health

CONSTANCE HALL: 'I started smoking again last year. It was a sh*t of a year, after all.'

When I was young my mum smoked cigarettes and it absolutely killed me.

I wasn’t raised religiously, quite the opposite, but that didn’t stop me from praying every single night that my mum would quit smoking.

I was convinced she would die and leave me alone. My dad had left when I was six months old, my only sibling had gone to live with him when I was eight years old, and I was certain the world would find a way to take my mum as well.

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I would steal her cigarettes and snap them in half. I did it to an entire carton of them that someone had bought her Duty Free once – I’m surprised she didn’t kill me, being a broke single mum.

Cancer terrified me from a young age, and I tried to warn her as if she didn’t already know. I’d leave her notes about lung cancer: “It killed your mum and will soon kill you.”

She literally hid to smoke; waited until I was asleep to sneak outside. To this day we still joke about her astonishment at the sound of my voice: ‘Muuuuuummm, are you smoking?”

I laugh about it now, but the truth is it destroyed me as a kid. I sat in on a Maggie Dent conference once – Maggie is a child developmental lord who basically teaches you how to understand your children’s brains in a way that gives you so much more compassion for their behaviour.

She said that our kids’ number one fear is us dying. It really struck a chord with me, because every cigarette my mum smoked devastated me as a kid. 

Fast forward a couple of years and 14-year-old Con is sitting at a train station lighting her second cigarette off the end of her first one for the day.

I can’t tell you what exactly happened. I know that I thought it was cool, I thought I was an adult, and there was a whole exciting world out there of the cool kids, and I was going to smoke my way into their group if it killed me. Not a f**k to be given. I had transitioned; I was a rebel without a cause. 

 

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My mum would hide from me and smash a ciggie in the front yard with her glass of wine while my mates and I hid from her in the backyard smashing a ciggie and taking turns skulling the goon bag. 

This was the beginning of a long love affair with smoking. I migrated to rollies and, being an artist, I felt as if I suited smoking. It looked good on me and I looked good on it. 

To avoid the anxiety lung cancer gave me, I made myself a promise: I would quit smoking at the age of 25; it would be a ‘non-negotiable’. Addicts need ‘non-negotiables’ because addicts are the masters of negotiating their way into “just one more”. They can manipulate themselves into one more of anything, anywhere, any way.

I know this because the two things I’ve been addicted to in my life are food and cigarettes. I could start a new diet and within three minutes, manipulate my brain into believing that starting a diet with a block of chocolate is the only way to success.

This 25th birthday rule was my non-negotiable. It helped me smoke during my younger years relatively guilt free, although as an asthmatic I would hide to use my Ventolin. I was rather embarrassed by my own lack of regard for my health.

But the deal worked, and I stopped. I went from about 20 rollies a day (40 on a weekend if I was drinking) to nothing instantly. It was only hard for about two weeks. I trusted myself, I knew that I could do it – it’s really quite simple. Complicated and simple all at the same time. I chose the simple route and never had another cigarette, then fell pregnant with my first child a few months later and never looked back. 

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Friends were envious of my willpower. Even I was shocked in myself. I’d always been a f**k up, finally I had not f**ked something up. 

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That lasted 11 years. 11 years of not even thinking about smoking. I’m not a smoker, my breath doesn’t smell, I care about my health, I care about my future and the future of my children and try not to do anything that I would be hugely disappointed if they did.

And then last year happened. 

Last year was a c*** of a year; I think we all felt it. In fact I think a lot of us are feeling like they are just coming up for air now and asking themselves what the f**k that was.

I was busy. Busier then I have ever been. I was fighting with my husband, I was resentful of everyone who had time to scratch themselves and I was miserable. I would watch my husband sit outside and roll himself a cigarette, looking relaxed and happy. And the idea crept in, “I deserve to be happy; I deserve to do things that make me happy…” 

 

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One day my cousins were at my house rolling themselves cigarettes while we all shared a bottle of wine and I thought “f**k it, what’s one cigarette?”

Well we all know where that led. The seed was planted and the next time I drank I had a cigarette. Before I knew it I was having a cigarette with my morning tea, getting out of bed for it, smoking more than my husband and his friends put together. I had turned into a chain smoker almost overnight and I had no control over it.

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I am an addict, addicted to cigarettes. I cannot have one or two, I’m envious of those who can. I’m all in or all out and there is nothing I can do about it.

I was embarrassed, my whole family was shocked. My brother called me a “dero”, my sister gasped when she heard me inhale over the phone and my mum was pissed off.

But besides me, the most affected were my kids. You see I couldn’t let them know, so I hid from them. I have caught my son’s friends hiding from me to smoke and lectured them – how could I now smoke in front of them? I hid around the side of the house, pretended to go for walks and snapped “no” when they asked if they could come. 

The irony wasn’t lost on me, coming from a mother who would hide from me to smoke, only for me to grow up and hide from her to smoke, then have children hiding from me to smoke and now me hide from them to smoke…. What a f**king mess. Anything that we need to hide from literally everyone who loves us can’t be a good thing.

I set dates. One week from now turned to one fortnight, turned to one month, turned to the minute I get back from tour. 

Smoking on tour was a new low. Queens would come to kiss me, beautiful Queens, and I would hold my breath terrified they would smell it. Not that any of them judged me – it was all me judging myself.

I stuck to none of the dates I’d set myself and it started to freak me out. Did I really have no control over this? I’m 36 years old; my grandmother was 42 years old when she died of lung cancer, leaving behind five young children. Was I next? Lying on a hospital bed saying goodbye to my children?

Well the answer is no. No I’m f**king not. I had kids, I have a responsibility to do whatever I can to avoid breaking their hearts. That’s my job. 

And it is never too late. In fact the more failed attempts the closer you are to your success story. So I set one more date. Nobody believed me this time that I could stick to it, and that was all the more fuel. New Year’s Eve sounded like a good date. A non-negotiable date. 

I smoked my last cigarette on New Year’s Eve. I didn’t even get out of bed to squeeze one more in before midnight. 

Smoking isn’t me. It actually isn’t anyone.

This time I stuck to it. Maybe it was being called a “dero” by my own brother, maybe it was the time I spent away from my kids and the fact that ultimately, smoking would surely decrease the overall time I get to spend with my kids in this lifetime.

 

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Or the fact that I was brushing my teeth 12 times a day, so paranoid about my breath I was covering my mouth to talk. Whatever it was, it was my non-negotiable. 

And guess what? Not one single person I disappointed by smoking has told me that they are proud of me for quitting.

That pissed me off at first. Everyone is so quick to tell you when they are disappointed in you, but when you accomplish something, nobody goes out of their way to say well done. But I suppose that’s what makes it all the more special – you don’t do it for anyone, you do it for you.

We all have the power to tap into our non-negotiables, we just have to make sure that we don’t let a billion fails derail our confidence. If you need to quit smoking, please believe me when I say, you can.

Set a date, remember it’s a non-negotiable, because it’s ridiculously expensive and it’s killing you. Recognise those little negotiations in your head and remind yourself, NOT NEGOTIABLE.

I promise it’s nowhere near as hard as you think it’s going to be.

Have you quit smoking? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Feature image: Constance Hall/Instagram

The Queen Plan by Constance Hall is coming soon. If your life is totally messed up after having kids, Constance Hall wants to help you fix it.

Find out more about The Queen Plan here.

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