Kicking addiction under lockdown: How to train your brain to say ‘no’ – sex and relationships

I embraced running a while ago, but even after that healthy decision was made, I couldn’t quit smoking. I know all about how terrible cigarettes are. But such is the nature of addiction.

I’ve lost count of the number of times my rational mind has resolved to kick this nasty habit. But after each so-called ‘Last Day’, the emotional mind pleads for ‘one last cigarette’ before calling it quits ‘once and for all’. And things got to the point where I gave up on the idea of giving up — until the lockdown, that is.

It was then that I truly saw what a pathetic creature I had degenerated into. As news percolated that most stores would be shuttered and we’d all have to stay indoors, I was among those stocking up on essentials. Smokers such as I were all in overdrive. Cigarettes had to be stocked up on as well. And to that end, we were scrounging in all corners of the city.

But there are only so many sticks you can hoard. And vendors who hawk them are brutal. They know addicts will pay any price to get their fix. It was inevitable then they would hike their rates. Most people, me included, paid large premiums. But it was inevitable that stocks would run out at some point.

Now, the thing with most addicts is that they recognise other addicts. One smoker can spot another in a single furtive glance. It didn’t take too long for even introverts like me to start exchanging notes with strangers. And based on their tips, I was willing to talk to people whom I would otherwise not imagine engaging with. I was desperate.

Call it an epiphany if you will; call it providence. But my daily fitness routine includes meditation with Waking Up, an app developed by neuroscientist, philosopher and author Sam Harris.

Part I of the course was an introduction to ‘Noting’. The intent there is to wrap one’s head around the idea that there is a difference between what we think, what we feel, and who we really are. I must explain that. We can think about absolutely anything. A problem that must be solved, for instance. Then there are feelings such as joy or pain. When meditating, we take the time to probe where our thoughts originate and why some feelings occur.

When I next felt the craving, instead of denying it, I chose to take a deep breath, shut my eyes, and ask, where did it appear from?

This isn’t very different from a scientist exploring the nature of the world around him. The only difference is that in this case, the scientist’s subject is himself.

As my stock of cigarettes neared depletion and the craving to smoke grew, while meditating on the cravings, I began to see that they emerged from nowhere. They would last a while. And then disappear. Just like that. How did that happen, I asked?

When I next felt the craving, instead of denying the feeling, I chose to take a deep breath, shut my eyes, and ask, where ever did it appear from? I noticed the discomfort would last a minute or two and then disappear, just as it had appeared. It didn’t take too many days until the frequency of cravings went down and now I don’t feel them at all.

What this proves is that we humans are remarkably resilient creatures. But it is also true that we humans have a propensity to forget, or choose to forget, some of the things we have learnt. I hope I retain the humility to remember I’m not immune to that either.

The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect

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