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“I meet around 5,000 smokers a year and most of them at some point will say “I cannot see my life without cigarettes.” That was me.”

January 2017

“I meet around 5,000 smokers a year and most of them at some point will say “I cannot see my life without cigarettes.” That was me.”

John Dicey, Worldwide CEO & Senior Facilitator, Allen Carr’s Easyway, interviews Sam Bonner, Senior Allen Carr’s Easyway Facilitator, London, Midlands, & South East, UK

John: Sam – tell us about your life as a smoker?

Sam: Before I lit my first fag at 15 behind my mum’s shed – yes I am that cliché – I had already spent endless hours in front of the bathroom mirror simulating smoking by rolling up the cardboard on the loo roll and inserting the tube I’d made with talcum powder. I think it’s safe to say I had fallen hard for the image.

Three of us in my class had decided over that long summer holiday away from school in the mid ’80’s’ that in order to complete the full ‘confident/adult package’ we would have to learn to smoke.

We reconvened on the first day back of Autumn term and concluded that whilst none of us had actually tried it yet, we agreed that this was the way to go.

I got off the train at the end of the school day, walking home, I was like an eagle trying to spot the cleanest looking cigarette butt on the pavement. I picked up several so I could make my choice when I reached the shed.

It wasn’t until several months later that my mate Bridget, also 15 but able to carry off looking nearer 25 at that time spotted that I wasn’t actually inhaling. I knew that! I was hoping no one would notice because I was only going to do this thing until I was 23! Why 23? No idea, I had just decided I wanted to get through the next 8 years looking good but un-addicted. All my family had smoked as I was growing up and I thought they were idiots for getting addicted – I was going to be cleverer than that.

But Bridget wasn’t having it…not if she was going be responsible for getting me into bars under age. So I had to learn. (Bridget if you’re reading this, I don’t really hold you responsible!)

John: So…I’m guessing you didn’t quit smoking when you got to 23 years old did you?

Sam: My 23rd birthday came and went. Still smoking. “Oh well” I thought. I will quit at 25. 25 came and went. On the eve of my 30th birthday I remember standing in the typical August rain with a cigarette thinking, “I know that I will smoke tomorrow. So which decade will I quit?”

John: Did you make many attempts to quit?

Sam: I had made some feeble attempts to quit in the past. Every single New Year. But I was always confused as to whether to quit at midnight or when I got home from the New Year’s Eve party.

Most first days of the month I’d quit, although if the first of the month fell midweek, then that didn’t feel enough like a fresh start.
Many, many, Sunday nights I said goodbye to smoking. But I failed miserably each time.

When my dad died of a heart attack due to being a big old smoker, this scared me. So I went to the chemist and asked for help.

In those days there were nicotine patches, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges. But upon learning from the pharmacist how the lozenges worked, the idea of holding the ‘sweet’ in place next to my gum so the nicotine could infiltrate the inside of my mouth and make its way through my bloodstream sounded too much like self-mutilation! Nah that wasn’t for me…

…yet I managed to convince myself that breathing 4,000 chemicals, of which 69 directly cause cancer into my lungs on an hourly and half hourly basis was somehow ‘normal’ behaviour.

I tried to quit again when mum got bowel cancer. She had also been a big smoker. We got her through it but it was pretty scary. So I tried willpower. Primarily this meant becoming a hermit. I didn’t go out with friends, didn’t drink alcohol, tea, or coffee. I tried to go to the gym, tried to not think about cigarettes. Tried to frighten myself into submission. I think the longest I lasted on this method was four days. Something would always pull me back to smoking.

John: How did you come to find Allen Carr’s Easyway?
Sam: I met a bloke in my early thirties. A non-smoker who lived in Canada. Right, this was going to be the thing that quit me. So I interviewed a few friends who had quit and finally someone lent me a copy of Allen Carr’s Easyway to Quit Smoking book.

I’m a fairly slow reader and I had two weeks before I was getting on a plane to go and see my new beau in Canada. So each night in bed I read a few chapters of the book. I found it fascinating! It made such sense! This was going to be it!

Towards the end of the book Allen says “In a moment I’m going to invite you to smoke your final cigarette”…

“Wow, that’s so exciting!” I thought. But realising I was pretty sleepy I thought I’ll sleep on it tonight and read the rest of the book tomorrow.

That night was the last night I laid eyes on the book.

