Confessions of a Cigarette ManOld habits die hard but they do eventually—especially when you put your mind to it.
I was only 15 when I picked up the habit. For nine long years, it was the first and the last thing I did every single day—and I wasn’t happy.
It was only when I was 22 did I realise that I was addicted to smoking cigarettes. After each smoke, I used to loathe the harsh smell of my own breath, and every time I coughed, I was reminded of the danger I was putting myself in. I knew everything. I knew that smoking chokes my lungs, it wastes my money and time, and it will eventually shorten my life, yet I couldn’t stop.
I was smoking 20 cigarettes a day—something I had started doing after joining college. Now that I look back, in those nine years, I inhaled more than 50,000 cigarettes, which means 3.75 kilograms of tobacco have trailed through my windpipe, I have spent more than six hundred thousand rupees of my father’s money and may have contributed some amount of air pollution in Kathmandu.
If I were to be given a fancy title for my personality, something along the lines of Spiderman and Superman, my friends would have most probably named me ‘Cigarette Man’.
I mostly blamed my young age for falling into the habit and having smoker friends. I never thought I was the problem. Whenever I would think of quitting, my thoughts would go back to the time when I tried my first cigarette and wished I had never done it. But to stop now, when it has already engulfed my life, seemed nearly impossible.
It took me a long time to figure out that it is easy to blame your friends or your circumstances—but never yourself. It is especially easy to turn a blind eye when your social circle is full of smokers—then, it is easy to justify your habit, even when you know its consequences.
Once smoking became a daily routine, I began correlating everything with cigarettes; early morning jogging, tea breaks, dealing with stress, evening walk, socialising and even the metabolism process. Everything became an excuse or justification for smoking.
I knew it was bad for my mental health. With every puff, in just six seconds, the nicotine streams through my blood to the brain. The content of nicotine would make my brain happy with its hit of dopamine as a neurotransmitter which tells your brain “that was great; do it again”. Nicotine also contributes to releasing endorphins—a natural painkiller that relaxes you for some moments.
One of the reasons that cigarettes are so addictive is because they tap into our behavioural neural network. And because this is so natural to the brain that it mostly occurs subconsciously. This is why, despite our intentions, hopes and determination, efforts to quit smoking often fail.
But once we outgrow the need for nicotine, we no longer need a cigarette to relax. Our body has all the mechanism to relax without feeding any dose of nicotine.
It’s been a year since I’ve outgrown that need—after seven attempts to quit. When I was really trying to end the habit, every time I took a cigarette between my fingers I used to make quick promise to quit smoking before lighting it. I actively tried quitting for three years. I used to fail every day, sometimes my resistance would not last even for a few hours. Every failed effort kept on adding more hopelessness, self-loathing and shame.
Changing habits is hard. I tried quitting many times and every attempt was a tiresome struggle. I planned to cut down, mark limits, and to gradually stop smoking. I went through all those tormenting withdrawal symptoms, irritability, physical discomfort, obsessive thinking and sleeplessness. But it didn’t work unless I stopped picking up the cigarette in the first place.
I realised the only hard thing about quitting was having the determination to do so. Otherwise, the process was really easy. Whenever I craved a smoke, I let the thought be there but didn’t give in to my cravings. Additionally, I changed my daily routine too, I abandoned all those habits that I had created as an excuse to continue smoking—early morning walks, late-night gatherings, daytime tea in a café, and maintaining distance with my smoking buddies.
Life got simpler after I quit. Now I need not worry about hiding cigarettes or needing a mouth freshener. The money I wasted on cigarettes, I now use to groom myself, even pay for my internet services, take my partner to movies. Quitting smoking feels like a long-awaited redemption.
A year without cigarettes made me discover something about myself: that I always had the ability to change yet I never believed in myself because of past failures; just like the ‘elephant in the chain’ who never tries to break the thin rope. I am still surprised by how easy the journey to becoming a non-smoker was.
Poudyal is a freelance writer and researcher.