I Quit and Now I Breathe

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I was a smoker for nearly 12 years. That's insane to me. I never thought I would become addicted.  I warn kids I see smoking that it will eventually control their lives. They don't believe me.

Hunched over, hugging myself, when I smoked, I was a little a ball; a smoking nervous wreck. I used it as a means of escape: Escape from work. Escape from a party. Escape from family. When I smoked, I was in my own bubble where actions had no consequence and instant gratification was a treat I always deserved. It was "me time". I told myself I needed it and that it was good for my health because it calmed me down. I have low blood pressure and I joked that smoking brought it up to normal. 

Quitting took a full year of re-training my brain. I decided I wanted to quit. This is key. You have to want to quit. So many people told me to read "the book" but I didn't. Instead, I gave myself rules. I told myself: No smoking until after breakfast. This was an eye opener: I often smoked in lieu of eating and I felt better eating breakfast first. I felt better realizing that I could find the time to decide what to eat, to make it and then to eat it. Truthfully, many times after I established this rule, I would go downstairs and smoke immediately after. Once I got better at following this rule, I tried to adhere to it for all meals of the day. It was strange to force feed myself just to be allowed to smoke a cigarette after. Realizing my brain prioritized smoking over food was helpful to the cause. 

I stopped smoking while walking. I would tell myself that once I got to my destination I was allowed a cigarette. Man, did I hustle to get places after that rule was enforced. 

Mindlessly smoking was a tough one. Sometimes I would look down and be smoking but not able to remember lighting up or making the decision to smoke. Sometimes, I would start smoking then realize I had tossed my cigarette mindlessly somewhere not remembering when or where. If someone else was smoking, I would smoke. A rule I established was: Unless I was planning on smoking, I didn't smoke just because it was an option or offered. I broke this rule many times.

The more focused on quitting and stopping, the more I recognized the idiosyncrasies of an addict. This helped me too. I began to cut down. I would tally my cigarettes day by day and week by week. I went down from 15 a day to 10 to 5 over four months. Then, I was stuck on 5 a day for a long time. One before work, one after work, one when I got home and inevitably there would be more that I needed. I did need them: I was still addicted. 

Finally, a little over 3 months ago, I got firm with myself. I told people I had quit so that I was forced to adhere lest I be found out. By this time, I could smell it on other people and knew that I had smelled bad for 12 years. It clung to the air in my house. I opened the windows. I washed everything. I hid the beautiful vintage ashtrays. I threw out all the lighters. Before bed, I would sneak outside and in the dark. I would smoke half a cigarette, overwhelmed with guilt and pleasure. 

Finally, a big change in my life happened and it was the turning point. I smoked half a cigarette a day for 2 weeks and that was that. I have been smoke free since an unknown date. I'm not counting. It's been a little over 3 months. 

Now, my "me time" is spent cooking and then eating. I am off-duty to the world. I don't answer my phone, I turn up my music, I listen to the food and I breathe. 

Bad Brain Club

It seems I am drawn to friends who struggle with mental health. We "get" each other and know what to say when the other is having a "bad brain day".  

But to all of you who don't understand, here are the things to do and not do: 

1. You can say something like, "It will pass" but that doesn't make it hurt any less, so maybe follow up that statement with "but I know that doesn't make you feel any better now. I'm sorry you're having a hard time. I love you" 

2. Don't expect me to know why I feel depressed/wonky/weird/anxious/like a piece of garbage. So do not ask "Why?" or "What's wrong?". Just say "How are you doing?" and then listen. 

3. Don't ask if there is anything you can do: I probably don't know what I need. Don't ask if I want to eat or have eating anything. Put food in my hands. Just bring over soup or chips and leave them by the door.  I might not want to talk to you, but I'll take delivery. I might take all day to open that door, but when I do, I will feel loved and taken care of.  

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4. Don't say "I'm here for you" and leave it at that. Be persistent. Actually be there. Call. Call again and leave a message when I don't pick up. Leave a note under the door. Text that you're outside and I can decide if I want company or not. 

5. Please be patient. I lash out. I am critical. I am negative. When I'm not feeling good, I pull everything down with me. Notice when I behave like that, and ask me how I'm doing. I'll probably be honest and say "I am depressed". It feels good to acknowledge it out loud. When I feel better later, I'll be thankful you let me stew without making me feel guilty about my poor behaviour. I am sorry for this bad behaviour.

6. Do NOT suggest ways I can make myself feel better. Trust me, people with depression know more than you about what they are "supposed to do" and what is "supposed to work". Assume your suggestions are ignorant and assume we will feel insulted if you offer a solution to our bad brains. 

 

Lately, I have been incredibly depressed. I have been drinking too much. I "faked it" on social media by posting old photos when really I barely ate a thing in the last three days. I drank all day. Last night, I wallowed in a bath for hours with a bottle of wine. I got hammered and blacked out. 

One person caught on. She was persistent. She said the right things. She said "I'm sorry" and "Are you talking to anyone else about this?" and "Have they been helpful?" . She kept the conversation going until I stopped and she didn't push further. She checked in on me the next morning too. 

I woke up this morning feeling like the darkness had lifted, but I was skeptical and tread lightly as if I was going to wake the beast. At lunch, working at the cafe, I got anxious and frustrated, but it was just normal "feels" and not the crushing hopelessness that would have destroyed me the day before. 

I feel ok now. I made a nice dinner (after I ate a bag of chips). I'm having a beer, but that's all I'll have. I'm caring for myself in the ways I can. 

Thank you to the few people who gave me those knowing sideways glances and hugged me extra tight this week. 

Also a side note: I tried yoga. I had baths. I turned down the lights. I turned on my Himalayan salt rock lamp. I slept a lot. I listened to calming music. I drew. I wrote. I used an essential oil diffuser.

Only time heals and only feeling like I'd be missed helps.