Though it has been a long and hard campaign with many defeats and intense battles, I have won the war and emerged the victor. You might be asking ‘What war?’ and if it is a metaphorical one what completed task could elicit such joy? Is it some great feat of genius, a longstanding puzzle finally cracked perhaps or a new invention that will help all of mankind maybe? Putting it like that I would agree that my declaration seems a little over the top but the fact is that I have finally given up smoking (cold turkey) and for me this is HUGE! I would have to say, as difficult as the odd moments of wanting a cigarette have been, overall it has been much less painful than I imagined. (That might only make sense to other smokers!)
I have attempted to give up several times before and failed at every try. Even if I managed to resist the temptation to smoke for several hours at a time, by the end of the day I was a basket case and it was nothing short of dangerous for anyone in my general vicinity. Indeed as the urge to strangle the nearest human being welled up within me, I always took it as the signal to admit defeat and just go out and buy another packet of cigarettes. Smoking was a much better option than doing time for murder. Over the years I have tried giving up in every way possible. Sometimes I would attempt a surprise attack and just announce to myself that, ‘That’s it, it’s over. When this pack is finished I’ll give up for good’.
Then I would spend hours obsessing and worrying about what I was going to do when that twenty was finished. Inevitably something would happen and I would go out and buy ‘just one more pack’, to get me through whatever was going on and that would be the end of that. Other attempts were highly organised. Dates were put in place, every nicotine replacement product on the market would be purchased and laid out neatly, ready for the off. That too was always a short lived disaster. If you have quit successfully with nicotine replacement then that’s fantastic, but it just never worked for me. I have tried them all. The patches made me nauseous. The chewing gum was disgusting and I hated the burning sensation at the back of my throat. The sublingual micro tabs were similarly uninteresting. The inhaler, (definitely invented by a non smoker) was as close to a cigarette as a Bic biro. Indeed I would go so far as to say I probably would have enjoyed a Bic better. Several years ago I tried hypnosis, (which again was highly successful for my sister and other friends) but found myself emerging from the clinic, 80 quid lighter and rooting around my handbag for my fags. I had found the hypnosis experience very relaxing but that wasn’t the point of the visit. I bought my own hypnotic stop smoking tape and book and that proved equally useless. I also read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking at least 6 times over the years. (To be fair I think Allen Carr’s book was definitely helpful in the overall process.)
My last resort was going to be the more aggressive prescription drugs. There are a few on the market and the latest wonder drug seems to be Champix. Now I know several people who have used Champix successfully and I was so impressed they were next on the list. However on further research I decided they were not for me. Champix were originally developed as a mild anti depressant and then found to be very successful in helping people to quit smoking. Effectively they are happy pills, which is marvellous if you have a personality that can deal with that but I don’t. I know myself far too well. The fags would have been gone, but I would have been chomping twenty Champix a day knowing that one day I would have to go through withdrawals from them! One final attempt was made late last year. By 7 O’Clock on the first evening I was curled on the sofa proclaiming that my life was over, I was irrevocably changed without a fag in my hand, identity lost and tears streaming down my face and missing cigarettes like you would a passionate lover. I was a quivering mess. I did the only thing to do; I washed my face and went to the nearest shop. By 8’O’Clock life was restored to wonderful and I was still a smoker; hooked and trapped like a true addict. To say I had a bad mental association with being a non smoker is mild.
So how did I do it in this time? Divine intervention is the only explanation I can seriously offer. Not only did I give up, I gave up with three cigarettes left in the pack! Obviously I have been thinking about giving up for a long time but I think the penny finally dropped that a craving for nicotine is just that, a craving for a drug. It doesn’t actually make you feel better it just relieves the craving. You might remember that craze a few years ago where people would ask, “What Would Jesus Do”, shortened to WWJD on wrist bracelets. My mantra was “What Would A Non Smoker Do?” (WWANSD. It doesn’t have half the ring to it as WWJD, but who cares). So as I got into the car, a place where I would always light up, I realised that non smokers drive every day without needing to systematically poison themselves in the process. When something went wrong during the day or a moment of stress occurred, instead of instantly turning to a cigarette I would ask the question, WWANSD? Inevitably I began to see that a cigarette was only relieving the nicotine craving and not relieving the situation at all. This mental separation and detachment was vital to my own understanding. This is probably one of the main points of the Allen Carr method, I’m just slow on the uptake and never really understood it while reading the book.
So I stopped and I have been really calm about it. I have wanted a cigarette but I have recognised it for just that, ‘wanting a cigarette’, and I know that in a few weeks that nicotine craving will be gone. The crazy mental association that a cigarette ‘helps’ in many situations is the bigger problem to overcome but that too has been relatively easy because I now truly understand the difference. Despite reading it over and over again before now, I never really got it and boy has it been tested in the past two weeks. I have attended three social functions. One was actually in a private house where they had set aside a smoking room. You didn’t even have to go out into the cold. I passed them all with flying colours.
Then on Monday a true test was proffered. It was a day of immense stress and distress. As I sat in the car on Monday evening trying to work through the problem I noticed that the last pack with the three cigarettes was still on the dash. (My car also has lots of lighters as despite giving up I had not gotten around to clearing away all the paraphernalia.) I opened it up and took out a cigarette. I actually put it into my mouth and held it between my fingers and that’s when I had the real ‘eureka’ moment. I knew that even if I smoked that cigarette I would still have the problem when the fag was finished, but I would also be a miserable smoker again. The cigarette ‘helping me’ was just an illusion. The even better realisation came when I thought “I actually don’t want this and I certainly don’t need it”. I put it back into the pack and tossed it back on the dashboard and went back to thinking about my problem. While the problem I had still persisted I actually emerged from the car with a spring in my step. It is over, finally over. I have actually given up smoking without killing anyone or that awful feeling of loss. The downside is that I am now on twenty crème eggs a day instead of twenty Silk Cut. That’s next week’s challenge; the weaning off the Crème Eggs, but somehow I don’t think the withdrawals will be too bad.