SMOKE AND ASHES

Today marks exactly 7 years since I smoked my last cigarette, never to turn back. I mark this day with more aplomb than my birthday. Which I don’t mark anyway.

Since 16th July 2013, I have never inhaled smoke-except the one from my cucu Martha’s kitchen when I visit her. But was quitting easy? Never. Stopping smoking cold turkey is one of the top ten ways to lose your sanity. I got so sick that I couldn’t concentrate at work for some days. I had these maddening hallucinations even at daytime. Due to the withdrawal of constant stimulation of nicotine, I would get so sleepy and doze off of as I served a client in office. Then I would crave a fag so badly that when I looked up the sky, I would see millions of them up there. It was hell.

If one has never smoked, one can never fathom how it is to be smoker. One doesn’t smoke because he likes it.One smokes because he is hooked. Your room reeks of smoke, like a diesel engine workshop. Over time, your eyes start looking like over ripe kamongo tomatoes. Your appetite gets bad, and by extension your breathing. You wheeze like an ancient Fiat lorry going up Kangoco-the steep hill enroute Karatina.You hate yourself. You want out, but you can’t escape from the self-inflicted bondage. Why? Because nicotine is a highly addictive substance.

Most luminary figures struggled with nicotine addiction at some point. Men who changed the world, but couldn’t change themselves.Dr.Martin Luther King Jnr had come out for a smoke at the balcony when the sniper assassinated him. Barrack Obama struggled with the habit, something he talks about in one of his books. Churchill loved his cigars, but wished he could ditch them. The late Hon Michuki struggled with the habit too. Nicotine is no respecter of personalities.

So how did I stop smoking?

I tried yoga, it didn’t work. I tried Transcendental Meditation, it failed. I prayed, not working. I gave up and resigned to the god of Nicotine. Because smoking is an illusion and the human mind loves illusions. It promises you the thrill of happiness while adding you a thousand pains. It gives you two minutes of nicotine induced high and a lifetime of bad breath and wheezing and danger of getting lung cancer. And so does most drugs.

Part of the credit goes to the young lady in my house I have named after my mother. Back when she was a chubby girl, she would tag along when I went to buy newspapers. Once I left the house, I would light up.

‘Daddy, teacher said smoking is bad’. She would always remind me.That would break my heart a hundred times-which inspired me to quit. Now you understand why every time she asks for pizza, I can even borrow money to buy her one.

The other credit goes to many of my friends who, after finding me smoking, would tell me with shock: But you don’t look like a smoker! That scratched my ego-and emboldened my resolve to quitting. Finally, I take some credit-because I never gave up.

To all ye heaven bound Bible thumpers, a smoker won’t quit because you tell him that they will burn in the hottest place in hell. Actually, the Bible doesn’t have a verse to that effect. In addition, a smoker won’t be made to quit by calling him pepo nyeusi till he actually turns black. We need to look beyond the rightness or the wrongness of the act-and meet the smoker in the neutral ground that lays there between.

The war against smoking won’t be won by warning smokers that smoking causes impotence. Who wants babies nowadays anyway? I suspect it’s even a lie- I know several smokers with broods that can start a modest kindergarten. It won’t be worn by deriding cigarettes as sticks with fire in one end and a fool on the other. What works is making the smoker realize that he has the power to quit within himself.

In my instance, what worked was the appeal to my sense of being. The appeal to the ego.

Next time when you meet a smoker, don’t remind him what it’s doing to his lungs. Or that he might be shooting blanks soon. He knows all that very well-it’s written in bold on cigarette packs. With every rebuke, you sow hatred in a person who already hates himself to the level of filling his lungs with tar. Hate begets hate.

But I am not saying that smokers shouldn’t be reminded that smoking is bad. They should be-and should not take it personal. Whenever one beats a rug across a rock to clean it, the blows aren’t against the rug, but the dirt in the rug.

Appeal to the person’s sense of wellbeing. Tell him that he looks bad when he smokes. Tell him that it’s messing up his laughter lines. If it’s a lady, tell her that it masks her expensive perfume. Somehow, it might work.

Every smoker is prisoner with a key to the prison door in his hands. Thus he needs to be made aware that he carries inside himself the power to stop what he started. It’s only him who can free himself. The journey to quitting is his or hers alone. Others may walk it with him, but no one can walk it for them. Not the pastor, not a friend, not  a spouse.

Do I regret having wasted my lungs with smoke and ashes for some years? No I don’t. Instead I celebrate that I triumphed over a great obstactle.With a little help from my daughter and friends. Such triumphs tell us that we are stronger then we seem.

The experience has also made me suspicious of what I want-because it might turn out to be an addiction. This applies to money, to food, to everything.

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