I’m quitting smoking for roughly the 15th time in my life. I know, that’s a shitty track record—considering I’m in my mid-thirties.
The thing is, I’m actually really good at quitting smoking. So good that six months down the road, I realize that one little cigarette won’t hurt because I can quit any time I like.
Cigarettes are like an emotionally abusive spouse.
They brainwash us into thinking they are the best thing ever. They tell us we can’t do anything without them. Cigarettes are relentless in their quest to knock us down anytime we get the confidence to get up independently.
So here I am, quitting for the umpteenth time and feeling great. I love the feeling of quitting. The withdrawal reminds me of all the toxins and chemicals that are rapidly leaving my body. I get this weird sort of high in the first few days and am on top of the world.
It’s all so wonderful. I think I’ve become addicted to the feeling of quitting.
No more stinking like smoke and trying to cover it up with perfume and mango scented hand lotion.
No longer should I worry about going somewhere new and wondering if I can smoke there.
Canadian winters are cold, and now I don’t have to fret about standing in a blizzard trying to light up.
There really are only upsides to this quitting thing. I know that in my logical brain.
But like a bad boyfriend, the psychological trauma runs deep.
There is a quiet whispering in the back of my brain, nudging me to light up—if I’m so good at quitting, what could be the harm in having just one more? There is a gentle needling telling me that I will miss out on some important part of life if I choose never to smoke again.
And just like toxic relationships, there is a stigma that comes with admitting we’re in trouble.
After all the research that has been done in the world, we know without a shadow of a doubt that emotionally abusive spouses are terrible for our mental health. How could they not be? As sane and rational human beings, we understand that jumping back into abusive and mentally taxing situations only causes more destruction in our lives.
I once lived with a boyfriend who treated me like the gum on the bottom of his shoe.
He would tell me that I would never be able to do any better than him. I was too fat. Too ugly and had too much of a sexual past ever to get another guy. My previous “sluttiness” had failed me as a woman. No person would ever want to be with me again. I should feel lucky that he was sticking around.
Every day I stayed with him, the reality that I was an unworthy human grew. I began to believe that I deserved all of the hateful and hurtful things he said to me.
My friends and family would beg me to leave him. The people who truly loved me could see my noxious transformation before their very eyes. I was quickly allowing myself to be brainwashed by the horrible things that were being said to me daily.
People asked why I wouldn’t leave. I’d ask myself why I couldn’t leave. And although back then, I couldn’t answer that question, I know now what the problem had been. This person who I had let into my life had an ingenious way of managing me. He broke me down mentally so that I could not find the courage to make any decisions for myself.
I can only imagine this was a manipulation tactic to keep me around. Why else would someone treat another human being that way? It’s a monstrous thing to do.
Luckily, with my friends and family’s help, I did eventually end up freeing myself. I was one of the fortunate ones. So many are not as lucky.
I haven’t thought about that relationship for a very long time. I’ve been privileged enough to move on from it and have not had to revisit the emotionally traumatic events which occured over the two years I was with that man.
However, as I was walking the dog last night, thinking about smoking—rather, quitting smoking—I realized how similar this feeling of finally freeing oneself really is.
Quitting smoking doesn’t have to be this herculean endeavour. It doesn’t have to entail weeks, months of cravings and pining for the rest of one’s life.
I want to say that I’m writing this article solely for you, my beautiful reader, who hasn’t yet mastered the art of quitting. But really, I’m writing it just as much for me. Because as much as I love quitting smoking, I find myself easily falling back into a bad relationship with it.
Much like my emotionally abusive relationship of the past, smoking has brainwashed me into thinking that I will never be quite as good without it.
Here’s what I keep reminding myself:
Cigarettes Kill Ambition
The amount of time I waste smoking is a real fucking problem, man. Just like being in a toxic relationship, I find myself sitting a lot, pondering my life when I’m smoking. Sure, I make plans with friends and set up business meetings. But in the back of my mind, my smokes call out to me, asking if that’s such a good idea to leave my house.
“Where will you be able to smoke?” they whisper.
“What if you’re the only smoker? Won’t that be awkward?” they remind me ever-so-gently.
I begin second-guessing everything I’ve planned. My tendency for social anxiety flairs because of all the unknowns that I’ve just been reminded of.
The Cigarette Addiction is Sentient
When we are in abusive relationships, much of the time, our abuser will emotionally strip us down to keep us complacent. It is much easier, after all, to control someone when the victim has little to no confidence.
The same thing happens with smoking. After some indeterminate amount of time, we begin to believe we are nothing without our smokes.
I realize it isn’t easy to think of smoking as a physical entity capable of gaslighting you. But, believe me, that’s what’s happening. The part of ourselves who love smoking, to such an extent, will go to great lengths to keep our rational minds under its control.
After a Significant Time Apart, You’ll Probably Forget How Bad Smoking Was To You
This is the biggie, you guys. This is the lynchpin that shatters every time I quit. It will be six months, a year, three years down the road, my lungs will be nice and clear, and I’ll be feeling excellent about myself when that tiny voice in the back of my brain—the smoking voice—whispers, Just one won’t hurt. You’ve had a rough couple of days, and a smoke will help you relax.
This situation is akin to a shitty ex-boyfriend Facebook messaging you at one in the morning, two years after you’ve broken up.
You know what he wants, and he knows you know what he wants. It sure as hell isn’t to get back into a meaningful relationship. But if he catches you at just the right moment when your walls are lowered, and you’re feeling a bit vulnerable, he might be successful in dragging you back in.
I don’t know how many people will actually need to read this article. It seems like, nowadays, more and more young people are just plain smarter when it comes to refusing the devastating smoking cycle. Smoking has become a dirty little secret, much like so many toxic spouses are.
It creates rifts in our friendships and relationships.
It hurts our self-esteem.
It highlights our flaws ruthlessly.
It makes it scary to meet new people.
It reels us in after we thought we were free.
If you find yourself in the same position as me, needing to look for an escape route to gain health and a more positive outlook for the future, remind yourself as you embark on your quitting journey that cigarettes are nothing more than that toxic relationship you worked so hard to get out of in years past.
You owe it to yourself to leave those relationships behind and build healthier, happier futures. Cigarette addiction is like being in a toxic relationship—it only keeps dragging us down.