"I just want to feel like myself again!"
Sound familiar? This thought--this painfully gnawing, progressively-building feeling--was, in one way or another, at the heart of every single one of my many, many previous attempts to quit smoking.
Being a closet smoker for most of my life (from my first secret cigarette stolen from my mother's pack when I was 14 and all the subsequent decades of my smoking life) social situations weren't a major trigger for me. I wasn't so much addicted to the social aspect of smoking--after all, if nobody knew I smoked I couldn't do it around them, so I learned to resist in those situations, surreptitiously popping in a Nicorette if I needed to fend off a craving. But I was very much addicted to the physiological/psychological component of smoking. Whenever I tried to quit smoking in the past I'd last may be a couple of days, maybe even a week or two; one time I actually lasted over two years (though I still chewed nicotine gum heavily the whole time!).
Why did I always end up turning once again to my chosen addiction? Because deep down I just wanted to feel like I did when nicotine was flowing through my veins!
I missed the pick-me-up that a good jolt of nicotine gave me. For years, I started my day with my morning drugs, caffeine and nicotine, to help me wake up and get going. But when I quit smoking one of those two was missing, and I just seemed to start out the day in a fog; it might or might not get less foggy as the day wore on. I had trouble concentrating. Now, this might be okay for an hour or two, but it would go on for hours, days, a week or more. My work requires me to be able to focus, but I couldn't. I was convinced that I had to feel like myself so I could do what I had to do, as I had always been able to do. Better to smoke than to lose my job or have my reputation suffer.
Why did I always end up turning once again to my chosen addiction?
I definitely missed that familiar, relaxing "ahhhh" feeling that I got when I took a drag, inhaled the smoke into my lungs, and blew it out. It calmed me when I was stressed or upset. It was a comfortable ritual when I finished a meal or shift at work. It was a reward I looked forward to giving myself when I completed a task (a reward that seemed to become even more precious and anticipated the longer that task lasted!). It was something that I had been doing for so many years, something that I had been feeling since I was a teen, something that had become so integrated into my physio/emotional/habitual life that I believed I not only wanted it--I needed it. Without it I just did not feel like myself.
Would I ever feel like myself again, would I ever enjoy this thing or that thing or that experience, would I always yearn for that "ahhhh" feeling? Even if I didn't think of it as concretely as that, that was what my inner addict was telling itself. And--usually sooner rather than later--I would give in and have a cigarette. Or I would instead compromise and buy some nicotine gum (after all, it wasn't smoking!). Of course, it was never just that one piece of gum or that one cigarette. The gum would inevitably lead me to smoke a cigarette. That one cigarette would lead me to buy a pack. And another. And another. Yes, I was disappointed in myself for giving in; I would castigate myself for being so weak in the face of this addiction. But at least I finally felt like myself again!!!
Or did I?
In hindsight, what I wanted was to feel like my addicted self, the self whose thoughts, emotions, and serotonin levels had been altered by years and years of nicotine dosing. I didn't even remember what the real me, the non-addicted me, the 14 year-old Dave-who-had-yet-to-try-his-first-cigarette felt like.
"I just want to feel like myself again!"
It's now been over four months since I've smoked a cigarette or chewed a piece of nicotine gum, and twelve weeks since I stopped using a nicotine patch. Do I still have that yearning to "feel like myself," to experience what I once believed nicotine would give me?
For the most part, it has receded into the past. Occasionally, when I find myself in a certain situation, that desire will briefly enter my mind. But now I recognize it for what it is--for the lie it is! To give into it would lead me back to the addiction I was immersed in for too many years. I am slowly beginning to rediscover who the real "me" is, and that is the Dave I want to feel like.
In the past four months I have joined a gym and begun exercising. I have (for the first time in my life), been careful about what I eat and how much I'm eating. I've lost nearly 30 pounds (and, to me at least, I never was obviously overweight!). Oh, and I've quit smoking! That's the new me--or I should say, the old me, rediscovered.
And I'm finally learning to feel like myself again!