I stopped smoking four days ago. This is the longest I’ve been without a cigarette for about 20 years. And I’m OK! Not just OK, but really surprised by how OK I am. The most annoying thing is… I wonder why I didn’t do this years ago.
I’ve smoked, pretty much, since I was 12. There were a few times when I stopped: a couple of months when I was about 14; 6hrs one new year’s day (wow, that resolution stuck!); 9hrs when I really, really tried to go cold turkey; 3 days when I was in hospital with a broken ankle and leg. And, after each time, just like that, I was back smoking. There’s a simple reason for this: it’s hard. No, it’s fucking hard!
I’ve still got my smoker’s head on, to a certain degree, so I can tell you honestly why smokers don’t quit, or, at least, why it took me so long. I’ll start by repeating the obvious: it’s hard. No, it’s fucking hard!
Stopping Smoking is Hard!
I’ve got to be very, very honest: I didn’t quit sooner or try more often or really think I could because I was scared. I gave up at about 22. I planned for it. I smoked all my fags the day before and got up and decided, “That’s it! You will not smoke from this day forth!”
And I didn’t.
For nine long, unholy, wicked hours of horror.
When I went cold turkey, it was awful. I remember being agitated and angry at the slightest thing. I tried to keep busy but had a constant and desperate need for a fag. All I wanted was a fag. All I could think about were fags. Fags, fags, fags. Even the slightly humourous thought of what an American would assume if s/he were to enter my mind and
read my thoughts and see that all I could think of was “Fags! FAGS! FAGS!!!” due to the barely amusing trans-Atlantic homonym could not stop me thinking of putting that perfect cylinder between my lips, pinching them to create an air tight seal before slightly sucking to create a vacuum which would draw that silky smooth smoke into my mouth, then firing up my lighter, a stylishly patriotic Zippo, which, I knew, would enhance that first drag with the slightest hint of petroleum spirit, as flammable as it is alluring. I imagined the smoke, silky and faintly dry, filling my mouth like a lover’s tongue and slipping warmly down my throat as does a consciously expensive and unashamed suave Italian coffee. I thought of the exhale: a satisfied stream of misty smoke filled with all my troubles, all my anxieties and all my cravings, expelling them into the ether and taking them far, far away.
Could you resist?
Add to all this an indescribable itching of the throat which I implicitly knew could only be ‘scratched’ by a cig, a giddy lightheadedness, a gentle swirling in my chest, and tingling in my fingers.
Be honest, could you have gone 9 hours with that? Well, I could! But no more than 9 hours. It was the memory of that day that seriously put me off stopping smoking. Yes, I didn’t want to go through that again. I knew that I didn’t have the self-control to give up just like that, and I didn’t think that the various therapies on the market could help that much. I decided to cut down and, for a week or so at a time, I’d go down to 10 a day, cutting out certain cigarettes or setting myself arbitrary time limits between fags or putting off smoking in the morning for as long as I could . The latter did really help but was also a hindrance: I smoked a lot in the morning – from getting up to arriving at work about an hour later, I’d have 5 cigs, more than I’d have for the rest of the working day – so allowing myself only one before work immediately cut down the number of cigs I was smoking per day; the flip side was the cravings I felt if I went too long – I’d begin to feel how I did when I went cold turkey and, I’ll be honest, the thought of what I knew was about to come made sure that I didn’t try to go too long in the morning.
I romanticised smoking above but it’s not how good it feels that made me want a cigarette: it’s what it takes away when you haven’t had one. I romanticised it above but it’s not the allure: it’s the need and pain it gives you, and the knowledge that only it can take take them away. I wrote smoking as a lover but she’s a captress for whom I’d developed Stockholm Syndrome and, if I’m truly, truly honest, I didn’t stop smoking sooner because I was frightened.
Stopping Smoking is Scary
I don’t think I was that scared of stopping smoking. I knew what to expect and I knew that I could stop it at any time. The scary thing was failing. If I stopped and felt those cravings and couldn’t handle it and lit up to take them away then, well, I’d failed. And if I failed once, I’d fail again. And again and again and again and, in the end, I’d have to admit that it wasn’t that I hadn’t quit or that I was going to try harder to quit next time, but that I couldn’t quit. I was scared that it was too much for me. So, the obvious thing to do was to not try – if you don’t try, you can’t fail. If I didn’t try to quit, I couldn’t fail to quit so, really, the nicotine wasn’t in control. Am I bit metal? Get yourself a decent 20 a day habit and then you can judge!
Smoking is Cool
So, I’ve gone through the negative aspects of stopping smoking, but there’s a cornucopia of positive reasons to keep smoking, not least of all is the fact, the FACT, that smoking is cool. I know, I know, people say it’s a myth. And who says it’s a myth? Those pink-lunged bastards who’re too scared to try it; whingey, whiny asthmatics who have never given it a go, never drunk more than 4 units a week, and never allowed themselves to get the tiniest bit out of control; the weak, the weedy and the feeble who make up the underclass of every educational establishment. I’m a teacher and I see it reinforced every day: the higher up the social ladder, the higher the likelihood the subject is a smoker. Smokers are cooler. Are they cooler because they smoke or do they smoke because they are cooler? I don’t know, but facts are facts.
And, perhaps, that’s part of the problem. When Sharon and I were dutifully filling in our little pre-quit booklet, we talked about reasons to continue smoking. I said, honestly, that smoking was part of who I am. She looked at me like I was taking the piss (which isn’t an entirely unreasonable reaction to something I’ve said) but I wasn’t: I felt, feel, smoking is part of who I am. I like to think I’m cool… relatively speaking. I’m a 34yr old teacher but, as 34yr old teachers go, I’m cool. I like to believe I’ve been relatively cool since I started secondary school, which is also when I started smoking. I’ve always hung around with, relatively, the cool people. Not the consciously-cool fashionistas – I find the Hollyoaks clothes horses and vajazzled (?) Essex monkeys foul beasts: oxygen thieves who should be ignored, even ostracised. I hung around with the ones who listened to the right music (Nirvana, Placebo), read the right books (Bret Easton Ellis, George Orwell, Douglas Adams) and watched the right films (Fight Club, This Sporting Life); I was on the sports teams and, were I an American, would’ve been a jock, but a jock that could read and hold a conversation. I was cool and I smoked, ergo smoking is cool… ergo, to be cool, I needed to smoke. I didn’t consciously think this but, writing this unnervingly cathartic blog, maybe that’s what I meant when I said that smoking was a part of me.
Certainly, in my youth, I was proud to be smoker. That’s right, PROUD! I knew that the fag between my lips made me look 2yrs older, 10% harder, 20% cooler and 16% more interesting. Smoking was a way to outwardly demonstrate my rebellious streak and stick it to the man. Smoking was a way to show I was part of the right crew. Smoking was part of me and part of who I was.
I’ve smoked for, roughly, 2/3 of my life; could I really give that up? Could you?
Reasons not to Stop aren’t Enough to Keep Smoking
I’d tell myself, or hide from myself, all these reasons, but they boiled down to one: fear. I was scared of the cravings, scared of not being able to quit, scared of losing a little bit of who I am. I was scared to try and stop.
But, in the end, I have stopped. I know that I’ll smoke again. That’s not a contradiction. I know that, when I go out on the town or away with the lads, I’ll have a few. But I know that I’ll never let it become a habit, become an addiction, again. I’m confident of that.
I have stopped smoking and I’ll tell you how I did it in my next blog. I won’t preach and won’t tell you it’s easier than it is; I’ll report, truthfully and honestly, what my experience of stopping smoking is.