What better time to talk about successfully giving anything up, then fresh on the heels of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death? So when I was looking for a little inspiration this morning, and came across this WordPress Daily Prompt, I knew I had to talk about my experience giving up smoking:
Not that smoking is, in any way, as difficult to give up, as heroin. Or as serious an addiction. But make no mistake. It is still an addiction.
When most of my high school friends smoked, I had no interest. Of course back then, no one knew it was bad for you. Everybody smoked. Doctors and nurses smoked. Athletes smoked. Celebrities smoked, in fact actors and actresses smoked all the time in movies. Tobacco companies were among the biggest advertisers, spending millions on ads and commercials. It was ‘cool’ to smoke.
My parents smoked, fairly heavily but, as I already mentioned, I didn’t want to. I stupidly took it up when, at age 17, my parents sent me on a teen tour of Canada and the U.S. We were in Harrison Hot Springs (BC), the weather was foul and there was absolutely nothing to do. We were bored. When I think of all the trouble we might have gotten into I guess smoking was fairly innocuous — except given what we now know about its health hazards, it wasn’t such a good idea.
No, I didn’t give it up once the trip was over. Smoking is an addiction. If anything, I smoked more, eventually getting to the point where I smoked almost two packs a day.
Bad, bad, bad.
By the time I was working, I had a terrible habit. I couldn’t write copy without a cigarette going in the ashtray and a cup of coffee — black — by my side. The first thing I did when my phone rang, or I was called into a meeting, was to light a cigarette. I even smoked in the elevator — as did everyone else.
At home, in the evenings, if I was down to my last couple of cigarettes I’d order a pizza — not because I was hungry — but because I wanted more cigarettes. The pizza would go into the freezer.
Looking back at it, I should have been ashamed of myself. I wasn’t, though. I was in the majority of the population. Smokers were everywhere. Non-smokers were the oddity.
Until anti-smoking laws were passed in Ontario the good. It was gradual. First smoking in cabs was banned. Then airplanes. Then they started talking about restaurants and offices. I was freaking out. Literally. I honestly didn’t know how I’d cope — stuck in an office all day — working under impossible deadlines and lots of stress — without a cigarette to calm me down.
There isn’t a method I didn’t try. Hypnosis didn’t work. Cold turkey definitely didn’t work — I lasted half a day. Slowing cutting back didn’t work. The patch hadn’t been invented yet. I was well and truly (bleep’d).
Panicing, I knew I had no choice. I had to quit. Period. But how was the question.
Watching TV one night I saw a commercial for a device called a LifeSign. Apparently it modified your behaviour. It seemed simple enough so I ordered one. I was desperate — I think I would have tried anything. Within a couple of days it was waiting for me in my mailbox.
It was about the size of a credit card and about as thick as an iPhone. Essentially it was like a computer. For the first week I had to program it, every time I smoked a cigarette. Once that was done, I was given a month to quit. Depending on how heavy (or light) a smoker you were, you were given anywhere from 1 week to 1 month to stop smoking.
How it worked was really simple: I had to turn the power on as soon as I woke up in the morning — even before I got out of bed. I could only smoke when this device beeped. And even if I didn’t want a cigarette when it beeped, I had to have one. Sometimes it beeped immediately. Ugh!!!! Smoking before you’ve brushed your teeth or had anything to eat is really gross. Sometimes it beeped just as I’d start eating a meal. It was a total pain in the ass, but I’d have to stop eating and smoke a cigarette. Sometimes it beeped in the middle of a meeting, or when I was in a movie. Never mind, I had to leave and go smoke. At bedtime I shut it off.
Amazingly I never realized I was smoking fewer and fewer cigarettes every day. Because that’s the other thing it did. It cut you back.
You know when I figured it out? The moment it beeped the really long beep indicating I was about to have my last cigarette. As I took it out of the pack on my desk I realized the package was almost full. I realized I’d hardly smoked in the previous 4 days.
Believe it or not I cried. Not because I was sad to give up smoking. I cried because I couldn’t believe I’d done it. Smoking had been so much a part of my life, this was really a momentous occasion.
Did I stick with it? I lasted about 14 years. Then, during an extremely stressful period in my life, I took it up again. Very, very briefly. There I was, in an alley on a freezing cold day, smoking; and I thought to myself, “What the (bleep) are you doing?”. When I stubbed that cigarette out I knew it would be my last. That was 12 years ago.