While I’ve been unemployed I’ve chosen to use the time to tick a few things off my to-do list. Smoking; quit. Drinking; quit. That’s two things. According to an App I have to assist with quitting nicotine I’ve saved almost $4,000 since December 27th, 2016 when I threw away the full packet of Dunhill Blue, the green plastic lighter and, just to make life complete, the unopened 4-litre cask of cheap white wine.
I’d read the books, surfed the internet for pictures of destroyed lungs, and livers. I’d watched videos on cigarette production including the chemicals included to make them more ‘palatable.’ Truth be told, given that cigarettes taste like burning arse, I can’t imagine just how bad they’d taste without all the added extras.
I was ready. I had experienced my usual Christmas melancholia and decided that before I found a job, I was going to get my ‘shit’ together. I’m yet to meet anyone who has their shit together. I believe that life ‘theory’ to be a myth. But, it seemed like something I should be focused on. Getting my shit together.
Whenever you speak to people who have quit smoking, they tend to fall into one of two camps. There’s the “oh, it was a breeze. I just stopped. But, you have to be ready, or you won’t do it,” brigade and the “it was fucking hell, a living, breathing, hateful place in my life where I just wanted to die and in case you haven’t figured it out, I hate everything and everyone,” cheer squad.
This time – and for the first time – I fell into the ‘I just stopped,’ camp. Amusingly enough I’ve also – for the first time – reached the point where I will get up and walk away from someone who is smoking on a train platform or at a bus stop. I’m not rude about it but the scent is absolutely and utterly repulsive to me and that, more than anything, has changed my response to smoking and the idea of picking up another cigarette.
The other day I was in Gosford for a meeting and decided to catch the bus home. As I sat waiting for it to arrive, someone, somewhere, nearby lit up a cigarette. It went down my throat. It went everywhere. Following on from that, as soon as one person sparked up, another two or three people instantly reached into their bags. It wasn’t pleasant and by the time I got on the bus I felt ill.
Any other time I’ve quit smoking that would have been an excuse to go ahead and buy some. After all who could expect you to stay away from cigarettes when every bugger and their dog was smoking right near you. Instead I passively aggressively tweeted about inconsiderate arse-hats who don’t care about the people around them all the while blithely ignoring the fact I was, back in the day, probably the worst offender.
Quitting smoking – which is the primary focus of this post today – has been both much easier than I had thought it could be, and it’s 4 and a bit months of living hell. The smoking stopped nearly instantly. There have been about three cravings that I can remember, but they were nothing. Every time I’ve so much as smelled cigarette smoke – thanks, next door neighbour – I’ve felt nauseated.
It’s the ‘shock’ to the system I’m having trouble coping with. Whenever you see people, in videos or interviews, talking about quitting smoking they talk about the nicotine withdrawal but ignore the other issues that knock you on your arse.
For example; my teeth. After I quit smoking and got passed the first week of nicotine withdrawal, I noticed that my teeth and my gums were burning. All the time. From the minute I woke up to the moment I went to bed my gums and teeth felt like they were on fire. It drove me to distraction. I had bought a tooth whitening kit but stopped using it assuming that was the problem. Here’s the rub. When I asked my local dentist about the burning sensation, he told me it is quite common for people who smoked to report the sort of burning feeling I was. It can, apparently, be caused by a lack of B12 in a tiny number of cases but B12 aside it’s a rather common side effect of quitting smoking.
I have gone from chest infection to cold, to flu, to chest infection, to head cold, to abscessed teeth, to a chest infection, to lung infection, to constipation, to diarrhoea, to headaches, to ear infections. I feel like I can count the days I’ve felt well since I quit on one hand.
Each time I’ve considered making it go away with a cigarette I’ve realised all these things are my body’s way of experiencing shock. I’ve smoked since I was 17 years old. That’s a long time. I remember smoking when you could smoke on public transport, on aeroplanes, and in shopping centres.
I could easily make all the ‘wrongs’ I’m feeling disappear in a puff of smoke – pardon the pun – but to what end? Is it worth smoking again when your body is already 4 and a half months into complete recovery? Well, the answer to that is obviously no. I’ve got no intention of starting again, but I have to say sometimes when the ear is sore or the chest is tight; the head is throbbing, or the bowels are blocked, just knowing a cigarette would take it all away does make them tempting.
And therein lies their evil genius. Nobody likes smoking. I don’t care who you are. You like how they make you feel. Whether it’s feeling relaxed as you sit outside and just chill for a minute, or whether it’s feeling numb, it’s the feeling, not the smoking, you crave.
If you’d told me in December that the primary battle I would face would be against my body, not the nicotine, I may well still be smoking. Nicotine is easy; it’s the rest of the process that can be a bastard to deal with.
For me, I’m far enough into this to know I’m done with smoking. I have no interest in it. If I even consider it – in the middle of the tantrum- I only need to remember the pain, the lack of breath, and the current 30-kilo weight gain.
Next up on the ‘I need to address ‘ list is dealing with the weight gain. But for now, I’m just happy to be building my success one day at a time, not smoking, and finding ways to cope with stress that doesn’t involve smoking or drinking.
The long-term changes to your physical body after quitting smoking could lead you to pick up the plastic cigarette lighter, or it could be used to galvanise your determination to keep on moving on. I just keep reminding myself nothing lasts forever, not even the burning teeth and infected ears.