I started smoking in January 2013. Aged 26. Yes, that’s right- as a fully fledged adult, in the days of SMOKING REDUCED FERTILITY, of ROKEN VEROORZAAKT HARTAANVALLEN, I started smoking. Why? Because on an adult psychiatric ward, smoking means Time Outside. It means fresh air without suspicion. It means becoming part of the small community that makes up the inpatients of the hospital. A mental health unit is one of the last places where smoking is not just accepted, but expected. No-one was surprised and no-one was unimpressed. Outside, the chats happened. I got hugs, advice and confidences in the small space avoided by nurses. I became part of the gang, to the amusement of the seasoned smokers who offered me their fags as an act of kindness. So I started smoking. And I continued smoking. Outside In The World it became a small patch of habit that was only mine, a reprieve, however brief, from the pain and the paranoia I experienced. Something to do with my mouth besides drinking alcohol.
On the second ward I was on, fewer people smoked. They were surprised that I was now “a smoker”, which I still denied I “really” was. But the habit had settled, and I relished the alone time, sitting on the balcony, breathing up at the sky and dreaming of freedom. The occasional camaraderie of being joined for a sneaky one.
I won’t lie. I like- no, love- the steady breath of white air, the relief of a full inhale. And lately, I like the hit of nicotine, the brief dizziness of getting something I need. Not want: need.
I didn’t smoke (much) as a kid. There were the occasional ones to fit in, or to seem rebellious or cool, but it never became a habit for me. I didn’t have as much pocket money as other people and, sadly, what I did have I tended to spend on drink. On the adolescent mental health unit I did have the occasional one, again as an attempt to be part of a crowd and gain space slightly away from nurses’ watchful eyes, though why they let teenage self-harming smokers beyond their sight, I will never know. But eventually I came to see smoking as an undesirable, somewhat dirty habit, and hated it.
As an adult, I became furious at my girlfriend’s smoking. I hated it, actively, and felt a pinch of resentment every time she lit up. I don’t know why. Smoking seemed like something needless, something she should be able to do without. Something, I guess, that she was enjoying without me. My war on smoking continued and now things have come full circle.
Now, I would like to stop. Because I have read the warnings, I have understood them, I do recognise that it is becoming an unsocial habit. I value my white teeth and I value my lung capacity. I am a runner, and breath is important to me. People have said, even, that smoking just doesn’t suit me.w I have been a self-harmer and a heavy drinker and I do not need another addiction in my life. I need freedom.
Today, I self-referred to a Stop Smoking Service. My smoking isn’t heavy; I smoke at most ten a day and at least two. But it has become a daily habit, and that needs to change. At least, I’d like to be a “social smoker” in a circle of friends where smoking is rarely a social activity. I want to be like everyone else and this time, that means giving up rather than carrying on.
I don’t believe in Stoptober. I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. What I need is to believe in myself, in my own willpower, in my own desire to stop doing this to my lungs, to my heart and to my mind.