The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Giving Up Smoking - Part 2

I was at the folk session in Corsock last night - the first since the new smoking ban was introduced across Scotland. As well as being an enjoyable session, it was great to come home without stinking like an ashtray.

Back to how I tackled my addiction...

Before I began in earnest I started tackling the cigarettes-with-associations habit. For example, I’d always have a fag with a cup of coffee or tea, so what I did was decide that either I had the drink, or the cigarette, but not both together. To begin with, as soon as the warm liquid touched my lips I would instantly start craving, but I kept telling myself that at this point I wasn’t giving up – I could still have the cigarette - but only after I’d emptied the mug. Initially, in my haste to finish my beverage, it wasn’t unknown for me to scald my mouth and tongue, but within only a few days my body got used to separating the two actions and I no longer yearned for the nicotine the moment I began drinking. Likewise I always used to light up after a meal, but by delaying that satisfaction for half an hour, once again within a few days I managed to break that association.

When the time came to quit completely, I’d realised that going cold turkey wasn’t going to work (and this was in the days before nicotine patches), so I went down the route of cutting down. I pushed myself as far as I could between cigarettes, waiting until I could bear it no longer before giving in, and within a few days I’d dropped down into single figures. However once I was at 6 a day, I just couldn’t seem to get lower.

A friend of mine had heard of something he called “herbal tobacco” that you could buy at the pharmacy: you could smoke it, but it had no nicotine. When I lit my first roll-up of pure herbal, my body went into extreme reaction overdrive. The act of smoking without getting the nicotine hit caused my craving to increase a hundred times as my body started screaming WHERE THE F***'S THE NICOTINE YOU BAST***. It’s like the very first time you have a cup of decaffeinated coffee: as soon as you finish it you go “damn, I could do with a cup of coffee!”

My solution was to mix the herbal concoction with the tobacco to create a kind of nicotine-lite. I immediately went up to 9 a day, but with only half the amount of nicotine I’d made a net gain. As well as tasting foul it did have a peculiar smell, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the odd looks I began getting in public places when I would place a thin layer of tobacco in a rizla, then sprinkle in this other stuff that was a different colour and had a weird aroma. After it dawned on me that it was probably just a matter of time before I got arrested on suspicion, I began mixing it at home and transferring it to the baccy tin before going out.

One of the upsides of doing it this way was that I could be more accurate with the proportions, thus each time I hit a wall with cutting down, I could increase the proportion of herbal to tobacco.

One day, a month or so after I embarked on this journey, in the space of 24 hours I had only one roll-up, and that was about 5/6 herbal. Figuring that if I could do that, then I ought to be able to cope with none at all, I made ritual out of smoking my last ever cigarette.

The following day was difficult, but I managed, and by late evening I was triumphant. The next day was 10 times worse. Day 3 didn’t seem any better; in fact I would say that it was somewhere in the region of about 3 weeks before I began to have occasional days where every waking moment was not obsessed with the yearning, aching desire for a cigarette. But gradually the moments where I wasn’t brooding on the withdrawal became more frequent and lasted longer, until after around 3 months I felt like I was finally in control.

One unexpected side effect of giving up smoking was that my sense of taste and smell came back with a vengeance after a few days. Because the dulling of the senses by smoking is so gradual you don’t notice it happening: whereas before I would slap down the pickle, thick and deep on my cheese sandwiches, now all I had to do was take the lid off the jar and waft it lightly over the top to achieve the same level of tanginess; suddenly I could identify the brand of rolling tobacco someone might be using by smell alone when they opened their tin; and most disturbingly, I could tell when my niece’s nappy needed changing before her mother did, even if she was sitting on my sister’s lap on the other side of the room. I do remember being surprised that in this fragrant world I had entered, there were far more pungent aromas than pleasant ones.

I went through such utter hell giving up smoking that I swore I would never do it again. If I took up smoking again, this time it would be for life. Friends and family around also told me that they were never going to put up with me giving up smoking again either, which caught me off guard as I hadn’t even noticed the effect I was having on those around me. I am grateful that any of them still speak to me.

There are still occasions, nearly 16 years later, that I would still kill for a cigarette although fortunately they are very rare these days. But rather like the dry alcoholic, who will always be an alcoholic, even if they never have another drink, I can’t help but think that I’ll always be a smoker who just hasn’t had a cigarette for years. I know that if I was to ever give in and have one, then within a few weeks I would find an excuse to have another, then one more again a few days after that. It would soon be just one in the evenings and before I knew it I would be smoking regularly again. So it’s better that I never start.

Another unexpected, but extremely beneficial effect of giving up was that it enabled me to develop a relationship with the love of my life.

3 months after my final cigarette I returned to education at the local technical college as a way of meeting new friends rather than particularly to gain any qualifications. I knew a few people who were attending the college, but as they were all smokers at break times they went, naturally enough, to the Smoker’s Room. I joined them once, but became so overwhelmed with nicotine cravings that I had to leave and join the non-smokers in the cafeteria from then on. Maggie was on the Modern Studies course I was doing and as a non-smoker was a part of the group of people I would now chat to during breaks. Fifteen and a half years later and Maggie and I are still together, deeply and powerfully in love.

As an ex-smoker I have sympathy for those who are trying to kick the habit, but in this day and age, with the full knowledge of the lethal aspects of tobacco known to everyone, I have no sympathy for anyone idiotic enough to start smoking, or to take some kind of senseless pride in feeling that it is their right to not only poison themselves, but to poison anyone within breathing distance of them. I certainly have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed in this article Tobacco - the stupidest f***ing drug in the universe.


Monstee said...

