“It's all about choice,” said the man with the soothing voice. “If you're here to please someone else, you can stick around and have some fun, but more than likely you're going to go out and smoke after.”
I was sitting in the basement of the public library in Arlington, Massachusetts, with a motley group of about 20, all of us desperate and skeptical, with one big thing in common: We smelled like an ashtray.
In theory we'd come together because we didn't want to smoke cigarettes anymore. “I'm here for health reasons,” one woman said. “Cigarettes are too expensive,” said an elderly man. “When thinking of my children, sometimes I feel as if I'm taking from them,” offered a middle-aged mother.
“I'm going to school for dental hygiene,” added another attendee. “We're supposed to promote health, but how can I tell someone else to stop smoking if I am myself?”
These are all good reasons why people might want to quit smoking. For me, it’s the same, plus vanity. And, fine, the grim specter of an earlier grave. (You can't look good when you're dead.) But if I really wanted to quit, then why was the only thing I could think about how much I wanted to walk out of there and go smoke a cigarette?
Mark Hall, a professional hypnotherapist and licensed social worker, was well aware of that, of course. He quit smoking many years ago himself—he says he still remembers reaching for a phantom lighter that wasn't in his pocket—and he has been holding sessions like these for more than 20 years, aimed at convincing others that they can do it themselves. Typically his hypnotherapy sessions cost around $150, or $95 with insurance coverage, but this event, sponsored by the Sanborn Foundation for the Treatment and Cure of Cancer, was near my home, and open and free to the public. In other words, there was no reason not to go, except, perhaps, a question that had been frightening me all week as the meeting approached: What if it doesn't work? Or, maybe even worse: What if it actually does? Then what the hell am I going to do? As crazy as it sounds, smoking is such a major part of my daily routine, the prospect of losing it is scary.