I started smoking when I was 18. It wasn’t to be sociable. I was working as an au pair, looking after 4 children and a house, and it was stressful. I bought a packet of 10 cigarettes and, alone in the quiet of my bedroom, I tried one. I felt very sick, it was actually deeply unpleasant, but I persevered and, before long, it became a daily habit. I became a heavy smoker.
Smoking was a big part of my life for the next 39 years. Cigarettes accompanied me everywhere and, however difficult it became to smoke inside or in public, I still managed to fit 30 cigarettes into a day. I thought I enjoyed it. I believed it relaxed me, took away the stress. For several years, my breathing was getting more difficult, I had a perpetual cough and I had serious, recurring bronchial problems. I didn’t complain or talk about any of this, even to my doctor. I hid it. The last thing I wanted was anyone suggesting I should give up smoking. Nobody was going to take that “pleasure” away from me.
I knew that cigarette smoking was an addiction. Just one that I was choosing to keep. Like any addiction, the denial connected with it is enormous. I truly believed I enjoyed it, something I find very difficult to get my head around today. After all, what’s enjoyable about the inhalation of toxic fumes, the constant coughing, the recurring bronchitis every time I got a cold, the smell of stale smoke in my hair, on my clothes, in my home, the waste of money ...
I tried to give up several times. It didn’t last more than a few hours: the need to smoke was stronger than any promise of potential benefits or threat of nasty diseases. I consulted a hypnotherapist and an acupuncturist, both asked me to come back when I had a desire to stop.
My big breakthrough came with reading Allen Carr’s book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. I had heard about it for years and deliberately avoided reading it. I knew people who had done his course and managed to give up but I had no wish to follow suit.
I had cleaned up my life in various areas when I realised that this particular addiction was killing me. I finally bought a copy of the book and my delusions about smoking, my beliefs about what it did for me, were shattered with each page. I learnt that the only thing smoking a cigarette does for me is to create the need to smoke another cigarette. It was a revelation.
I followed the author’s instructions to keep smoking while reading through the book, knowing that I was going to be asked to stub out my last cigarette in the last chapter. In the end, I read the book about 9 times before I was ready to read the final chapter – but at least after nine readings, my beliefs about smoking had started to turn around.
After the 9th reading of all but that one dreaded chapter, I made an appointment to see a lung specialist on October 10th, 2012. As part of my preparation to maybe give up, I wanted to know exactly what state my lungs were in (which I had very carefully avoided knowing for many years). That afternoon, I listened to the doctor telling me I had lost 76% of my lung capacity. He said I was in the final phase of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and needed to stop smoking or I would die. He suggested that I try to cut down to 10 cigarettes a day by Christmas.
That night I read the last chapter of the book. As directed, I smoked my “last cigarette”. I ran my remaining cigarettes under the tap and threw away all of my ashtrays.
Still following directions, I woke up the next morning and said, aloud, “Yippee, I’m a non-smoker!”
From that minute, I have not smoked a cigarette. Physically, it was a bit difficult for the first few weeks. In the afternoons, I had an indescribable feeling of lack for a couple of hours but, strangely, I did not want to smoke. I knew that one puff would take be back to where I didn’t want to go any more. I had something to lose. So I kept myself busy for those hours, focusing on being grateful for being a non-smoker – and one day it just lifted.
From the first day, the gratitude for being a non-smoker heavily outweighed the pull of a cigarette. Each of those early days I found benefits in being a non-smoker – opening the door to my flat to a smell of freshness, not having to sit outside in the cold, my hair smelling of shampoo rather than smoke, no feeling irritated as the effect of nicotine was wearing off 30 times a day, being much more aware of the taste of different foods, even my constant cough disappeared almost immediately. People say I look better – healthy even – my skin, my hair and my teeth have certainly benefitted.
I don’t miss it. I have never missed it. I thought it would be difficult to be around other smokers. It isn’t. I thought I would be more nervous and depressed. I’m not.
My lungs are irreparably damaged but I am grateful that I have enough breath left to put my energy into looking after the body that I have abused for so long.
Stopping smoking comes into the top three of the best things I have ever done in my life, but it’s the only I need to share.