The Day I Stopped Smoking

When I started doing the exact opposite from what everyone said

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Our favorite and never missed winter ritual, is leaving the kids at home for a long weekend and having some time for ourselves. I am referring to my wife and I when we plan a long weekend to a location with Christmas atmosphere. Every year, different place. This time, we went to lovely Budapest. The Christmas market of Budapest is one of the most popular in Europe at winter time and where I come from that’s a big attraction for us. Adding to that the food, amazing nightlife, and the natural warm baths the city has to offer, and you have a perfect weekend for you and your significant other.

During one of the evenings, I was dressing up at my Mercure hotel room when my wife was having a shower. We were getting ready to head out and start our evening stroll looking forward for a night out in the city. I was ready first, as usual of course, and the room was tiny as you can imagine typical European city center hotel rooms. 

All dressed up with my winter gear and multiple layers, there was nothing to do but to stand up and stare at the mirror while I waited. There was one last thing to do in order to be ready to head out, and that is to put on my coat. So I put it on, but the buttons wouldn’t close. Now that is a beautiful coat I bought just a couple of winters earlier in London and everything was fine. But that wasn’t everything I wasn’t fond of looking at the mirror. I had one open cigarette box in my left pocket and a second new cigarette box in the right pocket just in case. I stared at the mirror for a good long while as if I was looking at someone else. Didn’t talk, didn’t move, just looked. And I wasn’t liking what I was looking at. 

When did I change so much? I used to be much slimmer, I used to move around and do sports, and why am I so worried about bringing along extra packets for a couple of hours stroll?

My smoking saga begun about twenty years earlier to that day. I gave smoking a try here and there at high school, then turned it into a normal daily smoker routine in my early twenties during military service. Where I served it was quite unusual not to smoke, and then it caught me for the next twenty years.

The first time I tried quitting was when someone I knew told me to simply finish the packet of cigarettes I had at that time, and once I do, not to buy any new ones and tell everyone I meet that I quit. That way I will both not poses any cigarettes with me, and have a feeling of commitment and persist. And that’s what I did. The packet slowly but surely came to an end, I didn’t buy and new one and I made sure to tell my friends and family with elevated pride that I stopped smoking. It did have a commitment feeling to it which was the best thing of it but speaking about it with everyone just didn’t let the topic relax. It lasted few days, then few weeks. But it slowly cracked with a tiny sip at first, then a cigarette from a friend every now and then, then I bought a box to have just in case no friends around, and… I was back smoking, just like before.

A second time I really tried to stop smoking was with the help of a rehab institute. They took a different approach from the earlier attempt. They told me to write down and then repeat to myself all the bad things smoking can do to you. So I did, and if you have ever googled the impact of smoking you start getting after a short while to some nasty images. So it was clear as a crystal that smoking can harm you, I was in my mid-thirties with my whole life in front of me still. And it made perfect sense to me that I needed to quit smoking because continuing to smoke will cause me damage. 

The other thing they instructed me was to start in baby steps. Identify where I identify a smoking habit during the day and begin there, then remove another smoking habit, and so on. And so I did exactly what I have been advised. I repeated in my mind during the day, and over the next days and weeks the motivation for quitting, which is because smoking is bad for you. And I realized where my smoking habits were and started removing those one by one. I started with the first morning coffee cigarette which was almost a ritual thing. Then I moved on to the after lunch cigarette. Followed by the smoking with alcohol habit which was an absolute must, I couldn’t enjoy my drink otherwise. Slowly I stopped smoking and had no more before or after cigarettes to quit. 

It lasted a few weeks. But it slowly cracked with a tiny sip at first, then a cigarette from a friend every now and then, then I bought a box to have just in case no friends around, and… I was back smoking, just like before.

After a while of giving this a proper shot, if you are a normal human being as I am, you have a very high chance to stop smoking yourself, at an instance of a thought.

