I have conquered several bad habits in my lifetime - chief among them a love of expensive moisturiser, eating with my fingers and promiscuity - but nothing felt quite the same as stopping smoking. I am using the word stopping deliberately; giving up implies that I am something losing out on something by no longer smoking, when quite the opposite is true.
Smoking consumed me, and if you are one of Britain’s 10 million smokers or one of the 32.7 per cent of Britons who are ex-smokers, you will know exactly what I mean by that.
Train journeys became a nightmare and plane journeys even worse - especially that time I was almost detained by airport security while trying to sneak out of a secure area for a fag during a stopover on the way to Costa Rica. Not to mention the panicked searches for the nearest open shop when I ran out of fags on bank holidays and Christmases, and the choice between a long walk or a sleepless night if you run out of fags at 11pm after the shop is closed.
Then there were work meetings, weddings, barmitzvahs, funerals, exams: each a hurdle to get over in the constant struggle to make the space between every cigarette that little bit shorter. Life was just a series of annoying moments in between smoking. Fags were my punctuation; they were what I got though everything else to do. They were also very likely going to kill me if I did not stop.
The moment I knew it was over was not when I had not smoked for two or three days, or a week - it was when I stopped having panicky feelings and counting the time. But of course in between that moment and my first cigarette (a sneaky Benson and Hedges in a school toilet before double music, I was 12) there were plenty of unsuccessful efforts.
I tried everything: I read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking at least six times. Then I read the book you’re supposed to read when you fail at stopping the Easyway, the Onlyway to Stop Smoking Permanently. Had Carr not died of lung cancer in 2006 I probably would have re-read that. I also tried the patch (useless), gum (foul tasting and useless) and cold turkey (gave me unbearable rage) but managed to stop smoking before vapes became ubiquitous.
In the end, what helped me quit for good was hypnotherapy. Even that took two goes. The first time I was 22 years old, sitting in an upscale office in Piccadilly and was asked by the hypnotist to imagine I was pregnant and was stopping for my unborn child. I told him I was imagining getting a termination, and things deteriorated from there.
The second time I tried it was 2012, and it was with an entirely different hypnotist. For £275 I was given two 90-minute sessions with a week of relaxation exercises to do in between. During that week I could still smoke, but I was asked to really concentrate instead of just zoning out and being pleased my desire for nicotine had been placated. After the second session I was officially a non-smoker, and was given two extra weeks of relaxation exercises to do.
If that sounds nondescript it’s because it was. The most memorable thing about my hypnosis was the panic I had when finding a parking spot and the moment my hypnotist told me that every time I chose to smoke I was choosing to die, something that has stayed with me in moments of weakness.
Those moments of weakness are now few and far between. The biggest surprise was how easy it was. I smoked for half of my life, from the age of 12 to 24. After stopping several people told me it was harder to give up than heroin (an odd thing to say, were they suggesting I could safely try smack now as I would obviously be able to quit?).
Others told me that hypnosis was just a trick of the mind - that I had done the hard work and all the hypnotherapist had done was emphasise my desire to quit. I disagree. I felt the all consuming need to smoke for 12 years and it was all but gone after two ninety minute sessions: I know hypnosis works for me. But I also know the hardest thing for any smoker to do is making the decision to stop. Everything else is just about finding a method that works for you. Now to try and stop biting my nails...
NB I stopped smoking with Inspired Hypnosis two years ago, they have no idea about this article and I paid the full amount www.inspiredhypnosis.co.uk
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