The day after my last birthday (October 1, 2013) I had the type of come-to-Jesus moment that happens when you have hardcore asthma that you’ve been exacerbating by smoking like a chimney for the past seven years. I saw the early-2000s mall ads where it likened an asthma attack to feeling like a fish out of water, while I laid in bed simultaneously coughing my guts up, and feeling like razors were creeping up my throat, thinking, “GOD PLEASE DON’T LET ME DIE TONIGHT I KNOW I’M GONNA."
And so: I decided I was going to quit smoking for real this time. I didn’t want to keep relying on my rescue inhaler multiple times a day when I could control it. I didn’t want to smell like smoke constantly, and I didn’t want to drain my bank account for cigarettes (Rhode Island has one of the highest cigarette taxes in the nation, which is absolutely not impressive to everyone in New York).
In order to quit I went basically cold turkey. During the first three days I had the most intense withdrawal symptoms I’d ever experienced. Periodically I’d get hit with random cold sweats, complete angry outbursts and frustration. I was hungry constantly. I sat on a yoga ball at work that I kicked across the room on day one (luckily, I have the best boss who completely went with it). It was a rollercoaster.
For the first two months, I would have two cigarettes on Saturday nights only. And the longer I abstained, the better I felt. I started being able to smell things, which was a double-edged sword: Some things smell really good, but a lot of smells just made me paranoid that things were burning, or oil was leaking or food was rotten. Ew.
My last cigarette (which was more like seven) came on December 3rd (a Tuesday I spent chain-smoking), and it made me feel incredibly sick. That was the last time, I vowed; I would not be doing that anymore, and that was it.
During every point of the process, the day-to-day life part was incredibly difficult. I’d read every mediocre “Quit Smoking TODAY!!1!” pamphlet, every article online, every-everything (Cracked did a great article), and when they say you have to “relearn your day-to-day activities,” they’re completely accurate.
In order to ease the pain of a nicotine-free life, I decided to rely on my most favorite crutch: excessive beauty treatments! I really needed to enjoy what I was doing instead of smoking, and feel like I was being healthy. I knew intellectually that weight gain was part of the process, and now I’m trying to ditch the 20 pounds I gained during the process.
Without further ado, if you’re quitting and looking for something to do, try these beauty rituals I incorporated to keep me busy.
1. Oil Pulling
At this point, oil pulling has been completely overdone, so I’m not going to harangue you about its alleged health benefits. It’s anyone’s guess if swishing $5 coconut oil I found on a back-shelf of an Ocean State Job Lot was “cleansing my toxins,” but starting the morning with something in my mouth for the 10 or 20 minutes I’d normally spend smoking cigarettes switched out a blatantly unhealthy habit with a healthier one. My oral fixation didn’t just evaporate when I took cigarettes away, and oil pulling helped me begin my daily routine in a better way.
2. Sunless Tanner
Remember when Kirstie Alley got sober and spent all the money she would have spent on coke on fresh flowers instead? That is what sunless tanner was to my non-smoking endeavor. I didn't have spend a crazy amount of money on self-tanner, but I did apply it every night when I was craving a cigarette.
I’d get triggered when I’d be watching TV, and so I’d just slather the black foam on my legs. Visible proof of my quitting (i.e., orangey legs in November) gave me something tangible that said “each day without a cigarette matters.” An added bonus to using this as a coping mechanism was that my black-foam tan game is TIGHT. I gave myself an at-home tan this past weekend and applied it all over flawlessly, because, natch, it’s 2009 somewhere.
3. Chapstick and Lipgloss
My oral fixation didn’t just disappear when I got off cigarettes. When I would be sitting at my desk, or in the car, or on the couch, I still would touch my mouth, normally in the form of picking at the skin on my lips (which is still a bad habit I’m trying to kick by wearing more lipstick; it’s a process, man).
To assuage my lip picking, or at least minimize its next-level grossness, I’d apply two coats of lip balm, then a layer of lip gloss. I’m sure I looked like a glossy mess, but it was another habit I deemed as “healthier than smoking and sticking my fingers in my mouth.” My lip gloss is cool. My lip gloss is poppin. My lip gloss is less present now that I’m not blindly fighting an addiction.
4. Gum and Mints
In my online scouring of all things to aid in nonsmoking, I read that the average cigarette craving lasts three minutes. If you can make it through the three minutes, you’re in the clear (until the next one). Those three minutes feel like all eternity though, so whenever it would hit, I would put on my favorite song du jour, pop in a piece of gum and take DEEP CLEANSING BREATHS.
Deep cleansing breaths are amazing for leveling out; they completely center me. By specifically incorporating breathing and chewing, I realized that I would stop breathing when I got stressed out. Chewing gum helps regulate breath, and I wrote “Breathe” on a Post-it on my desk for an extra reminder. It’s very ritualistic: Breathe, take a piece of gum or mint, breathe, put on X Rihanna song, breathe, put on Chapstick, breathe, put on lip gloss. Repeat as necessary. And suddenly, you’re six months without a cigarette. Success comes slowly, and then all at once.
These four beauty practices helped me kick my favorite bad habit, and aside from the weight gain, I feel so much better. And, like, I can smell and taste and be around children without feeling gross. I can walk up stairs without being winded. I don’t wake up coughing for the first ten minutes every morning. It’s great, and I worked incredibly hard to get to this level.
I say all this to maintain: If I can do it, you can do it. For a long time, cigarettes were my forlorn bad-boy lover; the guy my mother, brother and grandmother hated, in that order, who I knew was intrinsically bad for me, but I just saw the good in him so damn much: the smell, the taste, the way it makes me feel. So I repeat: If I can get over them, so can you. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also something I’m incredibly proud of.
What are your experiences with smoking? Did you? We ex-smokers apparently make more money than current-smokers AND never-smokers, but I got that fact from a sketchy Twitter account, so who knows if it’s legit. Let me know what you did to quit, and how gross everything around you smells in the comments!