On not smoking - how I've done it

Going smoke free

Carr, in his book about how to stop smoking warns early on that the reader may get all the way through the book, then not read the last chapter – because they know that to do so will be their last act as a smoker, and they will be too scared to go there, so they won’t…, they won’t want that final confrontation, I have never read that chapter.

I have however stopped smoking…

They say there’s no one worse than an ex-smoker… they can appear patronising, snobby, and superior to the struggling smoker and addict,  those lines they spin out
  • ‘you simply have to make up your mind'  
  • ‘you just have to really want it’
  • ‘it’s the hardest thing in the world to do’
  • ‘you just have to decide to’
there’s lots of lines and they are simply not true - they lack full disclosure

Accept you are an addict

The last time I had a cigarette, as I write this was 7 weeks and 3 days ago, after rereading and editing final publishing on my blog, was 8 weeks ago.

I’ve kicked it, and today I am clean, I remain an addict forever in recovery.  

Note well, this understanding that you are

  • only clean today
  • and remain an addict forever in recovery

is essential, a non-negotiable – you must understand and accept this.

The problem with Carr, I found, was that I quickly saw through his method, my fault not his: it was entirely not dissimilar to the classical coaching that I have been working with, no different to the high performance ideas of really understanding what is going on and where you are in the world. A deconstruction, and examination of the issue at hand,  and a gradual reconstruction and repetition of a new narrative, a rebuilding of confidence, and self-belief, a process that encourages and supports a shift in behaviour.  The problem for me with this book was that having seen through it I deconstructed it instead of believing in it, and then I put the book down…, try it if you have not, believe it.

So here is the bit of the truth, which I could illustrate by telling you a long a long and complicated story about my mother passing away, changing my job, running out of money, wanting to chuck myself off a roof while on holiday... I won't.

Look, any addict, when they finally make the decision to stop or die before that, will reach a point where they sincerely want to stop, they do want it.

I wanted to stop a long time ago, plenty of addicts want to stop, plenty of addicts go and get their fix then cry on the way home or maybe even while they take it, or even during the hit itself, ashamed that they don’t have the ‘strength’ to stop what they wish to stop.

Any one addicted to anything will tell you it’s not enough to simply ‘want it bad enough', if you don’t have the equipment, tools, or techniques to get through the getting off of it... if the pain of using is less than the pain of not.

Through the experience of coaching I realised that I had some tools at my disposal that could help take of control of my addiction, to at least not be victim to it anymore and to help me on the way

Experience ‘The Pain’

Here’s a suggestion – even if you’re not planning on giving up right now, even if you’re not an addict but are reading this out of curiosity, or to see what a loved one might go through.. the next time you want, I mean really want, want, want something, just deny yourself that little bit longer – that feeling you get, that yearning, that feeling of going without, of being a teenager in love and it not being returned maybe, that is The Pain I’m talking about… it can be very real, so very real, it depends what you are going without of course, an addict knows that feeling intimately, particularly in withdrawal, and from some things that withdrawal can be very real, very painful, dangerous even, with smoking and dope that sense of loss and being without, that deep yearning is very real and intense,  that is The Pain… experience it a few times before you try to stop for real...  prepare yourself for regularly experiencing it again, maybe forever...

You must accept you are an addict.

Here and now as I write about The Pain I am experiencing it myself…  as I think about cigarettes and tobacco an emptiness hits my stomach, a fuzz to my brain, if I think of marijuana I begin to salivate, if I think of cocaine I can almost taste and feel it at the back of my throat – my head aches from a faux-withdrawal experience… at least once in the last eight weeks I have had to sit down as I have felt totally stoned, almost to the point of thinking I might whitey...

Do you feel it too?, perhaps by simply reading this, perhaps because you have chosen to deny yourself for just a short while…

Like I said, addiction is not gone, you are clean only in this moment, you are forever in recovery – don’t worry, I can detach again from this space – but writing about it as I am takes me back there, so it is difficult – if I take a break, indeed when I’ve finished writing this piece I will go for a walk, clear my head – use the techniques I am writing about and I will be fine again.

Mindfulness and A New Story

Now, when I feel The Pain, I am telling myself A New Story, the message in the sensation of The Pain has changed for me.

No longer is The Pain a signal to me that I need my fix, no longer do I say to myself ‘this will be gone if I have a smoke’, I don’t say to myself ‘I need a smoke’, now I send myself a simply reminder

  • ‘this is the sensation of recovery’
  • ‘this is how getting better feels’

I chose to go cold-turkey, to shed myself completely of my addictions rather than simply shift delivery systems while remaining enslaved.

Applying this New Story requires Mindfulness, by which I mean I must bear witness to the sensations I am experiencing – it is this that takes what people will unhelpfully call ‘willpower’…  As soon as I begin to get that sensation of wanting, experiencing The Pain, I go this space of ‘watching’ what is going on within myself.

The Day I Stopped

In the past, when I had chosen to give up, I would often do so at the end of the day, last thing at night, probably after a glass of wine or my ‘last joint’, you know, something just to help me get right off to sleep to ensure that my body experienced the pangs of physical withdrawal while I slept.  Not so on this occasion.

