Tuesday, June 9, 2009


It's amazing how quickly everything I do has become punctuated by smoking this time round. Wake up, have cigarette. Make coffee, have cigarette. Make porridge, have cigarette while it is cooling down. Eat it, have cigarette. I don't even realise I'm doing it.

Allen Carr talks about the triggers for smoking being a series of opposites: Boredom and concentration, stress and relaxation. I'd argue that there doesn't even need to be a trigger for it, but certainly these are the ones it's hardest to imagine being without. And the "combination" cigarettes, where there's two of these emotions at once.

When I try to visualise myself as a non-smoker, certain situations are harder for me to visualise than others. I have no problem imagining day-to-day life without a cigarette - it wasn't hard to adjust myself away from the "habit" of it other times I've quit, because smoking is an addiction, not a habit. And because I want to be free of it so much, I guess. It tires me; I literally find it tiresome.

The real triggers for me are the "combination cigarettes". They're the ones I need to guard myself against, develop strategies to deal with so my reasons for quitting stay on top of my reasons for starting again.

The number one trigger that is difficult for me is getting angry. This one got me to buy my first pack earlier this year when I picked up smoking again. I've never considered myself a particularly "angry" person - it's not something I feel very often (more often since I became a teacher!) and when I do feel it, I most often end up in tears. It's extremely uncomfortable for me to get angry.

Getting angry always makes me want to smoke. Even when I was at my surest, my deepest into being a non-smoker, having an argument with my husband caused me to doubt it for at least a moment.

The second trigger for me is being at social events, around smokers. These days, most of my friends have quit, so these are rare. But they do happen. Usually it's a writer's event of some kind - a poetry reading or the like, and the room is filled with these cool young creative types, all smoking like chimneys. In those moments, it doesn't seem to matter if I have one too. This situation brought me back after the first, and longest time I quit. It's stupid though. I think to myself: it doesn't matter; it's just a cigarette. It's not a matter of life death, but it actually is. It actually is a matter of life and death.

The third trigger is talking.

This one is probably the hardest for me. It's related to concentration, relaxation and stress. It's those talks with friends that go for hours; the long lunch, dissecting love affairs and childhood trauma. The glasses of wine that get slowly and imperceptibly filled and refilled until the bottles are gone and you start in on the coffee.

Those are the times I could just literally smoke non-stop for hours.

In the book, Carr says that it isn't the smoking that's special, though, it's the occasion. And this is absolutely true. It was a revelation to me to realise, when I was a non-smoker, that I actually just liked sitting at outdoor tables in cafes for the sake of it, not just because they were the only areas I was allowed to smoke in. Likewise, time spent talking with friends was no less pleasurable because I didn't have a cigarette in my hand.

It was the same time.

That's what's hard to get when you smoke. Life doesn't just change. You aren't a different breed of person because you don't smoke. Things continue; you are the same. Lying on a beach is still lying on a beach whether or not you have a cigarette in your hand. It's still nice.

And probably nicer in many, many ways.

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