To Smoke or Not to Smoke

I started smoking pretty soon after I turned 18. I had always been lured in by the “cool factor.” All the cool people in the old movies smoked; rockstars smoked. Everyone used to smoke. It seemed retro cool. I decided long before I started smoking that I wanted to be a smoker. I was just too obedient to sneak cigarettes before I was legally allowed them. But as soon as I could go to a gas station and buy them on my own with my real id, I did. None of my good friends smoked much that I can remember. There was the occasional cigar among the group, but I was the only one I remember who smoked cigarettes. It wasn’t about fitting in with my friends, it was about fitting the image I had in my head of who I wanted to be. I wanted to be a rebel, but I wasn’t. I was very obedient. I didn’t even really have a curfew because I (almost) always came home at a decent hour; I didn’t need a curfew. I didn’t want to upset anyone. I never wanted to make anyone unhappy. I wanted to carry all of the unhappiness because it was easier to carry than the guilt of causing unhappiness.

At the same time that I was starting to smoke, I was also getting more deeply depressed. As my depression escalated, so did my smoking. I was the only person I knew who smoked my first year at college. I would smoke alone on the back porch of my dorm; on occasion my roommate would smoke one with me. On occasion I would chat with someone else smoking alone, but I mostly remember it being a very lonely activity. I actually loved it. I was so tired of my life that the relief of having a reason to be left alone was as satisfying as the relief of feeding my nicotine habit. One of my best memories is sitting on that stone porch alone at night smoking and listening to one of my favorite songs for the first time ever on my disc-man. A friend had sent it to me and I had just opened it, rushed outside, lit a cigarette, and put on my headphones. It is such a great memory. One of my saddest memories is sitting on that stone porch alone at night shaking from cold, hunger, and anxiety, smoking and writing in my journal knowing that I wouldn’t last much longer. Knowing that I would be giving in to my suicidal desires very soon. Knowing that smoking was probably my last pleasure. 

I’ve smoked and not smoked a lot over the years; I’ve actually lost track. I’ve gone at least a year–maybe more–without smoking, but I’m sure I’ve smoked more than not since I started in 1999. The men I’ve loved have been smokers. Being in love, I smoked too because I wanted the time with them, I wanted to share every experience with them. I haven’t smoked through all of my depressive episodes I don’t think, but I have smoked through most of them. I don’t care much about my health when I am depressed, and I am ravenous for anything that makes me feel good even if only for an instant. I get that smoking only feels good because I am addicted, but when I’m depressed, it really doesn’t matter that much. It actually helps that I am slowly killing myself–it is the slow way to do what I really want to do. I give in to smoking because I know it’s bad for me. I want to hurt myself because I hate myself; I don’t deserve to live a healthy life. If they only knew the real me then they would understand…. And on and on it goes. My depression uses my smoking to twist me up with lies about myself and my value. I can acknowledge that I am hurting myself by smoking but my depression eggs me on because it makes me believe I deserve the pain and punishment of a painful death. It is a relief on so many levels to smoke when depressed.

I’m on day 7 of quitting. I fudged this morning and took a drag of a cigarette when I took the dog out. I was pissed that I was getting up alone with the dog on Saturday morning. I was angry that I had to clean up the living room before I could even drink coffee because I didn’t want the dog to be tempted to eat Ada’s toys or knock over TV trays. It was cold, it was dark, I felt alone. I have always wanted to smoke when I feel lonely. When it feels like me against the world–depression drama–I want to just let off a little steam, speed up my death a little bit, escape for just a moment. I smoke when the world feels like a lonely place. I smoked but just for an instant and then I stopped. I didn’t really want to smoke. What I wanted was to hurt myself because when I feel angry I feel guilty and then I feel like cutting. And smoking and cutting are both self-destructive behaviors. I’m over the nicotine addiction–that wasn’t ever really my problem. What I’m having trouble letting go of is the self-destruction.

Stopping smoking is like giving up my suicide plan. Like I’m actually going to try to make it. It’s a daily struggle not just to not smoke but to choose to live. That’s the real issue for me. Every healthy decision is a choice to live. And I struggle with that desire. I regularly just want to fade. Sometimes I want to die. Sometimes I’m happy to live. Rarely do I make choices to extend my life. Every time I take my medication it is a choice to live. I don’t like taking it. I don’t like needing outside chemicals to feel normal, but I need them so I choose to live longer by taking my meds. Every single day I fight the urge to not take them. Every day I look at them and part of me says, “Stop fighting it. Just let go.” But I fight (almost) every day. So this is just another affirmation that I want to live. I take my meds so I don’t die by suicide. I won’t smoke so I don’t risk dying by a different form of suicide. 

If you smoke, don’t worry. You don’t have to quit today or ever. You know the good and bad of the situation, and if you don’t, educate yourself. Then make an adult decision when you’re ready. I have smoked for 17 years and this is the most committed I have ever been to quitting because this is the first time I have ever even wanted to be a non smoker for life. If you aren’t ready, then you just aren’t. But you can try to get ready. It took me a few months and one big leap, but here I am a week later still committed to being a non smoker.

If you’re suicidal, get help. Forget quitting smoking. The dangers of contemplating suicide far outweigh the dangers of smoking related illness in my opinion. Your life is so important, and if smoking helps you hang on, then smoke until you find help, and find help soon. Once you regain your mental balance, then you can work on other stuff like smoking. You are not alone, and things are not hopeless. Stay strong, keep fighting, and I’ll (try to) stay smoke free.


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