On Quitting

I have now gone about 6 weeks without a cigarette (or any nicotine of any kind) willfully entering my bloodstream.  I smoked cigs for about 16 years or so.  Until I finally quit last month, I hadn’t gone an entire day without a cigarette in this century.  (Right about now non-smokers are like “what?” but it’s true.  Smokers smoke.  Even if they have a sore throat or the flu.  Sometimes even in their sleep.)

A few weeks ago I went to buy some chickens from a dude I didn’t know.  He was a constant smoker.  He smelled so strongly of that sweet sweet smell that I waited for the craving to hit.  I waited for that voice in my head to say “he’s nice, he’ll totally bum you one. What’s one? C’mon!”
That little voice is a total fucker and he has gotten me into plenty of trouble over the years, but this time he never came.  I took my new chickens and went home.  My detox symptoms were gone.  All of the ones that I had noticed during the single worst month of my life….it had finally ended.
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Now, I am not writing this for a bunch of glad handing.  I told you all that stuff so you could understand the context of the rest of what I will say. This post is for other people who might be thinking about quitting or who have just quit a day or two ago and are searching for answers the way I was.  Knowing what is coming is important. GI Joe taught me preparation is key, even mentally, and quitting is far more than having a craving every now and again.

First, how I quit:
Everyone is different and I am no exception.  I don’t like chewing gum.  I hate the entire idea of a film of plastic leaching chemicals into my skin.  I really don’t like pills.  So, I decided to wean myself off.  I started by switching to only smoking half cigarettes.  I would pinch the cherry off and save the rest of the smoke for later.  That last part is important because it would be easy to throw the rest away, but then you don’t have to own up to cheating.  If you smoke more than half…whatever you have left is all that remains the next time you smoke.  Your whole pack of smokes smells like total shit.  Plus, it starts saving you money right off the bat which serves as a nice positive reinforcement.  Extra money for coke and hookers!
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I continued down this path until I switched to only taking 4 puffs off the cigarette at one time.  For me, taking four puffs and pinching the remaining cherry off means one cigarrette will last me three smoking ‘sessions’, if that makes sense.  This may seem overly complicated or rigid or something but I tend to obsess on method in things just like this so it worked well for me.  And as I said, all along the way you are saving money, which is a nice incentive (remember the blow!).  My wife and I were just joking about how often I have said “I can pay for that with cigarette money!” in the last month. I have spent that money at least four times and I’m quite happy with that.

Eventually I was down to only one cigarette a day, spread out over three ‘sessions’.  It took me about two months to get to that point from my normal 15 a day habit. I figured it would be pretty easy to just stop from that point.

NOPE.
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The night I took my last puff I thought I knew what I was in for.  I had read all the stuff on WebMD and all the other sites about withdrawal symptoms…blah blah blah. While those sites weren’t wrong, they kind of glossed over a few things.

The first day with no nicotine was bad news bears. I was jittery.  I just felt ‘hollow’ or like I was in a long tunnel…I don’t honestly know how to explain that one, and I was dizzy/nauseous all day. But then I went to sleep and expected to sleep poorly (which is what happened) and then I woke up in the morning.
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I had gone an entire day without a smoke!!  I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.  The previous day had sucked, but I could handle that.  As I lay there in bed, still tired from not sleeping all that well, I felt like I could take on the world!  Then I got out of bed and began day two.

Day two is important, but I am going to lump it in with day three because they may as well be the same day.  I hope to remember those two days for the rest of my life.  Even trying to describe them right now is almost impossible.  They were absolute hell.  I wanted nicotine but I wouldn’t feed that particular beast so my body demanded food or booze instead.  Well, I was so dizzy most of the time that I didn’t want to eat anything.  Booze!  Glorious Booze!  Teacher, Mother, Secret lover.  You can save me!

That’s a slippery road, for obvious reasons.  Now, I’m not one to get drunk and stop caring about quitting and then smoke again.  That’s not my style.  I’m more of a get drunk and fall out of a tree kind of dude.  A little booze can seriously help take the edge off the cravings, just realize that you’re playing with fire and you’ll be fine.  Besides, a dance with the devil every now and again has to be a good thing, right?
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The worst part about those two days was the depression.  I’m not, nor have I ever been, a depressed person.  My flavor of psychological disorder is anxiety and it never overlapped into it’s close cousin of depression.  Sure, I thought I got depressed in the winter but as I quickly realized, that was just sadness.  What I felt in those two days was a “why should I give a fuck about anything’, ‘Maybe jump off this deck’ sort of depression.  I am not kidding at all.  It was a very dark place.  I was waiting for it to improve on day three but it didn’t. Fuck.
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On day four, things began looking up, just a little. Because I have problems with anxiety, I am very aware in changes in my body and, as I said, I had looked up what sorts of withdrawal symptoms I could expect.
They claimed I might experience some discomfort in my lungs, like having a cold.  That doesn’t sound so bad.  Yeah….my lungs ached…all the time…for two weeks.  I never coughed a bunch or anything, just aching so much it hurt to walk or lean certain ways into a chair, or lay down to sleep….you know, life.  Life made my lungs hurt.

