Have your have experienced the seduction of smoking a cigarette?
I know I have. I battled with a smoking addiction for nearly 10 years. This past summer equinox, June 21, 2017 marks my 5 year anniversary of quitting smoking. This is one of my biggest accomplishment I have ever achieved.
Smoking cigarettes is more than a Nicotine addiction. I found giving up nicotine was probably the easiest part. Smoking is a multi-faceted addiction.
Smoking I feel like is so addictive for two reasons: what you associated with it and expansive cholinergic neuronal systems. In this article, I am going to focus on my experience with smoking.
Smoking is one of the more socially acceptable addictions after coffee that you can partake in essentially all day long. Fortunately, this is becoming less and less true. You can associate almost every behavior with smoking a cigarette: waking up, eating, driving in a car, sex, studying, meeting people, social outings, confidence, breaks, stress, motivation, and the list goes on. There are so many reasons why someone smokes. To some level, everyone knows that smoking is bad for you. So why do so many people keep doing it?
The First Seduction
Before I had my first cigarette, I could never imagine putting smoke in my lungs as a kid. Why would someone want to do that. I was sitting in a car with other people I respected sharing a cigarette and they had convinced me that it was ok to try it here. After taking one puff, I felt so lightheaded and coughed a lot. Even though I didn’t necessarily like it that first time around, the boundary I had created in my head before no longer existed.
I smoked my first cigarette when I was 13 years olds. I become slowly more of a regular smoker and by the time I was 16/17 years old I was smoking 2 ½ packs a cigarettes a day. My first cigarette I ever smoked were Djarum Clove cigarettes. They reminded me of christmas of how they crackled and smelled. In high school, I remember sneaking around the back of my house when no one was home and took deep inhales just to feel the light-headed euphoric feeling. It felt so good to just get away from all the stress in my life. It made feeling so alone more tolerable.
Connecting with other people has been of my biggest challenges in life. As I got older, I found how easy it was to meet people smoking. You can go anywhere and meet somebody. Walk outside and there is always someone smoking. Great news! You already have one thing in common and easy to strike up a good conversation with random people. It also helped me feel less awkward standing around especially if I was at a party overwhelmed by all the people. It was easy to just go outside and take a “breathier”. Smoking a cigarette was such a great excuse to help with me feeling uncomfortable around people. I made lots of really close friends smoking and we shared so many wonderful memories together.
I started college when I was really young at 16 years old. Smoking helped me not feel like an outsider. I was smoking a cigarette how could others not see me as at least 18 years old. I had gotten really good at finding ways of getting cigarettes. I tried to act older than my age. I felt like I had to be a bad ass. I had to make up for how much younger I was than everybody else. My cigarettes of choice was Marlboro Reds and Parliament Lights if I couldn’t find a good Buy 1 Get 1 Deal. My philosophy was if I am going to smoke I am going to smoke. I remember my first summer in college. I sat out in front of the dorms lighting one cigarette with the one I just finished. Sometime I would stay out there for an hour or two just talking and meeting people that walked out of the dorm. That summer was one of the best summers I had in college. All of these wonderful memories I had created with all these great people revolved around smoking. Everywhere I went, you would probably see a cigarette in my hand.
You might be asking yourself, so are you trying to sell me on smoking a cigarette? Kinda sound like it. I am sitting here telling you are of these wonderful perks about smoking and great memories I made. Smoking had reeled me and seduced me to where I was always begging for more. However, there is a dark side to smoking. The side that no marketing campaign ever gives light to. You get all of these so called great benefits. BUT Trust me I paid the price for them times 1000+.
I can’t tell you how many times I tried to quit smoking, dozenS of times!!! The reason why I was successful was not because I had this great amount of will power. I have heard so many people say oh just have some self control and stop smoking. If only it were that easy!!! After each time I tried to quit and failed, the desire kept building and building. I wanted to quit smoking more than anything else, yet I still couldn’t. I remember this one day, I was sitting outside my best friend’s house alone in my car smoking a cigarette and crying so hard because I wanted to quit so badly but I just couldn’t. Smoking had this leash around my throat dictating my every mood and move.
Every 15 minutes or so, I had to smoke a cigarette. If I didn’t, I would get ancy. Being present was out of the question. I was always thinking about that next cigarette. Sure there are certain lures in the beginning, but what most people do not realize, is how they brain wash themselves into smoking. I’m feeling tired and can’t focus. Oh yea! Let me have a cigarette and cup of coffee. Perfect mixture for late night studying or going out with friends. Man I am feeling ancy and stressed. I need a cigarette so I can relax. Really the cigarette is raising your blood pressure and heart rate. Doing the exact opposite to help you relax. The real reason I want a cigarette is likely because I am going through mini-withdrawals all day long. Now 5 years later, that feeling of anciness I use to have is now distant memory.
