First things first. I love smoking. I love old movies with gangsters doing the side mouth chitchat with a fag hanging out of their mouth. I love Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe – even Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct – lighting up. Heck, I even love Dot Cotton. But, there comes a stage where even old-timers like me – about to turn 40 – need a reality check.
But back to how it all started. My father chuffs up to 20 B&H a day (still) and when I was small, I hated it. I used to steal his cigarettes and crush them, damn the consequences, which were usually pretty bad (now, of course, I understand why; there’s nothing worse than an anti smoking zealot). I didn’t even succumb to peer pressure at school particularly. You wouldn’t catch me smoking behind the school gates. No, I started properly smoking when I left school, got on a plane to Chile for my Gap Year (you could still smoke on planes then!) and left my boyfriend of the time behind.
Cigarettes became my ‘friend’, my companion on this journey into the unknown on the other side of the world, free from maternal disapproval. I was grown up; I was in control; actually, I was pretty lonely and missed my boyfriend like hell, but there they were, those little white sticks comforting me as I sat on mountains; drove through deserts and taught Chilean school children the subtleties of the Great Gatsby. I was the great romantic heroine.
When I smoked, I smoked; there was nothing ‘social’ about it. First thing in the morning with a cup of tea; last thing at night with a glass of wine; out of any ‘non smoking’ hotel room window.
Fast forward 15 years or so and my mum got breast cancer. On that day I made a pledge to her that I would quit if she got through it (which – looking back – seems a bit harsh. Did it mean I wouldn’t give up if she didn’t get through it?). She got better. I quit. I got pregnant. All good reasons not to smoke and it was (relatively) easy.
I still had the odd sneaky fag though, revelling in the associated ‘freedom’ it gave me, making me feel like ‘me’ again. That was the kind of smoking I really wanted to accomplish – the odd one at the odd party. No big deal. Then I got pregnant again. And baby number two had silent reflux and would wake approximately eight to 10 times a night for the first seven or so months. The stress of this sent me straight back to my old friends. I was so wound up that even when my son did sleep, I couldn’t, so I’d be out on the pavement at 4am puffing away. He eventually improved, but by that time it was too late. I was well and truly hooked again.
Being a smoking mother of two is not a good look. I became ashamed and of course I wanted to be around for as much of my children's lives as possible. The thought of dying early of a smoking-related disease (and, who knows, I still might I guess) was appalling, so I asked a few of my friends who or what they’d recommend. One answer came back: go and see Terrence the Trainer . And yes, he does have to ‘r’s’ in his name.
Terrence is a hypnotherapist par excellence with a client list (unrevealed, of course) that includes super models and titans of industry. When I mentioned him to my friend, the nutritionist Vicki Edgson, that I was seeing him, her eyes lit up. ‘He really is the best,’ she quipped.
I loved the idea of hypnotherapy; call me lazy, but I preferred an instant solution rather than weaning myself off the fags through e-cigarettes or patches etc.
Terrence arrived at my house (another benefit; I didn’t have to traipse anywhere) on a Sunday evening. We’d had a bit of email correspondence in the days before. Him telling me to enjoy my last cigarettes, while in the same breath giving me some brutal smoking facts. Me emailing back, fag in mouth, wine in hand, saying, 'Yes, I'm really enjoying my last cigarettes,' and thinking how many more I could fit in before he came to see me.
We chatted; we drank rooibos tea; and then he asked me to lie on my sofa, while in his sonorous South African lilt, he brought me to a state where he could tap into my subconscious and change my associative thinking.
Forty-five minutes later, I ‘woke up’, felt pretty much the same and wondered how and if this funny process would work. Terrence ordered me to repeat the mantra ‘I am a non smoker and will remain so for the rest of my life’ at least three times a day in the following days. Positive affirmations are a crucial part of cementing your new thought patterns. He also emailed me to check in on me every day for five days afterwards.
While, initially, I wondered about cigarettes in an abstract form, the thought of actually having one made me physically nauseous. I distinctly remember walking past someone smoking, breathing it in and almost retching.
The funny thing about really giving up smoking (Terrence thinks we shouldn’t call it ‘giving up’ as it’s a negative connotation, as though we’re punishing ourselves) is how much freer I feel. Energy is no longer wasted on thinking when and where I can have my next fag. I look at people smoking and I think, ‘Thank God, that’s not me anymore, why don’t you give up? It’s really easy, just look at me. I can give you Terrence’s number.’ Though, of course, I don’t say that. I just feel secretly pleased that those old friends I loved so much have become a sweet and distant memory and it’s the best 40th birthday present I could ever have given myself.