To say I was a pack-a-day smoker is an understatement. It was more like: a pack a day, plus another pack on top of that if I got drunk, or pulled an all-nighter to meet a deadline, so always.
I smoked before and after eating, first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I got nervous about flights because even a domestic, for me, was a ridiculously long time to go without a cigarette.
My life was a series of moments leading up to my next hit of sweet nicotine relief. I had no plans to give up.
Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, my boyfriend asked me to quit with him. At first I was horrified at what he was asking of me. I even tried to pull the ‘this is who I am’ card, but when someone you deeply love asks you to stop slowly poisoning yourself to death so that they may also have a better chance at not slowly poisoning themselves to death, it is hard to say no. So, after very little consideration of what I was signing myself up to, I agreed to quit.
The first day was deceptively easy. We signed ourselves up to Quit Buddy, which is an app that helps you track your quitting progress. Quit Buddy asks you to provide it with an image or quote so every now and then it can remind you of why you’re quitting. My boyfriend used a picture of me eating a burger, and I wrote “I want to be free.” We went about our day keeping busy and feeling refreshed the way you do in the wake of a new beginning. Quit Buddy told us to treat ourselves, so we spent what would be our cigarette money on dinner and a movie. I went to sleep that night feeling accomplished and happy. I thought to myself, ‘This isn’t so bad.’
I woke up on day two with a slight hangover from yesterday’s optimism. It was 8:30 in the morning and I had to go to work. I went to make myself coffee and on the first sip, felt a pang of grief. As anyone who has ever smoked knows, the coffee and cigarette in the morning combo is up there on the list of top ten smoking experiences, right between number three, glass of red and a cigarette and number one, post sex cigarette. I poured my coffee down the sink, had green tea instead and headed to work.
I work as a bartender. In hospitality, smoking is practically part of the uniform. When I informed my work mates that I had given up smoking, what I received in reply was a series of rolled eyes, unconvinced nods and one very straight forward, “That won’t last.” The day only got worse from there. I was stranded in my quiet bar pacing up and down like a caged lion, sucking desperately on lolly-pops and trying to act normal.
Following a work day no better than the one before, I found myself in my kitchen crying into my 100th cup of green tea. I couldn’t believe I had allowed something as stupid as cigarettes to have so much control over my life. At the same time, I was questioning whether I could ever be happy without them.
By day four I was a complete emotional wreck. The worst part was that my boyfriend wasn’t showing any symptoms of withdrawal. I couldn’t help thinking, “You did this to me, this is your fault. Why aren’t you suffering too?”
I went to yoga to calm myself down, but halfway through class, while attempting a backbend, I was suddenly reminded of a time when I was a kid in gymnastics class and my teacher had laughed at my forward roll. I burst into tears.
I was so distracted leaving yoga that I stepped out in front of the bus I was supposed to be catching and scared the shit out of the driver and myself. The bus drove off without me. I chased it down the street, determined to give the driver a piece of my mind. I reached his next stop just as the bus was driving off. Slumped down on the bus stop I began sobbing again and not knowing what else to do. I called my mother. I bawled to her on the phone about my childhood gymnastics teacher and the mean bus driver who had almost killed me and my horrible boyfriend who wasn’t showing a single sign of withdrawal. She suggested I up the nicotine dosage on my quit aid. I told her I was going cold turkey. She told me that was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. I went and bought some nicotine lozenges.
The lozenges made a huge difference. By day five the cravings had diminished significantly and I was able to get though an entire work shift with only a mild threat of insanity (which had as much to do with the nature of my job as it did with nicotine withdrawal). I was now able to walk around the streets like a normal human without the risk of impromptu crying or spontaneous fits of rage.
On day six a friend of mine was having a dress up party. Most people choose to avoid socialising in their first few weeks of quitting in order to avoid temptation, especially when alcohol is involved. I was feeling fairly confident at this time and was not going to let those pesky temptations get in the way of my right to party. I rocked up in my cow costume and was greeted with enthusiastic shouts that came from within the thick cloud of cigarette smoke engulfing my friends. I sat in the smoke cloud secretly enjoying the smell but assuring my friends that no, I was fine and no, not even one, but thank you for offering.
The thing about being a chain smoker is that you are used to constantly having something to put to your mouth in social situations. So with no cigarettes I found myself going through drinks rather faster than I am used to. Long story short, I got plastered. The last thing I remember is being on the dance floor yelling at someone about how my dancing was going to improve now that I had quit smoking due to better lung capacity.
I awoke with a blinding headache, still dressed in the cow costume, but confident in the knowledge that I had not caved. I may have been brutally hungover, but this was a definite win.
They say the first week is the hardest and it’s all uphill from there. Unfortunately, I found that not to be the case. There were plenty more days following that first week in which I questioned whether it was all worth it; the emotional strain, the stress, the weight gain. But overall I’d say the worst is behind me.
It has been 34 days since my last cigarette. The other day in my yoga class I was struck by this sudden feeling of liberation. I realised I don’t have to have a cigarette ever again. When I wrote “I want to be free” as my Quit Buddy inspiration, I don’t think I believed I would ever feel fully free of my addiction and yet here I am. The thought made me cry with happiness. It was the second time in four weeks that I cried in yoga.