I was going to start my 2013 blog posts with one about my plans for the year, but then I got a bit side-tracked by listening to a radio show about the most common New Year resolutions people make. Unsurprisingly, giving up smoking was high on the list and it made me think of my own history of smoking and about how I managed to quit.
I started smoking relatively late, at the age of 21. An interest in horses, plus being largely bullied or ignored at school meant that I never developed any bad habits there. In something of a tired cliché, it was with an unsuitable boyfriend that I started smoking. A musician. I know, cliché piled upon cliché. True though, nonetheless. We spent a summer together and by the time the relationship ended and I went away to college, I was pretty much surgically attached to my Marlboro Lights. For the next three years, during the whole of my degree, I smoked. Less so during the holidays, and with a dramatic increase during exam times, when I barely opened my eyes on a morning before lighting up the first smoke of the day. It makes me shudder to think of it now.
After I finished my degree, I went home, got a sensible job with the Council and carried on smoking. I made wonderful friends at work, one of whom I used to share cigarette breaks with. At 42, she was older than me and on the verge of a divorce and a fresh start in life. I took her rock climbing, to concerts, out dancing. I left that job a year later, in July, but we kept in touch. We still went out and still smoked together. In November of that year, she was off sick with a sudden ‘flu’, when I went to Australia. On Christmas Eve, I returned home to a message telling me that she was dead. The cancer was swift and vicious. I didn’t get to say good-bye, or to attend her funeral. My only consolation was that she had told all our friends how much she loved that I’d taken to do all the things she’d really wanted to try.
I continued to smoke through my grief.
My new job brought new friends, many of whom are still very close friends. Being young, free and single, we spent many an evening with a ‘swift half’ in the pub after work that tended to end with us being kicked out at closing time. In those pre-smoking ban days half the people who didn’t usually smoke would ask for the occasional cigarette and I always obliged. It used to cost a fortune. But more than that, it legitimised my smoking. We drunkenly put the world to rights, and worked our way through several packets of cigarettes a night. The morning after usually brought me a sore throat and an empty purse.
In January 2005, however, something happened that made me finally give up smoking. A party. We held a 60th birthday party,complete with céilidh band, for a colleague. Mike is a pretty unique kind of chap. When I was off work with a long term problem, he sent me the most wonderful long hand-written letter, with a mix CD of country music (“because it’s guaranteed to make you feel better about your own situation” ) and comedy. I still have it to this day. The venue was upstairs, and so every time I wanted a cigarette, I had to go downstairs, smoke outside, and then climb back up the stairs, arriving red-faced and out of breath to start dancing again. With a 60 year old man who was clearly fitter than I was…
At the end of the party, there was a speech. I don’t remember it all but I do remember Mike saying how grateful he was to still be alive. How sad he was that not all of his friends had made it to 60. And that, combined with my realisation of how horrible and ill I’d been feeling all night, was enough. I quit the following day. I’ve not smoked since. I had to go through it without any aids, because I’m allergic to plasters so couldn’t use the patches and the nicotine gum made my mouth swell up. I don’t remember it being particularly easy. I don’t remember it being particularly hard either, beyond the first few weeks and a complete inability to drink alcohol, because in my head the two activities belonged together. You’ll be glad to know that I’ve got past the not-drinking problem! I do know beyond all shadow of doubt that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I would never, ever go back.
So, to everyone who has decided that ‘give up smoking’ will be their resolution this year, I applaud you. Never give up giving up. It’s not easy, but it’s the best thing you’ll ever do. I can run now, never mind climb some stairs or dance a ceilidh. And that’s the greatest feeling in the world…