It took losing his father to cancer to get Richard Stephens to give up a 43-year addiction to smoking. The trauma of his father’s death served as a wake-up call to change his own habits and to finally quit smoking. It wasn’t easy. Stephens had tried to quit on a number of occasions, but had never quite managed. The Hawkesbury resident is hoping to help others quit smoking with the release of his book, “I will stop smoking,” which will be released in early November. In his book, Stephens talks about the tools that helped him to overcome his nicotine addiction.
When Stephens was growing up in the 1940s, he says that it seemed like everyone was a smoker. When he began smoking in 1947, he was 15-year-old and living at home with his parents. Every day his dad would count out four cigarettes, which was his daily smoking ration.
“All the kids got permission to smoke back then,” said Stephens. He says it was normal. At that time, research had begun to be published about the dangers of smoking, but Stephens said that the information wasn’t common knowledge.
As an adult, Stephens said that his addiction grew. He was smoking two to three packs of cigarettes every day. Smoking became associated with every part of his life. He would wake up in the morning and light up. He would smoke with every meal, and every beverage, and in between.
A self-proclaimed fitness nut and weight-lifter, Stephens liked to look after his body and he followed a regimented lifestyle – with the exception of his smoking addiction.
In 1955, Stephens was working in the shipping industry as a marketing specialist. His dad, Edward, was 49 years old and undergoing radiation to treat lung cancer. On December 21, 1955, Edward died. Stephens told The Review that it felt like his own life stopped and a new chapter started.
Determined that he wouldn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and become a victim of smoking, Stephens tried dozens of different ways to quit smoking. For years he tried to put down the cigarettes and stop. He watched as other friends died because of smoking-related illnesses. Research was beginning to be released on a normal basis proclaiming the dangers of smoking. What was once a common practice embraced by children and adults alike, was suddenly becoming taboo.
In his bid to quit, Stephens came across some research related to “auto suggestive powers.”
Autosuggestion, which is often used in self-hypnosis, is a psychological technique that was developed at the beginning of the 20th century by apothecary Emile Coué. It’s a form of self-induced suggestion where thoughts, feelings and behaviors of an individual are guided by focused thought.
The process can be likened to focused meditation, where you tell yourself something so many times that you make it true.
In Stephens’ case, he spent three months telling himself that on October 1, he would quit smoking. As a self-taught pianist, Stephens was used to repetition and he likened this process to learning a new song.
“For three months, I would tell myself 20 to 30 times each day that I would quit smoking on October 1 and never smoke again,” said Stephens.
What happened on October 1?
Stephens woke up at his regular time, at 5:15 a.m. He went downstairs to the gym and lifted weights, before having some coffee and juice and getting ready to go to work. He says that he never once thought of having a cigarette. By the time he was ready for work, he would have usually burned through two or three cigarettes. When he got in his car, he says that he noticed the stench of cigarette smoke on his clothes. It grossed him out for the first time in his life.
“That day, I did everything normally and it was like I had never smoked a day in my life,” said Stephens. Over the next three weeks, he developed a bad cough and he began expelling nicotine from his lungs. Stephens began to doubt that quitting would work. Then he says that he stopped coughing and felt like his life had restarted.
Stephens has now been smoke-free for 23 years. The 84-year-old, who has thrice married and has nine children, told The Review that he came to the recent revelation that his goal in life is to help other people. He says it’s something he has been doing unconsciously his entire life, but now that he has retired and his own children are grown, he says he feels it’s his mission to help warn others of the danger of smoking. He wants to help those who struggle to quit, to finally butt-out.
Stephens’ book, “I will stop smoking,” will be available for purchase at The Review in mid-November. It will also be available for purchase online. His first book hasn’t yet made it home from the presses, but Stephens says he is already busy working on four other books, including his memoir.