Easy Way to Quit
How many times can a person quit smoking and start again and retain sanity? Many times. The only problem with smoking is that sooner or later -- aside from the lack of health, the social stigma, the cost, what non-smokers mystifyingly refer to as the stench and of course the imminent death -- one falls into the habit of quitting smoking. I started smoking about twenty years ago and I started quitting about ten years ago and I've yet to shake either habit.
Qutting smoking began innocently enough. A generous and well-to-do friend of mine had a very helpful program whereby he would take some friends to New York for a week, put us up at the Carlyle, take us to Le Cirque, Bernadin and the Met and insist that we start the day running around the reservoir, and that we not smoke. This actually worked rather well, until my friend died of cancer of the aesophagus, the bartenders cancer, generally caused by cigarettes and alcohol, two habits he had quit years before which then caught up with him.
Soon after I entered a ten day Vipassana silent meditation in western Massachussetts. I went in with no intention of becoming healthy but at the end of the ten days I had some mild epiphany that made smoking unneccesary and a year went by in a blissful smoke-free haze. Then I went to Greece and I was smoking before I even stopped to remember that I had stopped.
Thereafter the attempts became more frantic. I've tried the patch, the gum, hypnosis, acupuncture, zyban, the Mad Russian in Boston and Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. In total they all worked for about sixty days, spread out over a decade. I should add that as I write this I am in the midst of my second pack of Marlboro Reds of the day and the more I quit, the better they feel.
I got a copy of this Easy Way to Stop book and realised I had read it five years earlier. It had worked for two weeks. The author heads a chapter The Benefits of Smoking and then leaves the page blank. There are a few benefits though that keep me at it. One is that it will kill you and when miserable for prolonged periods the thought of this fact is immesely reassuring, a temporary stasis. When confronted by imminent danger or at least social discomfort ease can be brought to bear. Cigarettes work as punctuation throughout the day, tidy bookends to various stretches of time. Smoking wards off muesli eating, yoga practicing, body-hair wearing, vegetarian bores. Smokers are invariably more interesting people than non-smokers. Despite the odds it continues to be cool; we know this because Vin Diesel condemns the habit in XXX, because Christy Turlington says that smoking is ugly, because our mayor won't allow it.
Despite my protestations though, age will take its course and unfortunately I can't get away with it for too much longer. The body always betrays the mind and every single ache and pain I've brought to my doctor over the last seven years is, he says, a result of smoking.
Dr. Woodson C. Merrell is the Executive Director of The Continuum for Health and Healing. He's also an MD and a certified physician-acupuncturist who has prescribed zyban, suggested the patch and stuck a needle behind my ear over the years. He tells me that the more we know about smoking the more we know how damaging it is to all parts of the body, from the toxic effects to far reaching repurcussions, not to mention the economics. This point of course is made in my own mind pretty much every time I light up.
I try Zyban, the miracle pill. Zyban is a prescribed anti-depressant which after about two weeks of daily doses does reduce the urge to smoke to the point where cigarette smoke actually begins to seem rather vile. It used to be called wellbutrin and made the same rounds as prozac and zoloft. Then the side-effect of causing nicotine disgust was discovered, the name zyban was put on the bottle, the price was hiked up and it was added to the burgeoning industry of helping people to stop smoking. I took it for three months or so and found that it did decrease my desire to smoke. It also made me more nervous (a fine reason to smoke) and gave me a creepy zoned out feeling. Potential adverse effects of zyban are listed as being seizures, anxiety, nervousness and, curiously enough, death, which makes the expensive little pill seem more like an exact replica of a cigarette, minus the fun, rather than a solution.
Moving right along, Dr. Merrell sees the addiction in terms of the mind, which he says plays a huge role. His suggestions for stopping then concentrate on the mental addiction. Of the ancillary techniques, hypnosis and acupuncture are the most effective. You learn a technique to change the thought process. And acupuncture can be very helpful for the physical withdrawl, the comulsive tendency. He also likes SmokeEnders, a support group along the line of 12-step programs.
