March 2011 – Salty John : The Blog

I’m an expert on giving up smoking. I can say this because I have tried and failed and then tried and succeeded. So I know the difference.

I started smoking when I was 16, which is pretty damn early to start smoking. When I was a lad it was cool to smoke. If you didn’t smoke you were weird. How could you stand school without a fag (oops, showing my age) now and then. How would the girls look upon you if you didn’t at least try to emulate the heroes of the day – James Dean and James Bond (eighty a day according to Ian Fleming, his creator)?

I didn’t notice the point at which smoking changed from being a voluntary activity to being an addiction. I guess it was around three or four years in. I was aware of people talking about ‘giving up smoking’ around that time – early twenties. The concept of there being some difficulty in no longer smoking was only just beginning to dawn.

I was something of an athlete at school. I played soccer and I ran the 100 yard and 220 yard sprints for my school. Actually, you don’t notice the effects of smoking when you’re a sprinter as much as you do if you’re a long distance runner, but still, I have to say, I did eventually notice and my reaction was to stop sport. To concentrate, I suppose, on my smoking.

When I was in my late twenties I made a serious attempt to stop smoking. It was painful. It was also very scary because that’s when I realized that smoking was an addiction and it had me in its maw.

Over the next few years I gave up smoking several times – a week, a month and, one time, more than a year. Each time I would fail to sustain my abstinence.

Each time that I failed to quit the prospect of ever giving up became more distant. My dependency seemed to grow.

In 1988 I decided I was going to take off in a small boat, with my wife and daughter, to explore the world. In order to achieve this long held dream many sacrifices would have to be made; my career would have to be, if not abandoned, then put on hold; the luxuries of a salaried existence would be lost, the pennies would need to be counted. No problem; a dream so long and jealously held was not going to falter because of silly materialistic trappings.

Ah, but wait. Surely there was no room on a small boat for the many cartons of cigarettes that would be necessary to sustain a habit that now ran to three packs a day?

I decided to quit. This time I decided to make it stick. I had seen friends try and fail with a variety of patches, drugs and other nicotine substitutes but the overwhelming message I got was one of failure. It was going to have to be cold turkey.

That was 23 years ago. I’m still clean.

How did I do it? There is no easy way, I’m afraid, but nothing worth achieving ever is easy. What’s required is will power. You might not think you have it, but you do. Trust me.

Here are the imperatives:

Immediately assume the persona of a non-smoker. This is hugely important! Don’t tell people who offer a cigarette “No thanks, I’m trying to give up.” How negative is that! Say “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” You don’t have to become an evangelist about it and condemn others for smoking, just make it clear you don’t smoke.

When the first craving occurs, tell yourself that in about ten minutes the craving will diminish. It does. Each time the craving arrives tell yourself that it will go away in a few minutes. It will. Cling to that.

Under no circumstances ‘reward’ yourself for giving up for a day, a week, a month, a year, by having a cigarette. Remember how you laughed at this concept when you face the situation, as you surely will. Resist!

Remember, you are a non-smoker! Keep telling yourself that.

There will come a time when you will wake up in panic from a dream in which you started smoking again. When you realize it’s just a dream the relief will be immense. And you will know you’re well on your way to being a non-smoker.

So, you don’t have to go blue water cruising to quit smoking, but it helps.