Today, Wednesday, September 3, 2014, marks exactly one year and ten days that I have not smoked a single cigarette, having taken a decision to quit, cold turkey, after being a heavy smoker for 50-plus years.
Anyone who knows the powerful tug of nicotine addiction (and I believe there are hundreds of thousands of people who have found themselves unable to break free) will understand why I regard this as a singular achievement and one well worth publicising.
At the outset I never thought I could accomplish it. Initially when I tried to stop smoking, I never held out for more than a few hours and then a few days. But when I sat down and thought seriously, and deeply, about it I concluded this was a war—a war against addiction—and the only way I could win it was by asserting my own free will power.
I’m also going to admit I was encouraged in my personal anti-smoking campaign by a dear friend, never mind she lives in Washington, DC. She always gave me her positive encouragement and support, and that certainly helped me to stick to my resolve.
Now over the past year I’ve met people involved in this same war who have used aids like chewing Nicorette gum, smoking electronic cigarettes (which, I’ve been told by experts, is as dangerous to your health as tobacco cigarettes) or seeking the aid of a hypnotherapist, who literally can hypnotise you away from indulging the habit.
But from the outset I have relied completely on my will power. Cold turkey. And on the slogan given to me by another dear friend, Francesca Hawkins, very early in my anti-nicotine struggle: NOPE (Not One Puff Ever).
Combined with this battle against the very strong addiction of nicotine (would you believe occasionally, after a year, I still crave a cigarette every now and again?), I have also fought a war against alcohol addiction, having virtually become an alcoholic after my terror experience as a hostage during the 1990 attempted coup.
I was a regular social drinker before that experience. But after 1990 I began to use alcohol as a “pain killer”. Until I decided, one night after a serious drinking binge, that I would have to stop or I would not be able to control myself and simply sink deeper and deeper into a pit of alcohol addiction.
That was in 2005. And although I have had an occasional glass of wine at social functions since then, I have completely resisted the temptation to return to heavy alcohol consumption.
Recently, when a new friend of mine invited me to a social “drink-up”, I declined because, as I told him, I didn’t want to place myself in a situation where the reason for gathering was largely alcohol consumption. I didn’t want to open myself to that kind of naked temptation.
Reading about the shocking death by suicide of the American actor and comedian Robin Williams in early August, I was struck by his own confession to the double addictions of cocaine and alcohol.
Being tempted to consume alcohol, he once said, was like “standing on the edge of a precipice”. Perhaps in the end, unable to resist the temptation, he decided to jump off.
His wife’s subsequent disclosure that he was showing early signs of Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating mental condition that can lead to dementia, probably also devalued his sense of life.
Recently, I also read about the ABC News co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas checking herself into a rehabilitation clinic in her own battle against alcohol addiction.
Significantly, ABC issued a public statement saying it was standing by her, noting: “On so many levels recovering alcoholics know overcoming the disease can be a long and incredibly difficult process.”
I believe overcoming all forms of addiction is a long and difficult battle. But I also believe determination and a strong sense of being able to exercise your own free will power is a great asset. And mark my word: the singular purpose of this column is to demonstrate to others it can be done and encourage them to follow suit.