An Ongoing Journey With a Romanticized Addiction

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

-Mark Twain

I miss waking up early, as the sun was shaking the world from it’s cold sleep; sneaking out to the garage with my pack of smokes and a notebook. The solitude, the absolute beauty of sitting alone with my thoughts and a cigarette. The smoke filling me up and reminding me I was allowed to be hurt enough to consume it. It is hard to remember smoking any other way; it sits on my heart waving it’s unbridled romanticism of depression. It told me all the time I was broken but it made me feel beautiful for it. And maybe this is why I have relapsed over and over again despite the multitude of rewards of quitting- because the depression has never left but smoking made me more comfortable with it.

I think I had my first cigarette when I was sixteen; I heard smoking them could make you lose weight. At the time I was in my first serious relationship and I was with a man who would literally tell me he did not like the way I looked or the clothes I wore- embarrassing, of course, but I had long struggled with my self-image beforehand and this only further perpetuated my hatred of the way I looked. I thought a lot of my problems, maybe even all of them, could be solved by being thinner. I desperately wanted to be skinny because in my eyes, this was the key to being worthy and being beautiful. I had to have an older friend buy them for me of course and in the beginning I did not like them; I could tell they interfered with my anti-depressants, often making me nauseous and sometimes sick to my stomach. Not to mention I had to keep it a secret from my whole family, who were quite conservative and surely disapproving of that habit, and all of my teachers at school. Smoking was a physical thing I could do to change my identity when I was unable to reconcile the way my body looked with who I thought I was.

Needless to say, the relationship didn’t work out. But smoking did. In the years following I began to hang out with an older crowd and discovered how likable and funny people found me when I drank. So I drank a lot. The drinking was of course accompanied by many cigarettes and it became hard to distinguish between what was bad for me and what would make me feel better- turns out the two aren’t mutually exclusive. By eighteen I was smoking close to a pack a day and my depression was completely out of control. I remember being gone from home for several days, drinking and then being late to school and then working until eleven and then repeating it all over again, until I would completely crash and come home and climb into my mother’s bed and cry and tell her I wanted to drop out of high school. I was a mess and my self-medication was also abuse. But the cigarettes leveled me out. Difficult day? Better have a cigarette. Need to skip a meal? Better have a cigarette. They were an immediate fix to a problem with no solution. They kept me alive just long enough to keep hurting myself. Their existence in my life was a paradox.

I quit many times, sometimes with several months under my belt before relapsing. I would get so fed up with the smell, the tick of cravings, the disdain from the people I loved who knew it wasn’t good for me. But I always went back, because I was always still sick. And smoking offered me some solace, some affirmation that I was bad enough to warrant needing something so harmful- and that was important; it wasn’t scars on my arms but it gave me the same release. It was self-harm but under a guise that didn’t warrant questioning and didn’t demand an explanation.

I would have lots of relapse dreams; some of the most realistic dreams I’ve ever had. There was always guilt there, even (maybe especially) after I’d woken up, because it was a desire I still had and a fight I was still fighting. I think that was part of relapsing too, knowing it was inevitable and not wanting or being able to fight it anymore. Quitting was rewriting my identity and through these dreams I glimpsed a different version of myself, someone I longed to be. But relapsing rewrites your identity too.

It wasn’t until my current partner showed great disdain for it that my smoking became a serious wedge in a relationship. I had many friends and family who strongly disapproved and tried multiple times to help me quit but no one had ever made me feel like I had to choose them over smoking. At the time I can tell you it frustrated me to my core- like I said, it was part of my identity and I was furious someone wanted me to change who I was for them. Smoking was a source of great tension for us and we had many arguments for several months. I even successfully quit for a time but it felt forced and made relapsing easy; it wasn’t what I’d wanted.

Then a miraculous thing happened; I got pregnant. I was overjoyed and so was my partner. I quit that day and found it was much easier to refrain from smoking when I knew that disguised self-harm would also harm my child. Pregnancy was difficult because being healthy was difficult but not smoking came naturally. At one point I found an old purse and rummaging through the pockets, found an empty pack of cigarettes. I was horrified; I had actually forgotten I had ever been that person! It was easy to feel as if my addiction was years behind me; buried far beneath the surface. I even developed a disdain for the habit as well as the people who practiced it, forgetting just months separated me from the same thing.

But postpartum everything changed again; that intense longing for a cold morning spent wrapped in a blanket with a cigarette resurfaced. I ached to be that person again- someone with the ability to hurt themselves that way. It was a beautiful picture in my mind and I felt strongly it would help me cope with the intense feelings of loneliness and helplessness I was experiencing. Some battles never end.

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