The second step of most 12-step addiction programs is typically "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." What if the individual cursed with addiction does not believe in a power greater than ourselves?

I used to be an alcoholic. Back when I was a theist I managed to go through a rather secular program and successfully am no longer addicted to alcohol. I might have a couple beers per month or a bottle of wine a couple times a year. But I don't crave it anymore nor do I abuse it. Even when I had a wisdom tooth fail, and had to drink a ton of vodka to make it through the night (had it removed the next day), I did not slip back into alcohol abuse. 

I was in the US Army at the time I had went through this rehabilitation. The program they used combined a nice drug called 'antabuse' which sort of forces you to abstain (you get really really sick if you drink alcohol when on this drug). The program did not require one to invoke belief in a higher power but made the individual personally responsible for their success. I had relapsed for a brief period of time when I got out of the military. But I finally stopped abusing alcohol by turning inward. I found that I was suffering from depression, and once I addressed the depression, I fixed this need for a coping mechanism. 

Now I am quitting smoking. For some reason, this is a lot harder. I had quit smoking for a few months about a year ago. But I absolutely must quit now, as I have a baby on the way. I refuse to be one of these filthy parents smoking with their kid in the child seat behind them. So here is a process that I have found to be useful in quitting smoking and so far I am doing fine. I applied much of these same principles to ending my alcohol abuse. 

1. The first step was to actually hate my addiction. If you don't actually hate the habit, then you probably will not succeed in quitting. Developing the hate comes from an application of reason. One must rationally justify for yourself why the addiction is horrible, how the abuse is destroying you and your life, and why your life would be so much better without the addiction. 

When smoking, I visualized myself not smoking and actively thought about how much I hate smoking. I thought about the money spent, the health lost, and the deceit involved. I thought about how this puny chemical was making me desire it, as a mechanism for some corporation to make tons of money by killing me. I then changed my mode of thinking about it to something slightly, but importantly different: I was letting it do this to me. It wasn't making me desire it, I was letting my desire override logic. 

2. Make a written and organized plan. Space out your usage in greater and greater intervals. For smoking, I used to smoke once an hour every hour for 12 hours a day. So I made a written list of when I was going to allow myself to smoke. So I started with a cigarette every hour. Then I introduced an interval of an hour and a half. I did that for a few cigs. Then I started smoking every 2 hours. I did that for a few cigs to create a new norm. I then went to three hour intervals for 3 cigs. I then went to 4, 5, and 6 hour intervals, repeating each interval a few times until I was comfortable pushing myself to the next largest interval. Once one is only smoking every 8 hours it becomes relatively easy to then go cold turkey. But in order for your rational plan to work, you need to write it down and follow it to the letter. Don't take more cigs with you than you will need for that interval when you are out. The availability of the cigs makes it harder to fight the impulse.

The typical pack of smokes is just about wide enough to hold a business card in the clear plastic part. On a business card I put the interval times for each pack, having planned out 3 packs to my end date (about a 2 week total span of time). On the last pack I put in bold letters 'LAST PACK' and at the end of its list, I put the word 'FREEDOM.' These lists are also helpful when I have momentary lapses in judgement. When I pull out my pack to cheat and see the list, I am immediately reminded of the logical path I had set forth, and end up fighting the craving (which last typically only 3 minutes or so) instead of giving into the craving. Fighting the cravings consciously is a very central aspect to overcoming addiction. 

3. Use nicotine replacement methods and other drugs as necessary. The only external higher power most need to quit are cessation drugs. Welbutrin is particularly excellent and is typically covered by most insurance plans. It keeps you from becoming a hateful prick in the withdrawal and you typically have to start taking it while you are still smoking so it can build up and attach itself to the active receptors that the nicotine is messing with. This takes the edge off of quitting for most people. If you were a particularly heavy smoker, you might also need a nicotine replacement system. I use a vaping system, sort of a high-end e-cig. It keeps my withdrawal symptoms minimized. But my plan is to also be free of nicotine altogether, so I try not to use it much. 

