Being the sort of person who always reads the manual, I did a lot of research the first time I decided to quit smoking. There are three things wrong with all the quit-smoking programs I read online:
1. They give you rational reasons for quitting. But nobody ever smokes for rational reasons, so surely you’re unlikely to quit based on them?
2. They assume you’re trying to quit because you’ve come to hate it as a non-smoker would.
3. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach. Nowhere did I find anything I could relate to. The reasons they listed for smoking didn’t apply to me, The methods for quitting seemed to my argumentative mind to be inadequate. (E.g.: Finding something else to do with your hands is too much like a bluff just waiting to be called). So I only took as much gold as I could usefully carry – the list of withdrawal symptoms.
The rational parts helped after I went through the actual quitting part, to keep me safely smug. But as it happened, smugness only went so far and crumbled completely under the onslaught of a lovely café in the rain and remembered pleasure. So, not effective finally.
Then I read an unusual article on the subject in The New Yorker. In it, David Sedaris wrote: ““Finished” made it sound as if he’d been allotted a certain number of cigarettes, three hundred thousand, say, delivered at the time of his birth…he had worked his way to the last one, and then moved on with his life. This, I thought, was how I would look at it. Yes, there were five more Kool Milds in that particular pack, and twenty-six cartons stashed away at home, but those were extra—an accounting error. In terms of my smoking, I had just finished with it.”
It made me understand fully what I meant when I told people that I knew I would stop one day so I was going to enjoy it fully while it lasted. Now, a year later, I have half a pack of cigarettes in my dressing table that’s several months old. There was no dramatic renouncing of the habit, not even conscious thought. The cigarettes that are gone from there were simply my last ones. My lighters still lie scattered around, I see the pack every morning when I dress. But there is no wrenching here, no panic. Most of all, there’s no denial. I acknowledge that I want it and love it, but choose not to anyway.
I stopped one cigarette at a time. I didn’t smoke the first one, then I didn’t smoke the second, then the third, fourth, fifth, the next pack, the one after that. I didn’t walk gingerly through it either – I met smoker friends for drinks, continued to gather outside the office and have tea with smoker colleagues. I kept the crutches close throughout, but the packs of Nicotinelle and candy remained unopened. Eventually I gave them away.
Sitting here now, at another lovely café in the rain, I can see the cigarette shelf behind the counter with “my” pack in it and I feel nothing, not even nostalgia. All that’s left is a professional evaluation of how careless the display is, all that beautiful packaging wasted by poor lighting and bad positioning. The only nostalgia I feel is for a job that I was very good at but practically killed me. Much like the cigarettes in there, I suppose, Except that that never matters. As another smoker writes: “I am convinced that smoking will kill me, but I am not sure this particular little cigarette will.”.
Weirdly, the first time I tried to stop I had the full complement of the emotional withdrawal symptoms listed – it was very, very traumatic – but none of the physical ones. This time my body reacted violently, but there was no heartbreak, so perhaps I really had come to the end of my “quota”.
I will always be a smoker, though, whether I use the feature or not. I’m glad of it.
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