5,563 days and counting
A friend of mine made an announcement on Facebook recently. She said that she was intending to pack up smoking. She asked for advice. I thought about it for a while, then realised there was far too much to fit into a Facebook post. So this is my answer now.
I smoked for more than 35 years. I started when I was 17. I packed up on Thursday 24th March, 2005, at 2.30 am. That’s 5,563 days ago at the time of writing, or 15 years and 3 months approximately. It was one of the best things I ever did.
I used the Allen Carr method: that is I read his book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
I recommend it. Allen Carr was a 60 a day chain smoker till he had hypnosis. After that he never smoked again. I would also recommend hypnosis.
What both methods show you is that, actually, smoking is much more of a psychological addiction than a physical one.
Yes there are physical symptoms when you give up, but 99.9% of these originate in the mind. Once you see that the smoking addiction is a trick of the mind, that last little 0.1% is easy to cope with.
That’s why Allen Carr called his method “Easyway”; but it’s not really as easy as he suggests. It is only easy once you realise where the addiction comes from. Getting to this realisation is a long term process.
In fact, if I was to write a Facebook post to my friend telling her how to pack up, I would say this: “Don’t!”
Or rather, “don’t yet, not until you are prepared.”
The urge to smoke is buried in the unconscious. It’s hidden. It’s occult. It lies in wait for you, attaching itself to every pleasure. It’s there tucked away with every cup of coffee, every time you sit down to rest. It’s there with every break, with every tipple, with every phone call, at the end of every meal: with every association you have built up over a lifetime of smoking. Once you stop it’s like a great yawning hole inside of you, an emptiness that can never be filled, occupying most of your body and reaching down almost to the cellular level.
Spend time with a smoker and you’ll see. They are barely conscious most of the time. They reach for the cigarettes unconsciously. They light up unconsciously. There is a brief gleam of satisfaction in the eye, after which they go unconscious again. They will be holding that cigarette and putting it to their lips, sucking in that smoke, with hardly any awareness of what it is they are doing.
The Allen Carr method involves making smoking conscious. That’s why he advises you not to give up immediately. Keep smoking, but be conscious of what you are doing. Don’t do anything else. Don’t do it as an accompaniment to any other activity. Don’t phone, watch TV or drink tea. Just smoke. Take those fumes into your lungs. Feel them. Breathe them in and blow them out. Contemplate the cigarette between gasps. Look at it. Talk to it. Ask it questions. It is your own unconscious that will answer.
In fact my experience of packing up smoking gave me one of the clearest insights into the workings of the unconscious mind I’ve ever had. Conscious and unconscious are complimentary opposites. They are not so much conscious and unconscious, as spoken and unspoken, verbal and non-verbal, rational and emotional. You can work your way back to the unconscious by what the conscious mind is saying. You’ll find it is merely one half of a conversation. The other half is the unconscious. Consciousness is the ongoing answer to a question you had forgotten you asked.
So that’s what you do. You smoke. You observe. You interrogate every cigarette. You can read Allen Carr’s book while you do it. You deconstruct the process. And once you have brought the smoking bug fully into the conscious realm, that’s when you can give up.
The final act is to take a last cigarette and say goodbye to it. That’s why I’m so precise about the time. I lit my final cigarette at 25 past 2. I looked at it, I spoke to it, I breathed it, I lived it, I took it all in: the smell, the taste, the crackle of the paper, the hiss of the leaf, the red glow of the fire, the black of the ash, the grey of the smoke, observing every aspect of it, till it was all gone; after which I stubbed it out with a flourish at 2.30 precisely, saying my last goodbyes and knowing with absolute certainty that this was my final cigarette.
That sounds easy, but it took around two months to get to this point. And while the final cigarette is burned into my memory, it was the one before which was the most significant.
That was the cigarette that spoke most clearly from my unconscious mind.
There had been several relapses. I’d had my first go on February the 9th, another on the 21st, then another in early March but had failed yet again. I’d been back on the nicotine for few days.
It was the afternoon of the 23rd. I was very proficient at staying aware while I smoked by now. So I lit this particular cigarette, breathing it in, talking to it, as was my habit, remonstrating with it and with my addiction, drawing the smoke into my lungs. That’s when it spoke. As the smoke went in, I felt something else too, something buried even deeper. Hidden away under the sensation of smoke hitting my lungs – that familiar catch, the feeling of satisfaction – the desire for the next cigarette was already there. It was waiting for me, lurking like a weird viral worm, almost as if it had intelligence. Even as I smoked one cigarette, the craving for the next was stirring underneath. I suddenly knew, with perfect clarity, that there could be no end to this. The feeling of satisfaction was false; it was merely the precursor of the desire for the next cigarette. The process would go on forever.
The following day I was in the checkout queue at the supermarket. I could feel the addiction inside of me. It was this tingling in my solar plexus, like a dying insect. That was it. That was the full extent of the withdrawal symptoms, once the psychological craving was dealt with: a little tickle in my belly. I laughed quietly at the absurdity of it. I imagined a conversation with the checkout girl: “I’m withdrawing from nicotine and it’s really funny!” I thought, and laughed again.
Later I was in a newsagents buying a newspaper. A teenage girl came in and bought some cigarettes. I said, “you’ll be addicted to them for the rest of your life you know!” She looked at me as if I was an idiot, but I didn’t care. It was all over for me.
So this is what I want to say to my friend: don’t give up giving up. If you’ve not had a cigarette, stay off them. If you’ve relapsed, stay determined. It will be a struggle. It will take awhile. Get the Allen Carr book. It helps. He’s a terrible writer, but every word he says is true.
Hypnosis also helps. You need to clear away the psychological addiction first. After that, once you see what a false friend it really is, once you’ve chased it down to its haunts in the labyrinth of the unconscious, once the conscious mind and the unconscious are in accord, it’s easy-peasy, even pleasurable.
And then, maybe two months after you’ve had your last cigarette, you’ll be out in the fresh air one day. You’ll be drinking in that pure, clean, cool air like it was water, and it will be like the world has suddenly come alive. Not just you, the whole world. It will sparkle with a new vibrancy. It will sizzle like electricity. Every atom, every molecule, every leaf, every bird, every tree. And you’ll know that you’ve been under a terrible cloud since you first started smoking, that the cloud has blown away, and that you are stepping out into the sunlight at last, never to return.
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.
Like what you read? Please donate as little as £1 to help to keep this site – and independent journalism – alive.