Smoking: Don't feed the troll

Last updated 05:02 14/04/2014

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I lost count of how often I tried to quit smoking. Don't worry if it hasn't worked out for you yet, that's normal.

Every time you try, you're learning more about what goes wrong; use that to plan ahead when you try again. Oh, and don't be surprised if recommended methods of quitting don't work for you. Everyone's different. If the same method keeps failing you, try something different.

For my early attempts, I told my family and friends and co-workers I was quitting and got lots of encouragement and support. And guess what? I hated it and it really backfired on me. I hated getting safely through another week only to have Aunt So-and-So say brightly, "How's the non-smoking going?" It made me want to spit and snarl and storm outside for a fag.

For my last attempt - yes, the one that finally worked, and that's about 24 years ago now - I told nobody at all that I was quitting. I was surprised how long it took people to notice, even the co-workers I'd been smoking with every day. You see, if you make a fuss about it, your friends will, too. If you don't, they won't. Even the ones who actually care whether you smoke or not.

By then I had also realised my biggest problem wasn't the craving for a smoke, but a nagging feeling that quitting for good would leave me forever unsatisfied. I'll put it like this: my addiction was like a troll squatting in my mind, and this troll had only one idea which it would tell me over and over: "Smoking is really important to you."

But it only had that idea because my own actions kept confirming it. So the solution was in my hands: don't feed the troll! That is, don't make a huge fuss about quitting, or talk about it, or keep counting the days, or indulge in substitutes or treats. All of those things are just feeding the troll with that one idea, that smoking is really important.

For me, the hardest thing was not talking about it. I ended up dreaming about it instead. But that was okay, because then I'd wake up and feel relieved that it was only a dream.

When people did notice I wasn't smoking, I'd just shrug and say I was trying to cut down again, and change the subject. The craving went away after a couple of weeks, like it had the other times; but this time the troll starved to death as well.

Instead of having that nagging feeling that I'd never be satisfied again, I had just the opposite feeling: that I could never ever be satisfied with being a smoker. After all, that's why I'd kept on trying to quit through all those years!

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Finally, one night I had a smoking dream that was different from all the others; I dreamed that I had a cigarette in my hand, but chose not to light it. I just didn't want it. Finally.

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