I gave up smoking. And it’s been fine. No, honestly.
Which goes against expectations a little. I’ve been smoking for around 20 years and I’d tried giving up once before, about 18 years ago. Felt dreadful, got a mouthful of ulcers, lasted about two or three days, didn’t try it again. Instead I accepted my lot as a hopeless nicotine addict and got on with life.
In recent years I’d come up with a vague notion that I’d give up smoking when I hit 42, what with 42 being the number 42 and all that. It made a sort of geeky, numerological kind of sense, plus it had the added benefit of being just enough of a long way off not to have to worry about too much. Except it started to become a little close for comfort (not that close, but definitely impending) and over the last few months I must have subconsciously decided to get it over and done with.
It helped that there was a perfect opportunity for getting it done: Philippa was off to Australia for three weeks to visit her half-sister, meaning I’d have the place to myself and the freedom to be as fucking irritable as I wanted, without the added distraction of having to field, through gritted teeth, well-meaning enquiries as to how I was getting on. It would probably be ghastly, but after three weeks I’d be over the worst of it and it’d be a nice surprise for Philippa when she got back.
Everyone knows that giving up is hard. There’s a whole industry built up around it being really really difficult. And so I prepared well. Philippa was leaving on the Saturday lunchtime so I figured I’d run out of cigarettes that morning and have things coincide a little.
Then at Sainsbury’s after she’d left I changed my mind and bought two packets. But! Crucially I also picked up some nicotine gum – one enormous box of the full strength stuff, which I guessed might be enough to get me through the living hell of nicotine withdrawal. Then I looked at the instructions, decided that full strength was probably a bit much considering I’d been on the ultra-weedy Silk Cut Juniors for years, and got an enormous box of the half-strength.
All that remained was to finish off the two packs that I’d bought on the Saturday. Which took me through to 8.00 on Tuesday morning, when I smoked the last one. No real sense of ceremony; finished it, had my breakfast, loaded my pockets with nicotine gum and headed off to work with a vague sense of foreboding.
I managed to hold on until about 12.00 before breaking out the nicotine gum. I dealt with the lack of fag breaks at work by going out and walking a lap of the building, which proved to be a fairly decent displacement activity. Felt a bit spaced out and edgy, but just hit the gum when it got a bit much. I got through four pieces on day one.
Day two, I got through another four pieces. Then I did some sums and realised that each piece supposedly delivers the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of Silk Cut Juniors. So I gave up the nicotine gum. Day three was fine. As was day four and every day after.
Sorry about that.
There I was, totally geared up for hell week, and all I got was a couple of days feeling a bit ropey. The hardest bit was telling my brain to fuck off every time it told me that it was time for a fag. “It’s time for a fag!” No it isn’t, brain. Fuck off. “Oh, all right; better have a fag then!” No. Fuck off. “Sorry about that. Is it time for a fag now?” Etc. It was non-stop for a while then started tailing off around day three.
So what’s the trick? I’ve compiled a handy checklist of what I think worked for me. Should you want to knock the fags on the head, give it a go.
1: Switch down to the junior fags. There’s your preparation stage for you. Since we’re mostly dealing with nicotine withdrawal, get yourself used to less nicotine. If you’re on 20 or fewer Silk Cut Silvers a day, the rest is going to be relatively painless.
2: Pick a date for giving up, then change your mind at the last minute if you want to. Because you can, and because you’ll feel slightly disappointed with yourself and that little bit more resolved to do it properly.
3: Smoke all your cigarettes. Don’t leave any squirreled away just in case. Don’t make a big gesture of tossing a half-finished pack in the rubbish. As it is there’ll come a point where you’ll be checking the empty packets in the bin to see if there are any forgotten fags in them. The simple fact is that you can’t smoke if you don’t have any cigarettes, and it’s not as if you’re going to buy any, is it?
4: Get nicotine gum. Not patches. Patches seem to be based around the premise of giving up gently over an extended period. Fuck that. Nicotine withdrawal takes 72 hours, max. I was through the worst of it after 48. Buy the smallest pack you can get of the 2mg stuff, and have a piece when you feel like climbing the walls. You’ll still end up throwing a load of the stuff out.
5: Displacement activities. Have some ready. I did laps of the office instead of having fag breaks at work. At home, I stayed away from my PC, which is where the ashtray was situated, as much as I could, and watched more telly instead.
6: Most importantly, you have to want to give up. That’s what it all comes down to. Smoking’s an entirely selfish pleasure, and you need your own selfish reasons for giving up. If someone’s badgering you into doing it, don’t bother. You’ll quickly find a reason to fail. Me, I seem to have already decided that I was done with smoking, and that made the whole giving up business that much more straightforward.
And that’s pretty much it. A bit of half-arsed preparation, a genuine will to give up and up to 72 hours of things being a bit shit is what it boils down to. I’ve had worse colds.