Ex-smokers often say: “quitting smoking is the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. I agree. I was a smoker my whole adult life. It started innocently enough. I was nine when two teenagers babysitting me took me to MacDonalds. They asked, “What? You don’t smoke?” with eyebrows arched in amused disdain while unwrapping a box of Virginia Slims. Since they were cool, had long hair and were popular, I said “Of course I smoke!” and took the cigarette. I blew into it and started coughing. They laughed. “Here, let me show you”, one of the girls said and inhaled. I copied her and started coughing again. My throat burnt.
I will never forget a lady seated a few tables away from us with her young children. She looked at me with concerned sadness and pity. I wish I had listened to her gaze more than to the peer pressure of my vacuous, cool babysitters with their long hair, painted toenails and elegant nonchalance.
Instead, I decided this was something I should know to survive in a socially precarious world. Being a perfectionist, I practiced smoking by myself later that night so that I would be better prepared next time.
Next time came when I was 12 at Boarding School in England. This time, there was an element of danger involved (aside from dying). You got expelled if you were found with cigarettes. There was an old shack at the edge of campus with an outlook. If you had the secret code, you were let in to crouch with the other criminally-inclined under the window peering out while puffing on cigarettes no one really enjoyed.
What started as an innocent experiment in cool became my go-to for every emotion I encountered and inhaled instead of processing and releasing. Everything got sucked inwards- something women around me seem to often do. We inhale sadness, anger, unnecessary guilt, inadequacy and shame.
Smoking was a form of self-medication for me. I wasn’t sure if it made me depressed or if depression made me smoke. I wasn’t sure if it eased the pain from chronic endometriosis or if the endometriosis was chronic because I kept smoking. When I needed spine surgery for a herniated disc I wondered whether a disc in my spine had deteriorated because smoking starved it from oxygen. At 33, a doctor in LA told me I had an irregular heartbeat and that I REALLY needed to quit. Had I tried quitting? Many times! Desperately! I do not like being controlled by anything. I wanted to get free from hiding behind this curtain of smoke. I hated myself as a smoker but that just made me smoke more.
I was determined. I changed my perception of “quitting” and started visualizing myself as “smoke-free”. The word “quit” implies that you give up and reinforces the belief that you you are weak-willed and losing something. I chose to view “quitting smoking” as “letting go” of something that no longer served me. Being “smoke-free” implied being freed from shackles and the burden off constantly reaching for a cigarette. This little adjustment in my mindset made a world of difference. I said goodbye to my toxic friend.
I changed my lifestyle to avoid triggers- people, places, stimulants. I cut coffee, alcohol, social events where people drank, smoked or did drugs. I worked out, drank tea, and spent most of my time alone. I saw myself free of lighters, ashtrays, breathmints, mannerisms, smokers cough. I was prescribed an anti-depressant to counter the overwhelming emotional upheavals I went through by no longer having my cigarettes around to protect me from my own feelings and thoughts. I changed my narrative back to the pure child I was before I took that first cigarette when I was nine. For the first time, I felt things properly. I processed wounds, sadness, and I started exercising my voice. A year later, I was smoke-free.
One day, I was in the car driving and I thought to myself, “I really don’t want to ever smoke again. But what’s the point letting go of that if I am now on these pills?” I opened the window and emptied the anti-depressant on the highway. After that, I never looked back.
Take Away: I changed my narrative by identifying the mythologies of myself and the perceived benefit of remaining addicted versus the benefit of valuing myself more. This goes for anything in life. The more you value yourself the less you choose destructive behavior.
TIPS Straight Up
It is easy. First three days are the only bad ones.
Ha! It is not easy. But you are giving yourself a gift- not taking something away! Instead of swallowing emotions and hiding yourself behind veils of smoke, you are are finally dealing with you and showing people who you are.
After quitting you will never want to smoke again.
For real? I had dreams for years where I would smoke and wake up terrified that I actually had.
You can’t just have “one” again.
Very true. A few times years later, I relapsed and had a cigarette or two. Then I was hooked and had to “let go” all over again. It was very hard both times. That “just one” cigarette is just never worth it. But forgive yourself, otherwise you just smoke to punish yourself for smoking. Non smokers opt to be in charge of their destiny and look out for themselves.
Throw away all reminders.
Yes, that includes the smokey sweaty t-shirt from the long-haired rocker who gave you the best orgasm ever. Sorry. Trash it.
Convert Your Stash
Wherever you kept your stash should be filled with flowers, fragrance, candles….or notes. I had post it notes all over the place with messages to myself like: “No You Do Not Want A Cigarette!”, “You smell lovely!”, “Your tastebuds are back!!!”, “Have a stink free day!!!!”
You Gain Weight
I’m not going to lie. If you are an emotional smoker, you might become an emotional eater for the moment and gain some weight but….when you change your narrative to be free of addictive behavior, your mindset is already set up to let go of other behaviors working against you … Find a fitness or dance lifestyle for the new energy.