I quit smoking October 10th, 2009.
It was a Saturday morning. Alex had come to West Virginia for a visit, and we were staying at a crummy little hotel that, just four years earlier, had been quite lovely. Alex is terribly allergic to nicotine, so I couldn’t smoke in his presence or have nicotine on my hands or clothes where it could come in contact with his skin. He also just hated the smell. So stumbled out of bed, I threw on some clothes I didn’t plan to wear later that weekend, and headed outside in back of the hotel to smoke. As you do.
I started smoking when I was not quite fourteen, but since I was in school and didn’t exactly have a paying job, I smoked very little – maybe three or four after school, a little more on weekends. Once I quit school, I became a heavy smoker. I mean really heavy. At one point in college I was smoking two packs per day. When I went to visit Alex, however, I had to cut way down. Partly because I couldn’t smoke in his vicinity, and partly because it was a hassle removing all evidence that I had smoked afterward. Sometimes I could brush my teeth and wash my hands and he’d be fine. Other times, I’d have to shower and wash my hair. So this particular weekend, I think I’d had two cigarettes after he picked me up at work at five p.m. on Friday, when any other evening I’d have put away half a pack at least, probably more. I enjoyed smoking. It was one of the few pleasures I had.
So I’m outside behind the hotel smoking that morning, and the cigarette tasted really good because I hadn’t had one in more than twelve hours, when I started getting dizzy. I thought it would pass, so I sat down on the sidewalk. Then I started getting really sick. I had never had a cigarette make me feel like this before. As soon as I thought I could move without throwing up, I literally crawled up the back stairs to the hotel room and collapsed on the floor. I thought maybe it was some sort of sign. I decided I would quit right then.
I haven’t had a cigarette since. You’d think that would be something to celebrate…but I’m actually sort of bitter.
Quitting smoking is hard. No one tells you exactly how hard it is, really. My Dad, who’s quit no less than four times, cautioned me about gaining weight. I remember hearing a lot that I’d be “grouchy” or “irritable.” Oh, no. No, no, no. There is so much more to it than that, and not everyone’s experience is the same. It’s still withdrawal, and even though it’s not “hard” drugs, your body fights it just the same. You will be moody for at least a couple of days, if not longer. Touchy – stuff that would never have bothered you before will now. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are benefits to quitting smoking, they say. Lung function and breathing is supposed to improve. You have more stamina. Your circulation gets better. I haven’t seen any of that. Every day for the last year, I’ve gotten off the bus at the station and walked home, up the steps set into the hill, and in the side door of our building. And every day, I am huffing and puffing by the time I get to the top. Forty-five to fifty minutes on the treadmill every day for the same period of time, and still I can’t climb the hill to the apartment without feeling like I’m going to die? My hands, feet, and nose still get so cold I can barely stand them, and I have a hell of a time warming them up. My metabolism is completely screwed. I gained twenty pounds that I’ve been trying to lose for the last three years. The “quit zits” I sprouted right after I quit didn’t go away; it took two rounds of Doryx and a prescription cream called Acanya gel to get it under control. I’m still fighting it, and I never had bad acne before. I had thought my skin was oily before, but since I quit, it’s been a battle to keep makeup on all day. I use oil control lotion under my makeup and something called “de-slick,” and I can still soak a blotting paper by noon. My sleep patterns have never returned to what they were before I quit, either. I’ve always had some sleep issues but they were never this bad. I have more trouble falling asleep now and the quality of sleep I do get is really bad. I had completely kicked my Coke addiction several years prior, only to turn right back to the dark, sweet nectar after I quit smoking. Thank the Gods that didn’t last very long. But now I’m completely hooked on ginger ale!
So I feel less like celebrating, and more like I worked really hard to give up something that I really, truly enjoyed, and got very little in return.