I’m an open book over here for the most part, and so I’d like to talk about this new thought that has been hindering inside of me. It happened side by side with all the other things that began to come together, like my plans to move in September. It was like a really big and unexpected nudge on the shoulder. There’s this thing I’ve struggled with for the past 6 years. It’s not something I talk a lot about simply because there’s a lot of shame built up within myself about it and there’s also quite a lot of shame brought towards me from a more societal point. I’ll take credit for 70%…okay?
There’s this thing I’ve struggled with for the past 6 years. It’s not something I talk a lot about simply because there’s a lot of shame built up within myself about it and there’s also quite a lot of shame brought towards me from a more societal point. I’ll take credit for 70%…okay?
I was 15 when I tried my first cigarette. Before I get into what came from that, let me start by talking about who I was, what was happening in my life, and what led me to that point. I didn’t know it at the time because 6 years ago, mental illness and mental health, in general, was not a conversation that was talked about. To be honest, 15 year old me understood mental illness as the crazies. Of course, I was sane so there was nothing wrong with me. I learned later on once I began going to see a counsellor regularly that I was and had been in the midst of a deep depression for most of my life.
Since mental health wasn’t talked about, I didn’t know that the deep emptiness I had always felt was something that everyone else didn’t feel. I thought this was just the way we all had to walk around the world. I was brought up to believe in a “suck-it-up” mindset and understood that showing emotions made you look weak. I knew this was the way I had to walk around the world, but being a highly sensitive person, a writer, a daydreamer, and having a boatload of emotions ALL THE TIME meant that I just had to try harder. I guess some people were just born weaker than others and I happened to be one of them. I really thought that growth, adulthood, and being a strong human meant that I had to get to the point where I wouldn’t have to try as hard to control what I was feeling. I thought being strong meant feeling very little. Clearly, I had a long way to go.
But this is what I knew at the time. I was also someone who didn’t fit in very well. But when I was 15, I finally discovered a group that took me in with open arms: they were the drug addicts, the smokers, the binge-drinkers. I looked at them with awe, being the weird bookish, socially awkward nerd. These people were brave to me. They were so honest and bold. They spoke their minds without any thought. They just looked so…….
They received a lot of backlash and scrutiny from most of my high school, but they didn’t care. These were the people that I knew were the strongest. They were in the place that I so desperately wanted to be, and they wanted to be friends with me? YES YES YES. PLEASE. I mean that in a super chill and relaxed way.
So that was the crowd I started hanging around. Meanwhile, my family life was a wreckage (if I were to put it lightly). My grandmother (my dad’s mom) had just passed away and the dynamic within my family was very strange. It was like two families living within a home: my dad and his mom. And then my mom, my sister and I. At the time, it was known that my dad didn’t want to have a relationship with my sister and I, and that was just the way it was. We had all accepted that fact and so we said a few words to each other here and there because we lived in the same house, but it was like a distant roommate situation.
Anyways, when my grandmother died, part of my dad did too. I guess he realized that he made it so she was his only family here, and so he fell apart more and more each second until one day, he lost it. All of a sudden he was in the hallway of our home screaming, banging his head against the wall over and over and exclaiming that he was going to commit suicide right then and there.
My sister and my mom left the scene and went downstairs because I guess they were annoyed or just thought he was being dramatic, but I stayed and fled over to his side. And it’s that moment when he pushed me to hit the wall and told me to get the fuck away from him. It’s that moment that he reminded me what I had always known all along, but the words had never been said out loud. It was that moment when he said that he never considered me family, and that he never would. That his only family had now passed and he was alone. It was that moment that something in me died.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forget that moment, but I have been able to forgive it now after years of counselling and meditation and working on myself. But if I can point to one point of my life when everything went downhill, it would be that one.
Hanging out with the druggies, I still refrained from trying any of the substances myself. Well, other than alcohol, but that’s a story for another time. But it was about a week after this moment that my sister, who smoked cigarettes at the time, asked me to go on her nightly walk with her and I did. We sat on the curb of a parking lot and I asked her if I could try one and she let me. It was gross and I coughed a million times, but I think it numbed something in me and I liked that feeling. So I did it again. One a week turned into one a day, which turned into buying my own packs.
I couldn’t breathe properly during that time, but with cigarettes, as much as they hurt my lungs, they helped me with that. They helped me breathe mentally. And simultaneously, they helped me fit in more with the crowd I’d already been hanging around. It was a win-win.
Now let’s fast forward six years later to present day.
I’m not that same person anymore. I look forward to the sun rising and waking up, instead of longing for more time unconscious in my dream state. I exercise every morning: yoga and pilates. I pay attention to the ingredients in the groceries I buy. I pay attention to the food I put in my body. I meditate so that I can hear myself more. I have a full time job that supports me financially so that I can use my energy on my creative pursuits instead of how I’m going to pay rent next month or buy groceries. I’m consciously surrounding myself with people who love me and care about my well-being. People I can have deep and meaningful conversations with instead of meaningless small talk and gossip. My life looks completely different than what it used to, and so I recently woke up to the realization that smoking cigarettes just doesn’t fit anymore.
It doesn’t make sense with the goals I have for myself. It doesn’t make sense with my everyday routine. It doesn’t make sense with the type of person I am anymore. It just doesn’t fit. It was like I woke up feeling this great dissonance between what I want for myself and what I’m actually still doing.
Progress never ends and some part of me knew I would reach this day, the day I would quit and set myself free from this addiction. And right now, I’m here and I’m ready to try the way I’ve never really done before.
Just like anything, the psychological component of this is far superior to the chemical addiction, so that’s what I’m currently trying to break down. I’m trying to break down what part of me needed this. What I got out of it. What I tell myself to excuse this behaviour. And at the same time, I’m doing a lot of research (PS: Definitely recommend reading Allen Carr’s book) and trying not to be so hard on myself.
This mindset I created around smoking for the past six years has to be reversed before I can cut it completely out of my life, because when I’m done, I’m done. I’m not willing to be someone who longs for a cigarette 3 years down the line, because at that point, it’s not the chemical anymore, it’s your psyche. It’s because this isn’t something to cut using willpower (at least for me). It’s something to cut because I have to unlearn what I taught myself for the past 6 years. I have to re-learn the reality that this is not a sacrifice I’m making when I quit. It’s actually a value I’m adding in to my life.
There’s a lot of work to be down here, internally, but I’m ready to do it now. It was a big nudge. It was an awakening. And each day, the more I learn, the less I crave.