I had four months smoke free under my still loosely fitting belt and had been patchless for over 30 days. Hours passed without any thought of a cigarette. I felt confident. And then one day, I stepped on the scale.
According to the QuitNow! app glowing from the glossy face of my phone, I’ve been smoke-free for 294 days. I have saved almost $3,000 and “won” back three weeks that otherwise would have been squandered away standing in the rain sucking on a Basic Menthol Light.
This almost unthinkable achievement, this formerly unattainable goal, is a boast I have bellowed to and fro for the last eight months to anyone who does or doesn’t give a shit. In support groups with quitters swimming in self-pity and weakness, I have proclaimed myself the victor over nicotine and tobacco; an easy battle because I am committed. Though 42 years of smoking may have damaged my body in ways yet to be revealed, I have managed to silence the relentless chatter of the irrational addict and return logic to the part of my brain that runs every other program of my life.
That is, until a month ago.
During my four tours in rehab, counselors and addicts alike proposed the theory that the last substance an addict quits will be the most difficult. I have 16 years clean and sober from drugs and alcohol but it was not without many slips along the way.
Whatever made me think I could quit smoking and get it right on the first try? The hubris of the addict.
Using the NicoDerm patch system, the first few months of my quit were reminiscent of my first stay in rehab at age 26. The pink cloud, as it’s called, evidently happens no matter what drug you kick and it buoyed me through those initial weeks of cigarette cravings. I lived and breathed the Facebook quit smoking groups (there are dozens!) where I could experience all the regret, heartache, and depression of relapsing by reading of others’ failures while still remaining smoke-free.
I weathered internet and cable outages and the subsequent maddening phone calls to Comcast that I thought I couldn’t endure, and I considered lighting up and smoking my Williams Sonoma Wintergreen candles to deal with the stress. I survived a devastating family fight that left me bent in half on the couch for a week, my tears spilling onto the floor until they crested over the cushions. I couldn’t write because I didn’t smoke and those two activities were knit together like a friendship bracelet.
But I persevered. I went on walks, something I hadn’t done for, well, ever. With my grandchildren, the nucleus of my motivation, I trotted along as they biked or scootered; again, unprecedented.
“Gwammy, you’re going to walk us to school?!” they would squeal, their incredulity expressing a maturity unheard of for a seven- and five-year-old.
“Why yes, my darlings,” I would declare with the wisdom and assurance of Yoda. “Gwammy can walk now!”
I had spent so many years anticipating the sudden fatal heart attack that would befall me should I exert myself even a wee bit, and now I felt a freedom I had not known since my teenage years, when I first started smoking but thought myself immortal.
And I gloated. I admit it. I went to the groups and while they whined and cried about gaining weight, I lectured about exercise and eating right and how it’s all about choices. Eat fruit and popcorn, like me! Drink lots of water, like me! Walk to the store, like me!
I had not had a problem with my weight for, well, ever. At five feet and 105 pounds, I felt very positive about how I looked – in clothes. I was hypervigilant about maintaining my weight because at my height, even a few extra pounds could mean an unwelcome eight-hour shopping excursion to Nordstrom Rack for a wardrobe in the next size up. That’s not happy shopping.
I had four months smoke free under my still loosely fitting belt and had been patchless for over 30 days. Hours passed without any thought of a cigarette and most of the habitual smoking associations like driving, talking on the phone, writing, eating, cooking, breathing, living, had been broken effectively enough for me to feel like an actual non-smoker. I steered clear of the last few friendly smoking circles I’d once been a part of (people, places, and things) and reveled in my success. I felt confident. I didn’t need support.
And then one morning, I stepped on the scale. And it was different. VERY different.
I had read accounts of ex-smokers who claimed to gain ten pounds overnight. I thought them daft. I accused them of looking for excuses to smoke. I showed them no mercy.
And the scale continued to climb.
Suddenly everything that seemed manageable fell into chaos. Work became untenable. I seethed with HATRED for my boss, who had the unmitigated gall to ask me to do things. I purple-screamed in traffic at other drivers. I muttered in the grocery store like a sociopath when the deli clerk sliced honey ham instead of Black Forest. I stopped eating plain, dry, Styrofoam-like popcorn at night because clearly that was the culprit behind the weight gain. I cried on the kitchen floor because I could no longer have popcorn. I cried because I grew a muffin top overnight. I cried because I hate fruit and now it was my only treat. I cried because my thighs were about to…touch.
The chatter returned. Quiet, reluctant, and shy at first, it built up steam quickly, as I fought with all the strength I could muster to shut it down.
“Fatty. Fatso. FAT GIRL. You’re going to get so fat, it won’t matter if you live longer because you’re going to hate yourself.”
“Look how depressed you are! Is that how you want to feel the rest of your life? Don’t you know you could feel BETTER, happier, skinnier, right now?”
“Feel better momentarily and then feel horrible because I failed? No thanks.”
“Who says you’ll feel bad? All those other fat people? Who cares! You’re the one alone, depressed and getting larger with every clean, deep breath you take. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Walk, cut back on popcorn – it’s inevitable. Your metabolism is in a coma.”
“That’s rubbish. Leave me alone. I don’t want to die.”
I’d quiet myself down, still the noise with an audiobook or some raucous comedy on Spotify. But always waiting in the silence: the nicotine Night King, ready to strike…and I felt ill-equipped for the battle.
“Hey, you know it took you four tries to kick drugs and alcohol.”
“Theoretically, you’ve got a few more years of smoking to go before you really quit.”
“As illogical as that is, I’m listening.”
And so it goes.
I bought a pack of fake, herbal smokes made of marshmallows, rose petals, and the flatulence of unicorns. And I told EVERYONE. I brought the unopened pack to my therapist’s office and slammed them down on the couch.
“Let’s talk about these fake cigarettes,” I stated.
And we did, but I still wanted to smoke them. I told my older sisters, my greatest champions in this quit, and they both implored me to refrain from lighting them. I told my son, who shrugged and mumbled “slippery slope.”
I’ve smoked a few a day for about a week. The menthol flavor is not terrible, as the reviews on Amazon claimed. They help when a strong craving steers my car into the 7-11 with only one objective that has nothing to do with Slurpees. Already, my lungs feel uncomfortably full and I’m concerned about the long term effects of marshmallow leaf and unicorn farts.
But for now, I’m still nicotine and tobacco free. I can’t say smoke-free anymore because that’s dishonest. I hope I don’t go back. It would be miserable AF to have to start a quit again. I hope I don’t gain any more weight. I’ve already dropped a grand at Nordstrom’s for a wardrobe to fit my new bountiful 115 pound frame. But mostly, I hope that whatever happens, I can cut out the self-recrimination as successfully as I cut out the popcorn. That, I suspect, is the deadliest extra weight I now carry.