Ever since I managed to kick my habit of injecting opiates and found a path back to recovery, I've desperately wanted to add cigarettes to the list of substances I'm no longer actively addicted to. Over the years, my relationship with Cigarettes had become abusive, and I was no longer happy. I had made several attempts to break it off and leave, but Cigarettes would have absolutely none of it. Our toxic relationship was effecting my health, causing problems in my chest and lungs, and leaving me feeling down and defeated. Yet try as I might, I just wasn't able to completely break it off and make the big leap into a tobacco-free life... until now.
When I initially started Methadone Maintenance Treatment, the thought of quitting smoking, while very appealing, was the further thing from my mind. Of course I would have liked nothing more than to quit, but it wasn't the time. I felt strongly that taking it one vice at a time was plenty; and my little (ahem, BIG) problem with banging opiates took the top spot. At that time, I was in a pretty rough spot. Homeless, I was panning for money, and had damaged literally every relationship with family/friends except for my husband. (who was in the same situation, right along with me). I promise you, all of this was not because of the cigarettes. Taking it one vice at a time, I focused all of my energy onto my Methadone treatment and worked at starting to rebuild my life. I slowly started to see some amazing results.
With plenty of effort and a bit of time, I was beginning to regain stability in my life. As my Methadone dose increased, I was able to decrease the amount of opiates I was injecting until I was injecting none at all. I found my way out of homelessness, and into an apartment for myself and Mr. L. Things were finally starting to look up. At that time, I did honestly still enjoy smoking. While ideally I would have liked to be free of the habit, there were no serious plans for quitting on the horizon. I wasn't ready.
Fast forward about 2 years later, into the Summer of 2014. For a few months now, I had been feeling differently about my lingering tobacco addiction. I no longer enjoyed it the same way I used to, and was beginning to feel the effects of smoking for the past 8+ years. I had dealt with a couple bouts of Bronchitis, shortness of breath during exertion, coughing, and I was just generally feeling shitty. I now hated the fact that I was still smoking. I was finally ready to make my first serious attempt at quitting.
At the time, I was hearing plenty of buzz surrounding the use of E-Cigarettes as 'tobacco harm reduction' and for smoking cessation. Stories of success seemed as though they were everywhere, and I figured I would give it a go and see if it could work for me, too. I did some light research, chatted with various E-Cig aficionados via social media, and started comparing basic E-Cig models. There was quite the range in price depending on what your particular needs were, however, I wasn't willing to spend a ton of money on something I wasn't even sure that I would like, let alone use for more than a few days. After scouring my local vape and head shops and coming up empty, I was feeling somewhat defeated. I decided to take a chance on calling the local surplus store; they carry just about everything, why not E-Cigs? Luckily for me, they happened to carry a basic model that would be enough to get me started.
I started my first attempt with the E-Cig in the Summer of 2014, sharing a few different posts about my progress (or lack thereof) here on the blog. While things seemed to be going well in the beginning, with me thinking that I might actually find success this route, it didn't end up working out. I wrote three entries, and then just stopped updating, as there wasn't anything but failure to update on. While I did find the E-Cigs to be somewhat helpful at reducing the number of cigarettes I smoked, I was unable to stop smoking cigarettes completely. Disappointed I wasn't achieving the results I had hoped for, I shelved the E-Cig and returned to Tobacco full-time.
Once October of 2014 rolled around, I was ready to give this 'quit smoking' business another go. This time, though, I wanted to try something different. My neighbour at the time had mentioned a program run by the Province of Ontario called "Leave The Pack Behind," which would send out an 8 week supply of Habitrol Patches or Thrive Gum; all for free. I was extremely excited to get a chance to try the patch, as I otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford to do so. Within just a few days, my package arrived and I was ready to give it shot. *If you are an Ontario resident interested in finding out more about the "Leave The Pack Behind" program, visit www.leavethepackbehind.org for information on how to order).
The Habitrol patches came in three strengths, which is designed to help taper the dose of nicotine over time. The higher dose Habitrol patches were slightly larger than I had expected, and I initially struggled to find a suitable area on my body to place the patch. I tried many different spots, from various areas on my back to my chest, but eventually settled on my upper arm. I found that the adhesive on the patch wouldn't stick properly or last long when placed anywhere else. Even on my arm, it wasn't as simple as 'peel and stick'; it took some preparation to ensure that the patch would actually stay put. Prior to placing it, I would lightly wash the spot with soap to remove any excess oil on my skin, and use a razor to shave away any fine hairs. Once my skin was fully dry, I would firmly place the patch on my skin, applying pressure along with the heat from my hand, to help set the adhesive.
The Habitrol patches were certainly helpful in allowing me to significantly reduce the amount of cigarettes I was smoking. However, just like the E-Cig, I wasn't able to stop smoking cigarettes completely. I was extremely disappointed by the fact that I couldn't manage to get below a few cigarettes a day, even with help of an E-Cig and patches. Regardless of that failure, I gave the patches another try in September 2015, but it didn't last long. I wasn't finding them to be near as helpful as they were the first time around, and they seemed to be causing irritation to my chest and skin. So, I scrapped my efforts once again.
While visiting my Family Physician for an unrelated issue, he started discussing my previous attempts to quit smoking, recommending I give the medication called Champix a try. I was familiar with it, having heard a range of reviews; all the way from "horrendous, stay away," to "a smashing success."Undeterred by the negative reviews I had heard, I let him write up the prescription and took it with me to the pharmacy to be filled. Once I had the medication, I started following the regimen prescribed on the inside of the Champix box, as instructed. Unfortunately, it didn't take long before I began experiencing side effects. Shortly after taking a dose, I would be struck with overwhelming nausea, which inevitably led to plenty of vomiting. I felt like shit, and despite the fact that it was actually giving me decent craving relief, I was still smoking. Disappointed with the side effects and the fact that I was still hadn't cut cigarettes out completely, I scrapped my attempt with Champix.
