When I was 17 I made a really stupid decision. I was at a party with some friends, and went outside to talk to some people who I wanted to get to know better. One of them offered me a cigarette and in an adolescence-induced fit of insanity, I took it and let someone light it for me. Idiot. I don’t remember even liking it that much, but it gave me an excuse to hang out with these people a bit more; people who seemed to be on a similar wavelength as far as our interests and outlooks went, and I wanted to be in the gang.
Of course if I had possessed any sense I would have realised that if these people wanted to be my friends it would have been based on my personality and not whether I picked up a silly habit. Hindsight is an accursed thing. By the time I realised this it had become a habit; just something I did like so many other people. We know it’s unhealthy and dangerous, but everyone needs a vice, right?
Silly. Still, as we know life is one long self-improvement project and I’m happy to report that as of today I am:
Which I think is quite good.
I’ve been wanting to knock the tabs (to use the local vernacular) on the head for a while. Smoking and running don’t really go together, and it’s a gross and deadly habit. Last year my maternal grandmother died of lung cancer having smoked for at least 40 years. She gave up a number of years ago which was an amazing achievement, but it caught up to her in the end. Mind you, if she hadn’t given up things could have developed a lot sooner. At least the last few years were smoke-free. I decided I didn’t want to be a 40-year smoker “having” to give up because of old age, pressure from my family or simply because I couldn’t climb stairs without wheezing. I wanted to quit while it was still my decision. So I did.
A lot of friends, acquaintances or whoever talked to me about Champix, nicotine replacements and electronic cigarettes, but the method I decided to use was to go cold turkey. That was… well, I felt like I was on drugs for about a week. Weird drugs that made your skin crawl, your head swim and your blood boil. There were occasional bouts of euphoria but these would last about five seconds before being replaced with a strange sadness, yearning and light-headedness. Thankfully I managed to avoid any serious meltdowns, and once the physical nicotine dependence wore off it was just a matter of tackling the mental addiction.
The thing about nicotine is that the physical addiction is easy to break. It only takes a few days for it to leave your bloodstream; the hardest part is identifying and combating the mental addiction. Once you realise that any stress relief you felt from smoking before was simply alleviating nicotine withdrawal and that cigarettes don’t actually do *anything* for you, it’s up to you to figure out why you started and continued to smoke.
For me it was because I wanted to feel as though I belonged to something. The cool kids all smoked, and I wanted to be a cool kid too. In my favourite books and films the subversive and intellectual characters smoked like chimneys, and I wanted to identify with those people. I forgot that I wasn’t living in early to mid-20th century Paris or New York. Once I realised that it’s far more admirable to carve your own path and be remembered for more than having a silly habit, things got a bit easier. Of course when you’re floating around the room and you feel as though you’re crawling out of your own skin, it’s useful to have some quick mantras to refer to:
1. You will never look as cool as the old movie stars.
Seriously. This will never be you:
The best a real person can hope for is this:
Yes that’s Dot Cotton from Eastenders, but it was tricky finding photos that wouldn’t be seen as “lol look at this old lady she’s dying” or invade privacy.
2. It’s gross and it makes the outdoors look like crap.
Ah, what a glorious day. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and… what’s that over there? Oh. Some nasty litter. Not just any litter, litter that has been in people’s mouths and then thrown willy-nilly onto the ground.
3. You smell bad and you should feel bad.
I used to think that the worst smells in the world were things like wet dog, poop, and the fur shrug that woman sitting next to me was wearing when I was riding the DC Metro a couple of years ago, but now I’ve had to add smoker to that list. The absolute worst smell? Wet smoker. Especially when they’ve warmed up a bit. No amount of Febreeze in the world can effectively cover up that stink, no matter what the adverts say.
You know what smells nice? Soap. Simple, clean soap. And being able to still smell soap on yourself even hours after you’ve showered is really really nice. Mmm, soap.
So there we go. I used to do something stupid, and now I don’t do that anymore. It wasn’t easy, but there are worse things in the world. I realise that I could still develop a smoking-related illness even though I’ve given up, and that I could easily relapse, but that’s all on me and would be no-one’s fault but my own. But for however long I’ve got to enjoy my relative youth (30 is the new 20, because I say so ), I’m going to give this clean air thing a good old try. I may not be cool, but at least I smell, look and feel better