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Dr Mehmet Yildiz
How I Gave Up Smoking 40 Years Ago And Never Smoked Again
We are hard-wired for addictions. The brain must be tricked into stopping addictive behaviour. It is difficult but possible to get rid of long-term addictions. Understanding thoughts and emotions are critical.
Based on my doctoral research in cognitive science, I understand that addictions create strong paths in our brains. The ongoing action of repeating a habit creates robust circuits in the brain.
There are many addictions. Some are good, and others are bad for our health. Acceptable addictions are the habits we build to perform better and enjoy our lives comfortably. Destructive addictions are the things our brain believe are good for us but in reality, harm our health.
Smoking was one of the bad habits I acquired in my late teenage years. The reason to start it was the peer group pressure or admiration towards those who smoked and showed it as a cool thing to do.
When I first time tried smoking; it was awful. However, after smoking a few times with friends at parties, I started enjoying it. In a few weeks, my body got used to it. It turned to pleasure. In a few months, it turned to addiction.
The cause of addiction is nicotine. Interestingly, I don't know why and how evolution gave it to us, but our brains have nicotine receptors.
Nicotine itself is not as harmful as it is; however, smoking cigarettes were proven extremely dangerous for health. The body of knowledge is full of evidence on the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking.
Despite all millions of people still, smoke.
When I started working in the early 80s, almost everyone was smoking. My job was stressful in an office full of technical employees. We were allowed to smoke in the office. The room was full of smoke. We kept breathing in cigarette smoke all day long.
Those a few who were not smoking were also inhaling smoke what we call secondary smoking. It looked so natural as almost everyone was smoking in the office and social settings. Even when I visit my relatives, people used to smoke in the presence of kids at home.
There was some initial research on those days, but they were producing only preliminary findings. Not many of us took notice of it. Due to my work stress, smoking at least a packet of cigarettes, and inhaling cigarette smokes started causing some health issues such as hormonal imbalance.
The first physical manifestation was my stomach discomfort. It continued for a while and turned to be unbearable. The advice I got from a healthcare professional shocked me. If I didn't give up smoking, they would cut the lower part of my stomach.
The real root cause of stomach ulcers was not known on those days. The treatment was cutting the ulcer, which believed my smoking exacerbated. This bad news shattered my views about smoking. I tried to give it up, but my body was craving for it. There were no smoke cessation aids like lozenges, patches, sprays, and gums on those days.
Fortunately, I met a caring psychologist who walked me through the process. I did not know anything about mindfulness and emotional intelligence on those days. It did not hit the mainstream. But this psychologist introduced me to observe my thoughts and feelings. She thought me to name my thoughts and feelings.
She emphasised that craving is a kind of feeling generated by the brain. When nicotine amounts drop in the body, the brain was thinking something important was being lost for our survival; hence it was notified via feelings.
Whenever craving was coming, I started seeing it as an object. I was talking to it. Here we go, another message from my brain. It was only a thought. I did not entertain the thought; hence they did not turn into feelings.
Some advice from this psychologist was critical. She said thoughts could turn into emotions, and emotions come and go. They were not permanent. By observing the emotions, and not judging them, I noticed that the unpleasant feelings were disappearing.
Besides, this psychologist taught me that these urges come from reducing nicotine from my bloodstream. She assured me that once nicotine was fully consumed from my body, the urges would stop. She was right. The hope and optimism she introduced me was an excellent motivation for me to bear with these urges. As she pointed out, after a while, the urges disappeared.
Within a few months, I did not have any urges to smoking. Once I gave up smoking my appetite increased and fed myself with nutritious food. A few months later, when they used endoscopy, my stomach was healed. The physician said, did I tell you that giving up smoking would heal your ulcer. I am not sure whether stopping to some healed the ulcer, but I was happy with the outcome.
From hindsight, things looked clearer. After years later, studying cognitive science at the postgraduate level, everything this psychologist taught me was right and made perfect sense. She helped me rewire my brain.
I remember her as an angel who touched me in my desperation.
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