It takes a strong will to do it you way Kim. Glad to see you used you reasoning power to help. Me? Me guess me was lucky in a way. After week of the Docstee saying me health was bad and first thing me needed to do to get well was stop smoking... me got really sick. Funny how when me no thought about it me cut down to about 10 a day, but when Doc say me HAVE TO quit it shoot right back up to about 40. Well, me caught a cold and cold turned into the flu and flu turned into Bronchitis and Bronchitis turned into pneumonia! Ever try smoking with pneumonia? Me did about 3 times... then me sat the pack aside and just went to bed for about a week. Oh me wanted to smoke... but the coughing fit me had was more than enough to stop me. Me guess in the long run the withdrawal from nicotine me body may have felt was just overshadowed by fervor, pain and general massive sickness! After a week me got out of bed and thought about smoking... but by then me already had such a handle on it that me just pitched the pack and never looked back. That was about a year ago and now the urge is still there but its mainly in me paws. THEY want to smoke more than me. So now me keep around little play things that me can spin on me fingers, open and close, roll back and forth... just to keep me paws busy. Do me still want to smoke? Yes. Will me ever smoke again? No. But that don't stop me from wanting to stab people in then eyes with ball point pens just because me cant. Once a smoker, always a smoker!

Gyrobo said...

I've just never been too keen on the idea of putting fire anywhere near my face.

Charlie said...

Monstee said, glad to see you used reasoning power to help. Sadly, that is a power hardly ever used by those attempting to quit an addiction of any kind.

You are correct that you are merely a dry smoker--just one smoke and you'll be off to the races again.

I often see a young married couple--mid twenties--who have recently taken up smoking. I can tell by the way they hold their ciggies and blow the smoke out that they are newbies. And I wonder WHY did they start, and probably together?

Like alcohol, I am neither a crusader against nor the moral police. I have been told, a time or two, to piss up a rope.

Perhaps, however, these yound people, and all smokers, should attend my eventual autopsy.

Smoking weeds with 400 addictive chemicals IS the most stupid addiction known to man.

Kim Ayres said...

Monstee - Maybe you need to learn a trick with your paws to keep them occupied,like that thing with the coin where they roll it between the knuckles. I always thought that it looked much cooler than just having a cigarette in the fingers.

Gyrobo - are robots not fireproof? Or are you worried about scrotching the paintwork?

Admiral - Like you I hvae very little idea why anoyone would take it up in this day and age.

Foot Eater said...

I started smoking at the ripe old age of 26, and deluded myself with the usual rationalisations that I was too old to get addicted. Two weeks later I was hooked on the damn things, of course. I came off them five years later and went on to nicotine gum (I preferred this to the patches, as the gum allows you to have the experience of a 'treat' after meals). For a year I was hooked on the gum, but I kicked that with the help of Alan Carr's Easy Way To Stop Smoking course. I still get tempted, though, four years later, especially after a drink.

Monstee said...

Tried the coin thing Kim... paws too big and coins too small. Got lots of others to do though.

Why anyone take up smoking in this day and age? Advertising and peer pressure. Bout the only things going for it right now. Got no doctors out there telling people they not getting enough tar!

Me caught a rerun of Star Trek not too long ago (not the old one, one of the newer series) and in this episode an alien woman am smoking. She offer the smokes to our 24th century Federation officer and he politely turn it down. She give him some flippant remark and he say "Ya know, my people use to smoke, but we quit when we finally accepted the fact that it was killing us." Me think that's what it am now. We know it am killing us. We believe it am killing us. We just don't accept that it am killing us. If we did, would anyone anywhere sell the damn things?

Charlie said...

I smoked once but when i worked out that all it did was drain your bank account and kill you at the same time i stopped. i have not touched one in 18 years.

Kim Ayres said...

Foot Eater - I've heard a few people say they managed to use Alan Carr's techniques successfully. Wish I'd had a copy of his book 16 years ago.

Monstee - The problem is that when we'reyoug, adn most likely to take up the habit, we also tend to believe we're immortal and just don't accept that anything like cancer is really going to affect us.

Charlie - wise man.

Charlie said...

I am an expert of perception, and I just perceived that, except for a fellow named Charlie, you have some rather odd-looking friends.

Likeable, mind you, one even a huggable grouch, but uh . . . odd.

Except for myself.


Admiral Uriah Pooper-Scooperington, IV, Ret.

Stella said...

Fair play Kim, that wasn't easy! As a scared smoker I hold you in highest admiration. Want to give em up myself and have decided I am gonna give Alan Carr's course a bash but in about a month ok? Driving test looming, don't make me do before then!

Anonymous said...

thankyou kim,that was very helpful,im trying to stop now but its very hard!

Kim Ayres said...

Admiral - there's something about blogging which means you tend to draw to you, and be drawn to, those who you share most traits with. The longer I'm blogging, the more I'm surrounded by strange and bizarre characters. I'm still trying to come to terms with what that says about me...

Stella - Good luck with the driving test, and the quitting smoking!

Anonymous - I'm glad anything I've written might be helpful. Do you want to leave me a name so that I'll know you're the same person if you comment again?

SafeTinspector said...

My mother taped up the pack she stopped smoking on.
She made a deal with herself that if she ever were to start smoking again, she would have to start with WHATEVER IS IN THAT PACK.
She had that pack in various purses for the next ten years. It was a mass of tape and bore little topographical similarity to its original form by the time she finally threw it away.

Monstee:You would think your fur would be incendiary!

Gyrobo said...

The paint is capable of sub-solar lucidity.

But the base skeleton is made of recycled materials.

Good for the environment, bad for sun travel.

Kim Ayres said...

SafeT - I've neer heard of that way of doing things, but it sounds like a good one.

Gyrobo - eco-friendly robot - excellent!

Jayne Martin said...

Holy crapola! You really did go through hell. I'm glad you made it.

Maggie was your reward. ;)

Kim Ayres said...

The greatest reward possible :)

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