I never thought that I would get to the point where I could confidently say that I will never pick up a pack of cigarettes again, but about 1 year since quitting cold turkey- I NEVER want to go back. I am still shocked how making one change in my life has drastically altered almost everything else around me. Quitting cigarettes has showed me how much this habit was prohibiting me from living my life. I want to share the ways my life has been turned upside down since deciding to quit in hopes that this may inspire someone out there that it’s better on the other side.
OK, WE HAVE TO START AT THE BEGINNING…
I was always against smoking, drugs, and the like when I was a child. Perhaps because I was exposed to it from an early age and had no urge to partake in the dismal looking activity. I was one of those Crime Watch kids, believe it or not, badge and all. A just say no kind of gal. So, what changed my bright eyed and bushy-tailed perspective on the matter? One word my friend, divorce. Sadly, like so many other families in the US, my parents got a divorce upon me entering high school and that is when things took a sour turn. Life was completely unrecognizable and the structures that I had depended on to withstand the test of time, began to crumble all around me. Add budding hormones and sociological pressure to the mix and you are left with a truly combustable outcome. Nothing made sense. I began to not care anymore because caring hurt too much. I looked for any opportunity I could to escape, to suppress, to conceal, to preserve what was going on inside. Foolishly, I believed that if I did not talk about or show my pain, it didn’t exist. The experimenting started early with all the vices we unfortunately find adolescents taking part in. These habits ripened as I progressed in high school and throughout most of my university experience. As I got older, I was one of those people that fervently said they would always smoke weed and that I could quit cigarettes whenever I wanted. It’s amazing how blind I was to something right in front of me. Addiction likes to reason with you. It says that you are fine and that you are different then others. It assures you that you’re ok and that you are in control. It’s one of the most manipulative demons we could ever choose to listen to because while it’s hurting us it feels like it’s helping us. At the time, it did not help that I went to an over-priced, pretentious art school (which I’m still paying for) that inadvertently supported nihilistic behavior and an oh-so-cool demeanor complete with biting, jaded commentary punctuated with inhales and exhales of tobacco. The complete stereotype. To be clear, I am not blaming my school for my own behavior, but finding a strong moral high ground in such a subjective and elusive environment did not help the matter.
Despite all of this, I graduated and continued working within an entertainment environment that provided all the triggers needed to buy another pack of cigarettes. It got to a point where I would smoke at least a pack a day and the cigarettes became a reward for me. In the morning with coffee, after I got a chunk of work done, before eating, after eating, while driving, while on the phone, while with friends, after working out, you name it. It dangerously became a part of my life. So much so that when I would fly for work from state to state or when I moved to Europe I would have a mini panic attack if there were no designated smoking areas or if I didn’t have enough time to have a cigarette before a flight. Still, I allowed myself to indulge in my habit and kept listening to the hollow justifications of why it was ok that I was continuing this behavior. As you might have guessed, I wasn’t healthy. I’ve always been that girl that looks fine, but thought if I lose just 15 more pounds I’d be perfect. I bring this up because my smoking started to show its effects with my physical health. I had desires to be more active and do more cardio, amongst other things, but my breathing had weakened over the past decade of abuse and it was becoming apparent. So, of course, instead of dropping the habit I would have another smoke while complaining about how my life was. A classic millennial trait. But this scared me. I was in my late twenties and having fear about exercise and limitations that should not have been coming up at all. Also, at this point, I was not enjoying cigarettes anymore, I was fully addicted.
I frequently thought to myself when would I actually quit? and I knew that the longer I waited, the harder it would get. So, I stopped waiting. I quit while I was still living in Hungary and the decision to finally do it came from an utter disgust with the hypocrisy that I allowed to navigate the path of my life up until that point. I could not take my own advice. I was exhausted from the lies that I began to believe about the world, myself, others, etc. I grew weary of the same old social cues that were followed to dull the anxiety of Being and conversing with others. Making sure that I had wine or some other vice to entertain a group of people was so unhealthy let alone, expensive. I began to realize that the interactions I was involving myself with were constantly assisted with some type of crutch. I found this pathetic. I found this inauthentic to who I knew I truly was and wanted to be. Upon quitting, I realized how scary it was to accept who I wanted to be and the amount of work it would take to actualize that person.
BUT I’M DOING IT. AND THIS IS WHERE I WANT TO PICK UP AND SHARE WITH YOU HOW QUITTING CIGARETTES HAS CHANGED MY LIFE.
I DEAL WITH MY FEELINGS
When I quit cigarettes it was clear that I had a lot more time then I was used to. I quickly saw how many valuable hours, minutes, and seconds smoking consumed throughout my day. Since now I could not turn to a cigarette to pass the time, my thoughts started to creep in. A lot of baggage and suppressed emotion from years passed began to surface as I journeyed deeper and deeper in my smoke free life. Basically, all the reasons why I started smoking in the first place came up. This was hard. The method that I used to cope with negative emotions was now gone so the only way that I could get through the bad feelings was to get through them. I relied on my own strength and gave myself permission to wonder why I had certain feelings and why I felt like I needed to hide them. This brought on a vulnerability in myself that I felt ashamed of and a real pain that seemed almost unbearable. But it wasn’t. As time went on with no cigarettes I gained more clarity, it got easier. I grew more sensitive to my own emotions and projections. It’s almost as if now I look at myself as a science experiment. I observe my reactions and awareness objectively. Analytically, I brake down why I might be feeling a certain way and I don’t get angry about it. It’s like I’m watching myself live my life while I’m living it. This has helped me immensely with my own growth as a person and patience in dealing with others. I know now that I have a choice on how I express myself and accept that I am stronger than how I may be feeling.
Coming from someone who thought they were their feelings– this was a game changer.
I GOT OUT OF MY OWN WAY
The fact that I’m writing about this is evidence enough. After I quit and began to heal, I started doing things that I really wanted to do because I didn’t have any excuse not to. I had time to fill and figured the best way to fill that time was with the things that I was secretly passionate about. Reading, yoga, cooking, writing, making videos, exploring, the list goes on. I was bursting at the seems with creativity and a real need for outlets! The urge to share outgrew the fear of sharing. When I smoked, each cigarette was attached to an unproductive and jaded outlook on the world. Subsequently, no more cigarettes meant no more sh**y attitude. It meant that there was a real personality behind the smokescreen that I had created. I started to find a natural high with making things. I became addicted to producing. It was much healthier and much more beneficial for myself and those around me. This activated the child within me. That child that does things just because they want to and attaches no unnecessary strings, foes, or follies to their interest. Getting out of my own way makes so much more room for the person I’m meant to be. I want her to take the lead.
I think that this happened because of the strength I found within. It makes me truly happy to know that I am bigger than what I might be going through. I’m happier because I am only dependent on myself. I rely on what I was given at birth, which is such a gift that most of us forget. I look in the mirror and see how much more the inside is matching the outside and that is the most addictive drug you could ever find! Progress. Not perfection. Perfection does not exist and achieving the goal isn’t really the goal, it’s the pursuit. It’s the self love that rushes over you when you say that you want something better for your life. Caring enough about your own well-being has such great side effects. I’m excited for the future. I’m grateful for the moment. I raise up my hands in praise for my health. I have hope for others. My perspective of each day has altered with renewed goals and an inner knowing that they will come to pass. But remember, it’s a choice.
I choose to be happy. Happiness does not just happen. It’s not a noun, it’s a verb.