Friday, May 26, 2006
"Am I bovvered?"
It’s been 356 days, 15 hours, 7 minutes and 37 seconds since my last cigarette.
OK, so I can’t tell you the exact number of hours, minutes or seconds, but I can tell you the days, since I have a note of it in my diary. “25th March 2005,” it says, “2.30am. My last cigarette.”
I remember it well. I was talking to it the whole time. It was the only cigarette I ever truly enjoyed. I enjoyed it precisely because I knew it would be my last.
When it was finished, I stubbed it out with a flourish and that was it. Over. I had said my goodbyes.
A few days later I was in the newsagent’s in the full throes of nicotine withdrawal, laughing at the absurdity of it. I wanted to announce it to the world. “Look at me, I’m withdrawing from nicotine!“
A teenage girl came into the shop and bought a packet of fags. I said, “you’ll be addicted to them for the rest of your life you know.”
The look on her face was a picture. It was a mixture of defiance and irritation: that some grown-up had even dared to talk to her. “Am I bovvered?” it said. But I thought, “one day you’ll think back on this moment and know that I was telling you the truth.”
What’s interesting about the process of smoking is how much of it is unconscious. You watch the next time someone lights up. There’s a brief, momentary look of satisfaction and then the eyes glaze over. After that they are hardly aware they are smoking at all.
Nicotine enters the body, stimulating it on an unconscious level. This lasts for a few seconds. Then it leaves the body. Almost immediately the body feels it is missing something and the craving begins. All of this takes place without the smoker even being aware of it.
That’s why will-power hardly ever works. It’s not a failure of will, it’s a conflict of will. One part of the mind is still nagging to smoke. Once your whole mind is fully engaged in the process of quitting, the cravings disappear.
This is easier said than done of course, and I won’t presume upon your intelligence by pretending I have all the answers. All I can tell you is how I did it.
I did it by talking to my cigarettes. Every last one, for a whole month.
Cigarettes, of course, have no mind. What you are really talking to is your own self, your own unconscious addiction.
What is interesting about this is that it throws into relief the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious mind. How do you know what the unconscious is saying? Because you find yourself talking to it. How do you know what the unconscious is asking? Because you find yourself answering it.
The answer implies the question. The question indicates the answer. This is how you learn to hear the silent voice inside of you.
What more can I say? Nicotine withdrawal lasts for about three weeks, but the worst of it is over in about three to five days. After that it is nothing but a pleasure. To be able to breathe again. To drink in that sweet morning air, like cool spring water.