I’ve had two addictions running through most of my adult life: smoking and drinking.
Two years ago, I had my last drink. Since December 31, 2016, I’ve been completely sober. I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol over the past two years, and I don’t plan to ever drink again.
I’ve often described quitting drinking as the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The withdrawal was awful, both physically and mentally. Even after the acute withdrawal ended, I continued to struggle with cravings and other mental problems related to quitting, including depression.
I always expected smoking to be an easier habit to kick. Drinking had dominated my life in a way that smoking never seemed to, so I thought that once I was confident with my sobriety, I could stop smoking without too much trouble.
Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that for me, quitting smoking is even harder than quitting drinking.
On one hand, the physical symptoms that I’ve experienced from nicotine withdrawal are much less intense than the physical symptoms that I went through when I quit drinking. On the other hand, the cravings and psychological aspects of quitting smoking have been much worse.
During the two years that I’ve been sober, I’ve made several attempts to quit smoking — I’ve normally lasted only a couple days. The few times I’ve lasted longer, I never really quit smoking entirely — I’d still end up smoking with friends several times a week.
I’m proud to say though, that for the past 8 days I’ve been completely, 100%, cigarette-free.
I’ve written before about my first few days of sobriety. That post was written nearly two years after I quit drinking, so I had already forgotten some of the details of those early days, but I had also had time to reflect on my recovery. Now I want to turn to what the past week has been like — my early days of quitting smoking.
The Physical Symptoms
As I mentioned earlier, the physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal haven’t been nearly so bad as those I experienced when I quit drinking. With that said, they’ve still been bad.
The biggest physical problem I’ve experienced is trouble sleeping. I’m having trouble both falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night. It’s strange to me, because nicotine is a stimulant, and I would have guessed that going without it would make me sleep more. Instead, it’s had the opposite effect.
The lack of sleep has left me feeling drowsy throughout the day, but I’ve resisted napping because I’m worried that will just make it even harder to fall asleep when nighttime comes.
The second biggest issue I’ve faced is constipation. I don’t see many people talking about this online, maybe because of the “ick” factor, but it’s had a surprisingly huge impact on my past week.
My first few days without cigarettes left me completely constipated. I hadn’t really experienced this in previous attempts to quit smoking, so I wasn’t anticipating it at all. I learned quickly that constipation can be incredibly painful. It was bothering and distracting me all day long.
After a few days, I started taking stool softeners which mostly fixed the problem. I only wish that I had started taking them sooner.
The final major physical problem that I’ve had is lightheadedness. Over the past week, I’ve found the blood often rushing to my head when I stand up. I squatted to reach the bottom shelf in a store a few days ago and felt like I was going to pass out when I stood back up. I’ve been trying to drink water almost constantly, but I’m not sure how much it’s helping.
Although these physical symptoms are bad, in just the past couple days they have already started to get better. I’m feeling optimistic that I’m through the worst of it.
The Mental Symptoms
In comparison to the physical symptoms, the mental side of nicotine withdrawal has been significantly worse. (Of course, there’s overlap between these categories, but it’s helped me to think of them separately.)
My mind has been in a complete fog for the past week. I actually originally tried to write this post yesterday, but couldn’t get more than a few sentences done. Even now, it’s taking me at least twice as long to write as it usually does, and I’m making way more typos and grammatical mistakes.
Work has been difficult to get through. Errands are tricky too. Even a trip to the DMV left me feeling confused (although maybe that’s typical of DMV visits).
Today is the first day that I’ve started to feel more clear-headed, but it’s still been on and off all day.
In addition to the mental fog, I’ve also been dealing with increased depression and anger. I’ve noticed this the most at night, although it comes during the day too. I’ve mostly tried to avoid talking to friends and family because I noticed that I was getting annoyed at even the smallest things.
For the increased depression, I haven’t found a good fix. I’ve been exercising more, but I don’t know if it’s helping. It’s the symptom I’m most concerned about because I think it’s the most likely to lead me back to smoking.
Speaking of which, the cravings have been awful. I read advice online that said to just ignore cravings because they only last for a few minutes. Mine seem to be lasting a lot longer than that. Also, my cravings are so frequent that some days it seems like they have been there from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep.
I’ve avoided going anywhere near a gas station (where I normally buy cigarettes), and I’ve completely stayed out of contact with my friends who smoke. It’s made the cravings a little easier to resist. I’ve also been helping myself to all the snacks I want.
The cravings have gotten slightly better since the first couple of days, but they’re still very present.
I’m optimistic about staying quit. I feel like I’m through the worst of it.
There is a part of me that wants to dwell on my many previous failures to quit smoking. I’m doing my best to ignore that kind of negative thinking.
I don’t expect things to be easy going forward, but I’m ready to get through it being hard.