Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Stoptober: Breaking the habit of a life

I was prompted to write this blog post because it's NHS Stoptober. Where smokers all over the UK come together during October to become smoke free for one month. This event reminded me about the positive side of being smoke free and how easily we fall into habits, without realising they become part of our lives. This post is not about me being a reformed smoker and getting all self-righteous because I remember too many times, all my failed attempts at stopping. It's actually more of an account of how easily in life we can slip into habits of behaviour that we think we are in complete control of, when we turn our back, suddenly that habit becomes a way of life.
I started smoking at Uni, something a lot of people did, well at least the people I hung around with. Smoking came with coffee and a chat or a beer depending on the time of day. Without even realising, the move from a 5 a day man to 10 a day and then 20 was made with ease. Something that I appeared to be in control of, moved into being a major religion in my life. 
There was always something about going to a stressful meeting at work and then ending up in the smoke room to relax. Well that was my thinking at the time. The scary thing was that the damage to my body was never considered. Even with the government health warning that death was inevitable didn't scare me.  I decided to stop for the first time pretty much straight away. This was very difficult especially when every cell in my body cried out "cigarette". At the time, people seemed more friendly in the smoke room at work and I had to say goodbye to all of my smoking buddies. So I moved to the room where "no-one talked" (sounds crazy now). Unfortunately the cravings were too hard for me to handle, so I started smoking again.
Life threw out more stressful situations and the temptations of smoking were greatly increased. The cigarette had become a coping mechanism and I suppose it became the catalyst for the start of the day with a cuppa. The thought of giving up just wasn't there. When people said to me, "You should stop, don't you know it's killing you" or "Why do you smoke when you can see that government health warning" and many more statements of truth that fell on deaf ears. A feeling of guilt was enough for me to nod in the right places after receiving thiscadvice. The habit was becoming entrenched. I had been completely caught up in the ritual of getting up in the morning, having a cigarette; going to work and having one on the way; arriving in the office, grabbing a coffee and having a smoke; or generally any other excuse to light up. You could pretty much set your clock to my smoking activities.
Okay just in case you have switched off, I had better tell you the reason for stopping. Each  reason is personal and very complex for to the individual and not necessarily about health, wealth or family. I woke up one morning with a realisation that I no longer wanted to be trapped by this habit that had gripped my life for so long, and wanted to be free from the religion of smoking. I didn't stop straight away, but made plans and set a date with real hope. Being aware of all the traps from my previous attempts at stopping, meant there were things I could preempt. I put a support mechanism of friends and health services like the NHS in place and off we went on this smoke free journey.
The first few days were intense with physical and psychological cravings, but I managed to get my hands on a leaflet from the NHS that explained the changes happening in my body and some of the symptoms of stopping smoking. That really helped me put things into perspective. It wasn't an easy road to travel, because it involved me avoiding situations where I would be tempted to smoke and plenty of early nights. The journey does become easier and now I am smoke free for 3 years +. My advice is get help from the NHS smoke free services. Here is the link http://smokefree.nhs.uk/

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