I don’t understand how it happened, to be honest.
I have tried to quit smoking dozens of times before–sometimes my valiant efforts lasted three days, and a few times I even managed to go for two months without a cigarette, but even then I never really felt “out of the woods”, never felt safely beyond the power of tobacco: it was always as though I were playing games with myself and only pretending to quit…the junkie in me waiting all the while for an opportunity to sneak a cigarette when my partner or friends (all of whom I told I was quitting, of course) weren’t around.
Corny as it sounds, this time was different, felt different. Although I had my last cigarette a few days after New Year’s Day, I’d made no resolutions and had no intentions of quitting…I simply finished a pack of smokes, and never bought another one.
The first three or four days of drug withdrawal were horrible, of course, though I’d been through all that before, and knew that surviving the ordeal was no guarantee of continual success. The days stretched out like agony…not counted in hours, or broken into mornings, afternoons, and evenings, but mangled into countless mini-cycles of “God, I want a cigarette!” followed by “No, no, no, no, no…”, this idiotic dialogue repeated maybe a hundred times a day, from the minute I got up in the morning until hours after I’d collapsed into bed at night. But every time I craved a smoke and resisted having one, it became easier to resist the next one.

What helped?
Keeping busy with other things and NOT dwelling on cigarettes, smoking, nor even upon the fact that I was trying to quit made things just a teensy bit easier. On the job (I work in a kitchen), instead of sitting in my usual smoking corner for a full break, I took just enough time off to go to the toilet and freshen up, then I’d have a glass of water and an apple INSIDE the kitchen, and get back to work whether my break was over or not. At home I painted and doodled in my visual journal, read a lot of light fiction and fluff magazines, found brainless, repetitive activities to lose myself in (embroidery, cleaning), took a lot of escapist naps when I’d run out of things to do and couldn’t stand sitting around, craving.

I avoided ALL the places where I used to smoke. For a while I just stopped going to cafés, didn’t sit at park benches or my usual haunts in the mall, didn’t hang around the Yacht Club’s Bar or go down to the Wharf for dinner overlooking the harbour…in fact, I avoided spending time out-of-doors in general because it’s the last place you ‘re allowed to smoke, and that’s where you’ll find all the smokers. It meant sitting INSIDE Woolworth’s lobby to eat my lunch of fruit and yogurt, taking refuge in libraries and museums, passing time in air-conditioned shopping malls, and only eating inside glass-walled, non-smoking restaurants.

Funnily enough, reading someone else’s blog about quitting smoking helped me tremendously. At first it helped just to know that I wasn’t alone…that others were going through the same thing.
And then the same blog introduced me to the online resource quit.org, and I think that looking up this site is what made the real difference in my efforts to give up smoking. Yes, the positive attitude, the facts, suggestions, tips and exercises helped—as did taking the long online quiz and receiving a personalised letter based on my answers—but I think that the real magic lay simply in the fact that I had found the humility to go looking for help (that I was crawling towards a government website only made it more pathetic and humbling). It was like joining the AA: I had finally accepted that this problem was bigger than I was, that every attempt to do it on my own had failed, and that it was time to turn to something outside of myself (some people pray to a God, but what matters is that you perceive the entity as having a higher power, and assume the attitude of a supplicant) and asked for assistance.
So many times I’d tried to quit, without success. And this time, at long last, I knew I was serious.

*And this time it was pretty easy, too.*
(looks nervously around for lightning bolts aimed to incinerate my foolish hubris)

It was so easy, in fact, that I am nervous. Shouldn’t it be harder? Is this for real? What’s WRONG with me? It’s only been three weeks, but if you only knew how I FEEL right now, you would understand why I’m so blown away! I feel so good. I feel calm and peaceful…and I know I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty amazing grace. I hardly think about it.  I don’t suffer terrible pangs of desire when I smell someone else’s smoke or see someone light up in front of me. I don’t find myself thinking “I miss it,” or reminiscing on what it was like. I can finally look past the romanticised images of smoking—that complicated bundle of emotions, dependencies and needs intricately tied up with feelings of well-being, signifieds of sophistication, sexiness, the dark—and see it for what it really was: just a dried-leaf drug, and me The Little Matchgirl, wrapped in imaginary fabulous-ness and visions of Colette, when a dirty brick wall, smelly fingers and hair, and greasy ashes is all there really was.

You’re never out of the woods, so it doesn’t pay to get too cheeky about a mere three weeks’ success. But it’s been a good start, a really different start, and I am so grateful for everything thus far.

Colette, smoking

2 thoughts on “*breathe*

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