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Ibegan smoking cigarettes regularly when I was 17. Both my parents were smokers (they’ve since quit), which sped up my decision to take up the habit. In the beginning, my brand of choice was Newport 100s. I liked the smooth mint flavor, its polluted, metallic sweetness. After my dad went to sleep, I’d smoke out of my bedroom window, then leave it open so the smell didn’t linger. I soon graduated to Marlboro Reds, savoring the dense, harsh smoke that settled on my insides like a concrete film. I adored this feeling — burning and scraping, like eating glass.
When I left for college in New York a couple years later, I began drinking heavily too, a reaction to troubled, turbulent relationships with both my parents. I smoked a cigarette every morning before I ate, between classes, and after hours with my bartender friends, sometimes until four in the morning. The punishing blows from each cigarette felt both terrible and delicious. I had no intention of giving them up.
At the time, my body felt indestructible, as though no matter what I subjected it to, it would survive. I deprived it of sleep, filled it with poisonous chemicals, and simply ignored the resulting headaches, exhaustion, and nausea. I treated my body like a soulless tool I could endlessly manipulate without any consequences. It felt good to force myself to feel bad. To drink until I felt sick and then plaster over my roiling guts with a few cigarettes. Mentally, I felt separate from my body, almost floating above it, tethered only loosely to my physical self.
Miraculously, I made it to graduate school, but by the time I finished the program in 2015, I felt like an old dish rag: tattered around the edges, wrung out too many times, stained and worn through in places. I decided to flee back to my dad’s house in Seattle; he welcomed me warmly. I stayed for eight months, tutoring middle-schoolers who lived in mansions, trying to enjoy a quieter life. But I was still smoking, once again out of my bedroom window.
My revulsion toward cigarettes appeared almost out of the blue about a year later. Even the smell of smoke made my head ache and my stomach bubble with nausea. By then, I was 27, and once again living on the East Coast, this time with my partner. My relationship with my parents had finally stabilized, and I was writing full time, as I’d always dreamed. I often heard long time smokers say, “You can only quit if you want to,” an aphorism that turned out to be true. One day, I saw an advertisement for the Juul and bought one. I used it to wean myself off cigarettes, and still crave it before bed, or if I’ve had a couple glasses of wine (though since I’ve stopped smoking, I drink far less, too). Ten years after I began smoking, I was finally cigarette-free.

I assumed that once I quit smoking, I would be able to sleep better, that my lungs would open up, and I’d have the stamina of a trained athlete.

I assumed that once I quit smoking, I would be able to sleep better, that my lungs would open up, and I’d have the stamina of a trained athlete.
Almost immediately, my relationship to my body transformed. I didn’t miraculously start to feel like the perfect specimen of health, nor did I decide to love my body unconditionally. I assumed that once I quit smoking, I would be able to sleep better, my lungs would open up, and I’d have the stamina of a trained athlete. Unfortunately, none of that happened, but it didn’t need to.
Instead, I put on weight for the first time in ten years, and felt literally more substantial, more grounded (both in my skin and to the Earth) and less like I could float away on the slightest breeze and dissolve into the atmosphere. Quitting cigarettes felt like emerging from a tub of thick, goopy jelly I had been trapped under for years, or like wiping away layer after layer of dust from an old mirror. I began to feel __ more clearly. I learned to intuit my body’s fluctuations and reactions, as though my spirit had finally merged with my flesh. With my brain anchored to my body, rather than disconnected by rivers and clouds of chemicals, I can finally hear the messages it’s been struggling to send me.
Sometimes my response is rather simple, like leaving a party when I’m tired. Other times it’s more complicated: I scheduled an appointment with a doctor, who prescribed a syrupy liquid to drink that helps relieve the digestive issues that have tormented me most of my life. The dentist around the corner from my apartment taught me how to floss so that I could finally put an end to chronic gingivitis. I no longer ignore my body’s needs. I honor them.
Don’t get me wrong: I have slipped up a couple times, sneaking half a cigarette on a balcony or a backyard after one too many beers. But this happens rarely, and I can’t finish the whole cigarette without being felled by a wave of nausea. My body recognizes cigarettes for what they are now: a poison that worked to divorce my consciousness from the body it calls home. The two wouldn’t have been able to survive much longer without each other. All those years, my body was trying to talk to me. But when I cut cigarettes out of my life, I started to listen, and am beginning to feel whole.

What it means to be

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  • Smoking
  • Body
  • Health
  • Addiction
  • Self

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What it means to be

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