On this day, April 13th, in 2003 I quit smoking. That makes today my 13th anniversary. Not really sure how I feel about that, actually.
See, I looooved smoking. Loved it. It was the biggest crutch I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t walk down the street without a cigarette in my hand. I’d have one before bed, when I woke up in the morning, sometimes even if I woke in the middle of the night. I’d have a cigarette before and after every meal, and every time I went out for drinks. I’d smoke when I was angry, or sad, or stressed, or anxious – I mean, mostly anxious. I am anxious pretty much all the time. Smoking calmed me or, at least, I believed it did, which is really all that matters.
At the time, we could still smoke inside some establishments, or on patios of others. And packs of course cost way less, just like everything else did in 2003. It was far less difficult to find a spot than it is now. I went on multiple breaks from work during any given shift, and I drank way less because my hands were kept busy. I always had a lighter on me, but still preferred the smell of matches. It was kind of a social thing sometimes, too. We’d go out together and have conversations that didn’t include the people inside, and the cigarette would act as a timer to let us know when it was time to go back in.
For me, though, it was mostly just a huge crutch. A thing I felt I needed – or at least really wanted – to help get me through the day.
Then one day, I found out I’d been accepted to teacher’s college, and I’d promised myself that I would quit before school started, because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite teacher – one who tells the kids not to smoke, but then hangs out in the parking lot every recess and lunch break, puffing away and setting a bad example. I figured I could be the poster child for Don’t Ever Start, but I didn’t want to be a hypocrite if I could help it.
So I planned a big party to celebrate my acceptance, and smoked as much as I wanted that night – then stopped as of the next morning. It sucked, too, because my last cigarettes weren’t even mine. I ran out too close to the end to make it worth buying another pack, so I bummed a few off someone at the party, and THEIRS were the last ones I ever had.
To make matters worse, I’d done all kinds of research into quitting, and thought I’d set myself up for success, but it turned out that the information I had was only part of the issue. I don’t think even now addiction is truly understood, let alone withdrawl. Nothing I saw online prepared me for the acute depression, for example. Not one mention of it. I had the patch ready in case I needed it, but that only helps with cravings, not all of the other crazy things that happen to your system when you’re going through severe withdrawl.
The other thing that sucked was that, for months prior, I’d cut down to the lightest cigarettes I could find, so that it’d maybe be a bit easier to stop smoking completely if I happened to get into school. But the first step of the patch contained way more nicotine than I’d been ingesting, so it actually ramped me right back up to higher doses than I’d been used to. I could feel it in my veins, I thought. And it gave me crazy vivid dreams.
A few weeks later, my partner decided to cheat on me fairly publicly, and then break up with me not long before school started, so there went my financial and emotional support system out the window. Luckily I’d loaded up on student debt that I’d hoped to not need. Poor timing much?
The bets were on as to whether or not I’d cave and take up the habit again, but to my mind that would be failure, and I suspected my ex would love to see me fail, so I kept not giving into temptation, which I’m sure also saved many lives.
Also, I’m stubborn as hell sometimes.
Now, keep in mind that I really loved this habit I’d quit, and my reason for quitting was simply not to be a hypocrite. It wasn’t for my health, it wasn’t because it was too expensive, it wasn’t for my own good nor the good of anyone else. It was ONLY so I could face the children each day in class. As well, I got very depressed very quickly, and not being able to smoke felt not only like a punishment, but a punishment I deserved. In that sense, it was easy not to break down and buy more, because not having them made me feel bad, and in my mind, I deserved to feel bad.
So, there I was – alone, unbearably sad, my self-esteem the lowest it had ever been at that point. Trying to teach children. I started drinking more and eating more, so I packed on an unimaginable amount of weight in a very short period of time, and have the stretch marks to prove it. Hell, I have pictures to prove it. I almost flunked out of school a few times, but knowing that failure would also make my ex happy, I hung in there, too. I took on another shift at work, and all but maxed out all the lovely credit I’d been handed as a student. Hating myself pretty much every minute of every day.
But hey – at least I wasn’t a hypocrite.
I haven’t had a cigarette since that day, except for one accidental inhale when I’d only meant to pull it into my mouth to help out a friend. I was drinking at the time, and even though it was years later, habit still kicked in. My body still knew the motions automatically, and I knew that if I ever did have one myself, I’d be back to a pack a day in no time. And who can afford that, really?
Do I feel better as a result of quitting? Not really, no. Am I proud of myself? Meh, kind of, I guess, but more in that it was one more way I made my ex wrong about me. And I’m told nicotine withdrawl is actually harder to go through than heroin, so there’s that. Don’t worry, though – I can’t afford a heroin addiction, either. It does seem that I am always a little addicted to something, though. I tend to just temporarily quit something long enough to get it out of my system, and then pick it back up later, just to make sure I still can. I don’t really want to quit anything else I love forever, though. The very idea makes me sad. I can cut way down, and even quit temporarily – but for good? No thank you. That feels like punishment, too, and I don’t wish to punish myself that way anymore right now.
I likened the whole experience to getting out of a bad relationship. You know they aren’t good for you, and that your physical and emotional health is suffering as a result of such toxicity. But against all rational argument, you still love them, and even though you’re technically glad you got away, you really do miss them quite a lot.
Then, every time you go anywhere, you get see them with somebody else.