Living 'A Life in Smoke' Smoking can be one of the hardest habits in the world to kick. Memoirist Julia Hansen, author of A Life in Smoke, tried to quit by -- among other things -- chaining herself to a radiator.
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Living 'A Life in Smoke'

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Living 'A Life in Smoke'

Living 'A Life in Smoke'

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

But what's an ethical dilemma for scientists can be a very personal struggle for smokers, 20 percent of the U.S. population. Many of them can feel chained to their cigarettes. That was the case for writer and chain-smoker Julia Hansen. She decided the only way to break the bondage of addiction was through literal bondage.

Ms. JULIA HANSEN (Writer): The chain lies in the corner in glinting disarray, one end already locked around the dining room radiator. John pats the coffee table. I sit and extend my left leg, a maid of honor accepting a garter. He kneels at my feet and with the other lock attaches the chain to my ankle with a firm quiet click.

ELLIOTT: Julia Hansen reading from her new memoir, "A Life In Smoke." She joins us from WDIY in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Hello there.

Ms. HANSEN: Hi. Nice to be here.

ELLIOTT: So let me get this right. You literally chained yourself to the radiator so that you could not leave your house to buy another pack of cigarettes. This just seems a little extreme to me. Did you not hear of, say, the patch or nicotine gum or some of these other avenues?

Ms. HANSEN: Well, I've been trying to quit for five years, and yes, I did all the expected things. I slapped the patch on. I chewed the gum. I tried the medication. Those things work for a lot of people. Unfortunately, they didn't work for me.

ELLIOTT: You know, at times this book is really very funny. You know, you find yourself in some absurd situations.

Ms. HANSEN: Yeah. The whole premise is absurd. I mean, who does what I did? You know, we went into Home Depot and we went to the chain aisle. And you know, we're standing there in front of customers buying chains, probably to pull tree stumps out of their yard or something, and John's putting it around my waist saying, you know, do you want it around your waist or do you want it around your ankle?

And you know, people are...

ELLIOTT: And people are looking at you like...

Ms. HANSEN: Like are they into kink? Are they planning some kind of kidnapping? You know. Just the whole thing was absurd, but it was more profound than you would ever imagine.

ELLIOTT: So here you are. You're - it's day one. You're still in your bathrobe. Your husband locks the chain on your ankle. He leaves for work. You're alone. You're facing your demon. But the first thing you seem to notice is your dirty house, and then all of the sudden the sound of cigarettes are calling you. What was it like that day?

Ms. HANSEN: It was frightening. I think I focused on my dirty house because it was just such a symbol of everything I was. I was a mess.

ELLIOTT: There's this one part in the book where you're, you vacuum a little bit and you head over to the mantle and you're dusting and you pull up a picture of your son, and that's when you start to really think about what you were doing, right?

Ms. HANSEN: Yeah. I think that the realizations came gradually and by the end of the week I realized that what I was learning was how smoking had affected my relationships with my parents, my son.

ELLIOTT: What did you figure out? How did you tie up what smoking meant to you in your life?

Ms. HANSEN: I think for me, I learned that smoking was hiding. And I hid because I didn't want people to know how flawed I was. You know, I didn't want people to know me. And when I stopped smoking, it's really amazing how much more you feel. You feel your feelings more intensely. You - when you're sad, you know it. When you're happy, you know it. And I don't think I had ever really experienced a thought or emotion for the last 20 years that was unpolluted by smoke.

ELLIOTT: So I'm sure all of our listeners who are smokers are curious to find out, was that the end? Did you never pick up another cigarette?

Ms. HANSEN: No, unfortunately not. I started smoking again six weeks after the chain came off. So I was writing a book about quitting smoking while I was smoking.

ELLIOTT: Oh, no.

Ms. HANSEN: Yeah. I remember that I was writing chapter three of the first draft and I was going to pick up a cigarette and some little voice inside me said, you know, wait. Twenty minutes later, I had that same voice just say, wait. You know, not yet. And I quit smoking that way. It was first a day. A week.

ELLIOTT: What's interesting to me is that your last cigarette was not all as dramatic as you thought it might be. It was almost a ceremony around that last cigarette before you change yourself up. But lo and behold, when you finally made that successful quit, you didn't even know that that was going to be your last cigarette.

Ms. HANSEN: I think maybe I just had to sort of sneak up on quitting. I think sometimes the most dramatic moments in our life really don't appear that way. It's not like in the movies, this big score and music swelling. It was very quiet. And I think I needed it to be quiet, because otherwise I would have worried too much that it wasn't my last cigarette.

ELLIOTT: Julia Hansen is a former smoker. Her new memoir is "A Life in Smoke." Thanks for talking with us.

Ms. HANSEN: Thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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