By Victoria Coren, Saturday 4 August 2012
While typing this, I’m chewing a blue plastic Biro. Like a dodgy internet user, I’m typing with one hand; unlike a dodgy internet user (I fervently hope), my other hand is resting in a bowl of Percy Piglets sweets.
Sometimes, just to ring the changes, I use the Piglets hand to type and the other to bounce a rubber ball on the floor. I get up a lot and pace around. I’m high on sugar. I’m slightly angry. What do you make of this, Sherlock?
That’s right: I’m weaning myself off heroin.
I’m not weaning myself off heroin. If you’d asked me six months ago, I’d have guessed that would be an easier job. The one thing I would never be able to do (I knew, in the depths of my soul) was stop smoking.
And yet, today, it’s a month since my last cigarette. Before that, I hadn’t gone a day without smoking since I was 14.
I wasn’t one of your lightweight social smokers. I wasn’t a fly-by-night, fair-weather, 20-a-day kind of girl. I really meant it. I smoked almost all the time I was awake. When I wasn’t smoking, I was thinking about smoking. Being a smoker is an intrinsic part of my self-definition; I was as likely to quit as I was to have a sex change, or to shout: “Come on everyone, let’s conga!”
I never wanted to give up. People would point out the health risks (as though they might not have occurred to me, despite most of my family dying from cancer), without understanding that the health risks didn’t matter because I cared more about smoking than I did about living. And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand addiction and you really must stop telling people what to do.
Others nagged about it being disgusting, without realising this only increases the smoker’s need. If a loved one is openly critical, you smoke more to console yourself. If a stranger is derogatory, you smoke more to keep defining yourself as a carefree liberal compared to this pious finger-pointer. So, do nag people about smoking if you’re keen to express your own superiority, but don’t pretend it’s helping them.
(Hold on while I eat a quick nine Percy Piglets, twitch, tweet, pace, scream a bit and play three simultaneous games of electronic Scrabble.)
I started taking Champix out of curiosity. Some people said this magic pill simply stops you wanting cigarettes. Charlie Brooker said it makes you hallucinate about gouging your own eyes out. The former was obviously, utterly, ludicrously, impossible; the latter sounded fascinating. Eight days into the course, my eyes were fine and I no longer wanted to smoke.
I smoked anyway, of course. I was never one of those dilettantes who give it a rest when they feel sick or get flu. What do you think I was, an amateur? Champix made cigarettes unpleasant, so I smoked cigarettes and found them unpleasant.
But then, on day 10, I read Allen Carr’s book Easy Way to Stop Smoking. Allen Carr used to smoke 100 a day, which even a nicotine Olympian like me had to respect as quite some achievement. When did he sleep?
And something in the ley lines – away from home, free from stress, with Champix suppressant in the blood and Allen Carr’s hypnotic whispering to the brain… I just stopped. Not because it causes cancer, not because it smells nasty, not because anyone disapproves. I stopped because Allen Carr explained why there was no point continuing. He employs pure logic: a logic so logical that it’s magical. He never judges, criticises or nags. He just understands, and explains.
Why am I telling you all this? I’m telling you because Allen Carr (RIP) asked readers to spread the word. Even if I never manage more than this one no-smoking month, for that wonder alone, I owe him.
And I’m telling you because you might be a fellow smoker who also thinks quitting is impossible. That specific, timed equation of holiday + pills + Carr caused a genuine miracle for me. It’s got to be worth a try, hasn’t it? Nothing to lose; you’ll still be yourself. I haven’t stopped being me. I’m still a smoker. I just don’t smoke.
I’m telling you because I want you to know that it’s really quite easy, and wonderful, and it’s not like “giving up” anything. It feels much more like a gain: of freedom, and peace, and pride.
And I’m telling you because I want a cigarette so badly I COULD BLOODY KILL SOMEONE and it would be absolutely impossible to write or think or talk about anything else.
Still, nobody said it would be easy. Apart from Allen Carr, who said it would be easy. And me, who just said it was easy.
It’s only tough today, because writing is my worst trigger. So I find it hard to write. Last week, all I managed to do was type you a list of my favourite quotes from Fifty Shades Of Grey. (And I forgot: “I’d really like to claim your ass, Anastasia.” Good luck saying that with a straight face.)
But I’m not going to take up smoking again today. And if I ever start again, I’ll stop again.
If you smoke, I hope this was an encouraging read. If you don’t smoke, but love to harass those who do, I hope this might encourage you to quit as well. (If you don’t smoke and wouldn’t dream of criticising what anyone else does: well, you’re always welcome at my house for Christmas.)
Plus, I have a curious fact for you to take away. Did you know that Percy Piglets contain actual pork gelatine?
I had no idea. I just happened to look at the ingredients a minute ago, when I started oinking.