Vaping is certainly healthier than smoking. The second hand vapor is mostly water vapor with a bit of vegetable oil mixed in. So my wife actually has no issue were I to just vape as long as I am not a smoker. But vaping is just a cleaner way of ingesting nicotine and it certainly is less satisfying than smoking a real cig no matter how elaborate your vaping system. Mine cost $150 and tastes like mint chocolate. It is great. But it isn't as satisfying as a menthol cigarette. The point is that I know that vaping would only lead me back to smoking cigarettes eventually. 

The patch is superior. This is how I quit. It does give you nicotine, but it steps you down gradually and does not reinforce the physical habit of smoking like a vaping system or e-cigs do. Welbutrin and the patch combined with the increasing intervals between cigs is all I needed to quit, and I have a very addictive personality.

Yes, I quit before and relapsed. This does not discourage me though. It is a fact that every time you quit, you increase the likelihood that you will succeed in subsequent attempts. Just keep trying to quit. Keep a system in place and develop a discipline over your body and mind. There is a higher power, it is your own consciousness. Instead of succumbing to the wants of your flawed biology, to the chemical desire and avoidance of withdrawal symptoms, become the ruler of your mind and body and tell your body that this is how it is going to be and get used to it. 

I think that when people in 12 step programs appeal to a higher power they are actually doing just that. The human mind is quite complex. There are various levels of consciousness, from the most banal instinctive levels to the highest levels that produce art and appreciate music.

The trick is to meditate on your issue from a higher level and become the master of your body instead of letting some chemical, be it alcohol or nicotine, be powerful enough to make you do something you hate doing. 

And by meditate I certainly don't mean literal transcendental meditation, though I have no problem with it in principle, as what is transcendent about it is not necessarily supernatural. Actually, meditating on the hatred of the addiction is more or less just coming to terms with your situation, and creating an action plan. Rational consideration of the cons involved can be facts upon which you can build a hatred. The process of looking up the facts is itself a meditation to this end. 

Other helpful behaviors I had started that helped me quit:

1. Eat fruit. Lots of fruit. It keeps your hands and mouth busy and the nice energy boost feels great.

2. Drink water, less coffee. Caffeine seems to make withdrawal symptoms worse. Water flushes impurities, including the nicotine metabolites, out of your system, speeding up recovery. 

3. Sleep more or be very very active. Don'g get bored. Sleep is basically time travel, allowing you to make huge intervals between usages. But having multiple hobbies also helps you keep from doing something harmful like smoking out of boredom. 

Well, I hope this might help people. 

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Comment by Gregory Phillip Dearth on April 21, 2014 at 3:52am

NIce website. I will definitely give it a thorough lookover. As long as buying their products doesn't contribute to the homeopathy movement I have no problem experimenting with herbs. 

Comment by Luara on April 20, 2014 at 6:13am

Yes, I have to be careful about caffeine too, or I have trouble sleeping. 

Here's a site that sells herbs and spices in bulk.  It has a lot of unusual herbs you can explore, most of which don't have caffeine. 

One I like is Indian sarsaparilla. 

Comment by Gregory Phillip Dearth on April 20, 2014 at 1:59am

Thanks for the ideas Luara. I do love teas. However, as many of the ones I love contain caffeine, I must abstain from them for a while since caffeine exacerbates withdrawal symptoms. Smoking for me is indeed a physical habit. It is an oral habit, and thus it is reasonable for me to replace smoking with food consumption. Indeed, in my essay, I did mention that I have recently grown fond of consuming fruit. Lately, blueberries and melon. Seems cantaloupe is in season. I am keeping my mouth and hands busy. This seems to work. And I haven't gained any weight yet either as I am certain that fruit, despite the sugars involved, improve digestion in a compensating manor for the caloric increase.

Comment by Luara on April 19, 2014 at 10:47pm

But vaping is just a cleaner way of ingesting nicotine and it certainly is less satisfying than smoking a real cig no matter how elaborate your vaping system. Mine cost $150 and tastes like mint chocolate. It is great. But it isn't as satisfying as a menthol cigarette.

