As you might imagine from the title, I’m an ex smoker. I smoked for about 5 years, around half a pack a day on average for the last 3 years of smoking, gone cold turkey 8 months ago. The article name is a joke, the only real step you need to do is never smoke another cigarette. Congratulations, you are now an ex smoker. I’ll try to articulate my thoughts about the whole experience, how I started, why I stopped and what kind of impact did it have on my life.
TL;DR version: if you’re smoking you need to stop as soon as humanly possible. It’s hard for some people, it is easy for some – I was fortunate enough to be in the latter group.
Some facts, por favor?
Smoking is not a habit as some like to say. Masturbating before you go to bed is a habit, twirling your hair is a habit, picking your nose in public is a habit. Wikipedia says: “Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.” Yes, smoking is a full blown addiction just like those alcoholics, crack cocaine users, heroin junkies and so on. Being addicted to nicotine is far more socially acceptable, and up until very recently in our history was practically considered cool. I don’t think I need to go into much detail as how it’s bad for the smoker. The cigarette risk is cumulative and everyone is very prone to dismiss it since it’s relatively harmless in the very short run. You can’t OD on the cigarette, or smoke so much that you’re unable to come in at work in the morning. A lifelong chain smoker can smoke up to a million cigarettes. Try to imagine them all on the floor of your apartment.
Smoking in Croatia is very widespread; it’s allowed in all the bars, pubs, discos, cafes, etc. The estimated numbers in the country are that the third of the adult population are smokers. That number is absolutely devastating for a country which has a modest population of about 4 million and has more than 8000 deaths deaths per year attributed directly to smoking tobacco. Lung cancer was practically unheard of in the medical community before cigarettes were brought en masse to the general public. I realize you have to die of something, and not all cancer can be attributed to smoking. This is one of those very rare times in life where you can avoid a terrible disease easily – by not smoking. Cancer is not the only unwanted side-effect, you can get chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cardiovascular issues, etc. The list is pretty long, and as an average smoker you can definitely expect to have a shorter lifespan on average compared to your fellow nonsmoker. It’s not a 100% chance that you’ll develop cancer, or COPD, or whatever. It’s more like around 50% that you’ll have some adverse effects of the constant smoking which will dramatically decrease your quality of life, decrease your lifespan or even die from it before your time. Feel like rolling the dice?
Why smoke & how does the addicted mind work?
Sure, I’ve laid down all the facts, smoking is terrible, smoking is destructive, smoking is expensive. You might ask: “MrKitty, if you’re so smart why did you smoke the 10000-15000 cigarettes, a conservative estimate? Dumbass.” To this, I have no real answer or explanation, other than – I got addicted like all the other poor bastards. What current smokers and never-smokers have to understand, addiction is surprisingly transparent to the addict. I didn’t really comprehend the reality of my addiction until well after I had stopped completely. When you’re a smoker, the cigarette becomes like a natural extension of you. Of course you’re gonna light one up after lunch, at coffee, at a pub, while drinking beer, walking home etc. You find solace in the cigarette, you find companionship as dumb as it sounds. All of this is, of course, complete and utter horseshit. You don’t find anything in the cigarette, other than the need for more cigarettes and more anxiety. You start smoking these things after a while without even getting any kind of a kick. Your body builds up such a tolerance that you basically only replenish the nicotine in your body without the nice feelings it once had brought you.
Ask any smoker why they smoke despite knowing all the bad stuff about the “habit”. You’ll almost always get the answer “Because I get a kick out of it!” They don’t especially like it, they’re trapped in a vicious cycle of maintaining nicotine levels in their bodies. There is no satiating the hunger, it’s almost always there.
It’s 3:30AM, the club is almost closed. My smoker friends are all out of cigarettes and I maliciously laugh at them. The last one was shared and smoked between the two of them. They’re so used to the cigarettes with their beers that they’re totally cranky now even though they HAVE JUST SMOKED the last cigarette. So, the club is closing, I finished my beer, I say it’s time to call it a night, I stutter to my bike and I go home. But no, the two of them decide to take a walk to the gas station which is some 2 kilometers away from the club and in the wrong direction from their homes to buy a pack of cigarettes or two, and of course proceed to smoke it. Even though it’s the weekend and 4 AM in the morning, they’ve had busy days and they could have just gone home, but no… they went in the cold and bought cigarettes. Yeah, they’re getting their kick all right. If they ever read this post, they’ll recognize themselves, no hard feelings guys. :)
I know I’m taking the moral high ground now, but in my defense I was never so irrational about this stuff. If the cigs ran out, oh well, they ran out, I’d just buy some more in the morning don’t you worry. The addict rationalizes his addiction by calling it a habit, and claiming it somehow improves their lives and their social life. It does nothing of the sort. I gradually started smoking, it was just a couple of cigarettes here and there, nothing special. Little by little I increased the dosage. The little voice inside me kept telling me that this is wrong, but I somehow didn’t care. Cigarette smoking has a level of self-destructiveness attached to it. At first I’d get sick from the smoking, but I kept on pushing like a brave little soldier. So you get used to them, you buy them as soon as they run out, you can’t imagine drinking a fucking cup of coffee without a cigarette, or a beer. Anything, really, you always find some reason to smoke. You justify and rearrange your whole day to smoke. It is a disaster if you leave the house without the pack and lighter.
How and why did you quit, MrKitty?
In the last months it really started to bother me. I’ve been feeling nauseous a lot of the time, I was feeling physically weak. Nothing that can’t be cured with a cigarette, of course. A friend of mine and his girlfriend came to visit me over one weekend in May. Of course, we smoked, we drank, we went out. That Sunday I had an uneasy ache in my lungs. I felt that I really poisoned myself this time. I saw them out of the building, and bummed a cigarette from my friend while they were waiting for the taxi to take them to the bus station as they were leaving. Wow, that cigarette really didn’t hit the spot. In the elevator ride up I decided, okay, I’m qutting. For reals this time, honest to $DEITY!
