So at 54 and after nearly 30 years of being a smoker, I was under pressure to give it up. Despite being able to rollerblade, snowboard, mountain bike and do hot yoga thereby proving I wasn’t exactly in a health crisis, my kids wanted me to stop, my girlfriend wanted me to stop, even my mum wanted me to stop!
But stop what exactly? …it’s not as if I was addicted? I mean I only smoked 5-10 Marlboro Lights a day (yes we still call them that..this re-branding to Marlboro Gold will never catch on) so that isn’t even proper smoking addiction is it?
And anyway, I had cut down recently and often spent 12+ hours at a time not smoking, sometimes 24hrs!
And I’d have stopped already if it hadn’t been for the stressy moments in the last few years like the divorce case, or big budget cuts at work, or moving house, or the flood we then had in the new house, I mean there just hasn’t been a convenient time has there?
So having rationalised how easy it would be for someone who isn’t really a smoker to not actually smoke if only I could find a convenient time, then hey presto, that convenient time arrived. I had booked for the two of us to spend a week on a small island in the Maldives.
We were due to fly out Monday night, and as I was standing on the patio in the back garden before we went, with a Marlboro Light, I remember thinking this could be the last one ever?
I packed the rest of the fags and the lighter into my backpack (just in case I needed them on holiday).
The First 24hrs:
Well, I’m used to travelling so not smoking was no big deal. Walking into the restaurant, I noticed….ashtrays….resort branded matchboxes…and they sold Marlboros for $12 a pack which is 30% cheaper than at home! The environment wasn’t going to be quite as supportive to my goal as I had imagined.
Day 2 – Book Worm Wednesday
Time for a day of sunbathing, swimming in the crystal clear blue waters and reading books in our hammock. Now generally speaking I am not a sun and beach kind of guy, nor do I ever read books. But in order to focus my mind away from the tempting thought of a fag every 10mins, I was reading a book that I’d purchased specifically for that very purpose…voraciously…150 pages in the first day!
Day 3 – Life-Threatening Thursday
So breakfast time, I’d been religiously avoiding coffee thus far on the holiday. Why? Because my morning ritual for the last decade has been an espresso macchiato and two Marlboro Lights before breakfast, so to tempt my palate with coffee would only make it want the natural accompaniment.
So having given up on coffee because…what’s the point without a fag…I was necking watermelon juice like it was going out of fashion. But now we needed a serious distraction, sitting around on a beach, not drinking coffee, not having a fag wasn’t going to cut it.
So we booked a waterborne excursion that was definitely not cigarette friendly. The two of us were taken on a private speedboat to a deserted sandbank in the middle of the Indian Ocean, for a couple of hours of snorkelling. I’d thought that the process of giving up smoking would be a one-off.
You do it…and hey presto…you’ve given up. Job done. But it’s not, there were numerous times that day I thought about having a cigarette, there were numerous opportunities where I could have had a cigarette and yet if you tossed a coin for each of those occasions, it only has to land on the wrong side once…and that’s it, your smoking again and all the times you didn’t smoke count for nothing.
And then it hit me, I’ve never been an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I think the process of trying to be a non-smoker must be very similar. This is not a decision you make once, its a decision you have to re-make every day. And not just every day but multiple times per day!!
This is a decision that will never leave you…it is a burden and a commitment I will have to carry for a long time, until one day, maybe, I’ll not think about it, I’ll not long for that drag and inhalation of whisps of seductive smoke…
Day 4 – Friday and the Future…
So what have I learned about this experience and how will I stay true to my goal? Well, I see it as a five step process:
1. You need a reason….
It can be the prospect of life-threatening surgery, the loss of a loved one, a dream to run the London Marathon or just an overwhelming sense of moral conviction, but whatever IT is, you need it and it has to be powerful.
2. You need to focus…
This is not easy. I’ve brought the Nicorettes mouth spray (but not used it yet) and there are many other devices to help you quit: patches, pills, vapes, hypnotherapy; but personally, I think you don’t need that stuff. I’ve gone cold turkey, it’s a zero-tolerance game otherwise you’re just fooling yourself.
3. You need to start new habits to break old ones…
I used to go to the train station early on the way to work so that I could have the espresso macchiato / Marlboro combo before getting on the train. Now I need to turn up on time so I don’t get tempted. I used to go for fag breaks between meetings, now I need to go back to my desk and pay a little more attention to clearing my inbox (though I might need the Nicorette mist for this one). The list goes on, but basically if you were a smoker, many aspects of your work and social life will have revolved around smoking and now you need to ‘not do’ those things otherwise it’s like hanging out with crack addicts whilst you¹re trying to give up class A drugs. So you need to look forensically at your daily routine and work out which bits of it need to change and how. Then you need to come up with those new habits and coping strategies to get you through.
4. You need a support buddy…
Someone needs to congratulate you, encourage you, tell you you’re doing really well for holding out so long.
5. You need to believe in yourself…
At the end of the day, the butt stops with you on this one (no pun intended). You need a will of iron to beat this but it can be done. There are many changes I’ve made to my life over the past 3yrs, I’ve reconnected with my love of bands and music, I’ve had my eyes opened to a wider cultural spectrum with exhibitions at the V&A, Tate Modern and the Design Museum, I’ve taken up yoga, I do a small set of weights and resistance exercises and I’ve got back into the rollerblading and snowboarding I started in my early thirties.
This latest change is without a doubt the most challenging but is part of an altogether more fulfilling life-path that so far is making my fifties the best decade of my entire life.
It could be yours too!