Nearly A Decade As An Ex-Smoker

Every year, I approach this anniversary, often tentatively, as if I don’t quite believe it.

To place things in context, I smoked from a young age, despite my initial aversion. Within a few years, I became a chain-smoker and would smoke between forty and sixty a day, often late at night. I smoked through flu and pneumonia.

I made countless attempts to quit but always relapsed, especially on the problematic third day – the most challenging day for people hoping to quit. I believed I would never succeed in stopping as I couldn’t imagine life without cigarettes.

I particularly liked the smell of cigarettes, the acrid taste, the sensation of the smoke in my throat, even when I couldn’t stop coughing. For me, the habit wasn’t disgusting, just addictive and costly, financially.

Nearly ten years ago, a practice nurse carried out tests and informed me that my true lung age was significantly higher than my actual age. The comparison to old age really shocked and worried me. After agreeing on a quit smoking date, I spent a week smoking ceaselessly, in order to prepare mentally. I reached a point where I felt ready and in the early hours of Monday 23 July 2012, I smoked my final cigarette. I have never relapsed. No secret cigarette. No drag on a cigarette.

I should mention that I didn’t stop cold turkey. I used Nicorette as an aid, and I still do. Some people disagree strongly with the use of Nicorette, but I can only state that it worked for me. The smoke itself is dangerous. The chemicals. Not small amounts of nicotine that one gets from Nicorette.

In conclusion, I would make three points:

A person generally needs a strong reason for wanting to give up smoking, especially after years of addiction. I don’t believe the financial cost alone is a powerful enough reason.

For many, no smoking means never having a cigarette again, even socially. The idea of just-one-cigarette/then try-again rarely works.

Cravings usually become challenging, unbearably so, after 48 hours of smoking the last cigarette (ie the so-called “third day”).

Of course other ex-smokers will have their own methods and techniques. Not everyone will agree with my approach – but it has worked for me for nearly ten years and I expect it will continue to do so.

Till next time.

Nine Years Without A Cigarette

The anniversary comes round again.

Nine years ago, I made the decision to quit smoking after more than two decades. I’d tried stopping previously, without success. As the years passed, my smoking became more frenetic and desperate and I would often chain smoke, getting through the equivalent of at least two packs a night.

I didn’t believe I could quit smoking. Yet, I haven’t smoked a cigarette for nine years.

Below, I enclose a Blog article outlining thoughts on my decision and giving up smoking in general:


I made the decision purely for health reasons. I enjoyed smoking, but a true lung age test indicated a significant loss of lung function that placed me as a person thirty years older. Shortly after that, I gave up.

In this article, I wish to share several lessons learnt along the way. I should add that I have not smoked a single cigarette since quitting, so I feel qualified to share the advice. I would also regard the fifth point as particularly crucial.

First, smokers differ. At one time, lots of people started and gave up without difficulty. Social smoking. For instance, many nurses in the 1960’s smoked for a few years before quitting when they got married or started families. Others, however, have found it impossible to stop smoking and have continued smoking during serious illnesses (like myself in 1999 when I developed pneumonia but continued to smoke).

Second, health is the greatest incentive to stop, but a person still has to have a reason for quitting. A large number of patients who require the chronic use of oxygen for illnesses caused by excessive smoking will continue to smoke, regardless of their conditions.

Third, when a person stops smoking, they will almost always find the third day the most challenging. Therefore, if the quitter takes up smoking again on the third day, they will only have to face another “third day” at a later stage.

Fourth, nicotine replacement products work for many. I believe that any ex-smoker entering an environment where others may be smoking (e.g a party or after work drinks where colleagues go out for a quick cigarette) should keep a supply of nicorette close to hand, regardless of how long ago they gave up smoking. Personally speaking, I could not have managed without nicorette.

Fifth, and perhaps most important of all, accepting “just one cigarette” often leads the ex-smoker back to regular smoking. People will rationalise the situation and think they can smoke on important occasions, but social smoking rarely works for a person who has smoked heavily in the past.

Obviously, other ex-smokers will have different opinions, but the advice offered in this article has kept me off cigarettes since the day I stopped and I believe it could steer others away from smoking too. Till next time.

Quitting Smoking, Seven Years On: The Conclusion

I never smoked again.

However, as the summer of 2012 slipped into autumn, I faced two new problems: a chronic mouth infection caused by the mouth reacting to the absence of cigarettes, and strong, almost uncontrollable, urges to buy a pack of cigarettes, smoke all the cigarettes in a day, and then quit again in the morning.