I don't downplay the addictive nature, Merrell asserts, and goes through some of the other forms he has prescribed over the years. Zyban is helpful if someone is not heavily addicted physically and is a person prone to depression. That's where it has been proved to be physically helpful. The transition agents -- the patch, the gum, the nasal spray -- you can taper off and at least youâre not getting the smoke in your lungs.â Ultimately though, he says that âif the decision is strong but you have difficulty emotionally, physically, mentally then these can be helpful.â
Earlier this summer then I read through Carrâs book in one sitting, felt thoroughly chastised and vaguely renewed and stopped for six days straight. After six days of thinking about smoking all the time I decided to smoke so I could think about something else for a change.
Last August I flew to Boston and took a cab out to Brookline, to the modest house where Yefim Shubentsov, The Mad Russian, has his practice. I sat in an extremely hot room with twenty or so other people who had paid $60 in cash or check to experience this renowned healer help them to quit smoking. He spoke in a Russian accent about the harsh conditions he grew up with, the luxury of western standards and the fallacy of desire. He went around the room, to all of us, asking if we felt depressed or had any physical pain. I volunteered some depression and he asked me what was causing it. I said I didn't know. He said he couldn't help me and moved on, curing everyone of whatever their ills might be. Later we went in one by one for some hypnosis, or what he calls bio-energetics. It was interesting, but I was smoking within six hours. Otherwise, Mr. Shubentsov is said to be 98% successful.
More had to be done, so I went to London and took an early morning cab out to Wimbledon. I arrived at a non descript place called The Easy Way To Stop Smoking, the entrance of which is in an alley way cum parking lot. I paid 160 pounds to sit in a rather comfortable chair in a room with 12 other people. At one end of the room was a pile of roughly a thousand packs of cigarettes and several hundred lighters. A terribly winning woman named Sue sat in a comfy chair in front of us all and talked for about four hours. We were all encouraged to smoke as much as we wanted during the session and we all chain smoked, at first self conciously and then naturally. At one point the woman, who goes over much of the material in the book, tolds us you have just smoked your last cigarette. Then she said just kidding and virtually all of us lit up again. After five hours of this the real final cigarette was smoked and we threw our remainders onto the huge pile and took a little bit of hypnosis.
The rest of that day was fine. The next day I went to a party in London and lit up very quickly after a woman's magazine editor insisted I write a feature about dating in New York.
Robin Hayley, the managing director of Alan Carr International tells me that the success rate according to their money back offer is 97.5%. Not only is the success rate similar to the Mad Russian, but so is the approach -- Allen Carr's method is to convince the smoker that he does not want to smoke. Most methods focus on why you shouldn't but you smoke for the reasons that you do, Hayley tells me. It's the fear of not being able to cope. Carr however removes the fears and the feeling of making a sacrifice and he analyses what is the pleasure. He removes the feeling of deprivation.
Hayley and the Allen Carr method also agree with the Mad Russian in his distaste for nicotine replacement therapies, Hayley going so far as to say that people who use the patch or the gum and then quit actually quit in spite of the therapies. I well remember wearing up to six patches all over my body, including a couple right over my heart, and then wondering why I was still chain smoking. The nicotine replacement therapy is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Hayley insists though that quitting really is easy physically. It's just that smokers make it difficult for themselves by going about it the wrong way. The right way is all in the attitude. And whats the short version of their treatment? Yippee, I'm a non-smoker. And that's it. No doom and gloom, just Yippee!
Last week I returned to Allen Carr's London center. I'm one of eight people taking the company up on their return offer -- if you fail to stop you can go back a few times for free. Much of Sue's lecture is repeated by a therapist called Chris and we all chain smoke throughout. At the end we are given brief instructions and then told to smoke our last ever cigarette. We again throw our lighters and packs against the huge pile of last-ever packs of cigarettes and receive a little more hypnosis. We are asked if we have any questions and I say that I have doubts because I have smoked hundreds of last ever cigarettes. I am assured of success if I follow the directions. I go for the whole afternoon, then start thinking about it and yet again decide to smoke in order to stop thinking about smoking. Then I realise I had forgotten to follow the simplest of little post-session instructions. I kick myself and light up again. I did however get another key chain.
For now then thats my story. I've tried every legal method there is and found myself wanting. One point that Mr. Hayley, Dr. Merrell and Mr. Shubentsov agree on is that any method of quitting really comes down to a placebo effect for the underlying decision to stop. I've made that firm decision so many times now, as Mark Twain's saying goes, that it seems rather tattered. At this point, I suppose, I've quit quitting. Yippee!