In the past seven months, I’ve stopped using nicotine and alcohol for the first time since starting nearly ten years ago!
But I want to stop here and preface the rest of my story by acknowledging a couple points…
I’m very fortunate to not be faced with a life-or-death situation through my substance use. If you, or someone you care about, have been affected by life-threatening addictions, my heart goes out to you. I hope that if you feel you need help, you’re able to access it. I am listing resources I am familiar with at the bottom. I hope that you can see my story as part of the substance use spectrum.
Speaking publicly about my experience with addiction and substance use is very new to me. So please, if you feel I misrepresent something about addiction in general, I am open to correction. I’ve done my best to only speak to my own experience.
How my addiction started
Those of us that use these various substances all use for different reasons. I used them to HAVE SO MUCH FUN. And also because, for a time, I felt and believed they served to help relax me.
Starting around when I turned 20, my nicotine and alcohol use turned from casual social use until it increased up to where I was smoking about a pack a day, and I had at least two beers every day. Unless it was a special occasion — like dinner with friends, birthdays, vacations, days off, grilling, not grilling, being home alone — then I had more to “keep having fun.”
I liked this set up. I liked it a lot. My choices worked well with my close group of friends. It felt good, and it felt fun, and it worked for me, because I “didn’t really drink that much.” The worst outcome I ever noticed was a hangover, or as I called it “having too much fun.”
So what changed?
Well… I can’t quite put my finger on it. It was last summer, in the middle of one of the strangest upheaval periods of my life thus far, and I woke up one day and suddenly felt that I needed to stop smoking. NOW.
I felt very blindsided by this sudden urge. This need. My brain, my very smart, and very nicotine-addicted, brain said “UM, HELLO. We like smoking. So we’re gonna need to keep doing that.”
The next seven months have been a total see-saw of trying to figure out what I wanted, and what part of my brain and gut I could trust to help me make the best decisions for myself.
Letting go of using alcohol and cigarettes feels like everything I was chasing when I started using them — it feels radical, new, exciting, scary.
There were times I felt like I couldn’t figure out what the freaking point of fighting the battle was. Just light up, bottoms up, give up. But every time I decided to go back to using alcohol and nicotine, I felt worse about it. No matter how much of my physical brain lit up in delight, my spirit was bored and disappointed. Plus I felt gross. When I relapsed, I noticed the way cigarettes made me sneeze and gave me a headache. I noticed how slowed down and absent I felt when I drank.
Letting go of using alcohol and cigarettes feels like everything I was chasing when I started using them — it feels radical, new, exciting, scary. It feels bad-ass to put myself first — like, really first. Not a panicked “I need a cigarette and a beer or I can’t get this night started” putting myself first. I also feel that I’m still learning to frame my life up until now, to figure out exactly how I feel about everything I’ve done and seen. It’s a process.
And folks, I am feeling bananas good
It’s been a few months and I am feeling emotions and ways and things I didn’t even know I stopped feeling. My anxiety is down. My ability to believe my positive thoughts is going up. My brain (my very smart brain!) is rewiring. I’m able to notice what I’m interested in and what speaks to me. I have more energy. My body is healing. I am super-duper stoked to figure out this new part of my life.
Here’s list of the resources I found the most helpful:
- Reddit’s /r/stopsmoking and /r/stopdrinking communities are really fantastic.
If you’re wondering about any part of your substance use, I recommend lurking (or actively getting involved) in these communities.
- Instagram: off.the.rocks, wearesober, namastaysober, girlswalkout, thesoberglow, hipsobriety, and laura_mckowen.
- Books: Right now I’m reading Unwasted by Sacha Scoblic and I just finished Blackout by Sarah Hepola. My Goodreads to-do list is like whoa with addiction memoirs and books. (Feel free to friend me!) I am also really interested in reading Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz
- Tinybuddha.com: This site has gotten me through some of my worst early cravings and emotional crises.
- Therapy: Speaking as a self-growth junkie, a former patient of two amazing therapists, and a hopeful future therapist myself… A good therapist can help you blow your own mind. A good therapist doesn’t tell you what to do — they help you figure out what you want to do, and then they help you figure out why, and how, and so on. Oh, I absolutely love therapy! I recommend GoodTherapy.org to help you find a therapist, if you desire.
- YouTube and Podcasts: I love Thriving Minimalist on YouTube. His experience in dealing with his addictions is very inspiring, and beautiful. I also just listened to the podcast Home with Laura McKowen, and it was so very nice to listen to.
Homies, Thank you for reading this very brief, vulnerable, important slice of my experience. Sending you all super good supportive vibes. Feel free to leave a comment!
Comments on How I stopped using nicotine and alcohol (+6 useful resources if you wanna do the same)
Thanks for sharing your experience, Dorothy! It’s good to here from somewhere on “the spectrum” – I think I’m more used to hearing about the extremes, where it can be tough to relate to if you’re somewhere in the middle.
Yes, absolutely. I think that’s why many of us linger in an uncomfortable “I’ll probably know when it’s time to quit..right..?” space. We wait for an objective “rock bottom”
I’m glad you enjoyed the read.
I was a pack-a-day smoker for over a decade. Then at a new year’s party my friends & i all sat around and i said “actually i need to stop smoking”. I quit 4 days later, cold turkey. A few days after that one of the new year’s partygoers was diagnosed with lung cancer. I haven’t smoked since, and my friend is now terminally ill. I will never smoke again.
Thank you for these resources. For my friends who are addicted to nicotine and/or alcohol, the biggest problem with quitting is that it’s so much a part of their identity. Being “a person who smokes” or “a person who drinks” is a part of them, and without the substance they don’t really know who they are. It makes quitting seem empty and scary. Some of them may quit when they’re ready. Some I’m pretty sure never will. Either way, it’s something they have to do for themselves – no one can do it for them.
Your story reminds me of mine, actually. I’ve never been much of a drinker, and I’ve never smoked at all (because I was pretty sure I’d love it, and didn’t want to get started). But I sure was addicted to sugar. About ten years ago, just before Christmas, I felt a strong conviction that I needed to give up refined sugars immediately. And that I could do it if I started *that day,* but might not have the strength for it if I waited. So, I followed that conviction, suffered through the sugar withdrawals, and am in a much better place now. Hopefully it will help to prevent or delay the descent into diabetes that several others in my family have suffered.
I too am a sugar addict. Currently 21 days without it. It gets easier everyday, I am no longer willing to stab people for doughnuts. I feel so much better both mentally and physically without it.
Yeah, it is really a lot of work to understand ourselves and the stories we tell ourselves and addiction can make telling ourselves toxic untruths especially easy.
There is not much you can do for your friends but it sounds like you’re at peace with that.
I’m glad cutting out sugar feels important for you and you’re doing it!
Another possible resource for those wanting to quit smoking is the book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr: http://amzn.to/2ns8xNs
Yes, many people swear by this book!
As a person in recovery, I think it is only proper to list Twelve Step programs as valuable resources on a post like this. I didn’t know they existed when I was at my lowest, and if I had found this post at that time in my life, I’d want to know about them as a place for me to go and get help (and, speaking for NA, I’d want to know that it is free, non-religious, substance agnostic, etc). I’d want to know that I could look them up, find one nearby and give it a try.
Absolutely! Thank you for referring to Twelve Step programs. I tried to keep my resources to ones that I personally had experience with, which is why I did not include them.
I’m really glad you found a way that works for you.