The dentist dealt with the first problem by prescribing an antibacterial mouthwash. But only I could deal with the second. Thankfully, I didn’t gave in to temptation, no matter how powerful.

Facebook post 15 Oct had a special lung function test to see if not smoking has yielded any significant changes. A couple – lung function is now considered normal and the true age has dropped by 12 year, which has to be good.


I have strong views on “just one cigarette won’t hurt” or “it’s the summer, buy a pack and enjoy the holidays, you can always give up again when you get back”.

Certainly, some social smokers can manage this, but not the true addict who has smoked continually for years, including during sickness and during times of financial need. Many addicted smokers smoke in bed and fall asleep with the cigarette in their hand. I used to frequently.

Like in a game of Snakes and Ladders, ex-smokers who succumb to “just one cigarette” will usually find themselves back at Square One, addicted again and unable to quit. I write from that position, having relapsed countless times previously, but somehow my final attempt at quitting smoking proved successful and I haven’t smoked for seven years ago.


Letting The Cigarette Drop

Midnight

My eyelids droop. I must keep them open but I no longer have the energy stay awake. It is late, after all, and I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking a cigarette. I let my eyes shut and travel somewhere else. Images come and go.

The cigarette

A silent whisper warns of fires and destruction, but my awareness of impending danger has dampened. I’m in a reverie now, calm and snug, free from the stresses of the day.

Smoking in bed causes fires

Some primitive part of my brain sends out a message. A flicker of unease, perhaps. I feel the grip of my hand weaken as the cigarette slips from within my reach, onto the carpet. I come to suddenly.

Not again

I search for the cigarette and find it.

What if it’s serious the next time?

Thankfully, I no longer have to worry about that type of thing.


In closing, I would offer three short pieces of advice:

  • If you’re an addicted smoker and you wish to stop, you will need a strong reason for quitting.
  • The third day of stopping proves too much for many ex-smokers, so you will need support.
  • If you use Nicorette, you should take a high dose and for as long as you need. The body absorbs the nicotine from Nicorette far slower than it does from a cigarette, which hits in the brain in about seven seconds, causing an instant buzz. A Nicorette does not equal a cigarette.

Finally, good luck if you’re considering quitting smoking or if you have already smoked your final cigarette. The benefits far outweigh the difficulties experienced during the first few months of quitting.

Many thanks for reading. You can read the complete story by clicking on the links below:

The Story So Far:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Quitting Smoking, Seven Years On: Part Five

In the following few posts, I tell the story of how I gave up smoking, something I had long believed impossible. For the sake of immediacy, I’ve written the narrative in present tense, but the events all took place during July and August 2012.

(Links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 at the end of this post.)

This part of the story focuses on a brief visit to a childhood location, a visit I found particularly difficult:


Fylde, Lancashire; tree paved streets resembling a London suburb, but situated by the Irish Sea, not the Thames.

Friday

I arrive after a long train journey that includes a wait at Preston. I think the Government have banned smoking in public places, but I definitely detected cigarette smoke while I waited for my connecting train and I moved away from the source of the smell, keen to avoid triggers.

I step off the train, into a tiny station that has only one rail track. Out in the town, I strain for echoes of childhood. For the bucket and spade shop I vaguely recall and the sand dunes and the unmistakable scent of seaside cafes serving egg and chips. Instead, an overcast sky greets me, along with rows of unfamiliar buildings and the promise of rain.

My hosts arrive. After stopping at a cafe for a quick cup of tea or coffee, we hurry through drizzle, sheltering under trees when the rain develops into a downpour. I look around, shifting position to avoid getting wet.

When I was a child, I went to a party on this street. A celebration in one of the buildings close to where we are standing now. Something happened, though, and the head of the clan got angry and started shouting at a relative who’d got there late.

The clan. Most of them have gone. Died. Broken off contact. Whatever. These streets, so full of life and joy then, seem to lack character or meaning now.

I check in at the hotel and have a shower before heading out to the shore where I take photos in a fresh downpour and look at the Model Railway. Later, I meet my hosts for dinner.

Back at the hotel, I update my facebook page:

Fri 17 August 22.39: walk along shore path, plus photoshoot in the rain, Welcome to the world of lancashire.

As usual, I take too much Nicorette and feel sick, dizzy and shaky, and I have to lie down for a while.

