Smoking featured heavily in my day-to-day life for, well… most of my adult life: it became my ritual, daily mantra and my best friend.
When I felt anxious, cigarettes were always on hand, ready to take the uncomfortable feelings away. If I needed a break from handling a difficult or challenging situation, or “managing” conflict… cigarettes. When I experienced heartbreak or sadness, like a friend in need cigarettes were there.
It wasn’t only the bad times either. When I decided to rock out and let my hair down, you guessed it… cigarettes were around! They were there for celebratory parties, after-work drinks, festivals, holidays, trips to the beach, not to mention dinner times. Best of all, they were there in the morning too. I woke up earlier than everyone else to watch glorious sunrises with golden cups of coffee before completing any other task. My best friend, the cigarette was there too. Our relationship, albeit a co-dependent one, was becoming stronger every day.
Waking up one morning, after starting my new job, I made a big decision. I had been feeling much happier: proud of myself for everything that I had achieved in recent months. I had developed a greater sense of belief within myself than ever before. Problem was, I wasn’t only experiencing these empowering feelings, but physically, my chest felt heavy and I began to wheeze as I breathed. Somewhere in the distance, I felt I wasn’t being completely true to myself. There and then, I decided I would quit, and immediately got on with setting a date.
Setting a date to quit smoking
I really wanted to achieve this goal and had to be completely honest with myself, yet realistic. On checking my calendar, I realised that I had an upcoming birthday party, and although I would know some of the guests, the majority would be unknown to me. This was something which could potentially cause social anxiety – a known trigger and something which I needed to consider. I therefore set my quitting date for the day after the party: September 9th. I nodded my head as I often do to mark finality on a decision and waited for the day to come.
I scoured the internet for something other than the robotic pages of quitting cold turkey. I don’t feel like there are enough real-life documented accounts of this experience. We all know smoking is bad for you, but I’m not sure how overstating this is helpful. I found many sites which document the benefits, but not much from deciding to stop to actually stopping!
My experiences thus far!
My quitting day came and true to my word, I didn’t smoke a single cigarette. I was slightly hungover from the birthday party I attended and generally, did not smoke when hungover. As a result, my first non-smoking day went by like a breeze.
I went to work and announced several times I was no longer smoking, I think, more to convince myself than anyone else. It must have appeared as if I were a broken record or a small child who constantly repeats herself. I felt like I worked through the entire day and missed the reward of a cigarette during smoking breaks.
I am now very interested to know whether non-smokers take breaks and if so, what they do during these breaks?
Okay, things kicked up a notch as in, I was unable to sleep, waking up at 2am (only 3-4 hours sleep) during the night and experienced ‘annoying’ pounding headaches
Day Four to Eight:
I was exhausted and irritable as hell: my emotions were all over the place; one minute I wanted to cry, then the next, I was full of anger. My senses have become extremely heightened and I felt like Bionic woman with PMS. I could hear everything tenfold: from people chewing loudly, to spraying when they talked, and I immediately decided that I hated everyone: their pointless chitter-chatter and their high-pitched laughs. I imagined murdering each one of them, doing so with a smile on my face. At least, I think I had a smile on my face. I’ve always been told I have an expressive face, so probably not!
Is now a good time to mention I still haven’t been to the toilet?
Day Nine to Thirteen:
Sleeping became a lot better. Having said that, I tired myself out with extra activities such as swimming, walking and cycling. I found it annoying reading sites mentioning exercise, getting outdoors, blah blah blah, and cursed them for being self-righteous.
However, I stand corrected, as it is true exercising and outdoor activities really do help as in aids restful sleep, lifts your mood AND they also distract you! It’s a win/win situation.
With that said, I’m really missing my morning cigarette. As a result, I haven’t sat and watched sunrises in the same way. I’m also missing my after-meal cigarette; that cigarette which is just like the cherry on the top, the one which takes an average meal to an awesome meal. And since we’re on the subject of missing cigarettes, I’m also missing my after-work-sit-on-the-terrace-with-a-glass-of-wine- cigarette whilst I reflect on the day’s events and plan my evening.
