Yesterday I went to a “smoking cessation clinic” at my local GPs. It was half an hour with a pleasant nurse, who measured my carbon monoxide level (It was 16. Apparently a non-smoker has a level of 1) and discussed whether I would prefer patches or gum. I chose lozenges. Ever the non-conformist.
She asked me why I wanted to stop smoking and I hesitated. It’s a long story.
I explained that every time I smoke I cough explosively and that I wheeze and struggle for breath, and that I have stomach problems that are exacerbated by the smoking. And of course, my doctor told me two weeks ago that if I continue smoking I’ll get an obstructive pulmonary disease like emphysema. Which isn’t good.
But I had hesitated because I like smoking. More than that, I like being a smoker. It’s part of my identity. If I picture myself at my glamorous best, handsome and windswept outside a stylish bar, I’m smoking a cigarette. If I imagine a series of arty black-and-white portraits of myself, I’m smoking a cigarette. It’s endlessly romantic, cool, and since I don’t feel endlessly romantic or cool, I cling to it. And that is going to be tough to change.
I told her how I felt, and she replied that surely nowadays, with the smoking ban and general social disapproval of tobacco, it was easier to be a non-smoker. I shrugged. I told her that it’s more that there’s not really such a thing as a casual smoker anymore. The battle lines have been drawn and a lot of smokers are digging in. You can’t be a weekend smoker anymore – you’re either a non-smoker or a proper, hardcore, committed smoker. This is no time for amateurs.
Between 1998 and 2002 I didn’t smoke a single cigarette, but mentally I was in a different place back then. I can’t say I was happier or stronger, but I felt more certain about life. Nowadays things seem far more uncertain and it’s much easier to draw comfort in a cigarette.
We agreed that Monday would be the date I officially quit. I managed to avoid buying any more cigarettes in the evening, although I pinched one off my girlfriend. Today I bought 20 Marlboro Lights, but I’ve hardly smoked any of them. At the moment I’m not terribly optimistic about quitting, but we’ll see how it goes.
I don’t want encouragement, I just want to take a mental leap to somewhere else.