Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

How I quit smoking

I went cold turkey from two packs a day to being a non-smoker. Once upon a time, I thought it impossible

It is with a sense of trepidation that I write this piece. It’s been a little over a day since I smoked my last cigarette. About half an hour ago, I trashed my “emergency" cigarettes in a bin. In the run-up to calling it quits, I’d saved these in a corner of my home if the pangs got irresistible. But saving it up didn’t fit in with my stated philosophy: Once you cross the bridge—burn it. You either win the battle or die fighting. But you don’t turn back.

In hindsight, I ought to have done it earlier. And now that I am going public with my decision, there is absolutely, absolutely no turning back. If I do, I promise I’ll get back on this platform and admit I failed. Ridicule me then. Boo and jeer until I turn my head down in humiliation. As things stand, though, allow me to sound triumphant and share how I’ve managed thus far for the benefit of those still struggling with addiction.

Twenty-five-odd years ago, when I lit my first cigarette, I’d just turned 18—officially an adult. Until then, smoking was a surreptitious affair. What better way to celebrate it publicly than indulge in pleasures otherwise meant for adults! So a few beers it was and a packet of cigarettes split among some raucous friends who knew nothing better. Apparently, it meant we had arrived in life and were now cool.

I don’t know how and when it happened. But what started out as an anointment into adulthood morphed into an addiction. Coupled with peer pressure and anthems that celebrate smoking, and goaded on by musicians I swore by like Leonard Cohen and the guitarist Slash, of Guns ‘n Roses fame, there was no turning back. The one or two smokes a day crept up rapidly until I was chain smoking.

Don’t ask me what caused a switch to flip in my head a few days ago. Call it a moment of epiphany if you will. But as I stared at the cigarette on hand and puffed at it, I couldn’t help but think of it as an old girlfriend—the thought of whom now gives me the jitters.

Once upon a time, much to the chagrin of my family and friends, I’d gotten into a relationship with a woman I thought incredibly pretty and incredibly intelligent. To be fair to her, she was both. So much so she convinced me to walk out of a steady, long-term relationship I was in then to be with her. Her cantankerous nature and that she had me wrapped around her little finger didn’t bother me. I thought it rather “cute" to indulge the woman of my fantasies.

A peep from her was all it took to make me dance. What I didn’t know then was everybody around were sniggering behind my back at how naïve I was. They could see what I couldn’t. The both of us didn’t make for a couple. Her values and mine were poles apart. What she aspired to be were very different from what I did.

Everybody thought it only a matter of time before we parted ways. I suspect she saw it that way as well. I didn’t. In my mind, someday, I’d settle down with her. Call it wilful blindness.

Then one day, the penny dropped. Once again, don’t ask me how and why. But I told her we weren’t going any place—and that our relationship had to be terminated. It hurt me no end that she remained nonchalant. There was not even a semblance of a fight to hold on to me. And she walked away as if nothing had ever transpired between us. In hindsight, I’m glad she walked away as clinically as she did. I moped around for a bit, but got back to living soon enough.

It was much the same thing playing in my mind as I stared at the cigarette in my hand. The damn thing felt awfully similar to my girlfriend from the past. I’d do anything for it. It had the upper hand. The influence it wielded on the choices I made seemed rather ridiculous. For instance, I’d go the extra mile for the solace it seemed to offer. Smokers will know what I mean.

Like the times you unashamedly try to extricate yourself out of something your kids want to do with you, but you can’t because you can’t smoke around them. How low can a father go than that?

Or that mad rush to find a smoking room after a flight, for instance; or a break at a movie hall, to get a much-needed shot of nicotine.

I can go on and on. But having kicked the butt, I finally know, after a quarter of a century, what freedom feels like. It is the kind of exhilaration that followed when I finally walked out of a bad relationship.

A little after I made my mind up, I called my good friend Rajat Chauhan, a columnist for Mint. We made a pact. I told him I spent in the region of Rs10,000 each month on my brand of cigarettes. Instead, I’d deposit the money each month with him as professional fees for coaching me towards the Delhi Half Marathon later this month on 29 November—a run for which I had signed up earlier.

My training for it got sabotaged on the back of my wayward ways. I intend to pick the threads up on that with a little goading from him. He wants me to follow up with another run in Manali early next year—and the Mumbai full marathon if my application gets accepted.

To make the offer sweeter still, he added a caveat. If I stay the course, away from the butt, follow his programme to the T and complete the runs I’d signed up for, he’ll put all of the money right back in my account. If I give up and go back to my smoking ways, he gets to keep it and I assume it is money I smoked away. As incentives go, it is a good one. And as promises go, I’ve placed my neck on the line by placing all of my cards in this space, out in the open.

Now, to nurse myself back to my long-distance running days, reclaim my self-respect and admiring looks from my daughters that their dad has the spunk to live up to his word!

Charles Assisi is co-founder and director at Founding Fuel Publishing. He tweets on @c_assisi

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