Today marks my one-year anniversary of quitting smoking.
First, a confession: Ask the medical community about my smoking history, and they will tell you that I – who smoked about one pack a week (unless there were other smokers around) for 5 years – am small potatoes when it comes to something like this.
It’s true – no amount of smoking is “good.” But in the grand scheme of things – and by most norms – I should have been sucking cigarettes down to their cylindrical filters, up to three packs a day. I wasn’t.
A psychology class I took my junior year of college stated that you were less likely to begin smoking if introduced to it by the age of 22. I started smoking in July 2006, three months before my 22nd birthday (guess I just missed that cutoff). Before then, I was staunchly a no-smoking kind of girl. Friends of mine would smoke and I would say, “SMOKING IS BAD FOR YOU!” Until I started it. And then, while it was still bad, it wasn’t so bad.
At first, I smoked cloves (which I didn’t realize were worse for you), and then I smoked menthols (which weren’t much better), because that’s what my then-boyfriend smoked. And usually I’d only smoke when he was visiting. And then I’d smoke when he wasn’t visiting.
I’d smoke when I was happy, I’d smoke when I was sad, when I was angry, whether I was drunk or sober, when I was stressed, when I had eaten, sometimes when I woke up, more often before I went to bed. I’d smoke in stifling heat and deadly cold.
(And yes, just like you see in the movies, smoking is something you do as a post-coital activity.)
And sure, there was a lot about it I didn’t like. Once, on a road trip, I opened my suitcase at my destination to find that the whole thing (and my clothes inside it) reeked of smoke. I didn’t like the lingering smell of smoke and occasional stains of tar on my fingertips. I was never lucky enough to be the smoker who experienced bronchitis; however, any cough-based sickness was never fun. I didn’t like that (even though I was smoking, comparatively, very little) I was spending $10 on 20 cigarettes a week.
But most of all, it stressed me out. I only smoked once in front of my parents, and they were so disappointed that I tried to never smoke in front of them again. It was kind of like a “don’t ask, don’t tell, unless you smell me, then really don’t ask” thing. Strangely enough, my dad smoked for years before he quit, my stepmom was an occasional smoker… and my mom, well… she still smokes, but I think it’s kind of weird to smoke with your mom. I understood, though, that it wasn’t the kind of thing you wanted to show to younger family members.
I tried to apply the same philosophy in all areas of my life. I wouldn’t take smoke breaks at work or at school; in fact, people were shocked if I told them I smoked. I just waited until I got home where I could contain my deep, dark, smoking habit. Which wasn’t a big deal until I finally decided to quit.
There had been other attempts at quitting before this one. In July of 2008, my left leg ballooned to two times the size of the right; a check for a blood clot turned out negative (to this day, my leg remains swollen for apparently no reason). I attempted to quit smoking and tried nicotine gum, but it made me sick. Of course, I decided that taking up smoking again would be the easier alternative.
From February to July 2011, I wasn’t smoking at all. Until I was so stressed out one night that I figured, “Fuck it.” I smoked for about four weeks, reacquainting myself with the habit until I decided that – again – it wasn’t a good choice. What was I using it to cope with?
And I don’t know if it was the definitiveness of my decision or what, but successfully quitting this habit of mine was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Even those who have quit smoking and know what it’s like cannot describe what it is actually like. Unfortunately, you just have to go through it. Unfortunately for others, they have to go through it with you.
It’s as if, pre-decision-to-quit-smoking, you’re a lovely person. And then, seemingly overnight, you’re an unreasonable monster of an asshole. EVERYTHING GETS ON YOUR NERVES. Someone calls – but you’re not smoking… how do you talk? If you’re drinking, you feel like something’s missing. You might search your drawers and your purse. You might search bags you haven’t used in years, thinking that maybe you left a pack in there. Not finding anything, you will chew nicotine gum as if you are murdering it, because in fact, you would like to murder everyone around you.
The worst part, for me? The simple act of opening my door. After all, coming home was my trigger to have a cigarette. Or five. And what began as me wandering around my apartment for 40 minutes trying to figure out how to function, well… slowly, it became not-so-difficult.
Overall, I’m pleased with my decision, and I’m sure my lungs appreciate it. And I do keep nicotine gum around just in case…
Because no one wants to deal with an unbearable, trying-to-quit-AGAIN asshole. Trust me.