Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Quitting Smoking - Evening Herald March 2010

As a long time smoker, I assumed Heaven was waiting when an opportunity arose to go and live in France. After years of searching out Dublin pubs and restaurants that accommodated smokers, usually on a cold, draughty ‘terrace’, I thought of all those old ‘French film’ bars and caf├ęs, full of happy smokers, waiting for me.

How wrong I was; those days were over. Here in the foothills of the Pyrenees, I was once again on the outside looking in. I only frequented places with outside terraces, summer and winter. Then, one November night, I stopped smoking, forever.

So, here we are in spring and maybe you're still battling, trying to stop? Believe me, it can be done. The mistake we make and why, in my view, we fail, is in planning to start a whole new life, minus cigarettes, every January 1st.

Then, year in, year out, usually sometime in the late afternoon of the first day, we make another coffee and think, "Oh well, there's really no point now, since I was still smoking at the party at 4am. I'll cut down though, definitely."

I stopped and so can you, without hypnotherapy, alternative medicines, counselling advice, self-help books, CDs, patches or fake cigarettes. Smoking is only another habit, and it's one that can be broken. For anyone serious about quitting, I put forward the radical notion that it can be done anytime. You can stop now.

Tattooed in your brain should be the sound knowledge that every cigarette leads to the next. So forget cutting down, it won't work.

There must be no question of trying to stop either. What's the point in trying? The cigarettes will win that battle. They must be faced squarely, the habit acknowledged for what it is, and then stopped. 

Overnight, smoking becomes part of your old life. No "cold turkey" follows if you have made a positive decision. You feel only freedom.

Should any sceptics think I only smoked the occasional cigarette and so it's easy for me, I began in my teens, way back in the 1970s. Initially, I smoked about two each day, but the time came when I could not go anywhere without two packs. Being without them was not an option.

Back then, we lit up whenever we wanted to, were free to do so almost everywhere, including, bizarrely, on flights and even in hospitals. We gaily smoked our way through endless lunches, dinners, all-day weddings, all-night parties. 

The weirdo in the office, daft as it sounds in these more enlightened times, was the poor guy who didn't smoke, who by the end of the day could barely be seen through the haze. Things began to change though and even before the total ban, offices were sending smokers to separate rooms for coffee breaks. Homes of friends and family became smoke-free zones. At outdoor parties, we heard, "oh, an ashtray? I'm sure there's one somewhere, we gave up back in the 1980s . . .”

I moved to live in France thinking smoking was still fashionable, to find that vast numbers of French women, for health and appearance sake, had long ago quit. They raved about feeling better each morning, shuddered at the horrors of smokers’ sagging skin, lines around lips and eyes, discoloration of teeth, smoke scented hair and clothes. But I continued to light up, as if it wasn't relevant to me. Then, three things happened that made me look at myself. Really look, I mean.

I hosted a ladies' lunch; all non-smoking, interesting women and yet I found myself longing for evening. I barely got through a dinner the following night in the home of more non-smokers and two days later, I drove across France to stay with friends on the Riviera. Glamorous friends and fabulous places, but all of which were now, unfortunately for me, smoke free. 

With such a life here in southern France, was I over the moon? No. I was bad-tempered, irritated, wound up and thoroughly fed up with everything and everyone. They were all out of step except me; what was wrong with people?

I began to feel like large chunks of time had become a chore, occasions to be got through, before coming home; almost the one place I could smoke in peace.

I was walking in the hills, the mighty snow-capped Pyrenees as a backdrop, when the truth finally hit me. It was as if a dazzling light shone in my mind, the scales fell away and all became clear. The awful, mind-numbing, grisly realisation of how bad things were, sunk in.

The appalling reality was that my world was dominated by a small, square pack of chemicals. I was well on the way to living a restricted, narrow, sad little life, my existence governed by my smoking habit, and showing signs of wanting to avoid humans who didn't share it. Who would have thought that anything could gain such a hold over me?  

Only after I had truthfully acknowledged the stranglehold of cigarettes, when I had foolishly thought I was in charge of them, did it become clear that this relationship must end; it was time to go our separate ways. I smoked my last that same night and that was it. I have never lit up another.  

It's still, a few years later, a truly priceless feeling, being back in charge. If I can walk away from this habit, anyone who really wants to can do the same.

1 comment:

  1. I've been there and done that. For me it was rather closer to the way it was for Jane, but for my husband, a heavy smoker, it was not. I have to say, brava!

    And what lovely pictures in lovely looking weather!