Hello there. My name is Kayla Archer and I am an on again off again smoker. November is national smoke cessation month, and I am here to talk to you about my journey with quitting smoking.
I have been a smoker for 15 years. I started the habit when I was 19. According to the CDC, 9 out of 10 adults who smoke start before the age of 18, and so I was just a little behind the statistic. I never thought I would be a smoker. Both of my parents smoke, and as a young person I found the habit gross and irresponsible. Over the last 15 years, I have used smoking as a coping skill, and as an excuse for socializing with others.
When I turned 32, I decided that for my health and wellbeing I needed to take a closer look at why I smoked, and then take steps to quit. I had gotten married, and suddenly I wanted to live forever so I could share my experiences with my husband. My husband has never pressured me to quit smoking, although he himself is a non-smoker. I just knew, deep down, that the excuses I was giving myself to smoke didn’t hold as much water anymore. So, I journaled, noticed when and why I would choose to smoke, and made a plan. I told all my family and friends that I would be quitting smoking October 1, 2019. I bought the gum, sunflower seeds, and bubbles all in the hopes of keeping my hands and mouth busy. I bought a ridiculous amount of yarn and brought my crochet needles out of hiding – knowing that idle hands wouldn’t be good. September 30, 2019, I chain smoked half a pack of cigarettes, listened to some break-up songs (singing to my pack of smokes) and then got rid of my ashtrays and lighters. I did quit smoking that October 1st, not needing but one day of gum assistance. The first week was filled with emotions (mainly irritability) but I worked hard to validate those feelings and find different coping skills (going on walks, doing yoga) to help my mood.
I didn’t really miss smoking that much after the first month. Honestly, I had always found the smell and taste a bit nasty. I loved that all my clothes smelled better and that I was saving so much money (4 packs a week added up to about $25.00, that’s $100.00 a month). I crocheted a lot, and that productivity during the winter months was awesome. It wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows though. Having my coffee in the morning wasn’t the same without a cigarette, and stressful times were met with a strange internal hostility I wasn’t used to. I did remain smoke free, until April of 2020.
When everything with COVID-19 hit, I was overwhelmed like everyone else. Suddenly my routines were thrown off, and I couldn’t see my friends and family for safety. How weird life had become, that isolation was the safest measure. I attempted to increase the amount of time I spent exercising, for stress relief, and was completing yoga in the morning, a three mile walk with my dog in the afternoon, and at least one hour of cardio after work. I did, however, find myself feeling very lonely, and anxious even with all the endorphins I was sending through my body with exercise. A lot of my friends lost their jobs, especially those who worked in the theater community. My mother was on furlough, and my dad was working with reduced hours. I began doom scrolling on Facebook, struggling to tear myself away from all the ugliness of the novel disease that began to be politicized in a way I had never seen. I checked Colorado’s case count and death rate every two hours, knowing full well that the state would not update numbers until after 4:00 p.m. I was drowning, albeit quietly and to myself. I was underwater, not knowing what to do for myself or anyone else for that matter. Sound familiar? I bet some of you reading this can relate to all I have just written. It was a national (well, international) phenomenon to sink deep into the dread that was human existence during the beginning months of COVID-19, or as we all have come to know it – the year 2020.
On the second week of April, I picked up a cigarette again. I was incredibly disappointed in myself, as I had been smoke free for six months. I had done the work; I had fought the good fight. I couldn’t believe that I was so weak. I smoked anyway. I spent two weeks smoking as I had before when I then quit again. I was strong and stayed smoke free until a family vacation in June. I was shocked how the social influence seemed more than I could handle. No one came up to me and said, “You’re not smoking? That is so lame, and you aren’t cool anymore.” No, instead the smokers of the bunch would excuse themselves, and I was left alone to ponder my thoughts. It was the dumbest trigger, but I did end up smoking on that trip. I also smoked during another family trip in September. I justified to myself that I was on vacation, and the rules of self-discipline do not apply on vacation. I have fallen off the wagon and gotten back on multiple time since the new era of COVID-19. I have beaten myself up about it, had dreams where I was that person in the stop smoking commercials- speaking while covering a whole in my throat, and continued to inundate myself with the science behind why smoking is terrible for my health. Even with all of that, I fell. I get back on track and then stumble again.
In the time of COVID-19, I have heard repeatedly to show myself some grace. “Everyone is doing the best they can.” “This is not a normal state of affairs.” Yet, when it comes to my journey to put down the cancer stick, I find little reprieve from the incessant snipping and belittling of my own mind. I suppose that is a good thing, as I do want to be a non-smoker more than anything. There is no excuse big enough to poison myself in the way I do when I take a puff. Yet, I struggle. I struggle, even with all of rationality on my side. I do think, though, that most people are struggling right now, with one thing or another. The concepts of identity, and self-care look so much different now than they did a year ago when I began my smoke cessation journey. I am not alone – and neither are you! We must keep trying, and keep adapting, and know that at least some of what was true then is true now. Smoking is dangerous, bottom line. Smoking cessation is a lifelong journey, bottom line. I must keep fighting the good fight and be a little less critical on myself when I succumb on occasion. It does not mean that I have lost the war, just one battle. We can do this, you, and me. We can keep on, keeping on, whatever that means for us.
If you need help to begin your journey, visit coquitline.org or call 800-QUIT-NOW.