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Breaking the habit of a lifetime

Wednesday, 15 August 2012 smoking

For the past 10 years, I’ve been a nicotine-dependent smoker. The unpleasant sort who can’t go for an hour without really craving a cigarette, getting irritable when they can’t have one. I recently quit but the strange thing is, not smoking is the easiest bit in this process.

Why have you abandoned us? by mendhak

It’s been 28 days and 6 hours since my last puff. I remember, not because I am counting, rather because it was quite an upsetting moment. I had run out of cigarettes and had run out of money with which to buy more. I was panicking as only an addict does. Every other smoker on the planet knows the feeling of not knowing when they’ll have their next cigarette.

It was about an hour later when I told myself the news: I was quitting, I wasn’t going to be a smoker any more, and that was that. In the calm that accompanied this chant, I wasn’t thinking about the positive feeling of having a cigarette at all, I was dwelling on the common line in every story, every anecdote, every advice column and every NHS advert:

The Big Lie: “Quitting smoking is the hardest thing you’ll do in your lifetime”

This isn’t true. This is complete bullshit. No, it’s worse than bullshit. It a lie to keep people smoking, to pull people into expensive NRT, groups, books; and it’s certainly what kept me smoking for so long.

Since well before I started smoking there have been adverts about how hard quitting is. Giant cigarettes, evil monsters, monkeys on your back. It’s all so easy to see what’s going on from the other side: companies are selling stuff —gum, patches, support groups, books— and it’s fear that sells them!

As long as they can keep you thinking you need to do something to stop smoking, most people are just going to keep smoking. It’s easier.

And the stories you see everywhere! “I quit and two days later stabbed my baby in the face!”, “Quitting smoking is harder than giving up heroin!”, “I tried to quit but turned into a monster, lost my job and had to turn tricks to eat!”… They go on and on. It seems like so few people have positive quitting stories. Perhaps they’re just less memorable.

That all said, I had started to read Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking about 14 months ago. I got about halfway through and I could tell the book was working. The book is an amazing example of propaganda for good. It slowly, surely, repetitively and steadily allows your brain to recognise what smoking actually is. Half way through I felt I could really give up and that scared me. I put the book down and never picked it up again.

Quitting isn’t hard but it does take effort

Not smoking isn’t hard, you just need to stop. It sounds stupid but people (including pharmaceuticals companies) minimise the fact that you need to stop taking nicotine to get over an addiction to it. I honestly don’t think there’s any point in patches, gums or other NRT because you’re just prolonging your dependency on the drug.

Cold turkey might turn you into a mess but even the heaviest smokers suggest that it only lasts for a few days. For the first few days, if I wasn’t doing something else, I was thinking about smoking. I was distracted but I wasn’t unhappy. I knew I was doing something worthwhile. After a week, I didn’t think about smoking unless I was in the garden. A week later and I couldn’t remember the taste of a cigarette.

Every guide in existence suggests you’re going to turn into a pig as soon as you swap. This is something I avoided with exercise – something that had been absent for as long as I’d been smoking. Whenever I wanted a second lunch or to roll my desk up and smoke it, I’d hop on my bike and bleem out a few miles.

Exercise is probably key to why I don’t crave. Exercise makes me feel better in a very similar way to nicotine did. I’ve replaced something that harms me to something that improves me. I’m extremely thankful I’ve had the weather and the time to make that work for me.

But if you ever see me with a lit cigarette in my mouth again…

… I give you permission to use physical violence* to remove aforementioned cigarette and, in your own words please, inform me that I’m being an idiot and should stop smoking. If I have a packet you can take and destroy those too. I can already tell there’s a drunk future-Oli weeping over a crushed and soaked packet of cigarettes, but it’s okay. It’s for my own good. Thank you for being a good friend.

* Not the face, and I’m really very sorry if I retaliate.

Photo credit: mendhak