Admittedly, I am an anxious human being. Whether I’m worrying about work, global politics, the Ebola virus, or simply dealing with the thought that reality is an illusion caused by my brain playing an elaborate trick on me, some would call me tense. My brain is a WWE cage match and my thoughts are the Stone Cold, Goldberg and the Undertaker. There is no escape.
Nicotine has always helped me pull myself together when my thoughts decided to team up on me. A cigarette was a five-minute vacation from my brain spiraling into worst-case scenario territory. Naturally, I have decided to quit. I don’t know if I am doing it because I value my health or if the anxious way I feel is the only status quo I am comfortable with, but one thing is for sure: I’m quitting and it sucks.
How did this all start?
I don’t really know when I started smoking. At some point during my four-year brownout that most people refer to as undergrad, I vaguely remember having a laissez-faire attitude about my health.
“My body and I have an understanding.”
“We’re letting it run its course; the pieces will fall where they may.”
“I’m setting my sails to the wind. We’ll see where the ship lands. Life’s about the journey, not the destination.”
These were all stupid, STUPID things I said with a snarky little smirk when people suggested I might want to slow down. I’d then tip back the entirety of my drink at the bar and light up another cigarette. Because you know, why not? It probably seemed pretty cool in my stupid twenty-year-old head.
If I ever encountered my twenty-year-old self, I’d punch him in the face.
“Hey asshole, life isn’t ABOUT the journey, it IS the journey. The destination is death, you fucking idiot,” I would say.
Nothing would change, but fuck would it feel good. Then I’d take some Tums to deal with the heartburn that all of his drinking and smoking is causing me today. I’d also say sorry to him because I’ve been a little moody since I quit.
Why did I quit?
I’m 23 years old and I’m dealing with daily heartburn. At first it was moderate and didn’t really bother me, but I was also unemployed. Now I work, and every inconvenience is quite possibly the worst thing that has ever happened in my life. Coupled with a constant underlying dread caused by anxiety and self-deprecation, I’d say my body chemistry is like that of an overturned semi in an eighteen-vehicle pileup. There’s a small fire in the cab and the gas is leaking, they just haven’t had the pleasure of meeting.
To deal with this, I made the rational decision people in their mid-twenties make. I chose to self-diagnose on the Internet instead of visiting a doctor because it’s cheaper. Yeah I have full benefits, but seriously, fuck co-pay. That’s bar money, which will be used for self-medicating later.
Like a kid in a child services office after a visit with their creepy uncle, I pointed at an androgynous body to show WebMD where I hurt. Once I ruled out cancer and Ebola (whew) I read through the fifteen other diseases and ailments that could possibly be affecting me and landed on GERD. It’s pretty much constant heartburn and acid-reflux.
But…why did I quit smoking?
If you aren’t a retired Jewish man who has been cheating on his dairy free diet, there are a few things that cause GERD. Fortunately for me, they are all what I cram in my young indulgent face. Alcohol, caffeine, fried foods, nicotine, spicy foods, red meat…the list of things that cause GERD reads off like a Family Feud category of shit I love but shouldn’t have. Survey says: I’m screwed.
Of all of those, I’d have to say nicotine was the only standout that I could realistically make an attempt at quitting. I live in Texas. Red meat, fried food, and spicy stuff are like the three main building blocks of our food Alamo (pyramids are middle-eastern), so those were out. More specifically, I live in Austin and booze is inescapable. Plus, caffeine is for work so I wasn’t quitting coffee. It looked like I had to go cold turkey on the tobacco. This should have been easy enough since I wasn’t really a smoker…or so I thought.
What IS a smoker?
Throughout my college years, and up until now, I had never really considered myself a smoker. But looking back over the countless times I redefined what a “smoker” was to myself, I guess I had to reevaluate my standards.
First I wasn’t a smoker because I never smoked. Thanks, D.A.R.E. Then, I wasn’t a smoker because I only did it once in a rare while. Way to go, D.A.R.E. Then I wasn’t because I only borrowed some from friends when we drank, then because I only bought them when I was out drinking. The next thing you know, I was having a beer solely because I subconsciously knew a cig came in tow. What in the literal fuck happened, D.A.R.E?
“You’re not like all those other smokers,” I’d tell myself. “You only smoke when you drink (which is four times a fucking week), but sometimes you drink so you can smoke.” Yeah, you’re right, me! That makes total sense!
Let me tell you this, it’s a lot easier to explain something to yourself than it is to a doctor. Your brain totally understands your excuses. But if you told your doctor you were consuming alcohol because it gave you an excuse to smoke, they’d call you a smoker…and an idiot. WebMD never calls me an idiot. I just feel like one when I use it. But it’s free! And so is the stress of thinking you have a terminal illness when guessing your diagnoses…things even out.
How’s it going?
I knew the habit was bad, but I never thought I had a problem because I could quit at any time. I didn’t quit because I wasn’t addicted. Quitting would be admitting I was. The brain is a powerful thing and will go through some incredible mental gymnastics to teach you how to unlearn your own guilt. Tobacco reinforces this and it has me by the balls.
After a meal, after sex, when you’re drinking, when you watch Mad Men, all of these scenarios trigger a craving. You want to know the best way to quit smoking? Stop eating, stop drinking, and stop getting off. Pretty much stop living, because the things that are supposed to distract you from nicotine are what make you want it so badly when they’re over.
The cravings aren’t even the worst part. No one ever tells you this, but when you quit smoking there is a mental fog that you’ll randomly find yourself in throughout the day for the first few weeks. That and your libido can get… squirrelly. Like ‘seventh grade and the comparatively hot teacher is wearing a thong’ squirrelly.
You may find yourself at a drive-through having to pay the cashier, but you don’t remember what you ordered. You may look down to get your wallet and notice you are pitching a tent like it’s algebra class. When you look up, your foggy gaze will meet the cashier’s thousand-yard, retail-induced, dead-behind-the-eyes stare. There is no catharsis without your cigarettes. There is no God to save you from that moment. It passes and you devour grease food inside the comfort of your apartment so you can forget. At least that’s how I hear it goes down.
In truth, smoking was amazing. It might have been the coolest thing ever looking back on it, but I’m really glad it’s over. Do I miss blowing smoke from my face like a dragon and feeling the warm churn of it in my lungs? Re-read that sentence and guess. But I’m past it.
There’s a point when you get sick of needing something, especially when you are actively doing at the risk of your own health. I quit because I knew it could kill me. Are there pros other than not dying? Sure. I can run a little farther…which is nice.