In 30 minutes I will hit 25 days JUUL free. This will be officially, and exponentially the longest I have gone without "smoking" (using to encompass my history with cigarettes and vaping) in my life. While I want to swell with pride at this accomplishment, that emotion has been clouded by the other extreme emotions I have felt as part of this journey.
My quit journey has been tremendously difficult in ways I did not imagine, and certainly was not prepared for. My quit was not long premeditated, it was a decision made over the course of a week, solidified by one very courageous morning. I thought I had the skeleton of a toolbox, but failed to include in that toolbox what I would use to deal with the deep, heavy emotional side of this journey.
What has become clear as I finally find myself, at nearly a month out, feeling slightly better, is how strongly I relied on smoking as my coping mechanism. I used it to shield myself from my traumatic past, medicate my anxiety disorder, and fuel my OCD tendencies. relearning how to handle stress, and the general workings of my own brain without it has been something I was not prepared for.
My journey has been riddled with setbacks. After making the final decision to quit, and not understanding just how much nicotine my poor brain had gotten used to, I started with those Zyn pouches that are becoming the hot new, post vaping-cool trend. They were disgusting and got me through barely the first 24 hours of my quit before I moved to a more tried and true approach of the patch. Having ridden out the initial withdrawal and adjustment down to the nicotine content of the patch, my body started to revolt. Each time I removed a new patch it left a rash that was redder, more swollen and more itchy than the one before. I had activated an inflammatory response in my highly sensitive system and my NRT of choice was no longer an option. Armed with a prescription for a highly potent steroid cream I switched to gum, and then quickly lozenges after that made me profusely nauseous all of the time. A few days later, my anxiety, already at an all time high, went into overdrive. My body felt like it was on fire, my skin electric, my brain moving and thinking in ways that were scaring me. I wanted to give up so badly, I wanted to go back to the way it use to be. I fought myself tooth and nail as my brain tried to convince me that my life was better when I was using the JUUL and just going back would fix everything.
With sheer willpower, and constant reminders from this community and others, I fought those voices in my head. I researched the cream I was given and discovered it can penetrate into the bloodstream and cause reactions like those get with oral steroids - depression, anxiety, agitation. It wasn't until I almost didn't make it to my family's thanksgiving (and enjoyed none of it when I did) that I stopped the steroid cream and slowly started to come back to earth.
For the past 3 days I've finally been able to function again. I have done my work, left my house, and even went to a network event last night - something that can be overwhelming for me on my best of days.
But most importantly what I have realized is that even though I feel generally down, and still very anxious, I don't feel much desire to JUUL. Somewhere mixed up with my emotional rollercoaster, the constant voice in my head telling me to JUUL, the desperate need to hit it all the time, slowly subsided. The overwhelming need has mostly been replaced by fleeting thoughts, sometimes they are strong and significant, but much easier fought with distraction, meditation, and really delicious mango licorice candy.
My journey has only just begun, but I have taken a step to rejoin the world. And for today, that is the best possible thing I could ask for. Next stop, one month, and I'll worry about the rest later.