Today is my seventh day without a cigarette; a whole week without smoking. A week ago I was full of trepidation and really quite scared about what I was going to go through as I withdrew from the habit. But, I’m lucky. I’ve had help – lots of it – and support – as much as I needed. At times, it’s been a little hard and, had there been one, I know I’d have lit up, more than once, and, in all probability, would be back to my 20+ a day. Having said that, I’ve been surprised how easy it’s been, relatively, and I’m left with one question: why didn’t I do this sooner?
My last blog entry, Four Days Without A Fag… Why I Didn’t Stop Sooner, talks a lot about fear being my great motivator for not trying to stop: fear of the cravings, fear of the need to smoke, and fear of failing and having to admit that I couldn’t quit. I knew I shouldn’t smoke and that I should quit, but I hadn’t had a reason good enough to force myself to overcome those fears and really, really try. Getting made redundant and the very real probability of going months without work was, in a very odd way, just what I needed – it’s funny how things turn out, isn’t it.
Previous Failed Attempts
I tried a few times to cut down and would last for about a week on 10 or 12 a day, cutting out times when I smoked a lot in quick succession, like the journey to work, or cut out the second cigarette of my break or lunch. Then, I’d slip into old habits and, like the cutting down had never happened, I was back to my normal number of fags per day. Through having extra days off, and being able to smoke whenever I could, increased my intake, so I was frequently smoking 30 a day. I began to realise that I couldn’t carry on like this, and that I couldn’t quit without help.
Help from the NHS
My first port of call was the NHS Stop Smoking Help Line (0800 022 4 332), the number ironically but logically sourced from the back of a fag packet. They were great! They have tons of resources and are really helpful. They put a quit-kit in the post and put me in touch with the local smoking cessation service in Bradford.
At this point, I did something great. I was worried about failing to quit and was equally fearful of other people seeing that I’d failed, but I told my partner, Sharon, that I wanted to quit. We were both smokers and she was really pleased, and we decided to quit together. I called the local smoke free line and booked us both in for a consultation with our prescribing nurse.
We went along to Shipley Library for our consultation and found Marcia to be pleasant, helpful and full of knowledge about what’s on the market to support us in quitting. She took us through drugs which suppress the nicotine receptors in the brain, and the more common, more usual nicotine replacement therapies, like the patches and the gum. We talked and both Sharon and I felt that it’s the habit as much as the addiction, so we plumped for the inhalers. Marcia gave us an inhaler each – mine, stylishly jet black; Sharon’s a more flamboyant turquoise – and gave us vouchers for the small caps so quitting smoking wouldn’t cost us a thing. She also gave us a booklet about quitting, a copy of the one in the quit pack, and talked us through, explaining that, whilst some of it seems superfluous or cheesy, preparing to quit is vital if you’re to succeed. We set a quit date for the following Monday – 31st May. Marcia sent us off with words of encouragement in our ears, information flooding our minds, and the vouchers for free NRT in our pockets. We were getting ready!
Planning and Preparation
I’m very lucky to be with Sharon for innumerable reasons, but one of the many is her ability to organise and, especially, organise me. Together, we diligently went through the booklet and discussed and noted all our reasons for starting smoking, keeping smoking and quitting. Sharon’s main reason is health; mine, as noted above, is money. The amount smoking cost me shocked me: about 250 quid a month, or 3k a year! If I didn’t want to really give it a go before, I did then! The reasons for starting smoking showed our naivety: looking older, looking cool and getting in with the right group in school. It made me feel pretty foolish but, at 12, I suppose I had a right to be foolish – at 34 I can’t really get away with it, and continuing to pay 3k a year for daft choices I made as a 12yr old was dafter than daft.
One of the best ideas was Sharon’s: we understood that, without cigarettes, there was a huge likelihood of our getting irritable and arguing; so, we decided to not let the arguments linger, and would write them off.
That weekend, we had a blow out. We drank and smoked and readied ourselves for the Monday. On the Sunday night, at 11.55, we smoked out last cigarettes then threw out all our smoking paraphernalia, going so far as to run our remaining fags under the tap and crushing them up so they couldn’t be fished out of the bin in a fit of desperation. We were ready…
The First Day
We got up determined. Filling our inhalers, we set off on a long dog walk, puffing away on our pretend ciggies. Day 1 was difficult but we got through it by pulling every last drop of therapeutic nicotine from the capsules and telling each other that we were doing the right thing.
The following two days, with me at home over half term and Sharon out at work, were tougher, and certainly Sharon was finding it tougher than me. I had cravings, but a few puffs on the inhaler, ‘smoking’ it as you would a pipe, rather than a cigarette, to aerosolise the nicotine, would quickly take them away.
One great moment was on another dog walk. We started discussing, tongue in cheek, what sort of non-smokers we were going to be. We both plumped for the annoying converts who turn everything into a discussion about their freeing themselves from the nicotine; the ones hated, I’m sure, by smokers and non- alike. We laughingly began all sentences for the next 20mins with, As an ex-smoker… and had to bring every possible topic of conversation round to the fact we’d kicked (or were kicking) the habit. It might’ve been just a bit of fun, but the camaraderie showed us that we weren’t going through this alone and was a great piece of support.
Support also came at the end of every day. We’d ask about how it was going, comparing notes on how we were faring. We found that we were going through the same things at similar times, from the way the inhalers took away the cravings to the crap we started coughing up on day 4. Again, it showed that we were in this together and having someone going through it too was the best support I could’ve asked for.
Yes, I had cravings, but was finding it pretty easy. So easy, in fact, that I began to wonder why I hadn’t done it years before, and why I hadn’t done it properly on one or more of my previous attempts. I’m not suggesting it was easy, just a million times easier than I expected.
Kicking the Habit
After those first few days, it’s got easier and easier every day. I’m still using the inhalers – Marcia said we shouldn’t even start to think about reducing our intake. The biggest problem has come not from the addictive cravings, but from the habit. I’ll catch myself thinking, I’ll just have a gig, and then remember that, no, I won’t. The inhalers deal well with the cravings and, to some extent, the habit – I’m glad we went for this method and I’m glad we thought it through and foresaw such problems.
Why We Made It This Far
If you’re looking to quit, well done. I’ve said I’ve found it far easier than I thought I would, but, believe me, it’s not easy. I hope you’ll find this blog helpful, maybe even inspiring, and it will give you a good idea of what to expect. But here’s what I think are the reasons for our making it a whole week:
- We started by chucking away all fags, lighters, ashtrays.
- We are supporting each other and getting support from Marcia and the NHS, whom we can call upon for a friendly word in our hour of need.
- We prepared well, thinking about why we smoked, why we were quitting, and what triggers and challenges we might face.
- We picked the right method to quit, and the right form of help.
- We want to be non-smokers.
If you are planning to quit or are doing so, good luck – you’ll need it but you can do it!