***

Saturday

Muggy weather, heavy and oppressive. After a quick coffee in town, I spend most of the morning at the hotel, suffering with stomach cramp – a result of the body struggling to cope without cigarettes.

After lunch, my host and I take a walk through the town, stopping outside the home of a family friend who has since died. More than two decades earlier, we attended a big celebration in this bungalow. The family used to have a piano and I loved running my fingers along the keys and pretending I could play.

I was a little boy then, at primary school, and I sampled the day of the celebration with the naive excitement of a child, especially when the family friend’s boiler nearly exploded and we had to drive into Blackpool in a crowded car, doing our best to rescue valuable items belonging to the family.

Yes, it all happened so long ago, and that vibrant lady and her husband are no longer alive. Instead, I see an empty bungalow, its soul ripped out after circumstances turned sour for everyone involved. I want to go home.

Facebook posting; 18 aug chips and peas from traditional lancashire chip shop, near coast, bottle of wine and sweets.

***

Sunday

I return to London the following afternoon, drained and exhausted, but at least I have haven’t smoked. Nor will I for the next seven years (and hopefully longer).


The Story So Far:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


To Be Continued

Quitting Smoking, Seven Years On: Part Four

In the following few posts, I tell the story of how I gave up smoking, something I had long believed impossible. For the sake of immediacy, I’ve written the narrative in present tense, but the events all took place during July 2012. (Links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 at the end of this post.)

At this point in the story, I’ve just got past the challenging Third Day, the day when many ex-smokers relapse:


Thursday Day Four

I feel sick and restless in the evening. Unable to sleep. I live alone in a Studio in North London. There is no partner or wife, no “other half”, although that will change one day, hopefully.

I switch on the radio and inhale furiously on the Nicorette Inhalator, desperate for relief from the cravings. I sleep with the light on and listen to pop music from childhood, caught in a mixture of past, present and future.

Yeah, life’s complex. Life rarely works out as one expects. After I graduated from Dartington College of Arts, I stayed in Devon for a bit, but I couldn’t find work and I couldn’t deal with the growing anxiety that would strike when I walked down busy streets.

Eventually, through a series of unexpected events, I found myself in London, studying piano on a scholarship. Despite the general anxiety, I became a performer. A piano recitalist. I played at Edinburgh University and at St Mary’s Cathedral as part of the Fringe Festival. At one point, I was giving two or three recitals a week. I loved the buzz of it and wanted to excel. *More on A Piano Performer and Training With An International

Nine years have elapsed since I won the scholarship, and recently I’ve considered making a CD of my piano playing, as I already have a number of audio tracks on the computer and online. I’m also writing a novel. A psychological thriller.

I sleep with the music on in the background, to ward off the monsters and ghosts that love to come out at night.

***

My first week as a non-smoker comes to an end. My second. I borrow books on relaxation and breathing techniques, and practise the techniques at home. I had no idea how fast my breathing actually was, but now I discover that I’ve been breathing at a rate of 17 or 18 breaths a minutes, possibly more. Definitely unhealthy.

I lie on my bed and place a book on my stomach, an aid to deepen breathing and activate the relaxation response (Parasympathetic Nervous System). My breathing rate slows, although I have to do the exercises often.

I manage not to smoke, even under extreme pressure, but I rely heavily on the Nicorette. Sometimes, I take too much in and feel sick and jittery afterwards.

Meanwhile, even with the Nicorette, my body misses the cigarettes and seems to go in revolt and I suffer with frequent stomach cramps and bad breath.

Still, I don’t relapse, despite enjoying black coffee and red wine. And by the time I arrive in Lytham, Fylde, for a weekend away, I haven’t smoked for about a month.


The Story So Far:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


To Be Continued

Quitting Smoking, Seven Years On: Part Three

In the following few posts, I tell the story of how I gave up smoking, something I had long believed impossible. For the sake of immediacy, I’ve written the narrative in present tense, but the events all took place during July 2012.

At this point in the story, I’ve attended an appointment at a Quit Smoking Program and the Health Practitioner in charge has agreed to issue me with prescriptions for Nicorette. (Links to Part 1 and Part 2 at the end of this post.)


Day One Monday

I head to the pharmacy to collect the prescriptions for Nicorette. Past experiences with Nicorette didn’t help, but now the Inhalator keeps most of the cravings at bay and the taste seems to have improved since I last used it.

I go to bed about one am, more than twenty-four hours after my last cigarette. When I wake in the morning, I notice a difference: my Morning Cough has gone.

