In a few days, I will be celebrating my sixth month of not smoking. I have tried to quit in the past, but this is the first time it has stuck. Today, it feels like I haven’t smoked in years, but some days, the cravings are so strong it is as if I only stopped a few days ago.

The best part is that the clock inside my head has finally stopped ticking. I no longer feel bound to a schedule only I am aware of. Hours can pass and I no longer feel the itch to go outside. My days feel longer. I never noticed how much time smoking took up in my day.

My main coping mechanism

It was difficult to continue to live my life and interact with people normally during the first few weeks. I was expecting to feel angry, but not so foggy and unfocused.

My memory seemed to be worse during the first few weeks. On the third day of not smoking, I yelled at my cat and then cried for an hour because I felt bad for yelling at her. The fifth day, I got so upset while cleaning out my fridge that I had to take a walk.

For a while, instances like this happened frequently, but they come less often now. The only real preparation I did was hanging up big versions of the anti-smoking ads that come on cigarette packs.

In addition to being addicted to smoking, it was also my main coping mechanism. If I felt any strong emotion, I would have a cigarette. It was a way for me to calm down, and a socially acceptable way to leave a difficult situation. I would even smoke if I was extremely happy, as a way to celebrate.

I am a person who experiences emotions very intensely. I have always felt a need to react to my emotions instead of just letting them be. For the past seven years, that reaction has involved smoking. While planning to quit, I knew handling my emotions would be the hardest part, but I didn’t have any idea of how to deal with this.

I have tried to quit many times in the past, and every time, my emotions would get in the way. I would get upset and smoking was my go-to reaction. I decided that if I ever wanted to stop, I had to learn to ride the wave when it came to my emotions. I needed to experience these feelings without reacting.

It is difficult to just sit with those emotions, but I knew that the only way for me to stop smoking (and not start again) was to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Self-imposed pressure

Another big thing that I found helpful was letting myself be angry. Throughout my life, I have felt as if I needed to make things look easy. I thought I constantly had to be an example for others.

From going vegan in grade school, to shaving my head in high school, I often felt as if I had to make things look appealing so I wouldn’t turn people off of my ideas.

It was because of this self-imposed pressure that I found it difficult to be open about my experiences. I felt like I had to experience these challenges alone, and with a smile on my face, so others would be left with a good impression.

I used to be afraid to tell people about my struggles with veganism because I didn’t want people to think it was a hard thing to do. I didn’t talk about the insecurities that came with shaving my head because I felt that this would make me look unsure of myself. I felt more like someone selling ideas and lifestyles than someone who was experiencing them.

This is exactly how I felt when I first stopped smoking. I had to act happy and pretend I was doing OK, which I wasn’t. This added pressure made me more irritable and stressed.

All of a sudden, I remembered an interaction I had a few years prior. I had been smoking for a couple of years at that point, and had tried to quit several times. A coworker was talking to me about how they had quit, and how it was the easiest thing they had ever done.

I remember feeling like such a failure and wondering what was wrong with me, as quitting had been anything but easy for me. It was because of this memory that I realized making things appear easy can sometimes do more harm than good.

It became easier

I had to ask myself why I was quitting smoking. Was I doing it for myself or for others? I was doing it for me. It occurred to me that it is fairly common knowledge that quitting smoking is hard, so by acknowledging this, I wouldn’t be making people not want to try.

At the end of the day, people do what they want. I have way less power over that than I initially thought.

Once I let myself be human, the experience became much easier.

It was liberating to let myself stop being an ambassador for everything and to realize it was okay to occasionally say “This is really hard,” or “This sucks.” Once I let myself be human, the experience became much easier. I realized others had trouble doing this, too. I didn’t make my accomplishment any less valuable by admitting the difficulty involved.

I am proud of myself for getting this far. A year ago, I never would have guessed I could make it six months without a cigarette. I know I should wish I never started smoking, but I don’t. Smoking helped me make it through some very tough events in my life. At times, it was my sole coping mechanism.

There were moments I believed I would lose my mind if I didn’t have a cigarette. Part of that was addiction, and the other part was me desperately needing to do something to feel better. Smoking helped me at the time, and I cannot bring myself to regret that.

It is an incredible feeling to be able to do something you once thought impossible.

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