I have had to become much more mindful and creative in choosing how I spend my free time. I don’t want to put myself in potential relapse situations by going to parties or socialising with people I am unfamiliar with in case it taps into my social anxiety. But then again, I don’t want to let myself get bored either… what to do?
I learnt here that you need to become selfish (and possibly anti-social) and put yourself first. Saying ‘no’ can be hard, especially when your heart says ‘yes’. Considering all triggers allows you to learn how to develop new coping strategies.
Yes, I’m loving the great outdoors and I am becoming an adrenaline junkie; not in doing scary things, rather in getting a natural buzz from doing exercise and feeling my heart rate increase. I decided to buy myself a bicycle with the gym voucher provided by work!
(You should enquire whether your employer offers anything like this.)
I have been a monster to live with these past two weeks, my emotions yo-yo-ing from irritability at people breathing, feeling guilty for being abrupt and mean, to crying about feeling left out as the smokers go for breaks without me, not to mention extreme feelings of loneliness. I keep wondering if this is worth it and have even entertained the idea of quitting quitting. But still, I have not smoked.
Day Fifteen to Twenty:
I’m so proud of myself now that the mood swings are getting better. I’m swinging maybe 3 times a day on average! I’m also eating more fibre to combat constipation and although the fibre is not exercising the bowels every day, it has improved significantly and doesn’t feel quite like I’m giving birth! (sorry-not-sorry)
Day Twenty-One to 1 month:
The mood swings have reduced significantly to a ‘normal level’. I use the expression ‘normal’ loosely, as mood swings are normal for non-smokers too. We are human too, so no need to feel guilty. My toilet habits have stabilised too. It’s all systems go!
By now, If you haven’t already downloaded one, I would suggest an app which tracks your progress so you can see it every day. Such apps record how many cravings you experience in a day, health benefits and your progress. You can also see how much money you have saved! I have been using Smoke-Free (For Android).
In addition, you can also journal your feelings either on the app or better yet, in a journal. If like me, cigarettes were your “friend”, as I have mentioned, you will need to learn new, healthier ways to manage emotions, celebrate the wins and relax/socialise. It’s a great opportunity to learn even more about yourself.
Personally, I feel as if I’m removing layers and layers of things which weren’t really me. By avoiding potential triggers such as big social nights out, I am drinking less and resting more, and as a result, rediscovering passions I love but for some reason had neglected, such as reading, writing, exploring, etc.
Now may be an awesome time to get back to that thing you loved. Wouldn’t you agree?
Which reminds me…
Earlier I mentioned feelings of loneliness. Need I remind you, if cigarettes were a friend, you will experience feelings of loss and vulnerability. It’s all part of the (grieving) process.
Become your own best friend and consider what the cigarette was masking.
You will also gain time. Yes, time. No one has ever mentioned this, but it’s amazing how much time and effort goes into smoking a cigarette. There’s buying them, ensuring you have the money to do so, walking to and from the shop/cashpoint, checking whether you have a lighter, then, finding the area to smoke. Like money, times adds up. Unlike money though, you cannot get it back. If you suffer from anxiety, you will find this also helps, as it’s one less thing to worry about.
Another thing that has been useful is coming up with a clear and definitive reason for wanting to quit and writing it down so that it’s clear in your mind. Why do you want to quit?
My reason for wanting to quit is: “I’m really enjoying my time here on this Earth and I don’t want anything which I can avoid getting in the way of that.”
Final thing, the fun thing… all this hard work needs to be rewarded. If you haven’t already, you need to come up with how you plan to reward yourself. Quitting smoking is incredibly hard as there’s so much more involved than just the cigarettes.
After my first month non-smoking, I managed to save enough for a three-day trip to Macedonia (flights AND accommodation) which I found here:
Here are some photos I took during my (short) time away:
Today marks my second month and although I have a way to go, if I learnt anything from my recent trip, it’s not the mountains. It’s the climb.
I would love to hear your tips and stories.
Love and light,