The hypnotist tells me I see a cat on the floor.
“What does the cat look like?” she says, as we sit in her muggy office in a Boston brownstone.
“It’s — it’s big. And fluffy,” I say, trying my best to comply.
“Now you are on a beach, Megan. It is your own beach. Nobody else can have it. It is so peaceful. Do you like this beach, Megan?”
“Yes,” I say, imagining palm trees swaying in the wind.
“I am going to write a series of numbers in the sand, and then use my hand to wipe them away one by one,” she says. She counts down from five, then launches into the matter at hand.
“You don’t need vaping,” she tells me, repeatedly mispronouncing “vaping” as if it rhymes with “clapping.” “No, you don’t need it at all. It’s nothing to you. You are doing wonderfully in every way.”
I sought out a hypnotist after years of relying on an electronic cigarette. Though I quit smoking real cigarettes back in 2013, I never fully let go of my nicotine crutch. I chewed sheets of Nicorette gum, smoked “environmentally friendly” e-cigs, and finally graduated to a Juul vaporizer as it ascended in the market.
Soon, I found the little contraption owned my every move. While doing cardio at the gym, which I rely on for stress relief, I felt the clouds of smoke stunting my endurance. Once or twice, in the middle of the night, I woke up to find that I was still clutching the Juul in my hand. I started having heart palpitations, which terrified me. This summer — just before hundreds of cases of mysterious vaping-related illnesses hit the headlines and made vaping a proclaimed public-health crisis — I decided it was finally time to stomp out my habit.
The success stories I read about hypnosis for smoking cessation enchanted me. The possibility that I could rely on a power greater than myself to eliminate my consumption of highly-concentrated chemicals, engineered in a lab to exploit my addictive nature, was just the level of New-Age-y-sounding crap that I appreciate.
So after finding a hypnotist on Google, I go to her office on a late July afternoon. Delicate music streams in the background, the type that plays while you wait for your name to be called at the gynecologist. A flat-screen TV, on the wall overhead, broadcasts imagery of a babbling brook.
I haven’t even left her office yet when my brain tells me to reach for my Juul and take a puff.
An attractive woman of Middle Eastern descent, the hypnotist wears broad wraparound-style glasses that remind me of the safety goggles kids wear to saw wood in high school shop class. I try to hide my smile, enchanted by her complimentary language and determined tone.
“Hold out your arm. Now stiffen it like a rod. And when I tell you to, you will relax it five times as much as before,” she says. She goes head to toe, commanding me to relax each part of my body five times as much as it already is.
I’m drowsy, which is generally the result any time I lay back in a chair. The whole session takes about an hour, and I think I may have taken a brief nap. But as far as reaching deep into my subconscious, not so much.
She tells me to go home and throw every piece of my Juul away.
But I haven’t even left her office yet when my brain tells me to reach for it in my bag and take a puff.
Seriously? I think. That soon?
Determined to quit, I walk one block over and stand by a garbage can. I take five heavy drags from my Juul before dropping it into trash and walking away.
Over the next week, the urge to vape is omnipresent, particularly before bed. I rifle through drawers, discovering several nearly-empty single-use e-cigs, left there from before I discovered the heightened concentration of a Juul. I take brief puffs from whatever is left in them, trying to grab just a trace of nicotine left inside.
I find myself angry to be in this bind. I must either suffer through cravings to live a healthy life, or give in and quell my nerves with the smooth embrace of nicotine, damaging my body in the process. My hope that hallucinating about a cat on the floor could be an effective treatment now feels even more enraging, as if I’d thought I could put out a house fire by squirting it with a water bottle.
Two weeks after my initial visit, I’m skeptical of the need and value of a follow-up. But I already made the appointment, so I show up.
“We do these follow-ups because every time you do hypnosis, it works faster and deeper,” the hypnotist tells me. I look on skeptically, waiting for her to tell me to imagine another cat.
“You imagine a clock on the wall there,” she says. “What does the clock look like?”
“A school clock,” I reply.
I’m not listening well at this point, but I know she’s saying someone is watching over me. She asks me to name this “guardian angel.”
“Mhmmmmm,” I mumble, barely even paying attention.
“Megan, I can’t hear you. What do you want to call it?”
“Guardian angel,” I say, not even sure what I’m talking about.
She repeats her trademark line: “You are doing wonderfully in every way.”
And then I hear her say, “Megan, MEGAN,” encouraging me to awaken. Between the time she told me to imagine a clock and now, a 30-minute block of time has passed. I have no recollection of what took place. I could have been performing circus tricks on the streets of Boston, for all I know.
Again, the hypnotist advises me to go home and throw out all the e-cigs scattered through my apartment, which I diligently do.
Two months later, I am still 100 percent nicotine-free. (Okay, I smoked a cigarette at a wedding a couple weeks ago, but I don’t regret it, because it was amazing.)
I see my friends who have yet to quit, twirling their Juuls in their hands, and for a moment I’m jealous of the feeling they get as they take a puff. But as the headlines stay clouded with terrifying stories about vaping-related deaths (mostly caused by black-market THC products, not the world’s most famous nicotine cartridge), I know that my freedom from nicotine is a whole lot better. I can’t say for sure that the cat or clock or hypnotist gets the credit, but I am doing wonderfully in every way.