One of the things I often think about while I share posts like my fitness journeys over the years is my overall health. While I’ve been many iterations of myself very publicly, there of course is always a certain amount of me that I have kept out of the public eye. Some for the sake of a sense of privacy, but others because I had sense of shame around them. One of those things in that for a very long time, I was a cigarette smoker.
Almost two and half years after quitting for good, I got to thinking about some of the things that I wish someone would have told me when I was getting ready to finally do it. So if nothing else, maybe this blog post in particular might help shed some light on the process and help someone feel more empowered to do the same with some real insights, albeit in hindsight.
I guess you could say that hindsight is, as the expression goes, 20/20. Would haves and should haves don’t really exist or have value for me because I believe that regret can eat away at someone. While life hasn’t always been kind, I genuinely trust that everything I have experienced, endured and overcome have made me into the man I am today.
Smoking is something that started early in my life. I grew up in a house of smokers and it was all around me growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s. And while the same may be said for non-smokers or my age, it was just something I was drawn to in highschool. Not because I was a “cool” kid (already the decline in social status points associated with cigarettes has begun towards the later half of the 1990s) but just because it was around me.
In to my twenties, associated around the same time as coming out of the closet and enjoying the perks of a night life, it continued to be a habit that I tried to quit but turned back to too easily. From there came graduating from University, a long term relationship, engagement and break-up, moving back and forth between cities, and many other life lessons. All the while I clung to cigarettes as my vice and sense of regularity.
After losing my Dad to a heart attack at 56 years old in my early thirties, the same age as his father of the same cause, things came in to focus really quickly. While I try to not dwell too much on that time in my life because it’s still very challenging to cope with, it did change many things for me very quickly. So once I put the cigarettes down for good in April 2018, I had to face what came with quitting. And here are the top five things I had to learn on my own from first hand experience.
1. My metabolism completely changed
As someone who not only suffers from body image dysmorphia, I am at odds with my appearance at the best of times, and have been since my twenties. My physical appearance has over the years changed drastically, and in most cases can be an expression of my mental health. I am not here to comment on numbers on a scale, but rather to state my own experiences. To say that my body changes would be an understatement.
And yes, a lot of smokers go through the same moments. Chemically, you are altering so many things in your body with each cigarette. When you stop that, your body has to heal itself and relearn many things, and in many people weight gain is common. While I have been vain at times in my life I am happier to know I look the way I do today while working towards feeling healthier inside and out, I know that I am better off as a non-smoker.
2. I had to fail at least once
It is so cliché to write the following words, but in life the best lessons I have learned have come from failing. Although it would have been amazing to quit once and stick to it, it took a lot of determination and effort to quit and stay a non-smoker.
It helped me to see that I was stronger than I realized, that if I set my mind to it I could accomplish so much. That being said, don’t make excuses like”I’ll just quit again another time” if you’re on the path I was, because you’ll only be undermining yourself. I remember the first few times sneaking a cigarette no one knew about, but I knew.
It took a lot for me to quit, but I got there. And each failure made me stronger along the way.
3. Unusual Cravings
For those who know me or follow along on social media, you’ll know I am a pretty weird snacker. I like small bites of MANY different things, but when I quit my appetite and cravings took me for a wild ride. Similarly to my metabolism, it honestly felt like I was relearning to eat and what food had to offer. I did somewhat feel like what I assume pregnant people do with strange food cravings and combinations in the middle of the night, but maybe that was my body’s way of showing me how great the world could be without the vice.
Fact remains that your sense of smell and taste improve pretty significantly and quickly once you quit. It’s like the world gets more beautiful, especially the food you enjoy along the way. That being said, associated foods like morning coffee can be difficult for a few weeks, but I promise once you’re on the other side, they are even better.
4. I needed to schedule myself distractions
This is hands down the hardest part of quitting in my mind. As mentioned above, I still very much remember the ritual of waking up, making a cup of coffee and stepping outside for a morning smoke. If it sounds like I am fondly remembering this, it’s because I am.
Don’t get me wrong, I am so happy I’m a non-smoker now, but there are days I could honestly light one up in my mind. There was a certain certainty in my schedule. I go smoke breaks at work. I had something to do if I needed to step away from schoolwork. All of that changes when you quit and you find yourself reaching for something that isn’t there any more.
So my suggestion is to schedule yourself distractions. Instead of a morning coffee and smoke, make it a morning coffee and shower. No smoke break at work? Take a moment to step into the staff room and check your social media. There are things to do in this world that are satisfying and much better for your health, so don’t be fooled by “missing” a routine like a cigarette. It took me a long time to learn this one, but with practice you can too.
5. I would ultimately feel so proud and so much healthier for it
This one kind of goes without saying, but I liken it to when I was a young man and would win an award for public speaking. Something that took time to practice and master as a skill. I worked hard to achieve a goal.
So regularly I remind myself I accomplished something many people don’t and for that I’m proud. My body has already thanked me two and half years later after almost twenty years of smoking. I don’t wake up wheezing in the night. My skin is better. My physical fitness is so much easier. And overall I know I will hopefully live longer for my husband, my future children and for the goals I still want to achieve in this life.
I know that for those of you who have quit, these all sound familiar. For those of you thinking of quitting, they may sound daunting. But here is the silver lining I can offer – many of us have been where you are and are here to help. Anyone reading this who many need some support can feel free to reach out to me. I can happily be your cheerleader and I can guarantee there are people in your immediate circle that feel the same.
While some of you may see me differently now that I have revealed a part of myself I kept out of the public eye, I know it’s important for many others to see read this post. I have never shied away from honesty, or uncomfortable topics, because despite all the success I have shared I too have felt the challenge of something like this.
Remember that you are not alone, and to not be so hard on yourself, no matter what your journey holds.
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