Smoking does not define you
I was a smoker. Quite a few years ago, one day I woke up and felt so ill that my mind started panicking and my body was shaking unable to perform its normal functions such as breathing and standing up. I felt dizzy and weak.
I do not remember how I got myself to the surgery and just waited in front of the emergency room.
After the examination the doctor, who did not appear to be much older than me, looked at me and the conversation went in those lines:
“Do you smoke?”
“How much do you smoke?”
“Well, around 20 to 40 per day.”
“Do you eat well?”
“Hmm, sometimes.” (And it will be good food but more often it will be a bar of chocolate with a coffee and a cigarette, not to mention that breakfast menu was always the same: coffee and a cigarette).
“Do you drink?”
“ Yes.” (On a regular basis. I was young, free, working as a travelling musician with relevantly as irresponsible as me, colleagues)
“Do you sleep?”
“Hmm... yes, I do.” (Between the two or three jobs I juggled at times and the whole night parting)
How does that sound to you up to now, dear reader? I agree that this behaviour of mine was self-destructive, self – harming, irresponsible and terrifyingly consistent. The result was exhaustion; the burnt out syndrome assisted by nicotine poisoning and drinking. The drinking part was not binge drinking but small amounts on regular basis. All together combined with inappropriate diet, well is there any wonder the state I got myself into. I will tell you that my appointment did not last long because of the next thing that this doctor said to me: ‘Well you continue doing that in a few months time I will come and visit you at the back of the Agricultural College.’
Now, at the time and even still today, behind the Agricultural College was the town’s Cemetery. And although this may sound a bit like a joke, the way he said it, as casually as it is the most expected, normal, natural thing to happen in progression of my bohemian lifestyle, sent shivers down my spine.
By the time I was out of his office I felt like a complete idiot. My fear was still there but this time accompanied with shame and embarrassment. And that was strange because neither his voice nor his attitude conveyed anything but normal, calculated statement of facts. That is how doctors usually tell you the diagnosis. He never told me I was a fool or pass on a judgement on my exhilarating and relentless behaviours. Yet I felt like one and could not believe how far this irresponsible life style got me.
This was my first encounter with waking hypnosis. I am sure that the doctor did not know much about hypnosis, neither did I at the time, but intuitively he knew that I was so scared and my attention was channelled towards his expert opinion (he is there to save my life, isn’t he!) so anything he said went straight where it should have gone – into my subconscious. He probably did not know that either and perhaps his idea was, realizing the state I was in, just to scare me even more so to make me stop all those nonsensical behaviours. But he did not say ‘Stop’; he just led me into the near future and showed me the logical consequences that were to follow. And I responded naturally to this suggestion, visualizing myself in the grave with my name on the head stone...
On walking out I had a decision made in my mind and got rid of all the cigarettes that were within my reach. But my dear reader if you think that this decision was enough to bring the change in me you are not quite right. There were attitudes within me that would prevent this change to happen for considerably long time after I left the doctor’s office. And at times it felt like a battle I may not win.
To start with it was my attitude that smoking is cool and rebellious. I felt that it made me feel more sophisticated and grown up. In fact the stink was repulsive and I was poisoning myself. How cool! My intelligence was actually decreasing due to the poison I was inhaling and there was nothing sophisticated about that.
Smoking made me feel ‘one of the crowd’; it gave me a sense of belonging among those artistic individuals. It was like a badge that labelled me ‘interesting and chic’ and I never considered that the smoke actually was offensive and dangerous not only for me but for the people around me.
After this appointment I tried to reduce the amount I was smoking to bare minimum. So I have noticed that gradually I can get rid of the cigarettes but could not and did not want to get rid of the people around me: friends, family, colleagues, clients... And I could not get rid of the image of me in their eyes – as a smoker. Some of them resented my decision, teased me or begged me to have one. It took time for them to accept that I was changing for good.
My realization was that I was not addicted to the nicotine, which was very lucky, but addicted to the smell of the tobacco and the actual mannerism. I had to change my environment, my activities and work on discovering the perception of who I am to become. And it was difficult at times but I would do it all over again as this journey led me to who I am now; allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin and not to rely of external props to keep me company, give me confidence or make me belong.
Thinking back, there was the element of stress involved in my inability to stop smoking or to be precise, I believed that smoking helped me relax. In fact smoking does the exact opposite: triggered the fight or flight mechanism as the poison entered my body. Just go back to your first cigarette, to this first moment when you inhaled the poison into your lungs. Did it make you relax? No, it made you choke! But you coughed it off and did it again. Why? Well if you are honest and insightful you may be able to answer this question for yourself.
For me it was peer pressure; everybody did it and it meant that you are grown up. Later this dreadful habit got interlinked with the magical, artistic world of the musician’s life and gradually and sneakily became a part of my persona on stage and in life. Intertangled with the false beliefs that smoking is a stress relief, a great companion in moments of boredom or an inspirational tool for making music, this dangerous behaviour seemed, at times, to be there to stay.
It took couple of years until I completely stopped and within those two years there were a few months I did not smoke at all. I wish someone told me about the horrific cough, dizzy spells and inability to catch my breath when I started exercising (yes, I decided that exercise will help to distract me and motivate me and it did). But slowly I started feeling so much better, energetic and found my passion for perfumes and different aromas. It appeared I am very much olfactory modality and my enhanced by nature sense of smell played great role in parting with my old companion.
There is so much more to be said about my journey but the bottom line is that I did it and, because of that, I am healthier and a lot more comfortable and happier today.
Do I get tempted sometimes? Yes I do. Do I surrender to the temptation? For the last 17 years only twice. But guess what? Even though I played silly at those times I never, never experienced the need for a cigarette or a desire to resume this dreadful habit. I felt in control, I had fun and it was easy not to pick it up again because smoking was no longer part of me; it no longer defines me.
You have not been born as a smoker. Even if your parents were smokers and you have been exposed to the fumes most of your life, I believe that it is possible to stop as it is not part of you and it does not have to be. What I did not realize in my youth was that I had to want to stop and take an action, not just think about it or plan to do it some other time. Waiting for the perfect moment that never comes is a waste of time you do not have. But it took someone else to externalize the idea that I am the one that have control over the situation.
I do not even remember the name of this doctor and I saw him only this one time. But his words made me change my life. He played the role of fortune teller looking in a magic ball, the one he can see your future in. And just like a magic ball that would not tell you what you suppose to be doing so did not he. He let me figure out the ‘how’ and ‘when’ and do it myself. I wish I had the tool of hypnotherapy to help me back then so to speed up the process and make it more enjoyable and easier. I did not but you do.
And I suppose this article is a way of saying ‘thank you’ to someone who would never know my appreciation. But it is also a way to tell you that you can do it too as long as you really want to and as long as you are ready to find your own ‘how’ and ‘when’. And please remember that it does not have to be a struggle but a journey; and it is not fighting yourself but discovering alternatives within yourself you have never been aware of. The result is more that worth it.