I am eight years off cigarettes today.
I’ve done some complicated sums in my head based on my 30-40 a day usage and what I think is now the price of fags, and I reckon I’ve saved about €24,000 in that time.
Where the hell is it?
I gave them up by reading “Allan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking”. I’d never even heard of it, then in March 2000 I was in a client’s office and he mentioned that he hadn’t smoked for three weeks after reading this book.
I bought it on the way home, and then I put it in a drawer. It sounded like the big opportunity I’d been waiting for, and I didn’t want to blow it. I had to wait till I was ready. Remember, this was 2000, and the entire smoking population of the world other than me had tried giving them up on the first day of the new millennium, and most of them were back on them before Paddy’s Day. I didn’t try then, arguing that I wouldn’t give them up just because eveyone else was trying, I wasn’t sheep (God, the crap you come out with to justify smoking). Realistically, though, I knew I just wouldn’t be able to do it.
But I did, desperately, want to. I had kids by then, and we were into the complicated linguistic game of explaining to them (a) they should never smoke, because only gobshites do it and it will kill you, and (b) no, daddy’s not a gobshite, and stop crying, he’s not going to die, and (c) oh, you’re just too young to understand, and (d) go to your room. I was fed up with myself, and really wanted to try.
In May we went to Ibiza on holiday. While we were there I went to one of those shops they have where you can buy cigarettes by the boxload, and I bought 800. A couple of things happened when I got home. One was that the 800 lasted exactly four weeks, which brought home forcibly exactly how many a day I smoked. The other was that during those four weeks I spent one hundred and four pounds in what I would call my pocket money, ie cash just spent on me, not counting groceries, petrol, stuff for the kids, etc. A newspaper every day, and four pints on my one night out, that was all I was spending money on.
As the 800 dwindled to the last 40 or so, I realised that I could go back to spending a fortune, or I could finally read the book. It helped enormously when I figured out that the last of the cigarettes would run out on July 5th, so that my Wedding Anniversary would be my first day without them. I took the book from the drawer, and started to read.
One of the good things about it is that it tells you to keep smoking till you finish the book, so you’re reading it without any pangs or cravings. I’d imagine it would be very hard to read a sentence about how good you’ll feel if you’re shaking with longings, yelling “what the feck would you know about it, you sanctimonious git” before hurling the book violently into the Liffey. What I felt was clever was that he doesn’t give you his reasons why you shouldn’t smoke, he directs you toward your own reasons which you already have in your head why you shouldn’t smoke. He points out the contradiction in claiming that tobacco both helps you concentrate and also helps you relax, or the irrationality of claiming that smoking is harmless and enjoyable while simultanously praying that none your children ever take it up. He breaks the addiction down between nicotine need and habitual need, points out how much of each 24 hour period (when we’re asleep, while we’re on the train, while we’re eating) we spend without nicotine without feeling an urge, thus showing us that the nicotine is not the real problem (indeed the nictotine urge vanishes after a couple of days), and then helps to find ways to break the habitual need, the lighting up, the having something in your hands, the automatic picking one up whenever the phone rings.
At about midnight on July 5th, I finished the last page of the book, stubbed out my last cigarette, and went to bed. I was now a non-smoker (that’s one of the pieces of advice from the book – if you’ve stopped smoking, from day one you’re a non-smoker, you don’t say things like ‘I’m trying to give them up’ otherwise at what stage do you make the move in your head from’person desperately trying’ to ‘person who doesn’t smoke’?)
I got up the next morning and went to work in a fantastic mood. In those days you could still smoke at work, and in any case I worked alone, so I was heading straight into the room where thousands upon thousands of fags had met a fiery end, but I wasn’t in the last afraid. And rightly so. The day passed like a dream, and I knew I had it cracked.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, but a lot easier than I had been afraid it would be. People said it would be hard when I went to the pub, but I couldn’t wait, it was a chance to show myself that I could still go out with my friends (there were 3 guys I hung around with in the pub, and they all smoked) and enjoy myself. And it was simple, because I quickly realised that there is no specific time in the pub at which you light up, so there is no real habit to break. What I did find, though, is that when I walked out the door to go home, I suddenly felt the urge, and I realised that every previous time ever that I had walked out that door I had lit a cigarette, and that smoking it would last exactly the length of the walk home.
I had to go through everything at least once, every client visit, every social event, the first Christmas, the first time I got really seriously drunk at a party (because that’s the time you’d take one from someone without thinking). Each of these brought it’s own brief pang. I played in a taverners cricket match about eleven months later, and realised I’d never been in the changing rooms before without a cigarette. I went to a wedding and for an instant missed lighting up the second I came out of the church.
Generally, though, it was easy, and milestone passed by – one month, six weeks, three months, six months, and then – One Year! That day I felt proud and also, suddenly, terrified. While I had targets it was easy to keep going, but what was my target now? A year and a month was silly. Two years? Five years? Forever?
That was when it really hit me – I was looking at giving them up forever. I thought back over all the good times of the previous year, took a deep (smoke-free) breath, and moved on.
I can’t recommend it enough. People ask do you feel better afterwards. Physically, I think it’s not so much that you feel brilliant as that you realise how absolutely shite you felt before, and how this had become the norm for you – the constant coughing, blocked nose, headaches after especially bad smoking days, shortness of breath after running, the hacking, phlegm-filled paroxysm of coughing after you tried to sing. I used to have a pain in my chest every Monday from the amount of cigs i’d smoke over the weekend, but I didn’t mind coz I always knew it would be gone on Tuesday. Can you imagine being content about only having a chest-pain for one day a week?
Mentally, though, you feel absolutely fantastic. Again, you realise just now badly you felt about yourself before – embarrassed at your stupidity, guilty about the money that you could be spending on other things for your family, angry at your helplessness at not being able to give up, upset at your children asking you to quit. Now you are proud, confident, happy. You’ve taken on one of the most difficult things a person can do and beaten it. You are a wonderful person.
Please, everyone, give it a go.