TW: smoking, cigarettes, drug and alcohol use, heroin, overdose
I started smoking cigarettes when I was 16. I smoked until I was 19. I quit in 2013 after I had a really bad case of the flu. I was in bed for 4 days and when I finally woke up I realized I had beaten all of the physical craving symptoms. For years afterwards I said that quitting smoking was both the hardest and the coolest thing I’d ever done.
I started smoking again about a month (or two?) ago.
I found out in not-the-best way that my ex boyfriend was moving back to Baltimore. He had moved pretty far away, and the physical distance gave me the space to really process a lot that had happened in our relationship. When I found out he was moving back the first thing I did was yell loudly for about an hour (to my best friend, thank you boo forever grateful <3), then I ate some tacos and drank a beer or two, and then I bought a pack of cigarettes.
I’m not proud, and I’m not happy about it. In many ways, I feel like a failure. All I had to do was not smoke cigarettes, but this big scary news was enough to pull me straight back into addiction. This feels like offering myself an excuse that I shouldn’t, but in the end we each have to do everything we possibly can to survive.
I have been doing a lot of processing with people about it. One friend said, “it’s hard because it’s the most accessible drug to you.” And she’s right, I don’t really drink (it makes me sick), I don’t smoke weed, and I’ve never been one to use other substances either. So when I feel like hitting that slow-self-destruct button that’s pretty common to a lot of people, cigarettes are my drug of choice.
I tried to quit starting just last night and did not make it a full 24 hours. I’m sitting here writing this, smoking a cigarette, and feeling some pretty extreme guilt and anxiety about it.
Earlier today I was talking to a very, very dear friend about deciding whether to buy a pack of cigarettes or not and they asked me if quitting was bringing me a lot of stress. I said of course, and they went on to speak about how as young gay people we’re all pretty immersed in a culture of drug/alcohol use and abuse. And that “choice” in this situation is very much an illusion. We are unavoidably influenced by the people around us. If those people are smoking, using, drinking, it is hard to be immune to that culture and energy. In their words, “It’s really fucking complicated and it’s never entirely personal…it’s big and it’s complicated and it’s easier together.”
When a friend of mine died from a heroin overdose, someone told me that he was trying to quit smoking. I have no way of verifying this, and I don’t know that it is true, but that possibility has always haunted me. If he had waited until he was longer in to recovery to quit smoking, would he still be here? I know cigarettes are just death by slower means, but isn’t it better to stay alive, now?
Cigarettes are many things for me, and most of them are pretty ridiculously unhealthy. They are a form of slow self-destruction, they are a way to escape stressful social situations, they are a way to control hunger. None of those things are desirable. But in just 1-2 months of smoking I have already forgotten how to live without them.
I will quit again, soon. Every time someone else sees me smoking and asks “I thought you quit?” the pang of guilt and panic settles into my gut. “Yes, I did. It won’t be for long. I promise, I’ll quit soon.”
That was always my mantra, at 16, at 19, and now again at 24. “It’s not permanent, just right now, I’ll quit soon.” And it’s true. I’m not a smoker. It’s not who I am. It’s just what I’m doing right now to be okay. So, I’m so sorry Mom, Dad, friends, but don’t worry…this, as all things do, will pass.
EDIT 4/22/2017: Though this piece is a discussion of my personal relationship to smoking and addiction, it cannot help but be, at its core, a political discussion. In my framing of this piece I neglected to address the power and privilege in my experiences of smoking and drug use. As a white, middle-class woman, I experience exponentially less shame, judgement, and institutional/state violence due to smoking. The same is true for other white people. People of color and poor people experience exponentially higher levels of shame, policing, incarceration, and violence. In addition they are less likely to have access to “sanctioned” or prescribed drugs than their white counterparts. My sincere apologies for lacking this depth of analysis and understanding in this piece. Mea culpa.
There is a lot of work being done on this topic, for a start check out:
- NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet
- ‘Gentler War on Drugs’ for Whites Is a ‘Smack’ in Black America’s Face
- When a drug epidemic’s victims are white