There were a few other attempts for me trying to quit smoking. The other attempts tried to copy the first two, either the tactic of: ‘I’ll just finish the packet, not buy a new one, and tell everyone I quit for the sake of a commitment feeling’, or the tactic of: ‘I’ll remind myself I need to quit smoking because smoking isn’t good for me, I’ll then reduce the number of cigarettes per day one by one, till I stop’, or tactics of mixing the two together with different combinations. They all failed for me, for many years to follow. For twenty years to be exact.

Back in Budapest I kept on traveling and enjoying my weekend as normal. I behaved the same, I smoked the same, ate the same, I didn’t say a word about the subject, but what I had seen in the mirror kept cooking in the back of my mind for the next three days while we were traveling. The thoughts became more significant. I thought to myself what if I would start exercising, said to myself what if I started running and aimed to register to a five kilometers or ten kilometers race in a few months. I began thinking maybe I could register to a gym, work out, and set a target to look more fit before we reach the summer and beach season back home. But I did all that only in my mind and didn’t say a word.

Three days later we flew back home from what was an incredible weekend. When arriving to our home airport, we have the ability to leave stuff that we purchase in our local duty free shops before we depart whenever we want it to be collected only upon return. That way we don’t need to carry anything we don’t need for the trip but only purchased to use back home. So I went to the duty free counter with my receipt, stood in line, and collected a box I bought five days earlier, prior to boarding my departing flight. In the box were two packets of cigarettes.

What was different this time around is what I try to repeat for myself and people who ask for my advice. That is what would really be interesting to understand, the next time you decide to stop smoking

I stood for what I think was twenty seconds or so, and started walking towards the luggage conveyor for our flight. My wife was waiting there for me, and for our luggage. On the way from the duty free counter over to the luggage conveyor I passed by a trash can, and at a split of an instinct second I dropped the box with two brand new packets of cigarettes into the trash and kept walking.

When reaching my wife she asked me where my duty free box was, which I replied they didn’t seem to find it at the counter, and I will need to call in a few days and have them send it over to me.

We drove back home, went back to our normal routine, but in the next few days I wondered the web reading about how to start running, and about gyms nearby my home. The weekend to follow I went out running, 400 meters was the distance I ran before I stopped and coughed myself to almost death. I also registered to a gym wearing weird trainers I had at home and which I used as pajamas. My wife saw all that, but I didn’t want to talk about any of it. I had not talked about the fact that I’m not smoking, I didn’t talk about any goals or targets for any races either. I kept it low, all to myself, with no special commitments to anyone including myself. The days went by and I ran longer distances, two kilometres, then three, and so on. I bought some nice training clothes to look better at the gym. Look but not touch as appropriate for a middle aged male. Not only did the days pass by, but the weeks passed by as well, then the months, then the years, and till the moment of writing these words.

What was different this time around is what I try to repeat for myself and people who ask for my advice. What had happened in the airport when I got back from Budapest and ever since that day? That is what would really be interesting to understand, the next time you decide to stop smoking.

The first thing, find the right reason for yourselves to stop smoking. Not smoking is not a good enough reason by itself. Smoking is not good for us but that is not the reason you want if you are seeking success here. For me it was because it was getting in the way with something I deeply wanted to do, like running. But for you it can be because you just had a baby and it can harm their health, or because you want to finally find a spouse and so far it has ruined your chances. But whatever it is, first find that ‘other’ reason to quit smoking before commencing another journey towards failure.

The second, Throw away your box or even better packet of cigarettes, when it’s brand new. That’s a commitment, between you and your own self. That creates the point of you telling yourself, I have made a decision. Not when you’ve finished one, and your so called decision means too little.

The third, do it quietly. No bells and whistles. When I stopped smoking nobody knew about it for weeks going forward. Moreover, I would lie about it but to the opposite way which everyone said I should. If a friend would offer me a cigarette I would gently refuse and explain that it is because I just finished one, which obviously wasn’t true. Do it for yourself and don’t make it a discussion between you and others.

After a while of giving this a proper shot, if you are a normal human being as I am, not one with the utmost self-discipline owned by few Olympic gold medalists perhaps, and not one with a rubber made backbone, you have a very high chance to stop smoking yourself, at an instance of a thought.

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