I had tried quitting already two years before that. I somehow overestimated myself, I got this shit. I can do it. I’ll just smoke a couple over the weekend with the guys, no big deal. Yeah, that didn’t work out. I held out a couple of weeks and basically continued where I had left off. Not sure what was my rationalization then, but it was apparently enough to keep smoking. The first couple of days were no problem. I had missed the smoking to some extent, but it wasn’t terrible. I noticed how much of my daily routine was revolving around smoking. I suddenly didn’t take smoke breaks with my coworkers. I decided to make a compromise, I’ll continue some of this routine so I’d go out with them to keep them company while refraining from smoking myself. I didn’t rob myself of anything I’d been doing before. I still went out to bars, went out to coffee, beers etc. When I was drunk, I would definitely get the urge. Someone is always smoking, you’re always in temptation to have “just one”. If you’re serious about quitting, you need to buckle down and ride it out. Yeah, you’ll want to smoke, you can’t get rid of it. But sooner or later, you find something, and you’ll start appreciating life more as a non smoker.
I started picturing myself getting sick, having to explain to my now small son why I’m dying of lung cancer or something. You might call that hypochondriacal, but if I go down the line of smoking that is a more likely scenario than I would like to have for myself. Well, I said fuck that! This is something that I’ve been putting off long enough, maybe I should just bite the bullet and ride that shit out. So the days went on by, I had no real cravings during the day. The thought of taking up a smoke was following me like a spectre for some time. My friends that would usually smoke with me had to learn that I don’t smoke anymore. The addiction was strong in me after all, its amazing how it haunted my thoughts, how much time I actually spent thinking about cigarettes. I didn’t want to smoke them, but I was always compelled to think about it, getting all euphoric at times that I’m not a smoker anymore. Like a curse had been lifted from me, I’m finally free.
Pros & Cons, in alphabetical order?
- Your taste buds and smells totally awaken. You get used to it, but in the meantime everything smells and tastes delightful. Enjoy it until it becomes the norm. (aprox. 1 – 4 weeks from the last cig)
- Your stamina is increased by a lot, unbelievable (a couple of months since stopping)
- You start living a different life, I’ll cautiously say, a healthier life. (from the last cigarette until you die)
- Financial gain. Cigarettes are expensive, wherever you are, it’s always affordable in the end, but they’re not too cheap.
- Too many for this puny bullet list.
While they may be free of the 4000 chemicals the anti-smoking lobby is always mentioning, it’s still nicotine and you don’t want to feed the addiction, get rid of it completely, so you don’t succumb to temptation of having that “just one” real cigarette. I know people that have gone onto the E-cigarette, only to chain smoke a pack or two because they were “stressed”. Newsflash, the stress mostly stems from the fact that you’re going through nicotine withdrawal most of the time, and the E-cigarettes do nothing but pump you full of nicotine and are prolonging your misery.
They’re mostly big international conglomerates with a lot of cash flow basically selling us an addictive, expensive, highly dangerous poison. It’s somehow OK, while a little weed is a Problem. I guess the taxation of cigarettes comes in nicely, so everyone is happy. It’s okay not to give these guys money. Here’s a John Oliver video covering it, he’ll say it better than me.
Any conceivable conclusion?
A colleague of mine at work unwittingly gave me the inspiration to really try quitting. He too, was addicted, and doesn’t smoke anymore. So, it can actually be done? Be a non smoker? I’ve browsed through a website called whyquit.com. A relatively weird site, it looks like it came from the nineties, and it probably is. The guy behind it is called Joel Spitzer. He never smoked which is weird when you hear at first. How can he know anything about it? Well, he can, he never smoked and right off the bat he’s better than you, harsh as it sounds. He has an almost evangelistical approach to treating this addiction, and I feel like he’s a good person. It’s hard to say about people like Joel, you get bits and pieces from the distant American culture, but this guy seems all right. He talks about it from a very nice angle. Here is his palmolive bottle demonstartion. He finishes all his videos with “Never take another puff!”
Whether your motivation is the cash influx, or something else it doesn’t matter, it’s hard to give up the drug. Joel says in one of his videos that if you’re going into smoking, you are putting yourself at very real, albeit distant in time risk. Sure, you might live through your life as a two packs a day smoker and die on your 92nd birthday, or you might die from lung cancer at the ripe age of 54. I’ll go with the option that at least precludes lung cancer and a whole palette of nasty ailments. :)
I realize I may come off as a bit sanctimonious, that was never my intention. If you got any smarts, you’ll drop it cold turkey and never look back. Try to lose the nicotine, everyone has got to find their own way. There is no downside to quitting smoking, always keep that in mind. Smokers are addicts and overcoming an addiction is not easy. I bet a lot of people made it their resolution to stop. My only advice is to try cold turkey, convince yourself of whatever you need in order to stay clean.
How am I now?
I don’t think about smoking anymore. I have a lot of smoker friends, they smoke their stuff, I don’t and that’s pretty much it. The memories of me smoking are becoming unreal, have I ever smoked? It left a little bit of emotional scarring I must confess. Not sure why, I’m probably not going to have health issues, but still, it’s unbelievable that I fell victim to such a dangerous, highly addictive substance. At least I learned a valuable lesson from all of this, I managed to get myself addicted and get myself out of it. Perhaps I’ll be more careful next time with something else. In the meantime, I’m watching my son grow older, enjoying time with my lovely wife and generally taking care of myself and enjoying life as much as possible. If I’m not gonna do it, who is?