smoking is doing something good for you. When you stop it’s because you decided it wasn’t. But you can’t just change your physical behaviour. You have to change your thoughts too.

Changing your thoughts is easier than it sounds, especially when it comes to addiction. The number one way for me is by changing my language. You have to consciously alter your words, both in your head and out loud.

Every time you say or think something positive about nicotine you are sending it a message: a message that you are still available, still thinking about it and wish you could be in each other’s arms. You are giving nicotine power over you. You are subconsciously longing for a relapse.

Here’s what I mean.

Example 1

You’re walking past a pub and people are smoking outside. You smell the smoke and it takes you back to when you used to be a smoker. Instinctively you think,

I wish I could have one.

You just sent a message to your ex-lover nicotine. It’s like finally escaping a husband who beat you every night but then sending him a text regularly to say how much you miss him. Having overcome the crippling fear of living alone, why on earth would you want him to know that you think of him regularly?

Nicotine is always there. Addiction is always there. The abuser is always there, ready to take you back and hold on to you even tighter than before.

Example 2

You are at a party and a small group of social smokers are outside. One of them calls you over to offer you a cigarette. You decline, saying,

God, you have no idea how much I would love to but I gave it up.

That was another message to nicotine, letting it know that your door is always open. That you are still committed to it as much as you ever were. In fact, if it weren’t for other people telling you the relationship was bad for you, you would take nicotine back in a heartbeat.

Just like any drug addiction, the relationship is completely one sided. You are not in control until you take control. Simply not engaging in the physical activity of drug taking won’t put you back in control. You are secretly sending messages to nicotine that you would gladly take it back if you could.

Change your language, change your thoughts, rule out relapse

Make a list of all the terrible things about cigarettes. All the things you can’t stand. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

  • I stink when I smoke
  • Vaping makes me look like I’m on fire
  • A cigarette gives me a head rush if I haven’t smoked in a while
  • It can make me feel nauseous
  • There’s a 1 in 2 chance it’ll kill me
  • Nobody actually knows how vaping effects us longterm
  • I will feel like a massive dick if I go back to it after all that pain

(Notice how low on the list cancer is. The power of addiction!!)

Now, every time you see someone smoking, vaping or you get a whiff of smoke, make the conscious effort to think something bad about nicotine.

If I had that cigarette I would instantly regret it.

I can almost taste the nausea

I would stink of stale fags

My breath would be bad

Nicotine is an insidious drug and I am the master of my life

There are so many ways that changing your language can change your life. Addiction is a major battle but language is a potent weapon in your armoury against it. Just make sure you catch yourself whenever you venture into positive thinking and talking about vaping or smoking.

Eventually you will have chiselled away at the shrine you’ve built to nicotine and it’s hold over you will evaporate. If you’re in the early days of quitting then I salute you. You’re amazing! Wherever you are in your quitting story, make sure you’re the narrator. It’s your life and you are running it. Be free!

Lady smiling drinking coffee. Relapse every time you quit smoking?  You need to change your language...
(Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels)

Visit the NHS website for more quitting help. NHS Stop Smoking Resource