I am going to tell you a shameful secret of mine. Or at least something I thought I kept secret but perhaps most who know me are aware…… Definitely something that kept me in a shaming cycle of self- hate.
Since the death of my brother I have been having a relationship outside of my marriage. I have been in a torrid tryst with nicotine. Cigarettes and vaping.
Full disclosure: Nicotine and I have been in a tumultuous liaison since I was barely a teenager. From middle school forward until I met Mr. Reinvention I was an enthusiastic smoker.
Try not to groan and curl up your lips in disgust. Remember, I am a grunge girl. The 90’s was prime time for “heroin chic”, looking sallow, unkempt and unhealthy. We all smoked back then. A smoking, brooding, angry generation of young people bucking authority any way we could.
As time passed and smoking became less popular and the negative health impacts became more widely recognized, many of my friends moved on. I, however, remained a loyal devotee.
Smoking was ingrained in just about every single aspect of my life. Permeating countless memories. Woven into my identity. I created an illusion of mystery and glamour and rebellion around my habit. An addiction that I broke away from when I became a mom. Honestly, mostly because I became a mom. Truthfully although, I didn’t love some of the effects I directly felt from smoking, I didn’t hate smoking. On the contrary, there were lots of aspects of smoking I relished. I was sure that once I became a little old lady with no one to care for and no responsibilities and nobody to nag me about how horrible smoking was I would return to my habit.
Pretty sick and crazy, right?!
Fast forward to the death of my brother. What do I latch onto almost immediately for comfort? What do I do after I struggle through the day and everyone has gone off to bed? I am barely sleeping. I am full of grief and pain. I commiserate, cry, curse, play the reel of memories in my mind, drink and smoke. Repeat, night after night. I hide out and hunker down with my monkey. My husband looks at me with empathy and puzzlement. My daughter thankfully has no idea about mommy’s disgusting compulsion. My old friend nicotine to the rescue.
I barely began to get a handle on my new reality. A reality without Travis, my beloved baby brother. Then my mom died suddenly and the ground was pulled out from beneath me. My enslavement soared. I couldn’t even begin to entertain the idea of quitting. I was narrowly functioning. I was checking off all of the daily duties as wife and mother and homeschool teacher and domestic diva but I felt hollow and heavy. I slept even less. Who knew one could exist on so little sleep? I felt horrible inside physically and emotionally. Nightly, I continued to secrete myself into my pit of grief and pain. My lover, nicotine ever present.
I entered into this bizarre ping pong of addiction and shame. I continued to smoke because it eased some of my pain but I then berated myself for being such an appalling weak human being with a repulsive dependence. I felt lower than low. I felt I was failing at life because I couldn’t kick my jones.
Somehow switching from cigarettes to vaping eased some of my self flagellation. Around last holiday time I emerged from my deep ravine of grief. I felt alive again. I felt hopeful. I began to be able to look forward.
I considered the option of quitting. I finally felt strong enough. I realized how owned I was by the cravings. I was now withdrawing from life and family not because it was hard to coexist with them while in a full blown grief spiral but because I preferred the company of my vape pen. I knew that was wrong and harmful to my connection with the people that I loved the most. I knew that I was keeping myself stuck. I had many false starts and slips. Yet, here I am 2 weeks of freedom.
Freedom from nicotine!
This obstacle has been one of my most challenging to date. Nicotine is an insidious chemical and my brain tried all different tricks to get its fix. Some of my thoughts included:
- Maybe I can just be a casual smoker.
- I work hard and have been though a lot. I am an adult. It’s my choice to smoke.
- Maybe once a month I will smoke on a weekend.
- Maybe I’ll take a trip by myself and smoke then.
- Is it really that bad if I continue to smoke.
- Vaping can’t be as bad as cigarettes, right?
- If I start to gain weight, fuck it, I am smoking.
During the first few days of withdrawal I was a roller coaster of emotions. Worse than that actually. More like whatever mechanism they put astronauts in training on. I was irrational in my expectations of myself and Mr. Reinvention. There were moments of anxiety, tears, anger, rage, fear. Moments of doubt and deep breathing and dread and gritting my teeth and clenching my fists. Times that I wanted to explode right out of my skin and out of my house and just run as far away as I could. But I knew that I couldn’t outrun my discomfort. So I sat with it. We all rode out the tsunami waves to the shore of emancipation.
Today, I stand unshackled by my vice. Feeling incredibly light and airy. No nagging yearning to sneak away and get my fix. Feeling deeply grateful, happy and a bit surprised that I was able to accomplish this goal. Quitting successfully evaded me for so long. Hopelessness, shame and self -defeat pervaded me surrounding my addiction.
There is a saying from 12 step programs “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” I think with regards to this secret of mine it rings true.
Well friends, my skeleton is out. She was a big one! I am forging ahead toward reinvention and becoming my best self.
Do you have any vices you’d like to be free from? Share with me. Let that skeleton out!