Cigarettes and I have always had a complicated relationship.
I started smoking at around 14 because the so called “cool kids” were doing it. Smoking was my in; an entry into a world that as a fat girl looking in from the outside, I wanted so much. I had a thirst for acceptance and to be wanted (something that I have never lost) and smoking brought me the approval that I craved.
In retrospect, I was still the oddity. The fat girl who agreed with everything you said and was a handy tool to have around in a group full of what I now realise were insecure narcissists.
By my early twenties (and with a much better set of friends), I was hooked to the cigarettes that I had always sworn I could quit at a moment’s notice. Anxiety and depression had whittled their way into my life and smoking had morphed from being my wannabe cool kid accessory, to a crutch to hold me up.
Feel insecure? Have a cigarette. Someone shout something vile at you across the street? Smoke three in a row. Want to forget how desperately unhappy you are? Go out, get drunk, smoke a packet. Oblivion is there for the taking.
These days, in a much happier place and (a little) more on top of my anxiety issues, smoking is a friend that I enjoy; albeit being the sunshine type of friend that you don’t realise is actually toxic. You know the kind I mean.
The kind that shine so bright and make your life a little kind of wonderful when their attention is on you. You bathe in their attention like sunshine pouring down on you, but then inevitably, their attention turns to another and it feels like the cold of winter.
It is the difference between that first cigarette after a meal with a glass of wine in your hand that tastes and feels amazing, and the one you have because you feel it will somehow make you feel better; calm your anxiety; fix you temporarily.
The truth is that smoking does nothing to assuage those anxious feelings. It does not stop pain. It does not stop hurting. It does not give you a confidence boost. It is nothing more than a ‘feelings’ placebo that is slowing killing you, whilst weaving its spell of lies and deceit. It also does not make you feel happy.
At some point in every smoker’s life comes the time that you say you want to quit. The reasons are different for everyone, but we all have our own personal motivations. I had this moment around five years ago and managed to quit for two, only to fall off the wagon when my step dad became seriously ill. His death cemented me back into a 20 a day habit.
Today as I write this, I am three weeks back into the quitting journey, this time with a new perspective.
What I have realised is that the hardest part of quitting smoking is not giving up the cigarettes that you enjoy; it is the ones that you think are providing you with a crutch/confidence boost/calming agent that are the problem.
I’m not saying it doesn’t take a lot of work. The cigarettes you enjoy can always be replaced with a distraction. The ones that you think you need are the hardest. But if you can get over the psychological issue that cigarettes are truly not helping your mental health and are, in fact, making things worse, it can ultimately help you to quit.
My ultimate tip? Buy a glass straw. When you think you need that hit, take a puff of the straw. Take as many as you need.
I have done this through an anxiety attack and believe me, it works; both (slowly I grant you) pacifying the internal urge inside, but also helping you realise, day by day, that not only are you becoming less addicted; you are also stronger than you thought.
That mental health crutch that you thought that you needed is eventually thrown away and there you are, standing on your own two feet.
When it comes down to it, forget everything else; helping your mental health is a goal is worth quitting for. I feel stronger every day and knowing I can get through feeling anxious or depressed without a cigarette makes me even more determined to succeed.