I don’t think about smoking any more. If you are a hardcore smoker, you might find that hard to believe.
There was a time when the thought of living without cigarettes seemed beyond my comprehension. The thought of a life free of cravings seemed impossible.
I didn’t start smoking when I was that young. I was 18 and at college when I began to smoke socially. Within a couple of years, an hourly cigarette became the norm.
Twenty a day, rising to 30 or 40 on weekends depending on my partying habits.
I don’t know any smoker who doesn’t regret starting the habit. I, like others, would claim with bravado, ‘but I really enjoy smoking.’ I really meant it at the time.
Cigarettes were my friend and constant companion. It wasn’t till I stopped that I began to appreciate what it was that I so enjoyed about cigarettes.
Cigarettes took the edge of my feelings. It was a like a little dose of anesthetic. Bored? Depressed? Sad? Anxious? Cigarettes made it less so.
Happy? Excited? Manic? Cigarettes dampened it down. All the better for projecting that carefully cultivated ‘cool’ persona so important to me as an unconfident gay boy.
‘LGBT people are over 50% more likely to smoke than straight counterparts’
I wasn’t alone. Research shows that LGBT people are over 50% more likely to smoke than their straight counterparts. We have a lot of crap to deal with, and cigarettes can help.
Fast forward to my early 30s. I struggle for breath when I run for the bus. My clothes smell. My teeth and nails are yellowing. Only other smokers enjoy kissing smokers. Worst of all, I’m beginning to experience erectile dysfunction. Heavy drinking and heavy smoking is taking its toll.
There’s nothing funny, sexy or cool about it anymore. Heart disease runs in my family. One of my grandfathers died in his 40s from a massive heart attack. I’d be a fool to carry on as I am doing.
‘The cycle of giving up and relapsing begins’
Most smokers in their 20s vow to give up when they hit 30. Few manage it. Landmark birthdays come and go and still you find yourself shelling out for your little ‘hit’.
The cycle of giving up and relapsing begins. Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Give Up Smoking proves not so easy in the long run. Nicotine gum just tastes foul.
A few days of abstinence leads to complacency: surely one can’t hurt? Giving up is easy: staying stopped is not.
My inability to quit begins to increasingly and seriously depress me. I thought cigarettes were my friend: What sort of friend slowly poisons me and charges a premium for the privilege?
After the umpteenth attempt to quit, drastic action is required. On the recommendation of a friend, I find myself at my first Nicotine Anonymous meeting. It’s an LGBT gathering at a small room in Soho, London. Everyone sits around on beanbags and shares their story.
Nicotine Anonymous follows the same pattern as other Anonymous meetings (Alcohol Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, etc).
Attendees are encouraged to follow the 12-step program: admitting you’ve got a problem, you’re powerless in dealing with it, and drawing upon a Higher Power to help.
When I’ve mentioned attending Nic. Anon in the past I’ve been met with curious looks. I suspect some people view the idea as a bit of a joke. Getting into ‘recovery’ for alcohol or drugs is one thing…. But cigarettes?
Well, smoking-related diseases in the UK kill in excess of 100,000 people each year. By comparison, heroin kills around 1,200. Why encourage a heroin addict to get into recovery but laugh at the idea of a nicotine addict doing the same?
However, despite the great need for them, there are few Nic. Anon meetings compared to AA meetings. There are just a couple each week in London at the moment, but support is also available through its website.
I was 33 when I attended my first meeting. I haven’t picked up a cigarette since.
The benefits are fairly instant. Within three days, long-dormant taste buds came back to life. My sleeping and fitness levels improved. Erectile dysfunction? Back to teenage strength and hardness, thank you very much.
Was it easy? No. But I was surrounded by support and there was always someone I could call if I was feeling tempted. I made new friends and I learned to socialize without cigarettes.
I shared my feelings and analyzed why I was hooked to this horrendously addictive drug.
And it worked. Over a dozen years later, it continues to work. Besides the health benefits, I have literally saved myself a vast amount of money: cash I might as well have been chucking on a bonfire. Except throwing it on a bonfire wouldn’t have been killing me.
‘If I can do it, so can you’
At first I continued to think about cigarettes throughout the day. Then just once or twice a day. Then just occasionally. And now, never.
In fact, I only think about them when I find myself walking behind someone who lights up and puffs in my direction. And then my reaction is ‘Yuck’ rather than ‘Mmmmmm’.
If I can do it, so can you. That’s the one thing I’d like to say to anyone who’s read this far.
There are now more methods to help you quit (there wasn’t vaping when I was trying to stop), but if you are totally at your wit’s end, consider Nic. Anon. There are online and telephone meetings nowadays.
Giving up smoking was the best thing I ever did. I’m not sure I’d be around today if I hadn’t dumped that particular, toxic ‘friend’.