I’m an ex smoker.
It’s not something I’m proud of, but I smoked for around 22 years, on and off. Not exactly a light smoker, either; I used to smoke a pack a day.
Something I am proud of, though? I quit smoking. Twice, actually.
Here’s my story. Hopefully if you’re a smoker looking to quit, you’ll find something in here that helps you.
As a child, I never imagined myself as a smoker. I was always one of those kids that thought the whole thing was disgusting. But I grew up in a different time; smoking was a perfectly normal, acceptable thing to do. I eventually got a job in a hotel; pretty much the entire staff smoked. You could smoke in any of the offices, even the office behind the reception. Bar staff used to smoke in the bar area itself in front of customers; technically against the rules but the managers usually turned a blind eye; they were usually as guilty as anyone.
So no surprise, then, that I succumbed. While cleaning up after a particularly hectic Christmas party, I found an almost empty pack of cigarettes on a table. Three left. I was stressed as hell at that point, and had been watching some of the staff enjoying a relaxing drink and smoke after the bar had shut. They looked like they were enjoying themselves. So I found a box of matches and lit up my first ever smoke.
It was disgusting. Of course it was. But I knew that everyone hated their first. The second one wasn’t so bad, and I actually enjoyed the third.
Fast forward about six months and I was a confirmed 20 a day smoker. Apart from a brief quit a couple of years later, I carried on that habit for the next 21 years. I tried many times to quit smoking, most of them pretty half-arsed attempts, before finally quitting just after my 40th birthday.
The first quit – Champix/cold turkey
So after I hit 40, I got a letter from the doctor. Time to go in for a checkup. Apparently I’m not young anymore, so the doc is now really keen on knowing exactly how I’m falling apart.
I was all fine overall, slightly overweight, cholesterol a bit high, all the usual stuff – hey, I’m no angel! But I got the usual lecture from the doctor about smoking. Ugh. OK, fine, I’ll quit. It’s probably about time. I’d always promised myself I’d quit when I hit 40 anyway. In fact I’d promised I’d quit when I hit 30, but that never happened…
So I was prescribed a course of champix (chantix in the US). It all seemed pretty straightforward – take the pills for a week and then cut back on the smoking. I’d tried nicotine replacement therapy (Niquituin and the like) before and had met with miserable failure so wasn’t expecting much from these, but I figured they’d be worth a try at least.
But you know what? They actually worked. I took them for a couple of days, just the lowest dose to start, and almost immediately I noticed smoking wasn’t really doing much for me any more. I just wasn’t getting the hit I was used to, and it wasn’t even really bothering me that much.
So I carried on, increased the dosage and quit altogether. At that point, it really didn’t bother me at all. I was finally done with cigarettes!
Champix problems and cold turkey
After a couple of weeks, though, I was really starting to get sick with the pills. Literally, I’d take the champix in the morning and I’d be feeling fairly sick for a good hour or two afterwards. So I did a bit more research on Champix. I’d heard that nausea was a common side effect, but I found some others too. People getting really depressed and low, for one. I’d been noticing this myself, but had just put it down to quitting. But people were even talking about feeling suicidal! Another thing that was mentioned often was people struggling to quit the champix at the end of the course; they’d just swapped one addiction for another.
So I decided then to quit the Champix mid-course and go it alone. I was getting sick of being sick.
I felt at the time that I could do this, I hadn’t even wanted a cigarette for more than a week. So I stopped taking the Champix. The next couple of days were a little rough and some cravings kicked in, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Fast forward a week or two, and I’d done it! I’d quit smoking. The Champix had gone from my system, the nicotine was long gone. I didn’t want or need a cigarette. It was a great feeling.
Then it all went wrong
About 9 months after that, I was on holiday. I was watching a few other people smoking, and musing that it would be nice to just be able to smoke every now and then. Not full-bore, 20 a day like I used to be, just the odd one here and there. I wasn’t an addict any more, so what would be the harm?
So I bought a packet of cigarettes.
It was fine to start with; that packet of smokes lasted almost a week and I smoked the last one at the airport before flying home. Perfect. I didn’t smoke any more for a week after I got back, and didn’t really miss it. Great!
Then it all went wrong.
Reflecting on my success on holiday, I decided to buy another pack. That was fine, it lasted nearly two weeks. So did the next one. But then I noticed; I was looking at my pack and thinking ‘ooh, only a couple left; better buy another pack.’
Yep. I was addicted again. I Before I knew it, I was back to smoking regularly again. Maybe not as much as I had been before, but way more than I wanted. And I couldn’t stop.
The second quit – cold turkey
So, fast forward a year. To last summer, in fact. I started having some health problems; weird chest pains, numb fingers, all kinds of weird and funky stuff that culminated in me thinking I was honestly having a heart attack. It turned out to be anxiety and a panic attack (more on that some other time), but I didn’t know that then. I honestly thought I was dying. Not even kidding.
When I ‘recovered’ from the attack, I knew something had to be done; quit smoking for a start. So I picked up my cigarettes, went outside, and… smoked one. Then another. Hey, I was still an addict, after all.
But that was the beginning of the end; I bought one more pack after that and formed a plan. It wasn’t much of a plan, to be fair; I was going to get to the end of the pack I’d just bought and then that would be it. I’d quit smoking for good. And this time I wouldn’t make the mistake of taking it up again.
Unlike many people who can tell you to the exact minute when they last smoked, I don’t remember the exact date I quit smoking. I remember it was about lunchtime. It might have been a weekend. It was, I think, around the middle of July. Might have been the end of June. I forget. It wasn’t a particularly momentous occasion; I smoked my cigarette in the garden and put it out when I was finished. Just like the thousands of others before it. The only difference being, there were no more after it. At the time of writing, it’s been 8 months or so and so far I have no desire to ever smoke again.
There was no magic bullet this time, no fancy wonder drugs. No hypnosis, no nicotine patches, nothing. I just… stopped. I got cravings, sure. But from my last quit, I knew what these were and how to deal with them. They pass; ignore them and they will go away. It’s just a case of waiting it out. They get weaker and less frequent with time, too.
The most annoying thing, though? After all the false starts, the failed quits (rarely lasting more than a day) and the years of believing I couldn’t do it, that the challenge was too great, in the end it was easy. Sure, the first few days kind of sucked, but it was all plain sailing after that. Despite my great fears that life without smoking would be dull or empty, a month after I quit I was wondering why I’d ever bothered in the first place.
Will I ever smoke again? I don’t know. The way I feel right now, almost certainly not. I honestly have no desire to. I’ve been here before though, and fell off that wagon. I think I’ve learned my lesson though.
The landscape is changing, too. Smoking has turned from something normal and accepted (I still remember that hotel; the canteen doubled as the smoking room. People used to smoke right next to people having dinner. Nobody really minded), glamorous even, to something shameful that an ever-dwindling handful of people do. The tide has turned. That’s a good thing.