As we get further along in our quits, staying quit can become progressively easier, especially if we've developed a support network that we actually use. But what happens when we get outside our normal support routine, or when we're in unfamiliar settings and/or surrounded by smokers? Family events, drinking parties, long road trips, and vacations are some the most common relapse venues. How can we strengthen our quits during those times?
Preparation can keep us from succumbing to the lie of 'just one.' If you've been invited to a big party or family event full of smokers, or are about to embark on your first vacation since you're quit, you don't have to be afraid of relapse; in fact, you can welcome the chance to perfect your self-support tools. Below are some pointers to help you do that.
'Bookend' the Event
Bookending means beginning and ending each risky situation, or each hour/day/etc of a risky situation, with connection to support. Call, post online, or text a quit-buddy (preferably another ex-smoker) with a commitment to not smoke during the long drive/party/vacation, and to reconnect at the end of the drive/party/vacation to report your success.
Commit out loud or in writing your intention to STAY QUIT, NO MATTER WHAT. Commit that you'll reach out again before, not after, any chance that you'll slip -- no matter where you are or what time it is. Promise to reconnect after the trip, event, or situation, is over. Don't underestimate the power of simple commitments to others that you're going to follow a certain plan, and that you'll follow through with a report afterwards.
Some Q members use the Qmunity for bookending. Post a note in the QuitStop forum, or Qmail your quit-buddies, saying something like, "I'm going into a tough situation and am worried I might slip." You'll get responses and support from others. Commit in the forum that you won't smoke, that you'll contact someone before you do, that you'll log in after the event and let everyone know how you did. You can print out other Q members' responses to you, and carry them you.
Always Be Prepared
The key to quit-success in tough situations is preparation. You don't want to have to figure out what to do in the midst of a craving or doubt, when denial clouds your thinking.
Program quit-buddy phone numbers into your cellphone for quick access, and be ready to use them at a moment's notice. Think about how you'll respond if someone offers you a smoke. Practice saying things out loud like, "No, thanks, I don't smoke". Think of your Three Best Reasons for Quitting, and keep them in your pocket, wallet, or phone. Read them whenever you feel doubtful. If you use prayer or positive affirmations for support, bring them with you. Ask for extra strength or perseverance, or repeat mantras like, "Smoking Is Not An Option" or "I Don't Smoke, No Matter What, No Matter What, I Don't Smoke." Be ready to use the FIVE D's: DELAY; DISTRACT; DRINK WATER (cold); DEEP BREATHE; DISCUSS.
When attending family or other obligatory parties in which you know there'll be multiple stressors or smoking triggers, always have an exit plan. Parties and events come and go, but this may be the last chance you ever get to be smokefree; don't blow it by prioritizing social conventions over your quit. While you're there, enlist the aid of anyone who will support you. Don't be shy about revealing that you just quit smoking, and are working hard to stay quit. You'll find other ex-smokers, and help will come from the most unexpected quarters. If you think staying might trigger a relapse, have an excuse ready that allows you to leave with grace and dignity, and then leave. Remember: while you may have had to go there, you don't have to stay there (especially if you're being abused or disrespected about not smoking). Keeping your quit your #1 priority gives you the best chances of staying quit for good.
During road trips, create a NO-SMOKING ZONE sign for your car, to visually reinforce your quit. Listen to quit-smoking audio books, or call your quit-buddies hands-free. Think of different trip or vacation milestone rewards. Every day while on vacation, for example, or every X-hundred miles, use the $$ you would have smoked up to reward yourself with something nice. Planning the rewards ahead of time will reinforce their effectiveness. And bookend, bookend, bookend...
The day will certainly come when you can take any trip you want, and drive any distance you need to, without even thinking about smoking- because you'll have a non-smoking self-image. Remaining quit in tough circumstances can really strengthen that self-image, too. In fact, you can start picturing yourself that way right now: imagine turning down smoking offers, or driving with the windows down and not smoking, or coming home from that family reunion still smokefree. If you can imagine it, you can do it, and all the help in the world is available to assist you.
Happy smokefree trails, and KTQ,
Alan Peters, CTTS-M