So by the time I was sat on the flight off to Canada I was feeling pretty desperate. But now I had managed to locate the Allen Carr’s Easyway to quit smoking audio CD and I had my laptop ready for the flight.

“THIS WILL BE IT” I thought. I can’t smoke on the flight and when I’ve finished the CD I’ll arrive in Canada a non-smoker.

At some point mid-flight and towards the end of the CD Allen says “In a moment I’m going to invite you to smoke your final cigarette”…

My computer battery died. I had no charger.

Long story short… realising I had so little in common with my Canada chap, I decided to endure the 4 days I had there as a smoker.

John: So in spite of all of that you still ended up attending an Allen Carr’s Easyway to Quit Smoking Seminar?

Sam: Yep – a few years later I was doing some work in Birmingham. I was staying with a friend who was a fellow smoker. One day I came back to the house and from nowhere he announced, “I forgot to tell you – I’ve booked for us both to do the Allen Carr Quit Smoking Seminar on Wednesday”. It was Monday. “Why?” I asked. His reply was along the lines of how he didn’t want to go on his own so he’d paid for me to go with him. I think I could have cried, and most probably did.

On Wednesday morning I must have rolled 10 cigarettes crying my eyes out in the car, pleading with him to change his mind and take us back home. He literally had me hostage. He was silent just driving to the venue. (Steve if you’re reading this – thank you).

When we arrived at the center and completed our registration form I calmed down. I could see there were other people in this reception area feeling exactly the way I felt. For some reason this helped me accept my plight.

John: So how did you feel at the end of the seminar?

Sam: Even now, I do not know truly what happened during that day and I’m an Allen Carr facilitator! I know that sounds odd, but all I could do was listen. As I listened, things made sense. As they made sense I could understand. As I understood I felt I could relax. Having heard the truth about cigarettes, I could never un-hear it, and that not only would I not need to argue for the value I thought cigarettes had given me throughout my life, but I didn’t HAVE to find any justification for smoking any longer. This was such a relief.

When I left my session I didn’t feel high or low. I felt like I was in a bubble. When I got home my mum rang me. My mum had been a full on smoker and had quit around the age of 40 and had done so through willpower. She called me and said “Oh love, I’ve been thinking about you so much today, are you okay? What did they say? Do you think you’ll be okay? it’s not your fault if you smoke…” All the things people who love you want to say to make you feel better.

And I remember saying to her, “mum I have no idea what was said. I was talked AT for five hours and I feel that if I even try and sum it up with you I will tie myself in knots and I need time to digest what’s just happened today”. She was fine with this answer and concluded that she should call me the following day (because that’s when she thought I would be at my most emotional).

She called the next day. “Oh love, are you okay? I’ve been thinking about you all night, how are you?”

I remember so clearly my answer to her. “Mum, thanks for your support, it’s always appreciated, but the funny thing is, I don’t feel like I want to do a post mortem on smoking. It controlled my life for such a long time, that I don’t feel the need to let it control me now. If I need to I’ll talk to you about it, but I just know – I’m a non-smoker, and that’s all we need to know now”.

She was really happy with that. I’m not sure we ever spoke about it again.

But that day my life changed.

John: So how did you come to be an Allen Carr facilitator. What is it like?

Sam: I meet around 5,000 smokers a year and most of them at some point will say “I cannot see my life without cigarettes.” That was me.

It took a few years of me doing a job I didn’t like very much before I had a word with myself one day. I tried to work out what I wanted to do with my life. Like everyone I wanted to do something I felt passionate about. So I thought what inspires me? Immediately I thought the most inspirational change I’d ever made in my life that quite literally changed ME, was becoming a non-smoker.

It occurred to me that I might have the right skills to be a facilitator. I was very used to talking for hours and standing in front of big groups of people. I’d been a communications trainer and presentation skills trainer for many years and this was a comfortable set up.

I was thrilled to get through the arduous selection process and began the training. It was tough but so worth it!

Within that year I learned the material from an even deeper level than just hearing the information as a client. I found that the more and more I studied the method, the more I would learn. Even now, six years after my first session I still have epiphanies.

I’m now incredibly fortunate to be a senior facilitator for the London head office team.

Each year there is an international conference where all the international franchisees and facilitators meet and we have a big party and a catch up (as well as chat business of course). When I sit in the conference room and look around at all these people who are quite literally saving lives, I feel incredibly proud to be part of this team. I still thank Allen Carr for saving my own life – what an honour to help saving more!

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