How I Quit Smoking
It is exactly 30 years ago today that I had my last cigarette. The 24th of January, 1983. This is the story of how I quit smoking.
It was early evening. I was in a hospital room as I watched someone die of cancer. She’d been a smoker earlier on in her life. The cancer had spread throughout her body. She’d left a note “make this end” – so they withdrew treatment, food and fluids.
I watched her take her last breath.
As I walked out of the room into the sterile, brightly lit hospital corridor, I threw the half full packet of cigarettes (Benson & Hedges Extra Mild) into the grey metal bin.
Cold turkey. I haven’t smoked since.
How it All Started
It’s a pretty dramatic way of giving up cigarettes. But then smoking has a pretty dramatic outcome.
I’d started just a few years earlier in my late teens. I was in the army – the Royal Military College Duntroon – the Australian Officer Training Academy. We were out on exercise and a huge, cold, wet storm had blown through. Young, incredibly fit men were dropping of exposure. Our packs were miles away and the trucks couldn’t get through on the treacherous roads. So we had no wet weather gear. No cold weather gear. No tents – “hootchies” they were called for some reason.
We were at the mercy of the elements. One of the blokes “generously” offered me a “durry” – it was the only warm thing going, so I took it.
Of course I coughed and spluttered as the smoke invaded my body – but that was it. That’s all it took. I was hooked.
Within a few weeks I was smoking three packets of Winfield 25’s a day. That’s 75 smokes every day. This was back in the days when you could smoke at your desk. I could easily go through a packet in a night on the town. Between that and the alcohol, I’d wake up in the morning with my mouth feeling like “the bottom of a cocky’s cage” as we used to say. Charming!
I was a chain smoker. I’d tried to give up, but to no avail. As bad as it was for me, as much as it made me cough and splutter and wheeze, as much money as it cost me, and as antisocial and disgusting as it was, I couldn’t give up.
Until I watched that woman die.
How I Quit Smoking
The days, weeks, months and years that followed weren’t easy. The cravings were huge. For years later, I was still reaching to my top drawer to pull out a packet of cigarettes. I’d check to make sure I had my lighter in my pocket before I went out.
The thing that did it for me – one craving at a time – was the memory of watching that woman breathe her last breath and the grief that it wrought in her husband and family.
In a very real sense, her death saved my life.
A Lesson Learned
You’d think that that would have taught me a lesson – look after your body. After all, it’s the only one I have.
But then I went on to put on so much weight – that I ended up weighing around 110 kgs (242 lbs). That’s lasted most of my life thus far, until about three years ago. I’ll leave it for another post to share how I lost over 25 kgs (55 lbs) to be a normal healthy size for my height.
These days, I walk 7 kilometres a day most days. I’m fit and healthy. The doctor marvels at the reduction in triglycerides and increase in HDL (good cholesterol), my low blood sugar and low blood pressure.
Of course, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow. And despite my level of health and fitness, I could prove to be a statistical aberration and drop dead of a heart attack, stroke or cancer. That’s always a possibility. But it’s far less likely today than if I were still an obese smoker.
What’s the lesson I learned? Simple.
I like my body. I like feeling incredibly well. I like sleeping well at night and being alert during the day. I love being able to exercise. And it’s a great feeling to know that all things being equal, I have a long, healthy life ahead of me (I’m about to turn 54).
To put it bluntly, I would never, ever want to go back to the smoking.
So given that I’ve made it through exactly 30 years without a cigarette, you know what?
I’m thinking I can probably make it through one more day …
Dedicated to my father Adolf Dymet (died age 74), good friend Tom Curran (died age 52) and faithful work colleague Russell Abbot (died age 56). Smokers who went before their time. May they rest in peace.