Quitting Smoking: 1 Year On – The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done
This past week, I celebrated one whole year since I quit smoking.
That’s not one whole year since I moved to vaping, or used an array of pills, patches, and potions to get me through the day.
It’s one whole year of just me, whole bunch of fresh air, and a hell of a lot of hard work.
I don’t believe I’m exaggerating. when I say that quitting smoking has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I know there are people who can stub out their last cigarette and go on happily with the rest of their lives, never craving, or even thinking about, another cigarette.
Those are people who find quitting smoking easy.
To those people I doff my cap, but believe me – I’m not one of them.
I found it tough, and I believe that the main reason I found it tough is that nicotine addiction is as much mental as it is physical.
I’ve always thought that the biggest enemy most of us face is our own thoughts, and quitting smoking is a perfect example of this.
There develops this side of you that says ‘just have one, it’ll make you feel better,’ or even ‘you’re going to give in and smoke again eventually anyway, why not now?’
It’s much harder to ignore your own thoughts, or to do the opposite of what your own brain and body are telling you to do, than it is if somebody else is telling you to do it.
If the guy next door comes round and encourages me to smoke again, I can send him packing.
If it’s my own thoughts telling me I’ll be better for smoking, that’s not as easy to get rid of.
Having said that, it’s precisely for this reason that quitting smoking is so worth it.
Every day that I’m smoke-free is a little victory over that part of me that tries to self-destruct. It’s a victory over the part of me that has such low self-esteem that it believes I don’t deserve to be happy and healthy and should just smoke and be miserable and ill the whole time. It’s a victory over those crippling self-doubts, over the voice in my head which sounds a lot like me and says:
‘You’re not good enough. You’re never going to be able to stay stopped for long. You might as well give up now you worthless piece of crap.’
Above all else, its a victory worth celebrating because it was certainly hard-fought and definitely well-earned.
Bouncing Off The Walls
The past year for me has been a challenge.
Months after I spoke about being 100 days smoke-free, I experienced a craving so intense that I thought I was about to go insane.
At the time it felt like I had only two options – give in and smoke a cigarette or go bouncing off the walls like a mad man until the horrible intensity subsided.
I told my friends that I was going to strap pillows to my walls so at least I didn’t hurt myself when I bounced off them.
I was joking…
…but only just.
The Sweet Smell of Not Giving In
The biggest challenges came on two separate occasions when I lost people close to me.
My dear friend Dave passed away over the summer. A few months later we lost my grandfather to terminal cancer.
I found out about both deaths whilst surrounded by other people who smoked. – my friends when we learned about Dave passing, and my aunts and uncles on the day my grandfather died.
On both of those occasions, the smell of their cigarette smoke was the sweetest thing to ever infiltrate my nostrils.
I’d long since gotten past that phase early on in the journey of a recent ex-smoker when your sense of smell first returns and not only do you actually smell cigarette smoke for the first time in ages, but you actually pine for a smoke as a result.
I’d gone past that and was now into the normal phase of an ex-smoker when cigarette smoke just smells like the foulest thing on earth.
Except when I got the bad news about these people who I loved dying, when I was vulnerable and a bit of an emotional mess, it smelled sweet again.
It was as though the smell was the trigger that set the addictive part of my mind into motion, that fired up thoughts in my head which said:
‘Go on, just have one, nobody could blame you for having one right now.’
I didn’t have one of course.
There was no way I was going to disrespect the memory of people I loved by using their death as an excuse to destroy myself with poisonous cigarettes.
Besides, smoking wasn’t going to bring them back.
Smoking was never going to stop my friend and my grandfather from being dead any more than it would make a stressful situation at work disappear or stop my girlfriend from leaving me. It was never going to stop any of the bad situations that I could have used as an excuse to smoke from actually happening.
No, the only thing it would do is make them worse.
Piling Stress On Top of Stress
It would make them worse because by reintroducing nicotine into my system I would retriever my addiction, and the moment that nicotine left my system, my body would cry out for more.
When it didn’t get it, I would become stressed and irritated, and in even less of the right frame of mind -not to mention physical condition- to deal with whatever situation was making me want to smoke in the first place.
So no, picking up a cigarette wasn’t the answer.
Sometimes going for a walk was the answer, or phoning a friend to distract myself from the temptation, or doing any number of things that were far more positive than smoking a cigarette.
It was worth it too, because the further away I get from my last cigarette, the less frequent and the less intense those cravings get.
Not only that, but the further away I get from my last cigarette, the better I feel.
I’ve already told you about the time I breathed pure fresh air into lungs that weren’t clogged up with filth and felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
That wasn’t the only good thing to happen as a result of quitting smoking.
Fitter. Happier. More Productive…
I now go to the gym most days, using the money I used to spend on cigarettes to get back into shape. As far as outward appearances go, I’m far from where I want to be, but I certainly feel better than I have in my entire life.
The combination of the time in the gym, the fresh air in my lungs, and the overall benefits of not polluting myself with poison mean that I have much more energy than I ever had.
That energy means I can do more, achieve more, experience more than I ever thought possible.
I’ve made new friends because when I’m out in social situations I’m not outside puffing away on a cig with the usual smokers I talk to, but instead inside getting to know new people.
But above all else, the best thing about successfully quitting smoking for a year is just the fact that I have done it.
Since I first started smoking, I have never been able to go for more than a few months at the most without caving to a craving. So to get to one year is something to be proud of.
It proves to me that I can do anything….
….and so can you.
I’m not one to tell anybody what to do, but if you are thinking of quitting smoking, please give it a try. Honestly, If I can make it to a year, you’re certainly capable of making it a lot further.
If you’re already on your smoke-free journey and you’re struggling to stay stopped, please keep going.
If not, do whatever you need to do to stay away from that one cigarette. I guarantee you it’s the best thing you’ll ever do.