Sunday, December 18, 2011

Natalie’s Advice

Four and a half years ago, praised be to God (and my friend Natalie), I quit smoking. I had smoked through thick and through thin, through pregnancy and nursing, for 33 years.

And I was a chain smoker.

I know those are sickening facts. But here’s another fact: I was an addict.

I tried so many ways to quit. I tried hypnosis (twice), Smokenders, and cold turkey. I tried wrapping a piece of paper and a pencil around my cigarette pack with a rubber band and writing down the time and reason for each cigarette. I tried deep breathing. I ate carrot sticks when the cravings hit.

My husband and MIL sent me articles outlining the grave (no pun intended) results of smoking and second hand smoke. It made me feel awful, but it didn’t help me quit. I felt horribly guilty about what I was doing to my fetuses, babies, children, and husband but I failed at every attempt to quit.

My mother sent me an article about the deep facial lines caused by smoking and I listened to her talk about how smoking made a woman look “hard.” I looked in the mirror and saw my sweet young face and peaches and cream complexion had become deeply creased and hard.


Yet even this blow to my woman’s vanity didn’t help me quit. I didn’t know how to clarify this for my friends and loved ones, but quitting had never been about finding the motivation. I had ample motivation—motivation in spades. It was only about addiction. 

Everyone knows that nicotine is addictive, but not everyone knows that the cigarette companies hedge their bets and get customers sucked in really deep by adding chemicals that boost the effects of nicotine, such as ammonia. A list of no less than 599 chemicals were approved by the American Department of Health and Human Services in April 1994. 

On Shabbes, it is forbidden to smoke and as a religious Jew, every Shabbes I suffered. I watched the hands of clock and agonized with real physical and emotional discomfort every single week, praying for an end to Shabbes so I could light up. In all those years as a smoker, I never enjoyed Shabbes as the gift it is meant to be, but suffered nonstop for 25 hours once a week.

Go ahead: ask me the question you want to ask. Everyone asks me the same thing, “How did you finally quit??”

Here is what I did.

I googled Nicotine Anonymous and found an online group, since there was, at least at that time, no Nicanon group in my area. I was very lucky to find a sponsor who was thrilled to work with someone in Israel.

Natalie is Jewish and like me, has an interest in Jewish genealogy. We had much in common. It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Natalie gave me an amazing tip that solved my whole problem with quitting. She told me that the cravings only last five minutes, maximum. Natalie told me to feel free to time the cravings.

And so I did. Exactly five minutes. She was right.

The point? You can white-knuckle anything for five minutes. And if you can white-knuckle the hankering for a cigarette for five minutes, you’ve got the addiction licked.

I gave my pack of cigarettes to Dov to throw away, because I wasn’t quite strong enough to throw them away on my own. And I white-knuckled the cravings as they came.

As Natalie had promised, the cravings got farther and farther apart until days went by when I didn’t crave a cigarette even once.

I didn’t stay in Nicanon for the long run, but I am very grateful for what the group and Natalie did for me.

If someone you love is addicted to cigarettes, don’t show them scary articles or nag them. Just offer them Natalie’s advice and your love and support. I wish I’d met her sooner. But I’m lucky to have met her at all.

Thank you, Natalie!


  1. Varda, I am so glad to see you were able to kick what has been shown to be 1 of the toughest addictions to kick, harder than heroin, studies have shown.
    While I thankfully have never smoked cigarettes, I've never had to quit...which makes me so very thankful I never took to them. I also can not explain why I never took to them, as most of my friends over the yrs have been smokers, along with upon meeting Jim, he too had been a smoker.
    I've never told Jim what to do, as I have always appreciated ppl not trying to tell me what to do, as an adult, however, what I did do re Jim, was to let him know of my concerns, (I wanted the best chance possible for us to grow old together...irony in our lives, re me..). Anyway, since we were already past 30 yrs old, Jim gave it some thought & did the patches & 3wks later, he was done & hasn't had an urge to pick a cigarette up since, he says. I am proud of him & so very proud of you as well.
    I have 1 sister & she smokes, along with a brother that smokes (don't honestly recall them ever not smoking), & while it worries me to no end, I agree with you..there is never a reason that nagging should be an answer to this, or any statistics, etc for they too are adults. It is their lives, not mine. They have no doubt of my love for them, nor the fear that I feel for them too, but that is not going to make them quit. I feel it is 100% up to them. I pray that they beat the odds & it not affect their health everyday. That is where I feel it should stop with us & that subject.
    They have seen 1st hand family members & friends lose their lives, painfully & directly linked to cigarettes...words from their little sister is not going to change anything.
    As far as me never starting, even though it seemed almost all my friends, if not all, did smoke during school, so my peers were smokers, the only thing I can write about that is I've always been independent, stubborn, never feeling the need to be like every1 else.
    Today, upon reading this, you gave me something to think about. I shall be happy that I am considered the stubborn 1 in my family, & be thankful to God for making me this way.
    Great writing, per usual Varda, bc anytime some1 reads something you've written & it makes them think beyond what you've written, I feel that is a unique talent. Thank you for sharing another 1 of your life experiences, in the form of writing so well, that I truly think I can feel some of what you went through somehow....

  2. Gives even more punch to your article about the joys of being unplugged on Shabbat.

  3. Exactly so, Rivkah! Now, when the kids come and tell me, "Shabbos it over," I put my pillow over my head and scream, "No, no, no! Say it isn't so!"

    I've come a long way, Baby.

  4. Nope. it's 6 years now. Now you're really big.

  5. Really??? Hodu lashem ki tov. It's just a miracle.