As long as we’re talking about discomfort…my hands and feet itched like I had chiggers all over them for a little more than a week.  Not like “oh, my skin feels dry”…more like “ANTS, ANTS MUST BE CRAWLING ALL OVER ME!” No worries though, this is normal (and kind of cool).  It’s the circulation improving in your extremities.  Literally, your own blood is making your skin itch as it creeps into places it couldn’t easily get into before.  Like a sponge finally tasting water.  I like it.

One of the other symptoms mentioned was insomnia and ‘slight sleep disturbance’.  Fuck that description.  I was getting around 2-3 hours a night. Why?  Because I had the worst heartburn imaginable anytime I would lay down.  The kind of heartburn that, when coupled with that serious lung ache, makes you pay special attention to your left arm…”do I feel any stabbing pains?”.
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The insomnia and the heartburn lasted the longest, by far, of any of the symptoms.  A solid 4 weeks.  I finally realized just a few days ago that I was back to my normal sleeping patterns, that was nice.

Oh, and several times in the last few weeks, my skin decided to just swell up like a balloon.  Couldn’t fit my wedding ring on, my face was puffy, just weird shit.

Basically, I am describing chaos inside your body.  Without any nicotine, the brain just pulls whatever string it feels like to try to make you smoke again.  So, if you’re trying this or are thinking about trying it, whatever weird shit you experience in that first month is normal.

Did your fingers fall off?  That’s normal.  Just put them in a bag and put them in the fridge.  Worry about it later.  Stay the course.  If your body is still in chaos after a month, you should go see a doctor because something else might be going on.

For instance: Did you quit smoking but start freebasing cocaine?  That’ll produce some weird results, better to wait to start something like that until you’ve established a baseline.
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One final weird thing that some may be able to relate to…for at least two weeks my internal mood would constantly flip from anger, to sadness, to elation.  These moods would change every few minutes.  It felt like my brain was trying to find the mood that would cause me to ingest nicotine, or it was just being a fucker.  I really can’t tell.  That guy’s a dick sometimes. That whole thing was weird as hell though. I suggest loud music or loud television and absolutely no quiet and introverted reflection because ‘Thar Be Dragons, Son’.

Now, I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of quitting.  It was well worth it.  I am just trying to tell you what to expect because knowing that stuff would help me.  Quit if you want to, I don’t much care.  My time with cigarettes was done, perhaps yours is too.  If not, keep smoking, I’m not here to judge anybody.  And frankly, when done right, it really does look cool (watch Don Draper do it).  I just didn’t want to smoke anymore.
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I will tell you that after a few short weeks, even in the grip of withdrawals, I could feel my health improving.  I was lifting some logs that will be firewood for this winter and I stopped to catch my breath only to realize that I hadn’t lost it in the first place! (cue emotional roller coaster starting with happiness and turning into anger for not doing it sooner, then into thoughts of perhaps needing to poop).
Seriously, it was a weird time.

Best of luck.
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5 Responses to On Quitting

  1. Susan Sobon says:

    Good for you travis!! Sounds like quite the ride. I smoked for 17 yrs and stopped 23 yrs ago. I used patches. They kept me so sick for 3 weeks i didnt care!! You will feel better and better as every yr passes. Congrats!

  2. kathy czarnecki says:

    I smoked for 35 years. Last year I quit. Now I vape. Vaping saved my life. It isn’t the nicotine causing the withdrawal effects, it is the 3,999 other chemicals in cigarettes. I never stopped using nicotine but had one awful month. My body was purging a lifetime of really bad stuff. Couldn’t concentrate, broke out in various skin boils and was depressed. Anyway, glad you quit the way you did. Since I’m 10 years sober, drinking certainly wouldn’t help!

  3. jthomasnagle says:

    Interesting and enjoyable piece.  I like your writing style and should read a book or two of yours.  In a short statement or two I quit cold turkey seven years ago after being stupid for forty years or so.  A pack and a half or two habit has left me with COPD and at 70 not able to do a lot of the things with the same vigor I would like.  I have no regrets except that I wish I had seen the light (or no light) a lot sooner.  I’m glad you quit.  Now go have a stiff drink.

  4. Pingback: 6 Months | TravisMohrman

  5. I’m about to quit like I told on Facebook. Thanks for pointing me to this article. Damn, it’s vividly detailed. The mind is a funny thing. If you prepare it for the worst, it won’t get surprised and that gives you an edge. A very, very small edge, but enough of an edge to just focus on weathering the storm and not get surprised by it. I’ve been smoking for over 23 years. Every day. Shit is about to get real.

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