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How I finally managed to kick my smoking habit...

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

I REMEMBER the day I finally decided to end it.


00:00, Thu, Oct 9, 2009

Source - “The Daily Express”

In the middle of an important phone call and unable to listen to what I was being told because I was too worried about trying to catch my breath after being attacked by a vicious coughing fit.

My caller, I hoped, had been shielded from the worst of it after I placed the handset in my pocket, a deft manoeuvre I’d learned from previous occasions. But something this time made me decide that it would not happen again. The cigarette and I were over.

It had been playing in my mind for months, even years. Most smokers, in my experience, aren’t proud of the fact. But it was a complex relationship.

How do you say goodbye to something that has been there with you, for you, for so much of your life? In times of crisis or quiet contemplation, loneliness or laughter, it had slowly but surely ingratiated itself into becoming indispensable – like that ex who never gives up on you, even when you try pastures new.

How I finally managed to kick my smoking habit

Whether waiting for a friend or a train, as long as I had a cigarette in hand, I was never alone. And the prop always gave me a sense of purpose.

It had started innocently enough, at boarding school. As a house captain, I had been given a room with a view and, most key, a room with a balcony. I soon began to find myself playing host to friend and foe alike; differences seems to fade when you enjoying a cigarette, while the sun set over the lake.

It didn’t help that I had developed a passion for French cinema in my teens. Jean Paul Belmondo chaining through Jean-Luc Godard’s A Bout de Soufflé made Humphrey Bogart look like a precocious teenager behind the garden shed.

We had ended it once before, the cigarette and I - for two years. It had happened easily, without ceremony or much in the way of preparation. And that was the problem. When we found each other again, two years later, amid a period of big upheaval in my life, I thought I would be able to flick it off again. I was wrong.

Trying a second time didn’t take. Patches may have handled the chemical addiction, but that was never the problem for me. Nicotine addiction fades after a couple of days. What remains, however, is the psychological addiction – all the associations smokers make with cigarettes.

My GP pointed me towards a local group meeting, part of the NHS kick the habit campaign. Give up in numbers, they say, and you find the support you need when you feel you are about to fall. This is a proven method – the Priory exists because of it. It wasn’t for me, however.

Bizarrely, the idea for hypnotherapy came from two separate friends almost during the same week. The first suggestion brought raised eyebrows. After the second, they became furrowed. Did I really want someone producing some hidden skeleton key and opening up my psyche? Shouldn’t I be doing this by myself, through will power alone?

How I finally managed to kick my smoking habit

On the other hand, I kept thinking how I wished I could rewind time to before the day I touched my first cigarette. Quitting is one thing, but you can’t squeeze the toothpaste back in the tube. Better, surely, for a bit of brain-trickery to make you forget you ever smoked in the first place.

Once I decided to go for it, I encountered my biggest problem. There is a vast array of hypnotherapists out there, of all shapes and colours. Some promise you instant results, citing “95 per cent” success rates. Others are more cautious.

My first choice, based on Harley Street, was a man who told me he had trained other hypnotherapists. He bemoaned the plethora of unlicensed practioners that had sprung up after the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007, stating that the majority would out of business next year after new regulations came into affect.

His pitch was very good. “Marco”, he said “I will be able t tell you within 15 minutes of meeting you whether I can help you or not. I won’t waste your time. You’ll float out of my office a non-smoker and you’ll give my card out to 20 of your friends.”

It was exactly what I wanted to hear. But a nagging instinct told me it was too good to be true.

I trawled the internet for more options. One so-called smoking clinic on Harley Street promised a 95 per cent success rate. The phone was picked up by what I assumed was a receptionist.

When I asked to speak to someone about the treatment, she said “Oh, you can speak to me” and proceeded to fail to answer every question. “Oh, we’re very good but it’s difficult to explain it. Why don’t you come and try for yourself?” was the gist of her replies.

Finally, I found Florence Mackay, at the Mindharmony clinic.

Formerly a director of global accounts with American Express France, she took her corporate experience and converted it into a successful life-coaching organisation.

Now, a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Clinical Hypnotherapist, she uses both to “to achieve sustainable change and maximize performance.”

Refreshingly, Florence offered no guarantees, no magic wands. “I don’t do the whole Paul Mckenna thing – he’s very good at what he does, but I don’t believe that anyone can do it for you,” she told me.

“I teach people techniques so that they can help themselves and tap into their own inner strength.

“If you give 100 per cent, I will give you 200 per cent and, through a series of measures leading up to a single session, you can quite smoking in an hour if you want to.”

Her techniques are used across a side range of issues, from diet, to selfconfidence and, of course, permanent smoking cessation. Charges for smoking cessation hover around the £300 mark, - less than the cost of a month’s smoking at a pack a day - though there is some flexibility.

“If someone has an issue with public speaking, I will help them to be more articulate; we will do it together to the point where they can replicate it whenever they want, and use it for other areas of their lives. They will know they have unlimited potential and can achieve it.

“Many of my clients tell me afterwards how so many other parts of their lives have changed, too, because of their decision to give up smoking, and the technique they used to do it.”

The series of measures includes filling out a very detailed and personal questionnaire, and listening to CDs which enable you to become accustomed to her voice and, most importantly, which teach you to relax.

The questionnaire made me focus on how I would relearn behaviour. How would I replace the activities I usually associated smoking with?

I knew I wanted to quit, but working at relaxing was new territory to me and I had always shied away from CDs and paraphernalia. But I did my homework, and turned up prepared.

I chugged away at was to be my last ever few cigarettes as I drove to my appointment. Florence holds clinics in her Harley Street offices, and at her home, a pretty cottage in deepest Wiltshire.

Once there, things happened quickly. Was it hypnotherapy? I don’t know. There were no swinging pendulums, no Matt Lucas-like character telling me “look into my eyes”.

We sat, and talked, and before I knew it I was in an ultra-relaxed state of mind. Florence made it very clear that I would always retain my free will that I’d even be able to get up and just walk out, if I wanted.

Throughout it all I remember thinking “this isn’t working, I am not falling” and I maintain that I was not hypnotised. When asked to respond by moving my right hand, I did it feeling it was a deliberate act, not a response to some out of body command.

And yet, it has worked.

It hasn’t been completely smooth. There were times of immense irritability.

I realised later that I wasn’t missing my cylindrical muse, as much as readjusting to not having it as part of my life.

Follow up appointments are available, to check how things are going.

But this is one ex who will not be making a come back.

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