Aug 242011

There are a number of different epiphanies or moments of realisation that you go through as a smoker. You think things are one way and then you realise in a blinding moment of understanding that they are not and everything is suddenly changed and the world may even look like a slightly different place. For example there is the first time that you realise that you can’t simply just stop smoking, that it’s no longer a habit but an addiction and that you’re hooked.

Perhaps the scariest realisation I had was that even if I stopped smoking perhaps the damage had already been done. I had always thought that as long as I eventually stopped smoking I would be okay, the damaging effects of smoking would be reversible. After all, I had only been smoking for a little while. Then all of a sudden, I woke up one day and I’d been a smoker for 10 years. Maybe the damage had already been done.

After starting smoking again, after my longest period of nicotine abstinence (57 days), the thought occurred to me, what if I can never stop smoking?

I had known for some time it would be difficult, then I thought maybe it would be the most difficult thing that I would ever have to do but I always thought, one day, I would manage to stop smoking. No matter how long it took, no matter how many times I failed and lit up again, I always thought that one day, eventually I would look back, a happy ex-smoker, free and contented. But now I have to face the fact that I may smoke to end of my days, and that that end could come a fair bit sooner and be a lot more painful.

I started smoking when I was 17. I don’t know why, maybe it was boredom, maybe I liked going out with everyone at break-times. I would often have to choose between spending my money either on getting the bus to college or to buy a packet of cigarettes. I walked an awful lot back then.

After two or three years of smoking, going for a run became a bit more difficult and I would cough up the most vile, despicable substances you can imagine.

I first tried to quit a few months around then. I managed nine days. In the maybe hundred attempts to quit since then, I’ve managed to surpass that nine days perhaps half a dozen times. I must have thought about quitting every day for at least the last five years.

Everyone knows that smoking is dangerous, that it’s a huge financial burden and that it makes you, quite frankly, stink. But less talked about, is the coughing and hacking and the phlegm and the fact that it gets harder to breath. I hate it. And I can’t seem to stop. For the last couple of months, I’ve gone about a week maybe two before I break and light up again.

Some people say that stopping smoking is like quitting any addiction – you just have to stop – and there is something to that. But saying that you just have to stop smoking is just repeating saying what you have to do – stop smoking. The problem is when you stop smoking you no longer want to not smoke, you want a cigarette and as soon as you light up, you want to be not smoking. I had to learn to tell myself that when I crave a cigarette, I really don’t, it’s just the addiction speaking. But sometimes it’s not enough.

Nothing great happens when you stop smoking. In fact things can get worse, you cough a lot more as your lungs start working again, and that little crutch that gets you out of office, that is your reward, is gone. You stop smoking and you take a look around and your life is pretty shit. It gets better, but it takes a while.

Some smokers say that they enjoy smoking, and I can’t disagree that on occasion having a smoke is great. Say after a meal or in the pub with a few beers but most of the time we puff away wishing nothing more than being free from this soul-crippling addiction. Even as we bring the cigarette to our lips we wish we could stub it out for the last time. Some people say they have no wish to quit smoking but I think most of the time that’s ego talking. Who wants to admit to being a junkie? So people tell themselves that it’s a choice that they happily pick.

As you go through a period of smoking less as you repeatedly try to quit, it is tempting to think you can just cut down a bit, that you don’t have to completely give up. You can smoke one or two a day or once or twice a week, but keeping yourself to that is a difficult task. It requires a huge amount of effort that I think it is unsustainable. Eventually you become a full-time smoker again. You’re a smoker or you’re not – there are no half-measures.

Quitting smoking is hard, I think it might be the hardest thing that I ever do. Thomas Paine said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value. ” And that’s it. You quit smoking and you get the world or least your life back.

Normally when I write a piece about the news or my life there is a natural end to the story. If it’s not there when I start, something usually turns up as I’m writing. But not this time. This story doesn’t finish, it just goes on and on and on. That’s the thing about quitting something. There is no day where you win, were you can stand up and declare victory and move on with your life. You just carry on, a day at a time, not doing something.

Anyway, I’m off. Writing all this has really made me want a cigarette.

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