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Health: What does it feel like in practice?; After years of smoking, Andrew Davies is ready to give anything a try to help him quit the habit.

Byline: Andrew Davies

The hard-drinking, hard-smoking journalist is a clich - but, as with every clich, there are some vestiges of truth there.

Give or take the odd week here and there, I have smoked since I was 17. I'm not proud of it.

Smoking defies logic - we now know that beyond any doubt. It's dangerous. It's playing Russian roulette with your health. It causes cancer of the lungs, mouth and throat, emphysema, pulmonary embolisms, hardening of the arteries, lung disease, eventually gangrene, premature ageing of the skin - and a shedload of other diseases and addictions. Every smoker knows that. But still, smokers persist. The addiction is so powerful. It's not an excuse - it's a fact.

Oscar Wilde said: 'The cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied.'

And Mark Twain is credited with coining the oft-quoted quip: 'Giving up smoking is easy. I've done it hundreds of times.'

Unfortunately, once you get over the unnaturalness of filling your lungs with smoke, the effects can be pleasurable, as Wilde recognised. And that's why people who are often quite sensible and know all the risks continue to smoke, or fail at giving up.

Personally, I enjoyed a cigarette with a pint or after a meal, when I was relaxing. I've never reached for the cigarettes in times of stress.

Before Tom got down to the hypnotherapy itself, he asked me a few questions about my smoking history - number smoked per day (five to eight, maybe up to 15 if an evening out involves alcohol), at what age I started, when I most enjoyed a puff.

Then he invited me to sit back in the reclining chair and find a position in which I was comfortable.

No watches were swung, and I wasn't asked to picture myself in my ideal place of peace.

However, I was asked to relax, breathe deeply, look at a point in the ceiling and let my eyes drift beyond that point. I was asked to imagine feeling at peace, maybe in that place between waking and sleeping.

I did start to feel tranquil. Tom asked me to imagine there were tiny weights on the ends of my eyelashes, and sure enough my eyelids became heavy and I let them close. He suggested I might experience a feeling of warmth flowing out from the centre of my chest to my limbs, which might start to feel light and floaty, or heavy and difficult to move.

They began to feel like lead, which was slightly unnerving, and I wondered whether this was how I was supposed to be feeling, but I relaxed again and went with the feeling.

All the time Tom talked in a slow, soothing voice. When I was utterly relaxed, but still conscious, Tom asked me to reach into myself and locate my subconscious mind, my inner self. I might visualise it as a light or some other symbol.

Feeling slightly ridiculous again, I found that a small flame nevertheless appeared in my mind's eye - looking a little as though it had been painted in oils by Edvard Munch.

I was asked to move it mentally to the open, upwards-facing palm of my right hand on my lap, and again mentally tell my subconscious that smoking was not a good a idea - not to blame it but to reassure it, and convince it that, from now on, I was a non-smoker.

Then the weird bit happened. After mentally replacing the subconscious part of the mind, Tom said my hand would start to feel light. It did. He said my right arm would start to rise up off my lap and my hand to move slowly towards my face, two fingers coming towards the mouth. I began to think: 'Well, we'll see. I won't stop it if it does, but I'm not going to pretend.'

Slowly, my right arm began to rise, and my hand came towards my face. My fingers touched my nose. Close enough, I thought.

Then, after suggesting the arm would gradually fall again, which it did, Tom began the third part - the reinforcing of the anti-smoking message, how I'd wake and be able to enjoy a pint of beer without a cigarette, enjoy a meal without wanting a cigarette. He listed the afflictions the smoker is eventually likely to suffer, and the health benefits I'd feel within days and weeks. Then he told me he would count up to ten and, on eight, I'd open my eyes. I did so at seven.

I hadn't been asleep. I hadn't been in a coma. I'd been aware all the way through.

I didn't crave a cigarette but, then again, I'd often have my first only as I left the office at 6.15pm or so. But I had a strangely detached feeling about smoking.

When I left work that day, I was incredibly interested in how I felt about smoking - but I didn't crave a cigarette at all. When I've given up in the past, I've felt elated at first and manfully fought the strong cravings. This time round, the cravings have not been there.

I haven't been to the pub so far this week, but I'm pretty sure if I do tonight, I'll look on in amused detachment if someone lights up.

Before, I've consciously given up but the cravings and the subconscious desire to smoke have got the better of me. This time, I'm strangely convinced I'm now a non-smoker. I think my my subconscious is finally on side.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 12, 2003
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