Today it has been four years since I extinguished my last cigarette. I feel confident that I will never smoke again because I’ve let go of my smoking past. I’m still very conscious of the dangers of starting smoking again. I don’t need to worry about that danger, however, because unless someone straps me down and forces me to smoke, I won’t be smoking again. Ever. My mind is set.
I’m not afraid of smoking. It has simply become something that I no longer do. The addiction has long since departed. Even the romance has died. I can’t remember at what point I crossed over from being a cautious quitter to a self-assured non-smoker. Perhaps there was no single moment, but rather a gradual departure from my old self to my new self.
Previously, I had cigarette in hand at every possible moment ever since my teens. I loved smoking and I hated smoking, but mostly I loved it. Smoking was part of my identity, who I was. I gravitated toward other people who smoked and built my life around opportunities to indulge. The positive was that I successfully developed a cocoon environment in which I felt safe. With careful planning, I hardly ever ran out of cigarettes and I almost always managed to find a way and a place to smoke. The negative was I knew that smoking was bad for me. There was a tiny nagging voice inside my head - particularly when I reached my forties – telling me that it was only a matter of time until something gave way.
Something did give way. I landed in hospital with a deep-vein thrombosis in my left leg and a pulmonary embolism. Basically, the main artery in my leg had a blood clot and part of that clot had broken off and travelled to my lungs. It was a life-or death situation, especially if a piece of clotted blood had travelled to my brain. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Still, it scared me, and despite the fact that the doctors wouldn’t confirm or deny that my predicament had come about as a result of smoking, I felt that I had reached a point where I needed to stop attempting to defeat the odds.
I was quite fortunate inasmuch as my medical condition was only temporary and not a question of a prolonged slow and agonizing death, from cancer for example. However, the experience was bad enough to make me start thinking more seriously about my health and in particular it made me think more deeply about why I insisted on being a smoker. What was really in it for me?
To cut a long story short, I slowly came to the realization that I only smoked because I had built my adult life around smoking and that I was addicted to smoking. I started thinking about what life would be like without smoking, and in particular what life is like for non-smokers. It soon dawned on me that non-smokers have no desire to smoke and don’t even think about smoking, and yet they are able to live with just as much enjoyment of life as smokers. I needed to become a non-smoker, or at least an approximation of one.
Gradually I realized that I wasn’t quitting just because smoking was bad for me. I was quitting because I really didn’t need to smoke. I had never needed to smoke. If I had never started I wouldn’t even understand why people make such a fuss about quitting. I would have spent my time and money on other pursuits. It’s quite possible that I would be no richer or healthier, but that’s irrelevant in many ways. What is relevant is the fact that I was doing something and believing in something that serves no real purpose other than to feed an addiction.
Today I am completely free from smoking. I have no regrets about my smoking past and no worries about smoking in the future. I have taken mental distance from smoking and yet I still live in a world in which people smoke, including some people close to me. While it feels compelling to reach out to every smoker and start lecturing them about how great it is to have quit and be free, I’m also fully aware that addictions tend to defeat any logic. Instead, I help where I can by teaching people who have made the decision to quit that it is entirely possible to reach a point where smoking seems like a foreign concept. It takes time and a lot of introspection, but it is entirely possible.