It sounds like the cigarette habit - or yours at least - has an aspect of a food habit, like it's a food habit that doesn't involve food.  Perhaps you could replace it with another food habit, like drinking giant glasses of herb tea.  I used to drink a lot of licorice-cinnamon-ginger tea.  Or develop a love of chai.  A substitute indulgence to soothe you. 

Valerian and kava kava are soothing teas.  They can be addictive themselves, but perhaps can  help when things get tough.

Comment by Gregory Phillip Dearth on April 19, 2014 at 10:24pm

Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It means a lot to me. I too went through a period where I investigated magick. I appreciate the spelling distinction as it alleviates confusion over prestidigitation. 

I became proficient with various wiccan practices. I was really good at reading tarot cards (and still am). I eventually came to realize there were perfectly good natural explanations for these things, and I eventually shed the last of my supernatural beliefs. 

I think it really does come down to something a lot of skeptics have trouble acknowledging. There is indeed something more to our consciousness that the religious misidentify as a soul or spirit. This higher consciousness we have attempts to communicate with our lower consciousness but we have built walls in our minds that allow us to ignore it, a process that can have detrimental effects on our lives. Many people then create doors in those walls patterned after religious concepts. But as a door must be opened and closed, and the wall is still present, this is merely a bypass that limits the flow from one state of awareness to the other.  

For me, quitting smoking is much like what you described. At some point, I had to take ownership over my entire person. At some point I too had a voice in my higher consciousness break through the illogical lower consciousness with the facts about the harm. You cannot argue with facts and logic. Your mind, however, can argue with itself and attempt to rationalize addictive behaviors. But logic and facts do win in the end. That is why in my essay I mentioned a period of accumulating all of the data possible. 

I had actually been hospitalized for pleurisy on a few occasions and even pneumonia once. Yet I still kept on smoking. It was idiotic and ridiculous to deny what my physical condition was making evident. But I found myself buying smokes instead of taking the rather blatant hints to heart. I had not yet mastered my own conscious awareness. 

This relates to atheism and religion as I fear that most humans have not yet mastered their own minds. Instead, traditions based on faith discourage confronting illogical behaviors. It is a skill that humans are just recently starting to embrace and recognize. I think the Buddhists sort of figured this out first. It was my study of Buddhism that eventually led me out of wicca and bridged the gap to my final state as an atheist. Once I shed the tiny amount of supernatural concepts of Buddhism and embraced rational thinking, I achieved an enlightenment that was very real, very logical, and most importantly, demonstrable. I don't think I ever would have succeeded in smoking cessation as a theist as it contributes to the walls erected between the unconscious and conscious, between the super-conscious self and the more basic self. 

I really need to study some psychology to figure out what terms go where in this conversation. I am sure somebody has assigned terms to all of these levels of consciousness and explained it better. 

Comment by Michael Penn on April 19, 2014 at 10:05am

That seems like a good plan and can work for you. My experience was much different, and I had tried to quit before. I always ended up smoking again no matter what I tried.

I had made a transition from theism into the realm of Magick and stayed in that realm for a few years time. After death of a spouse in 1986 I was emotionally shaken for years. The result was that I had a guardian for support and protection. Understand that I do not mean a physical being. In the year 2000 I had some throat problems due to smoking. I also had the flu so badly that I thought I was going to die. As I lay in bed I thought I was a part of Star Trek TV series. A female voice said to me "we cannot allow you to smoke any longer for smoking is going to kill you." I dozed in and out of sleep but remember that the voice said "we."

I stopped smoking almost imediately upon recovery, and had just minor relapses in which the cigarette did not taste good at all. Even the smell of them became repulsive. Today I have been smoke free for 14 years.

Take the above story however you may. Everything was real to me at the time. Over the last 9 years my guardian has faded and I do not feel the presence any longer since discovering logic. Perhaps we go through stages only as we need those stages. The untimate reality is that we are conscious beings. As such we can also be in touch with the unconscious part of our minds.

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