Here’s a strange thing: three weeks ago, I stopped smoking.
You may wonder what’s strange about that. Any half-intelligent smoker knows it’s the right thing to do, and I was going to stop one day – I told myself so every time I bought a new pack of tobacco.
What’s strange is that I just stopped, from one cigarette to the next, with no therapy, no assistance and no nicotine supplements. This was a great surprise, since I thoroughly enjoyed my small, highly specific addiction: a daily average of ten thin roll-ups of Golden Virginia in liquorice paper, tipped with a bit of card to stop the end going soggy and catch some of the tar (I never liked proper filters, which dictate the size of the rollie and make them too thick). I enjoyed the whole pleasant little ‘fag-break’ ritual of building a perfect cigarette, the predictable length of time it took, the hot, satisfying kick of the smoke itself. I particularly enjoyed the first few in the morning with my statutory pot of black coffee – although the after-meal or with-a-glass-of-wine tabs were pretty good too. So to find that I’d suddenly lost the urge was truly bizarre.
Even stranger was having no discernible withdrawal symptoms or cravings. This had always been the bug-bear of previous attempts to quit: I’d go from being a chilled-out smoker who never gave fags a second thought except when I fancied one, to being an irritable, resentful non-smoker who obsessed about them constantly. I never experienced the short-term benefits of stopping as being worth the sacrifice – in fact the one thing guaranteed to make me want to chain-smoke by the dozen was trying to give up. Even last Christmas, when a bad chest infection made smoking impossible for ten days, I craved cigarettes to such an extent that I couldn’t wait to feel well enough to start again. Ridiculous, but there you go.
So what’s the difference this time? Well, it’s purely accidental – I wasn’t planning to stop, I just ran out of baccy. I fully intended to buy more when I’d finished doing my chores; but then I got engrossed in something else, and by the time I’d finished it was too late – I needed to start cooking dinner. After dinner, I couldn’t be bothered to go to the shop, even though I suspected I’d be annoyed when I had no cig to smoke with my morning coffee. But I wasn’t… nor did I want one badly enough to make an early baccy-run when I knew I’d be going out later and could pick some up on my way home. But when I passed the shop, I decided I didn’t really want a smoke; besides, if I waited until tomorrow, I’d achieve my modest cutting-down goal of buying only one 12.5g pouch in a week.
When tomorrow came I asked myself, ‘Would you like a cigarette, Helen?’ Much to my amazement, the answer was, ‘No.’ There was no great exercise of will-power involved. I just didn’t feel like it; but as soon as I did, I’d go and get some baccy. In the meantime it was actually quite nice not to smoke, and for once I could appreciate the difference. My mouth tasted better. My rattling chest and habitual cough cleared up practically overnight. I seemed to be sleeping more deeply. Then I caught an irritating snotty cold and, (unlike my experience over winter), cigarettes felt like positively the last thing I wanted…
And so it’s still going on. I find I miss constructing my little rollies more than I miss smoking them, and the only real craving I’ve noticed is a slightly greater desire to drink tea. Clearly, my addiction is more psychological than physical – so I’m tackling it psychologically. I won’t pressurise myself with vows that this time I’ve given up, completely and forever. I keep offering myself cigarettes because I’m not a non-smoker – I’m a smoker who doesn’t fancy one right now, thanks – but if I do decide to accept, I won’t give myself a hard time about it. Meanwhile I celebrate every smoke-free day, every fiver I save, and above all that it’s happened spontaneously and painlessly – for whatever reason, I simply don’t want to smoke at the moment.
So maybe this tack could help you, if you’re a fellow smoker struggling to quit: don’t give up. Just don’t buy that replacement pack automatically when you run out – try waiting a while. Try asking yourself, ‘Do I really want it, or can I manage without a bit longer?’ You never know – you might be as surprised as I was by the answer!