***

Day Two Tuesday

Emotional day with sudden cravings to smoke.

I receive an email. An invitation to spend a weekend in Lytham, a Lancashire coastal town, a couple of hours from where I grew up.

I spent a lot of time in the Fylde area as a child, and I have countless memories of Lytham, all happy. Nevertheless, circumstances change over the years and events occur and the magic of childhood can disappear for some people. For me, the transition from child to adult was turbulent and I no longer view Lytham in the way I once did.

I send an email, politely declining the invitation, then another email accepting. I will go. The visit to Lytham is set for a month’s time.

After lunch, I meet friends who are about to go abroad for a week. They want me to water their plants and switch various lights on and off during their absence – and, of course, they’ll pay me, as I have no regular work during the summer break. We drink freshly brewed coffee and chat in the garden, enjoying the fine weather. Obviously, tea and coffee are strong triggers for smokers – but so are emotions and memories.

As we talk, half forgotten memories of Lytham assail me, stunning me with their intensity, matched by further, almost unbearable, urges to smoke. The shore in Lytham. The mounds of sands.

I recall a party I went to in a rectangular bungalow when I was about ten-years-old. How excited I felt then, exploring the bungalow. How content, having no idea what would follow not just for my family but for the family that hosted the party in Lytham. Tragedy and a breakdown in communications. Do I really want to return to Lytham, to face ghosts and emptiness, especially when I’ve made the major decision not to smoke?

A challenging day, but I manage not to smoke. I couldn’t do it without the support of the Quit Smoking Program and the Nicorette.

***

Day Three Wednesday

No Morning Cough again, but the urges to smoke continue. Thankfully, the Nicorette takes the edge off it.

I attend my afternoon appointment at the Medical Centre.

‘Your carbon monoxide levels are down to three,’ she says. ‘No, even lower. Two.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It means you haven’t smoked since I last saw you. Well done.’ She studies me for a moment. ‘I think you’re going to do this. I have great hopes for you.’

Encouraging words, especially on the problematic Third Day when so many ex-smokers relapse.

To Be Continued


Part 1

Part 2

Quitting Smoking, Seven Years On: Part One

That time of year again. I have not smoked a single cigarette for seven years. In the following few posts, I’ll tell my story of how I gave up smoking, something I had long believed impossible.

The narrative starts about a week after a phone call from the medical practice asking me to come in for an annual asthma check. For the sake of immediacy, I’ve written the narrative in present tense, but the events all took place in mid July 2012:


I arrive at the appointment about a week later. The nurse carries out a number of tests.

Bad news. One of tests reveals that I have the lung function of a man thirty years older than I actually am.

‘I’m not very good at blowing out quickly,’ I say, hoping the nurse will repeat the test.

She smiles. A sort of knowing-smile. ‘We did the test three times.’

‘What happens now then?’

‘Stop smoking.’

‘I’ve tried before. It’s too difficult.’

That same knowing-smile. ‘Make an appointment for the Quit Smoking Clinic.’

***

At the Quit Smoking Clinic, the Health Practitioner discusses the options. If I want her help, I must agree on a Quit Date and stick to it. That means I will never be able to smoke again.

What about cutting down gradually? That could work, couldn’t it? No, she says. I must stop smoking completely. During the early stages, she’ll prescribe Nicorette, free of charge. Meanwhile, I will need to attend appointments on a regular basis, so that she can assess my carbon monoxide levels to check I haven’t smoked.

‘Could you prescribe anything today?’

‘I don’t think you’re ready. Make an appointment at Reception.’

***

The receptionist books me in for the following week, a Monday. When I leave the Medical Centre, I make the decision: quit. I need to stop smoking for the sake of my health.

I’m fully aware of the damage caused by years of heavy chain smoking. Each morning, I wake up with a productive cough – the standard smoker’s Morning Cough. Most mornings, I vow to cut down. Reduce my cigarette by half. Or give up completely, even. I’ve smoked for three decades now, since I was a boy. I understand the biology behind the Morning Cough – what it signifies – yet my resolutions fail. Each day, I smoke between thirty-five to sixty cigarettes, most of them in the late afternoon and evening. I’ve smoked during pneumonia, flu, and in the recovery stages of septicaemia. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of when I’ve been unable to afford cigarettes, desperate for that fix.

Seven days’ time, I decide as I wait for the traffic lights to change colour. Monday, my quit date. Till then, I will smoke as many cigarettes as I want.

