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"Anne's Choice" / Chapter 6
As before, Anne made a plan. She had read advice in a “quit smoking” guide on the internet that the best method was to take a break from her usual routine and try to quit cold turkey, and so she and Martin arranged to take time off work and booked themselves a last-minute activity holiday in a beach resort on a Caribbean island. They arrived at their hotel late in the evening and, after unpacking, they went down to the bar where Anne sat and finished the cigarettes in her pack, smoking each one down to the stub.
When there was only one left, she excused herself to Martin and walked outside to the patio. A warm breeze was blowing in from the sea. She sat down alone at a table under a palm tree and lit her last cigarette, inhaling less deeply than usual so that it would take longer to smoke. She tried to remember what it was like not to be a smoker but, apart from the brief interlude at university, her memories were too far back in her youth to afford much of a clue. As a small child she had hated her father’s smoking and nagged him persistently that it was bad for him. All of that changed one day in her early teens when her friend Katie invited her into a shed at the bottom of the garden where, to Anne’s surprise, Katie produced a pack of Benson & Hedges, and the two girls practised smoking to impress the boys at a party that night. She remembered, too, the day when she bought her own pack for the first time, in a corner shop whose owner took a relaxed attitude to the age of his customers. As she unwrapped the pack and took a cigarette out of it, she had quietly murmured under her breath the words “I smoke”, just to see how it sounded. It sounds good, she had thought to herself.
It still sounds good, Anne reflected wistfully, as she returned her attention to the cigarette which she was now holding and of which, despite her efforts, very little remained. She continued to take small drags until the last of the tobacco burned away and it went out. She dropped the lipstick-stained filter on the ground, crushed it symbolically with her heel, and stood up to rejoin Martin in the bar.
During the next two weeks they passed the time surfing, windsurfing, paragliding, and participating in every other available activity, in order to try to occupy Anne’s attention. In the evenings they dined in non-smoking restaurants and Anne drank too much wine as an inadequate substitute for the nicotine which she craved. For the first week she suffered dreadful withdrawal symptoms: headaches, chest pains, dizzy spells and panic attacks. Despite their busy sport schedule, she seldom lasted more than ten minutes without longing for a cigarette. Martin did what he could to help her, tolerating her foul moods and fits of temper, calming her down when she panicked, drying her tears when she cried. It was not a very relaxing fortnight for either of them, but by the end of the holiday Anne’s symptoms were much less acute and she had succeeded in resisting all temptations to smoke. As she walked quickly past the duty-free cigarettes at the airport without making any purchase, she smiled proudly at Martin, although inwardly she suspected that the worst was yet to come.
And so it proved. By nature, Anne was a very strong-willed woman and, having made the decision to give up smoking, she was determined to prove to herself that she could see it through. But as she had feared, once back at work and into her normal routine, her cravings got worse, not better. When she woke in the morning she would reach automatically for the pack on her bedside table before remembering with dismay that it was no longer there. Breakfast without a cigarette left her unprepared to start the day. In the office she moved to sit at a desk away from the smoking area but still found herself thinking about cigarettes a hundred times a day. She stopped drinking coffee because the taste of espresso without tobacco made her feel even more miserable. In the evenings she stayed at home rather than go out to smoky bars and parties. She and Martin made an effort to spend more time with Martin’s friends (none of whom smoked) than with Anne’s female friends (most of whom did smoke). This removed a source of temptation but did nothing for Anne’s social pleasure. There were many times when she found herself on the brink of failure. On one occasion, after a particularly difficult day at work, she got as far as joining the queue at the cigarette counter in the supermarket, before willing herself to walk away without making a purchase.
Eventually, Anne did allow herself the pleasure of an evening out with her own friends. They were sympathetic to her predicament and did their best not to smoke as much in her presence as they would normally have done. Even so, Anne felt a pang of envy each time she watched the girls light up. She could not help noticing the expressions of satisfaction and pleasure on their faces as they inhaled during the animated conversation. Again, though, she held firm and did not dare even to ask for a drag of someone else’s cigarette. They’re just feeding an addiction, she told herself: they’re not really enjoying it. But she didn’t entirely believe this. As she made her way home at the end of the evening she tried to feel triumphant at having stayed smoke-free, but merely felt dejected and wondered whether she had spoiled the evening for the others.
Weeks and then months passed, although to Anne it seemed like years. And slowly – very slowly – but surely, she began to recognise the unmistakable evidence that there were benefits to quitting smoking. Her morning cough had almost disappeared and when she woke up her chest no longer felt heavy and tight. She could laugh without her laugh turning into another cough. She realised that she had been fooling herself to believe that smoking had not been affecting her in other ways. For the first time in years she was able to walk up stairs without losing her breath. She could run for more than a few yards without her heart rate rising to an alarming level. Her stamina at the dance class improved and she began to think about enrolling for more advanced sessions. She became aware, with hindsight, that she had previously been spending much of her life breathless without appreciating it. Everything she ate tasted better. She calculated that cigarettes had been costing her around £250 every month, and decided to use the money she was saving to take out a loan on a new car, with leather upholstery which smelt clean and fresh. Although she still had the urge to smoke many times a day, she now had some real justification for telling herself that she should not give in.
The Christmas holiday season came and went, and Anne took part in the usual social whirl without succumbing to frequent temptation. Tentatively, she began to describe herself as an ex-smoker, and dared to contemplate a future life without cigarettes.
Martin, of course, was absolutely delighted by Anne’s success. He had not honestly expected her to stay quit for long, and she had surpassed all his wildest hopes. He, too, was looking to the future: one in which he imagined Anne playing a central role. Everything was going very well indeed.
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