It’s been one week since I smoked my last cigarette.
I will always remember that cigarette. I’d sneaked into the toilets at a bar downtown, not being able to wait any longer for a puff. Unfortunately, the niceness and cleanliness of a bar in Daejeon is absolutely no indication of what the toilets will be like. Often, they’re not on the same floor or even in the same building, and you might have to go out on to the street and into a grotty cubicle down an alleyway. You might find a luxury bathroom with a toilet that politely offers to clean your bum (really), or you might find a dark, smelly, damp place with a hole in the ground for you to squat over. There’s no telling until you go in.
Anyway, this place last week was closer to the latter description. It was smelly, dirty, and cold. I stood there in a cubicle, shivering in my winter coat, and lit up, trying to avoid touching anything other than my cigarette. Inside the cosy bar, my boss (now becoming something resembling a friend, at least as far as our infamous communication problems permit) and a mutual friend were sitting chatting and sipping beer. I took a few quick drags and then choked, my nose and throat already painfully scratchy and dry from allergies, now aggravated by the smoke. At that exact moment, a guy in the men’s toilets did that horrible hacking, throat-clearing thing that turns my stomach. He kept right on going, to the point where I couldn’t bear it any longer. I put out my cigarette and hurried out, just as throat-clearing guy, still making terrible noises, emerged and lit up a cigarette.
That was it. That was the moment. I watched him take a drag and then spit on the floor, my stomach lurched again, and I rejoined my friends in the bar, deciding that I’d much rather be there with them even if it meant going through a little bit of withdrawal pain.
One week on, I have gone through said withdrawal pain and emerged shaky but triumphant. I have been ill with that weird “quitter’s flu” thing. I have had the shakes (I caught the non-English-speaking principal of the school watching my hand as it tried and failed to raise a spoonful of soup to my mouth the other day. I couldn’t explain, so I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m a raging alcoholic). I have been dizzy and nauseated. I have had serious breathing difficulties. I have been unable to sleep. I have cried at a carton of sour milk and lost my temper over a missing pencil. I have endured the ultimate test of the first night of partying without cigarettes.
I know I’ve still got a long way to go and many more hurdles to overcome, but I feel ridiculously pleased with myself already. I feel good. Last night, I slept soundly for a full 8 hours. My body has been working around the clock to clear all the gross stuff out of my lungs, and I’m beginning to find it a little easier to breathe. I can taste my food. I don’t feel self-conscious about the smell of my clothes or my hair, and instead am enjoying using girly scented pampering products and smelling good rather than smoky.
I don’t want a cigarette. Yes, I do have my moments, but after the first few days of withdrawal they became more about subconscious associations than conscious cravings. Like I’d automatically feel the need to smoke when I arrived home from work, or when I was out with friends and had had a few drinks. Not because I wanted to, just because that’s what I’m programmed to do! So I’m retraining my brain into making new associations. The cigarette after work is the hardest one, and I noticed that as soon as I started walking home, I was already thinking about the first drag, to the extent where I could almost feel the nicotine entering my system. I didn’t realise how automatic that act of going home and lighting up had become. So now I go home and peel an apple, cut it into slices, and nibble on it as I tidy up, wash the dishes, and so on. The act of preparing and then eating it gives me the hand to mouth activity that I want, and has the added bonus of taking the edge off my appetite, thus stopping me from cooking a far-too-large portion of rice when I make dinner. Win-win!
I feel free rather than deprived. And next week, having given my lungs this time to recover, I start the gym. Stay tuned for that. Not only is it the unlikely idea of me in a gym, it’s me trying to communicate in Korean my desire to join said gym, and figure out how everything works without being able to understand much of the language.
I predict much confusion and embarrassment…