15 March 2011

Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus has left town

So, the elephant in the room that I haven’t blogged about yet is my latest attempt to quit smoking. It may still be much too early to divulge my progress (I’m cigarette free for only 8 days), but, in the hopes of reinforcing my own resolve, I think I’m going to blog about my journey so far.

If you’ve been here before, I’d love your input and encouragement, and if you’re trying to quit too, I hope I can encourage you as well!

Let me preface:

I am not a casual, social, or sometimes smoker. I am a HARD CORE smoker. I love smoking, and do it as often as is possible. If I’m in a bar, it is likely I will consume an entire pack of cigarettes. I’ve been witnessed many times to have a cigarette hanging out of my mouth, lighter in hand, well before I exit a building, ready to fire it up the second I’m outside (think Patsy from AbFab) I think smoking is sexy. I think it is cool. I love the taste, smell, and feeling of smoking cigarettes. I secretly like it when strangers tell me it’s gross and that I should quit. I am also not stupid, and know how terrible cigarettes are for my health.

I decided quite a while back that I would try to quit smoking after Mardi Gras. Don’t worry, it wasn’t because of Lent (y’all know that the only things I like about church are the creepy statues and wine samples), but because I knew that I would have 5 solid days after Fat Tuesday before I had to return to work. I could lock myself in the house as long as necessary and slowly work myself back into the public sphere before jumping back into my regular routine.

Sequestering myself for at least two days was the first and most important part of my quitting strategy. So much of smoking is habit building. There are certain things that I do in my life that I have a truly difficult time separating from cigarettes. This is true for all smokers. I knew I needed to clearly identify my most salient smoking associations so that I could avoid/target them strategically. For me, the things most difficult to separate are: food/cigarette, talking on phone/cigarette(s), class break/cigarette, BEING OUTSIDE/CIGARETTE…yeah, I told you I was in a bad way.

So I stayed inside and did not talk on the phone. I played computer games. I ate candy, bread, pickles, and whatever else I wanted for the first two days. I also was a horrible bitch toward my husband…fortunately he is a very patient soul.

My biggest, most frightening moment during my first nicotine-free days actually ended up becoming my strongest ally in battling the cravings. I had an out-of-body/mind moment when I saw myself: mouth jammed full of candy, fingers jittering on the keyboard as I played my 780th game of tetris in an attempt to distract myself from the constant, annoying whining going on inside my head, becoming more and more frustrated, paranoid, and, quite frankly, sad. I managed to reach out and catch one of the discontented thoughts spinning around in my brain so that I could see it more clearly. It was a worry; a big ole squiggling, screeching worry…

...that no one would like me anymore if I quit smoking...

...That I would cease to be fun, desirable, needed, or maybe even noticed. My fear was that I would cease to be myself. The identity that I had so carefully nurtured as a teenager and become proud of as an adult was in jeopardy because cigarettes had almost always accompanied its development. I never had a job, went on a date, fell in love, felt anguish, traveled alone, drove a car, etc, etc, etc…without “being” a “smoker.” The majority of my icons and role models, from old movie stars to subculture paragons, either smoked or hung out in glamorously smoky venues. I had constructed a large chunk of my identity around an unhealthy, chemical stimulant. This realization completely terrified me, and put me in a stubborn sort of mindset. I am now totally determined to become a “nonsmoker.”

Here’s the biggest problem…I don’t know how to “be” a “non-smoker.”

This is the tricky part to explain to people. Even though I am horrified at how I felt my personality was so affected by cigarettes, that realization doesn’t offer me a solution to the problem. I still don’t feel quite like myself. The best thing I’ve come up with so far is to think of myself in a state of liminality, of metamorphosis; still me (at least mostly), but evolving into something *hopefully* more fun, more desirable, more cool.

After the worst days (the first 3 for me) were over, I let my husband convince me to go out for one glass of wine at a nonsmoking bar. It was still very stressful for me, but I was proud to walk home, smelling fresh and feeling successful. I cut back on my junk food consumption and sat on my front porch with a crossword puzzle a few times. I have been out several times now, had drinks, been around my smoking friends, even went to the St Patrick’s Parade, and I’m doing ok. I've almost completely cut out the junk and am doing a pretty strict two week diet to battle the natural bulging likely to occur when you cut out 20 years of chemical metabolism. I'm riding my bike every day. I think I may even be getting a bit of my sense of smell back. That feeling like I’m always a step away from myself, that there’s something missing, hasn’t gone away yet, and I don’t anticipate it ever will; at least not any time soon. But I’m just beginning this journey, and I’m feeling optimistic about it.

As for continuing the mission:

So far, I have a three part mantra, which I attribute much of my current success to:


A very kind friend/professor/fellow quitter gave me these three ideas to keep in mind whenever times get a little tough. I cannot thank him enough.

1. The urge to smoke WILL pass, whether you smoke or not.
2. Think about what you are gaining, NOT what you are giving up
3. No Exceptions (nicotine or smoke in ANY form or amount will send you backsliding)

It really has helped me, though number two has proven to be the hardest! Oh, and I can always listen to my favorite songs to keep me motivated! Why yes, I am still a complete nerd, nicotine or not.

A little motivational Dokken?

Super hardcore workout/health inspiration?

There's always the best song in the history of the world ever?


  1. Best wishes to you! I know how hard it is since I did it several years ago. I still struggle when I'm at a bar watching my husband's band play. Something about bars, beers, and cigarettes... I'll admit I sneak a few but that's the ONLY time I allow myself to smoke. Again, good luck!

  2. Thanks, Heather! I appreciate it!

  3. Help with #2.
    Find something you wouldn't normally buy for yourself, or spend a lot of money on. (A vacation, new wardrobe, etc)
    Keep a picture of it in a prominent place (by your computer, on your nightstand, etc).
    Every time the craving gets to be too much; put money in a special jar, find more pictures to look at, or make more definite plans toward your goal. Turning the antsy cravings into goal-reaching anticipation.

    An older friend of mine who quit smoking after 40 years would save her "cigs money" in a jar. Every 3 months or so she had enough money to spend the night at the beach, go out to a super nice dinner, and spend a few hours in the casino. (Something she and her husband could never afford to do before, since they both smoked.)

  4. That's a wonderful idea, Lily! Thanks! Especially since I'm itching for a little beach time this spring!

  5. Hang in there. I'll still love ya whether your quit or not... just stay boozy! ;) If you should fall off the wagon, you can always try again. If there's a next time, get a prescription for Wellbutrin... it really helped me when I quit a few years ago, AND made me lose a little weight! :)