The next several months were filled with various attempts at weaning myself down off cigarettes, or going cold turkey. None of the attempts stuck, and I never even managed to make it 24 hours smoke free when trying to go cold turkey. To say that I was feeling incredibly defeated would be a massive understatement. I had failed all of my attempts at quitting. I hated smoking, and wanted nothing more to do with it; yet I just couldn't manage to stop. I felt utterly pathetic. Here I was, to the point of experiencing unpleasant side effects, yet I still couldn't manage to control my habit. I had tried just about every option designed to increase ones chances of successfully quitting, and I had still failed. I had tried the gum a few years back, patches, vaping, and now Champix; all failures. I had managed to overcome intravenous drug use, opiate addiction, and homelessness, but it was going to be cigarettes that defeated me? It had me feeling fucking ridiculous, and beyond weak.
Then, one November evening while going about my usual bedtime routine, I stumbled across my old package of Champix tossed in amongst my old makeup bag. Wondering why I even bothered to keep it, I grabbed the package, opening it up to reveal the remaining unused pills. I had about two weeks worth of unused pills remaining in the package from my previous attempt. As I looked over those remaining pills, I shook my head, and contemplated giving it another go; side effects be damned! I placed my fingers over the pill, popped it out from inside the blister packaging, and tossed it into my mouth. I mean really, what did I have to lose at this point?
For those of you who aren't familiar with Champix, here's a quick rundown: Champix, or Varenicline, is a prescription medication that is used for the purpose of smoking cessation. It falls under the category of what we call 'MAT', or a 'Medication Assisted Treatment'. Champix is a partial nicotinic receptor agonist, meaning it works in the brain by partially stimulating our nicotine receptors, helping to reduce the cravings we feel for cigarettes and decease the pleasure associated with smoking them. It does not , however, contain any actual nicotine.
This time around, I went about things a little bit differently. I initially didn't tell anyone I was trying to give Champix a second go. I felt that it added more pressure on me that I really didn't need. While some people appreciate and benefit from the support offered by others, I initially didn't want it (nor did I want to bear the disappointment of another failure). I waited a little over a week after popping the first pill before mentioning anything of it to anyone. I had intended on waiting even longer than I did, but I got so excited about my success around my second day smoke-free that I just had to spill the news.
In hopes of increasing my chances of success on my second attempt, I made the decision not to take the full dose that is used in the Champix regimen. That might sound a little backwards, but I'll explain my reasoning. First, let me make it very clear that I do NOT advise self-dosing of any medication, so be sure that you speak with a Doctor (which I am not!) prior to making changes of any kind in your medication regimines! Just like Grama used to tell me, "do as I say, not as I do." Simply put, I discovered from my first attempt with Champix that anything over a certain dose caused me a whole lot of nausea and vomiting. So, this time around, I kept my dose just below that level. I found that my new dosing regimen allowed me to avoid the unpleasant side effects I had experienced the first time, while still getting enough of the medication in system to allow for effective craving relief.
On a Saturday afternoon, after more than 8 years of smoking, and approximately 7 days after starting Champix, I took my very last haul off of my very last cigarette. As of today, I am officially FOURTEEN (14!) full days smoke-free, and it feels wonderful! I mean really fucking wonderful. It feels physically and mentally amazing to be without cigarettes; and it happened surprisingly quick. Within the first few days, I already began to notice myself feeling different. I just felt "better," and as if I could breathe a bit clearer. Now, almost at the two week mark, I notice that I'm not getting winded near as quickly, and I no longer carry a "slightly unwell" feeling around with me like I used to. I'm absolutely thrilled with the difference I feel, and it is still so early yet!
The fact that I'm "X" number of days smoke free is all well and good, but let's talk about those cravings. I personally found that Champix very effectively relieved my physical cravings for nicotine. I was surprised how well it did at relieving them. The psychological, however, were very much still there. While on Champix I never felt like I physically NEEDED a smoke. Did I want them? You bet your ass I did; but I didn't physically need them. That psychological "want" is strong, and surprisingly good at making it seem like a dire need. I'd find my mind trying to convince me of exactly that when certain cues arose, like after eating/finishing a meal. My mind would automatically be trained to think "okay, it's time for a smoke now," and I would have to find the will power to overcome that thought process and engrained habit. With the Champix providing me relief on the physical side of things, I was slowly able to get a handle on it and overcome the mental side. Thanks to that little bit of extra help, I was actually able to cut cigarettes out completely. Finally! I am still taking Champix, but am currently in the process of weaning myself off it. I plan to be done that process and off it completely within the next two weeks.
I absolutely love being able to say that I'm no longer a smoker. I won't lie to you guys, it feels really great when someone comes up to me looking to bum a smoke, and I am able to say "Nope, I quit!" I am extremely proud of myself for finally succeeding, and getting myself on the path to becoming a permanent non-smoker. Once again, MAT (Medication Assisted Treatment) saves the day for me!
If you are a smoker looking to quit or who has been struggling to quit, please do not give up. There were SO MANY times I got to the point that I simply didn't think quitting would be possible, but I now know that it is not only possible, it's within reach. Don't give up. Don't be afraid to try the various different options designed to help; whether it be the gum, inhaler, e-cig, patch, or pill. Don't hesitate to help increase your chances of success. Quitting is possible!
Have you quit smoking? Are you currently trying to quit smoking? Tell me all about it, and what helped you quit, in the comments below!
By K. Lanktree
- Freelance Writer -
- Blog Mistress -
- Former IV Drug User -
- Methadone Patient -
- Lover of all things Harm Reduction -
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