I had a friend that promised he would quit smoking if I did. At the time, I think he said it jokingly because it would seem impossible for someone that smoked as much as me to quit smoking. Jokes on him!! Hehe! Actually, he did end up quitting!
I have tried almost everyday to quit smoking at least once if not multiple times: Chantix, nicotine patches, gum, cold turkey, weaning off, lollipops, and reading a book (The Easy Way to Quit Smoking by Alan Carr). I feel like what really made a difference was my persistence in wanting to quit smoking. I keep making the decision over and over again that I wanted to be a non-smoker.
The first chapter of quitting smoking for me was to slowly take away the things I associated with smoking like drinking coffee, smoking in the house, smoking in the car, eating, and etc. Trying out all the different methods of quitting smoking. Slowly, I found a burning desire to quit smoking. This phase turned out to be more of an experimenting with different ways to quit smoking. I did this for a few years.
One day I was sitting out front of the Student Union at my undergraduate university (Appalachian State), there was this girl that sat next to me that day and we shared a conversation over a cigarette. She spoke about this book The Easy Way to Quit Smoking. She raved about how great it had helped her quit smoking before. Of course, I was skeptical because she was smoking a cigarette with me. However, a few months later, I was like what the heck let me buy it and see what it is about. That book was the start of me really quitting. I realized after reading that book that I was brain washed on how cigarettes helped me perform better in school or make friends. I was beginning to realize my addiction was in my mind and the relationship with myself was found wanting.
Going back to the question, I posed before why do you keep doing it? Deep down the reasons why I smoked was that I did not love or value myself. I struggled with mental health issues for a greater part of my life: depression, anxiety, suicide, bipolar, eating disorders, self-mutilation. When I went to college, I was able to get over the eating disorder (anorexia and bulimia) I had for 6 years by smoking and going out to parties. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had friends. I kept stimulating myself with substances, people, school, and activities. Even though each thing served some purpose, overall I was distracting myself from dealing with what was really bothering me. Furthermore, I did not take care of myself at all. Sleep was an option. I had enough sense to be responsible with school, work, and extracurriculars but not with myself.
I wanted to be a good person, but I loathed who I was. I lived for the approval of other people.
Quitting smoking was scary for me. I had to actually look at why I was smoking to begin with. This meant truly looking at the dark depths of my soul and shining a light on it. I will tell you. It was not pretty.
The first long bout I had with not smoking was right after I graduated undergrad when I was 19. My friend and I had planned a 3 month backpacking trip to South America. It was perfect time to quit I thought. I was not going to be in school. I had no job responsibilities. The girl I was going with was one of the very few friends I had that did not smoke. She was a wonderful support to me. I had just finished reading the Alan Carr book and I even had brought it with me. Traveling was a great distractions. However, my cravings were unreal! I had non-stop craving for 6 months straight. I thought they would never end. I wondered if it was possible to go one day without ruminating about cigarettes.
Can’t say I was perfect on that trip. We were on vacation. Lots of people were drinking and having fun including me. Bless my friends heart. I remember this one day we were traveling on a bus to go to Florinopolis, Brazil. I was completely losing my patience with her. Really, I knew that it had nothing to do with her but she was about to get the brunt of it. So I excused myself, went bought a pack of cigarettes. I was already smoking a cigarette before she had the time to persuade me not to. If I am going to do something, I just do it. If I sit around talking about it, I really do not want to do it. Boy! did I!
The difference this time was that I smoked to my hearts content. Left no room for desire. The next morning when I woke up. I was back on track to quitting smoking. I ended up quitting for two years this time around! I was so proud of myself! This chapter in quitting smoking was beginning to see how I had brain washed myself into smoking.
Almost two years later, I relapsed. The boyfriend I had at the time was a smoker. He was respectful enough to not smoke around me and clean up so he never smelled like cigarettes around me. Still, I knew he smoked. Somehow this was a reminder that made it so I could never truly let it go.
Funny thing about me, is that I have wanted to be a doctor practically my whole life. My undergraduate degree is in Nutrition. You could say I knew better but still somehow that didn’t matter. So, I had just taken the MCAT for the 3rd time trying to get into medical school. After a whole year of studying 40 hours a week, working 40 hours a week to a job 1 hour away, and maintaining a long distance relationship, I did no better than I did the year before. I was devastated but I did not show it right away.
A couple months later, after getting into an argument with my boyfriend, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Drove the gas station without saying anything and was back to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day the next day for a year and a half. I was so incredibly addicted that I could not just smoke one cigarette even after almost 2 years of not smoking.
Before, I had negative health repercussion but I was almost not aware of it. I use to get chronic bronchitis. It was like I would get really bad bronchitis for a few weeks and a month later I would get it again. It was sad but I would get such bad coughing fits the only thing that would stop me from coughing was smoking a cigarette. Sleeping at night with out oxycodin cough syrup would not happen because how bad it was. I pushed through it and somehow felt reasonably well. I think was overall happier in my life during undergrad which made things appear to be better than they were.
