Posted by: mew | October 28, 2009

thirteen and a half weeks

Well, now you know part of my quit-smoking secret:  don’t count the days.  In fact, forget about the fact that you’re a former smoker going through the first important weeks and months of a non-addicted lifestyle.

To quote a brilliant advertising campaign:

Just Do It.

So I did — and here I am.  So why aren’t I more excited?  I should be thrilled.  I thought I would be, if I ever managed to make it this far, which seemed pretty far-fetched when I was climbing the walls those first few weeks.

And before I talk about any of this, let me just say, for those of you contemplating quitting smoking, I still think it’s  a good idea to stop smoking.  But I want to be real.  It’s not all sunshine and roses.  I am not a natural cheerleader, either, so I won’t even try to pretend that I’m 100% thrilled to have quit and that I feel like it was the best decision I ever made.  But if you’re getting ready for a quit attempt any time soon, keep your resolve strong and stop reading right about… HERE.


Now let the honesty pour forth.

For one thing, that stuff about weight gain — yeah, everything you’ve heard is true.  A doctor friend of mine told me you cannot escape this side effect because the tar that’s been coating the lining of your intestines is now getting cleaned off, and so even if you continue to eat and exercise exactly as before, your body is now actually absorbing more of the nutrients you chew and swallow.  This sounds like good news, an uncoated intestine — only I’m pretty sure I didn’t continue to eat as usual, but snacked as necessary, especially in those first couple of weeks, so I wouldn’t pick up a damned cigarette.

My clothes don’t fit now, and that makes me grumpy and depressed, which makes me want to pick up a cigarette.  Only now I don’t have access to my preferred coping mechanism for depressive thought patterns.

Believe me, I tried.  After a bit of family communication that left me frazzled and angry, I actually tried smoking one — but got no emotional relief from it.  The Magic was gone.  All gone.  (I’m hearing The Violent Femmes sing “It’s gone, Daddy, gone” in my head as I type this.)

Instead, my furious act of desperation netted me a raging headache within minutes and unbelievably bad breath when I woke up the next morning.  Not designed to raise my mood.

And oh, I miss my coping mechanism — not in a craving, aching, needy kind of way.  More in the kind of way that you just sigh and roll up your sleeves and get down to work finding other ways for you, which may not always be easy to do, and which may honestly not be the healthiest alternatives.  It would be a hell of a lot easier to flick a lighter and get calmer and emotionally steadied with a few inhalations.  And no matter how many conscious breathing exercises I do, believe me, none of them works as quickly or efficiently as the drug nicotine hitting the ol’ membranes.

I wish I was the kind of girl who just turned into a yoga nut as a result of losing her comfort mechanism.  But aside from spending a tiny bit more time on my writing and art, I haven’t noticed huge gains in the personal development area.  It’s just life as usual, only plumper and with better breath and wider mood swings.  And with maybe slightly less money because of needing to buy clothes that fit.

Woo-hoo!  Get out the party hats!

My mood would probably be better about all of this except for one biggie:  F. started smoking again.  (That’s how I had access to the cigarette when the family stress blew up in my face.)  Along about week eight, I think it was, he started having one or two just to push himself to the limit when he does his all-nighters for university.  I was slightly taken aback by this development, but not really worried.  The nicotine was being used as a drug for a specific purpose, and it didn’t seem likely to me to become a problem as long as he limited it to that and kept it out of my sight.

Need I tell you that F. is back to his regular old habit?  That I see cigarettes nearly every day — and smell them in his hair, embedded in his clothes — and our laundry basket, even smell it on his pillowcase when I lay down at night?  That he’s lost the teensy bit of weight he’d gained when we quit and I feel like a huge walrus by comparison?  That I’m jealous he could so easily switch back to the easy route?

That I feel I can no longer go out on my own porch because of the smell, and the ashes?  Just the sight of the ashtray causes faint nausea — weird, no? — which is why I couldn’t post a photo of cigarettes for this non-smoking anniversary post.  And I don’t like that I only spend time outside when working in the garden or dumping a load of vegetable peelings into the compost bin, taking a walk up the lane or taking out the trash, going to the car or refilling the bird feeder.

I want to sit down and relax and just stare at the leaves changing to gold and scarlet here under the forest canopy.  I really like to write outside.  In fact, that used to be the only place I would do any serious writing.  It makes me feel mournful and slightly crazy that this is no longer an option.

Anyway, that last one would’ve been a problem no matter what, because our new neighbors moved in two weeks ago, and she’s a smoker, too.  She kept bumming cigarettes from F. when she had the flu, and I wanted to handcuff her to the bed when she kept coming outside in the cold and damp, with a thick, broken, hacking, wet-sounding cough, to have a smoke.

She told us when she moved in that she only has two or three a day because she doesn’t want her kindergardener to realize she smokes.  But he has to know.  She smokes more than half a pack a day, some days approaching a full pack.  As an ex-smoker, I’m unfortunately rather observant — especially when it’s going on right outside the window I look out of as I work.  Maybe it’s time to move the desk…

Maybe you can see why it’s been a long time between my last post about quitting smoking and this one.  There’s a lot going on.  Sigh.

My best practice at this moment is to just come into the moment, go on about my business, and not think about it at all — if I can manage that.

This is Gnarls Barkley covering ‘Gone, Daddy, gone.’  I like this version, also — although he sounds like he’s exhaling smoke on the very last syllable of the song.  It’s probably meant as just a melodramatic sigh; right?

(Photo of neurotic-looking flower is mine, heavily edited.  It’s really lovely in actuality, and these blossoms get regularly photographed over on my other blog.)



  1. Your experience so reminds me of my own. Many years ago, I also quit using a substance (not cigarettes). There was a point, a few months into my recovery, where I said to myself: this is what I was trying to escape from. You discover that you are going to have exactly the life you always had, minus a habit that brought you some degree of pleasure — regardless of how unhealthy it was.

    That moment was a bit of a letdown for me, because I really had fantasies about how great my life was going to be once I quit. On the plus side, though, I can honestly tell you, it gets better as time goes on. I think it just takes a while before you can move from one stage to the next. Not to use a lame “butterfly from a caterpillar” metaphor… but you see what I’m saying.

    • Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve gone beyond this point now, thank goodness. I see what the addiction did for me at the time, and how I can move forward without it. But I have empathy for all stuck there, or formerly stuck there.

      I really think that the nuances of quitting smoking (or other substances) are not discussed honestly that much in our culture. It’s a very black & white conversation at the moment.

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