I got up in the morning as usual, along with my then three year old son, bright and early 6am or there abouts.  It was a Friday, my partner is at home on Fridays and whilst we both do a bit of work during the day we are fortunate to have a longer weekend, I was happy to be doing this first stage over a weekend, with time and space…

An 'Excellence' burning in an ashtray, Mykonos 2017
So I got up, had a rollie, a cup of tea, another rollie a little while later, then a little a later the very last of my rolling tobacco, then a while later the last of my ready made cigarettes from a packet of ‘Excellence’ a brand I had been smoking on holiday in Greece. I stood in my back garden, had that last cigarette, picked up the ashtray and put it at the end of the garden next to my small composting area. It was still only about 8.00 am

I chose to stay off coffee for a few days too, I’m not sure that was totally necessary, but I wanted to be as free from as many uppers and influencers as I could be for a few days, so I took only a little wine with my dinners in the evening.

From then on my task was simple, to do nothing more than to watch, to regard and bear witness to whatever was going on in my body:
  • Not to be slave to The Pain, but simply to experience it
  • Not to blame anything for The Pain, but simply to experience it
  • Not to bemoan and say The Pain will be cured by a drug I cannot have
but to simply witness what is occurring in my body, sit down, close my eyes and experience and really really feel it, watch it, and witness The Pain

Remind myself at the same time, out loud if necessary that most definitely:
  • ‘What I am observing and witnessing is good, it is great, it is the sensation of becoming healthy’
I gave myself a message consistently throughout that first morning, then the whole day, then rest of that weekend, that new message that every new sensation, every sense of The Pain that I had was the new feeling of being clean, of becoming healthy – of choosing life.

I had a little something to help and divert, some small chocolate pieces, like Smarties or M&M’s, I would just take one, maybe two, a quick hit of chocolate induced dopamine, not every time I had a pang even, but there just to take the edge off.

Witness and observe The Pain – watch and see it without getting lost in it
Tell the new story about The Pain - it is not something to be cured with a drug, it will pass, return and pass, it is the process of healing, of getting better and choosing life -  The Pain is all about getting better

I soon noticed that through that purposeful observation of what my body was going through I was using up a lot of mental energy, at first it was exhausting because for the first few days I was often in that observation of The Pain and in that telling of a new story, but I also noticed that the waves of The Pain and the need were less frequent and intense as time passed, in fact before I knew it, after just a couple of days in fact, there were virtually no sensations, very rarely did I get to feeling that I ‘needed’ something

Small amounts and moments only

Mindfulness and self awareness were the key for me. I find ‘grit’ and ‘determination’ are unhelpful words, I would rather they were replaced altogether – I’m just not sure what with, because take my word for it, while something along those lines is required, it is in small amount and for moments only

It is in small amounts and moments only, I never tell myself I will never smoke again, I accept I am an addict -  I just tell myself I don’t need to smoke for these next few moments…, I remind myself this is a small amount of The Pain, lasting a few moments only, I can go through it, it is what being healthy now feels like for me.

It only took a few days to get through the intense stuff, after that the desire to smoke dropped away quickly, there were triggers – like wanting one after dinner or with a cuppa, but again I simply observe the sensation, remind myself that is the great feeling of being alive and healthy that I am witnessing, and carry on about my business, the sensation passes in no time.  

Signs of improvement

I’d been drinking all day, not on the piss like in the old days, just in a garden with friends, chilling, laughing, playing with our kids and chit-chatting on a warm afternoon.  No one there was a smoker, one person vaping, not even the occasional whisp of vape ‘smoke’ or sweet aroma bothered me in the least, prosecco, bottled ale, a touch of red wine, and a gentle stroll home in the evening light.  As we walked home together as a thought entered my head, you know, that one you have as you sit down with a nice coffee, cup of tea, or a beer – one of those triggers that makes you think, ‘oooh a cig would be nice right now’

  • The thought triggered the feeling

It was in that moment that I noticed it most – I noticed most clearly that the thought came first, ‘oooh a cig would be nice right now’, followed swiftly by the physical yearning.

  • The yearning came after the thought

‘The yearn came after the thought!’ I shouted gleefully at Kat and Jack!

The very next day we went into town, we were strolling around and I had wandered off to a corner of the square with my camera, I noted a group of people, they spilled out of the pub together laughing, passing around cigarettes and all starting to spark up pretty much all at once.  I watched a big pall of smoke drift across the square straight from them to me, hitting me full in the face, this big waft of gorgeous looking thick smoke… it hit me like a spade in the face, this disgusting wall of smell, so hard that I almost puked on the spot, and I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy, I knew I’d cracked it.

  • You do have to want it, but only enough to start the journey…
  • You do have to be brave, but only brave enough to pick up some tools to get you through it…
  • You do have to know it will be hard…, but not for long, and for shorter and lesser periods of time…
  • You must accept it will never go away…., you are an addict, the choice is whether you select to be one in recovery that feels fucking great about it, or one who is not…

Get some friends that you can talk to  – I have at least two who are addicts also, we catch up with each other, you don’t have to be on the same points of the journey

Practice mindfulness and changing the story

In the early days at least, why not find a little something to give you an endorphin boost or the kick of a dopamine, here’s a few activities and foods that can help to stimulate your pleasure centres!

  • Ginseng
  • Any physical activity and exercise
  • Laughter
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Sex
  • Bananas
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Music
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Eggs
  • Chilli


G x