The recovered cocaine addict, the heroin addict, the nicotine addict - each knows the law of addiction. They’ve heard it over and over and over. Just one, just once, that's all it ever takes and it's back! They’ve also read or heard about the relapse study data indicating that 95% of recovered addicts who take just one puff, one hit, one snort or one injection, experience full and complete relapse. They know the rule of addiction and they know what happens if they break it. Then why do we?
There are three primary factors associated with relapse: (1) rewriting the law of addiction; (2) an excuse; and, (3) a vague memory. It doesn’t matter if it happens within two weeks after quitting, two months, two years, or twenty years, the factors remain the same and apply to all of us. Rewriting the law of addiction is easy and you don’t need a pencil, paper or computer to do it.
"Just one puff" and then "do not pass go, do not collect $200, but go directly to the addict’s prison and surrender your freedom for good." It isn’t that the recovering nicotine addict doesn’t know or believe the law of addiction, because we do. It’s just that we begin to believe that we’re the exception. We convince ourselves that we’re stronger than those who wrote the law, and those came before us. We amend the law. We put ourselves above it. "Just one, it’ll be ok, I can handle it, I'm stronger than the others, a little reward, it's been a while, I’ve earned it."
I’m sorry. As soon as those words are spoken, it's over. Instead of saying that you can handle "just one," a truthful statement would have been “I can handle them all, give them all back to me, my entire addiction, all the ashtrays, the coughs, the smells, I want it all back.” It’s far easier to create an exception to the “law” than to admit the truth. A one pack a day addiction is 7,300 cigarettes a year. Don’t picture smoking just one. Picture smoking 7,300 each and every year. "To thine own self be true." You deserve the truth - you paid the price - you earned it.
The excuse can be anything. Usually the addict waits for that great excuse to come along, but some get tired of waiting and any old excuse will do. Even joy! A reunion with an old smoking buddy, a few drinks with friends, a wedding, a graduation, or even a baby’s birth and a free nicotine laden cigar, why not! But joyful relapse is harder to explain to yourself and to those you love.
The smart nicotine addict waits for the great excuse, the one that we know we can sell to ourselves and others. As sick as it may sound, the easiest to sell and the best of all is the death of a loved one. Although everyone we love is destined to die and it will happen sooner or later, for the reformed addict it’s the perfect excuse for relapse. I mean, who can blame us for ingesting highly addictive drugs into our bodies upon our mother’s death. Anyone who does would have to be extremely insensitive or totally heartless! Right? Losing a job, the end of a relationship, illness, disease or financial problems are all are great excuses too - it’s drug time again! The addicts back!
But an excuse doesn’t work alone. It needs help. Failing memories of “why” we were willing to put ourselves through pure “Hell” in order to break free, breathes fatal life into any excuse. Most of us failed to keep a detailed record of why we quit or what it was like. Instead, we're forced to rely upon our memory to accurately and vividly preserve the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But now, the memory in which we placed all our trust has failed us.
It isn’t that your memory is bad, faulty or doing anything wrong. In fact, it’s working as it should to preserve in as much detail as possible the joyful events of life, while forgetting, as quickly as possible, all the pain and hurt that we’ve felt, including all of the wrong we’ve done. To have our brains do otherwise would make life inside our minds unbearable. If women were forced to remember the true agony and intense pain of childbirth, most would have just one. God blessed us with the gift to forget.
So how does the reformed nicotine addict who failed to keep accurate records of their journey, revive their passion for freedom and recall the price they paid for liberty. If we forget the past, are we destined to repeat it? Not necessarily. It doesn’t have to be. But just as any loving relationship needs nourishment to flourish, we can never take our quit for granted or the flame will eventually die and the fire will go out. We have to want to protect it until the day we die. We have to turn that "want" into action. If we do, we win. If not, our fate may be similar to almost all who don’t - relapse followed by crippling disease or early death.
Whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, our quit needs care. If you don’t have a detailed log to regularly review upon each anniversary of your quit or at each birthday, do your best to create one now. Talk to those still smoking and ask for help in revitalizing your memories. Encourage them to be as truthful as possible. Although they may look like they’re enjoying smoking, the primary joy they get is in keeping their body’s nicotine level with the comfort zone, so as to avoid the agony of early withdrawal. Show them your pen and paper, let them help you make your list. You may even cause a spark in them. Be kind and sincere. It wasn't long ago that those were our shoes.
Think about that first week. What was it like? Can you still feel the powerful craves as your body begged and cried to be fed? Can you still feel the pain? Do you see yourself not being able to concentrate, having difficulty sleeping, feeling depressed, angry, irritable, frustrated, restless, with tremendous anxiety, a foggy mind, sweating palms, rapidly cycling emotions, irrational thinking, emotional outbursts or even the shakes? Do you remember these things? Do you remember the price you paid for freedom?
If you have access to a computer, you wont’ need a smoker’s help. You can go on-line to scores of smoking cessation support groups and find thousands of battles being fought, hear tons of cries and watch hundreds who won’t make it through “Hell Week” to the hope that lies beyond. Visit as often as possible. Make a few posts to those in need. Share your valuable quit wisdom and give the gift of hope. Most don’t know what it’s like to be free. Most have few remaining memories of the days before their addiction. Fear of the unknown is frightening. Help them and in doing so help yourself.
If you find yourself attempting to rewrite the law of addiction, stop, think, remember, read, revisit, revive and give to others, but most important, be honest with you. Terrible and emotional events will happen in each of our lives - such is life. Relapse won’t fix, correct or undo any of them. In your mind, plan for disaster today. How will you cope? What will do? Remember, your addiction is real. Today it sleeps. Will it sleep tomorrow?