On my new life as a non-smoker
A few weeks ago I celebrated six months without a cigarette. Since then, I’ve been trying to formulate something insightful to post here on Prattle. It would be easier for me to verbalize what it’s been like and what it means to me if I were always thinking about having quit smoking. But that’s just the thing: I’m not always thinking about having quit, and that’s why I was able to in the first place.
You see, I firmly believe in the obsession model of addiction; it at least holds true for me. The more I think about something I want, or something I shouldn’t have, the more I’ll need it. Then the compulsion to get it at any cost kicks in. It was that way with smoking. I was incredibly addicted, yes, but I was also obsessed with it. Before settling in for the night, I had to have enough cigarettes for the next morning. When heading out, I’d compulsively (as in, over and over) check my pockets to make sure I had my pack and my lighter. I kept a stash of matches in the house in case my lighter ran out.
And when money was tight, priority number one was to budget for cigarettes. Cigarettes first, food second. Now, what’s wrong with that picture?
It all came to a head last summer. When we talk about bottoming out, we’re usually referring to hard drugs and alcohol. I bottomed out from smoking. And then, in one of those miraculous moments of infinite clarity, I understood. I understood how smoking was not only destroying my present life, but my future life. I understood the insanity of directing the bulk of my meagre income towards an addiction that was only perpetuating a cycle of financial strain. I understood that if I didn’t do something about it, I would die. I saw myself twenty, thirty years from now, hooked up to oxygen and yet still being unable to breathe. I saw myself bald and retching from chemo and radiation for a cancer with a pathetic survival rate anyway. And, still in that moment, I knew that now was the time, and I knew that the obsession would be lifted.
This was the third time I’d been graced in this way, and this was the third time I was freed, against all odds.
As such, it was surprisingly easy to quit. I just didn’t think about smoking anymore. It wasn’t about willpower, for all willpower does is compell you to keep thinking about what it is you’re trying to resist, therefore perpetuating—even worsening—the obsession. For me, with the obsession effectively gone, it was as if a switch was flipped: from smoker to non-smoker, and that was that. I unlearned my habits quickly. What do you know, it’s easy to wait for the bus without smoking! It’s easy to not smoke before and after class! It’s easy to get up in the morning and have my usual couple hours’ coffee and computer time without chain smoking.
And the money. People always say things like, Think of all the money you’ll save! I don’t think of having saved money, because that implies I’ve got an empty pickle jar filled with cash somewhere. Rather, it’s money better spent on things like food, tuition and books, bills paid on time, and at least one congratulatory (yet necessary) purchase: the new computer. By a conservative estimate, I’ve “better spent” around $1700 by now.
But I’m not perfect, and neither is my “quitness.” A good 95% of the time, I forget that I ever smoked. However, there’s that 5% of the time when I forget I ever quit, and I’ll suddenly expect a cigarette, as if nothing had changed. At first those moments would bother me greatly, and I’d feel a sense of loss on top of the craving. Now I’ve learned to ignore them, and the feeling passes within seconds.
It’s been a very fulfilling experience. When I smoked, I used to daydream about how wonderful it would be once I had quit, once I had been freed, but I would hate thinking about just how I would get there. I’m so happy to finally be there.