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Journey Through Addiction

Homer, in his epic work The Odyssey, told the story of Odysseus’ return from the Trojan War to Ithaca his home. Homer relates how Odysseus’s ship was nearing the infamous island which was the home of the Sirens whose life’s work was to use their incredible arts of vocal enticement to lure sailors onto their island and then to their deaths. Odysseus was forewarned by a friendly god of this dreadful danger and being a man of courage and resourcefulness he devised a cunning plan which would allow him to hear the songs of the Sirens and yet survive. He told his crewmen that he would block their ears with beeswax, instructed them to tie him securely to the ship’s mast and then to row the ship on a course past the island. With plugged ears the crew rowed the ship on the course and the Sirens began their singing. Odysseus heard the song was entranced and screamed to his crew to steer for the island. The beeswax stayed in the ears and the crew heard nothing, the ropes held Odysseus fast, the ship passed the island and the danger was past.

So one of the most famous of Greek heroes demonstrated that irresistible craving could be overcome if effectively pre-planned. Having been warned of the danger of the Sirens’ enticement he provided himself with the wherewithal to overcome the otherwise insuperable power of their song.

Nicotine has been said by, among others, the author John Grisham, to be the most addictive substance known to man. It is difficult for cigarette smokers to accept that their addiction is more severe than that of hard drug junkies and alcoholics but the evidence suggests that this is the case. It is now clear of course that once entranced by the siren skills of Nicotine that cancer, heart disease, premature ageing, stomach problems, emphysema and other less than cuddly things will wreck the lives of all entranced by it.

Having become addicted to nicotine before the age of sixteen, in a time when the majority of people smoked, it was forty years before I managed, despite many attempts, to escape the sirens’ clutches. My many attempts to escape encompassed periods of abstinence of, from a few hours, to a maximum of nine months before eventual deliverance was achieved. The unsuccessful attempts to give up were triggered by many considerations ranging from lack of cash through respiratory tract problems, friends and relatives dying from lung cancer or heart disease, and temporary revulsion. The one thing all my attempts lacked was Odysseus’s acceptance of the fact that the sirens could not be defeated by will power alone. Odysseus knew, before he sailed close to the island, that he would be unable to resist their honeyed voices. His plan countered the call by making it impossible for him to obey. In retrospect I was at last successful in escaping the clutches of Nicotine because I formed a plan to ensure success. Perhaps today’s young people are in a similar position to Odysseus, pre-warned by a friendly god, but yet wishing to experience the blandishments of the Sirens in the misplaced conviction that each of them will be the one to survive. However lacking the beeswax, instructions to the crew and lashing to the mast they sail close to the island and to their deaths. In the 1960s the evidence of the dreadful effects of smoking became public knowledge, the friendly god in the guise of the British Medical association produced evidence which attributed the epidemic rate of lung cancer to smoking. However the awful facts, increasingly publicised and plugged by the nanny State as they are, have little impact on the addict against the promised pleasure of the next cigarette. And so it was with me.

It is also a fact that the majority of smokers, when asked, say that they would like to give up. They continue to smoke because Nicotine promises them pleasure, rewards them after each puff, but only momentarily, and only to repeat the promise shortly after. So how can addicts overcome Nicotine?

I have been banging on about Odysseus not just because it is an interesting story but also because it provides help to the addict.

First accept that addiction is by definition unbeatable and any human being can only overcome addiction with help. The difficult part is that the help can only be provided by oneself. Odysseus provided his own help. He asked no assistance, he took care of himself. Similarly the help that I devised for myself was as follows. Having failed many times to ‘give up’ I happened to be reading a book entitled The Runaway Jury by John Grisham.
Until then I was on Nicotine’s side in that I believed the pleasurable good was greater than the admitted dangers. This is why all my previous attempts to give up had failed - because I really did not want to and thus almost eagerly agreed with the Sirens’ calls. Half way through the aforesaid book I realised that my life was indeed being ruined by Nicotine. Heart palpitations, premature ageing, coughing, spluttering, phlegming, stomach problems and more far outweighed the fleeting moments of pleasure that smoking was affording.

I then did something which I recommend to others in similar circumstances. I copied Homer and personified NICOTINE. I cast Nicotine as a liar and cheat who promises nirvana and delivers hell on earth. I became emotional and started to HATE her I have always disliked liars and so I had little difficulty once having personified Nicotine as a lying, hateful seductress in using the hatred to help me resist her lying enticing whispers to smoke a cigarette. It was very hard, I strained at the ropes and like Odysseus inwardly screamed to be allowed to grasp the promised pleasures. The ropes of hatred held because in my head I would not support the lying bitch. So what is the point of my essay.

The point is one cannot overcome addiction without a plan. The plan I advocate is to personify Nicotine as the epitome of evil, for example that Nicotine deliberately caused the lung cancer that killed your parent or other loved one, or that Nicotine is determined to blight your unborn child’s life, and that Nicotine is bent on turning your face into a mass of wrinkles and you into a shambling wreck or a hag, that Nicotine lies when he/she promises lasting pleasure, his/her sole objective is to blight your life and treacherously kill you. Use your emotions to defeat the despicable creature, Hate and Lust for Vengeance will keep you securely tied to the mast as each day carries you further from the sirens’ lure and towards sweet relief.