I haven’t smoked a cigarette in a week, but I did want one so badly I cried about it on Wednesday. Here’s what it was like;
It was like it’s been this horrible, broken year of reckoning and failure and fear and anger, and I’ve been smoking a lot. Like, yeah, Covid affects your lungs so probably not a great pandemic to smoke cigarettes through, but it also affects your mental health and I felt like I wanted a cigarette every minute of every day this entire year since March. I was also in a relationship where I felt like crying a lot, and smoking helped me not to cry. You take a deep drag, or a shallow one if it’s all you can muster, and in the time it takes to inhale and then exhale you can stave off the tears for a bit and either try to listen to your partner’s feelings or form words around yours. (It’s honestly really helpful.)
Anyway, cigarettes are obviously bad for you and I’m out here trying to be a better person and like, take care of my body. Also, my car smelled like an ashtray.
So I quit. Again. And made it to Wednesday, four days after the last drag, and lost it. I was irritated at the kid I nanny, at my friends, at the weather, at slow drivers, etc. and could feel this shaky desperation in my throat and chest building; I wanted a cigarette. I needed one. And I knew I couldn’t have one, because one leads to three and three leads to a whole pack gone in a day and a half, and worse than a whole pack gone is that feeling of defeat and self-betrayal that smacks you upside the head and causes you to hold yourself in contempt. You also hold everyone else in contempt for their disappointment in you. Sorry dad. I know. I failed again. Fuck.
And we all know what hating yourself does, right? I’ll give you a hint; it’s not productive.
Anyway, I finished nannying and booked it up the 97 to Smith Rock, miserable and bitter and preoccupied with wanting to smoke so fucking badly I just chewed all my fingernails to the quick. On the drive north, I felt enveloped in this sense of deep, deep, self-awareness and a kind of reckoning; I did this to myself. I chose to start and continue smoking cigarettes, and now when I try not to it causes a physical ache and emotional distress. I did this. I deserved to feel so miserable. This summer when I was dealing with tendonitis in my elbows and plantar fasciitis (which literally feels like the balls of your feet are covered in deep bruises) I got really obsessed with nutrition and felt a whole lot of shame for having starved myself for years in high school. I wondered if my teenage anorexia and subsequent veganism/cigarette addiction caused my body to break down this past Summer, which, naturally, caused me to feel immense shame.
I drove up the 97 blinking back tears, trying to swallow around the lump in my throat, and finally gave in to my bitterness and sobbed, big sloppy tears. I cried for my current self, addicted and alone and unsure if I could make it through the day without my most soothing vice. I cried because I felt defeated before I’d even given in; I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make it through Day Four of withdrawals. I cried for my past self, too, who knew smoking was bad but figured she could keep it to parties and only around certain friends. I cried for that livewire little teenage Jess thinking she was tougher than she was, and had a strong enough will to quit whenever she wanted. She never thought it would get this bad.
The last time I cried with so much pathetic self-pity and self-loathing was in the two weeks after my ex and I split up. (Yeah, that one, literally the week I posted this.) I remember laying in my bed with my palms against my eyes sobbing, shocked at my defeat and failure to be loved. Like, I’m the one who ended things, but it was because I’d failed; I couldn’t commit and therefore I couldn’t love or be loved, at least not while I was depressed and angry and scared. I wanted out, and once I got out I was terrified of my solitude, of my invisibility, and I believed, for the first time in any breakup I’ve ever had, that no one would ever love me again. I felt like if I’d known how horrible a breakup could be, I never would have dated.
If I’d known how hard it would be to stop smoking, I never would have started.
I made it to Smith, wiped the snot from my face and hiked down to the crag to meet my friends. I wanted someone to throw a top-rope on this scary 11c I’d tried a few days before. I wasn’t ready to lead it; I’ve been pretty scared of falling for a couple months now. I think my fear of our political system, the pandemic anxiety, and my failing romance just did a number on my self-confidence and where I was once pretty bold and adventurous in climbing, I became very timid.
Anyway, my buddy and I warmed up and then he climbed Moondance to hang a top-rope for me. Once he got down, I checked my phone and lo, the case worker for the foster kid I nanny had texted me. They’d run my fingerprints and she wanted to call me later to have a conversation about my “criminal history”.
Ok…like jesus christ what a bad fucking day! I kept it together somehow at the crag but my mind went from zero to a hundred; even though I hadn’t been charged (I wasn’t actually intoxicated – its a funny story for another time) that Summer, I had been arrested (hands cuffed behind my back and everything!), and that shows up now when you run my fingerprints. Was my almost-DUI going to cost me nanny work? Would it ruin my chances of becoming a foster parent? I saw my life unravel before me; I’d never go back to school, I’d never become a social worker or lawyer or run a climbing nonprofit for foster youth, and I’d never be loved! I knew it. I made one little reckless mistake last Summer (ok, a couple reckless mistakes) and it was going to cost me not only this nanny gig, but my future. And I’d never quit smoking! And I couldn’t climb hard routes! AND I’D NEVER BE LOVED!
I told my buddy I had to pee and ran behind some bushes and just sat out of sight for a minute, looking up at the Smith Rock group and trying to do the hippie dippie mindfulness bullshit my therapist has been yapping about. Breathe in seven counts, breathe out eight. Feel the dirt beneath you. Note the multiple colors in the trees, river, rocks, and ground. Remember that your brain goes fucking crazy under stress and your thoughts are not reality. I felt like no one at the crag had the glaring deficiencies I had, but I knew that was just my defeatist, self-indulgent depression talking.
I looked back at the climb and figured, might as well take some big ole falls to gimme a reason to scream. Might as well get scared and focused and get my mind off the withdrawals and impending doom re; my future job prospects. Might as well just…go climbing.
So I went back to Moondance, asked my buddy to pull the rope, then tied in and put on my shoes. I asked him to get ready to catch me when I fell.
I couldn’t quit smoking and I’d never be loved again and I would never have my dream job, but at least the temps were good and I could go rock climbing. I pulled on and marveled at how mellow the climb felt, how big the holds seemed and how sticky my fingers were. My feet knew where to go, and I felt like I could trust my body to lean however it needed to. I felt strong.
I got scared in the dihedral and almost took and rested at a bolt, and then reminded myself your body knows how to do this. Trust yourself. Nothing was actually hard; it was just mental. It was just scary. My body could do it; it was just my sad-sack brain on the ground telling me I couldn’t.
I clipped the chains and laughed a little, because damn it felt good to have a win that day. That god-awful day in this god-awful year. I needed just *one* win, and got it. It’s not the hardest climb I’ve done, but it felt really good to clip those chains and realize it was working; the mindfulness, the lack of cigarettes allowing my lungs to take in more oxygen so my muscles didn’t give out on me, the healthy food I’ve been eating when my stressed-out brain begs me to restrict like in high school so I’d feel some semblance of control, etc. etc. I felt like, yeah, super cheesy to use rock climbing as a metaphor, but…I could do it. I’d figure out the withdrawals and my fear of intimacy and my “criminal history” somehow, one move at a time.
~When I got back to my phone by the way, the case worker had texted me back that she’d gotten access to my police report and everything was cleared up. I was fine to keep nannying the little foster kid. I’ve never been more grateful to get to change a baby’s gross diapers, or read “going on a bear hunt” four times in a row. I never want to take for granted being able to work with kids, my career hopes, or a body that is pain-free.
And now its been a little over a week since my last cigarette.
Baby steps, babe.