To Be Continued

Nearly Six Years Without A Cigarette

Summer is approaching – and with, it the anniversary of a major decision I made in the summer of 2012: the decision to quit smoking after more than two decades.

I made the decision purely for health reasons. I enjoyed smoking, but a true lung age test indicated a significant loss of lung function that placed me as a person thirty years older. Shortly after that, I gave up.

In this article, I wish to share several lessons learnt along the way. I should add that I have not smoked a single cigarette since quitting, so I feel qualified to share the advice. I would also regard the fifth point as particularly crucial.

First, smokers differ. At one time, lots of people started and gave up without difficulty. Social smoking. For instance, many nurses in the 1960’s smoked for a few years before quitting when they got married or started families. Others, however, have found it impossible to stop smoking and have continued smoking during serious illnesses (like myself in 1999 when I developed pneumonia but continued to smoke).

Second, health is the greatest incentive to stop, but a person still has to have a reason for quitting. A large number of patients who require the chronic use of oxygen for illnesses caused by excessive smoking will continue to smoke, regardless of their conditions.

Third, when a person stops smoking, they will almost always find the third day the most challenging. Therefore, if the quitter takes up smoking again on the third day, they will only have to face another “third day” at a later stage.

Fourth, nicotine replacement products work for many. I believe that any ex-smoker entering an environment where others may be smoking (e.g a party or after work drinks where colleagues go out for a quick cigarette) should keep a supply of nicorette close to hand, regardless of how long ago they gave up smoking. Personally speaking, I could not have managed without nicorette.

Fifth, and perhaps most important of all, accepting “just one cigarette” often leads the ex-smoker back to regular smoking. People will rationalise the situation and think they can smoke on important occasions, but social smoking rarely works for a person who has smoked heavily in the past.

Obviously, other ex-smokers will have different opinions, but the advice offered in this article has kept me off cigarettes since the day I stopped and I believe it could steer others away from smoking too.

Till next time.

Quit Smoking, Four Years

Today marks my fourth year anniversary of giving up smoking. At times, particularly three or four months in, I didn’t think I would make it, but I can truthfully say I haven’t smoked any cigarettes, or attempted to, in the last four years.

Before then, I had tried to stop many times, but failed.

So what was different this time?

  1. A proper reason for wanting to quit – in this case, a true lung age test gave a disastrous result, enough to force me to face the damage caused from years of smoking
  2. Help from Nicorette products.

I pay close attention to the fact that “just one cigarette” usually leads to another, and then another, and so on, until the ex-smoker has taken up the habit again. In other words, no cigarette is safe for an ex-smoker – a case of, don’t do it.

Looking forward to many more years of not smoking.

Giving Up Smoking, Another Landmark

It’s that time of year again, another milestone on the road of the ex-smoker. After smoking and chain-smoking for more than two decades, I gave up three and a half years ago and have not smoked since, apart from in my dreams occasionally.

Like many ex-smokers, I took up smoking in my early teens, despite having found the odd puff of cigarette disgusting before then.  Within eighteen months, I’d become addicted. The addiction spiralled out of control over the next couple of decades.  In fact, I smoked during several bouts of flu and pneumonia. Often, the cigarette would cause me to cough so harshly, I’d nearly pass out.  When this happened, I would throw myself into a horizontal position to prevent myself from losing consciousness.

Just over three and a half years ago, one of the practice team at my local surgery phoned to challenge me to quit smoking.  At first, I became defensive.

Then, a simple test to ascertain my true lung age revealed that I had the lungs of a man thirty years older than my actual age; this has since dropped, fortunately. I think the true lung age test finally did it for me.  About a fortnight later, I smoked my last cigarette.

Professionals and ex-smokers can have conflicting opinions on whether people should quiet cold turkey or with an aid like Nicorette. I definitely belong in the second group.  I think too many smokers relapse, especially when they get overly stressed or attend social events – so in my opinion, carrying a small amount of Nicorette around can’t possibly do any harm.

What other things have I learnt during my time as an ex-smoker?

a) The majority of ex-smokers can’t smoker just one cigarette, then give up again (a common temptation). The one cigarette will often lead the person back to regular, heavy smoking.

b) As giving up smoking means never smoking another cigarette, the ex-smoker must have a strong reason for quitting.  In my case, the true lung age test revealed how much damage smoking had caused me, enough to propel me to make the decision to stop.

Just a few more of my thoughts.

 

 

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