This time around was MUCH DIFFERENT!!!! After not smoking for 2 years, I started to get some of the health benefits of not smoking being able to breathe little better and having more energy. Health was still not great because I was mentally and physically abusing myself trying to keep up with these ridiculous expectations I had for my self.
From day one of smoking again, I felt like pure shit!!! Yet I kept going and kept smoking. I think this masochist side of me kept me smoking. I felt like a failure. If you were inside of my head, the self condemnation was that of a nasty drill sergeant. At this point, my health began to deteriorate completely. The thrills I had being in undergrad had now elapsed. I was working now and immersing myself in my MCAT studies. I still went off to go to graduate school to get my Master’s in Physiology. I’d be damned if I was not going to get a 4.0. My drive to get into medical school still had not subsided.
Two weeks before the end of my first year of graduate school. I collapsed. It was a point that putting one foot in front of the other was not possible. All I had left to do was turn in my final project and take finals. All of my others assignments had been completed. For the next 2.5 months, I was in and out of the hospital 3 times, each 1 week at a time.
For me, I had hit rock bottom in my life socially, professionally, academically, financially, and personally. I dropped out of graduate school only 2 weeks shy of finishing the quarter. I just could not do it anymore. This was the beginning of me climbing back out of the depths of the darkness. Yet, I went through hell to be able to come back out the other side.
On third time I went to the hospital, I quit smoking going in because they would not let me smoke while I was there. They had given me nicotine patches. I just kept going afterwards. I had used the nicotine patches before, but they did not work for me. I feel like because there were other things I had to address. This time the nicotine patches were great because they took the edge off, and I was able to focus on getting my health back together.
After this point, my life got a little messier before It started to get better. I lost all my friends after that. I could not handle their influence at the time. I had to start hearing myself think. Being around people that smoke was just not something I could deal with anymore. I began choosing myself and started to have a relationship with myself. Now, I choose relationships that make me a better person not ones that were easy to make. I started to facing the darkness within me and really feel. I walked through it and began to love and accept myself.
The journey never ends. It is the choices we make everyday that determines what the future will hold. My number 1 priority is my health now. Before anything, this includes school. After losing my health, I realize that I am nothing without it. For the first time, I began to value my life because it was on the verge of being taken away from me. It was not me making that decision this time.
Reflection on Smoking Methods
The two worst methods I found to try and quit smoking were Chantix and weaning off. The black box warning for Chantix are real. I was so on edge on it. I became super aggressive one day over something really small with my brother. It was like a switched that flipped, and I had no way of controlling it. We broke the front door of our house that day. Oops!!!!
The other one would be weaning off of it. This is just further perpetuating the cycle. I would end up ruminating over smoking all day long and fantasizing about it. After waiting a certain amount of time, I would REWARD myself with the behavior I was trying to quit. I was in constant withdrawals that would never end.
The best ways to quit smoking I found to be cold turkey with nicotine patches. However, you need to do some personal work first. Get at the real reasons why you are smoking to begin with. Start to unbrain washing your mind to why you smoke. Realizing the perpetual cycle that smoking has. Smoking creates a hamster wheel cycle that is uber challenging to get of.
My big pitfalls for smoking would be having any type of alcoholic beverage and friends who smoke. Drinking would let your guard down and you care less that you are messing up. As much as your friends have good intentions, if they smoke, likely they will not be supportive of you quitting smoking even if the say something different. The fact is they still smoke and do not see enough wrong with the behavior to change it.
Anytime you are vulnerable to smoking like something stressful happened and your strength to void off cravings is not as high, it is so easy to give in to your friend that is smoking a cigarette. Trust me they usually always give you a cigarette. Deep down they don’t want to smoke alone. I wanted to think that I could quit smoking while maintaining the friendships I had. In the end, I realized that I had to let go of those friendships and people that were not helping me grow in the direction I needed to. Once again, I found myself in a very lonely place, but at least this time around I had myself.
QUITTING SMOKING FEELS AMAZING!
I am in the best shape of my life now. If you told me, it was possible to feel this good 5 years ago I would have not believed you. I went from barely being able to run 5 seconds without being completely being out of breath to getting second place in my division in a 5K last New Years. Some people say oh I am going to die anyways, so why does it matter. It matter so much! Because you may be physically breathing, but you are not living to your fullest potential. Do you know what it truly feels like to feel alive in every cell of your body? Break the chains of smoking. Break up with smoking. Choose yourself! CHOOSE IT NOW! Don’t wait until your life passes you by. You can do it! There is another side to smoking!
DAMN DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO BE A NON-SMOKER!
Say NO to the Seduction of Smoking!